Mena Suvari has said filming American Beauty was a “respite” from the abusive relationship she was involved with at the time.
Directed by Sam Mendes, the 1999 movie stars Suvari as Angela, the 17-year-old friend of Jane Burnham (Thora Birch) whose father, Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), becomes infatuated with her.
Speaking to The Guardian about the role, Suvari said: “I identified with Angela. I knew how to play that role, because I was so schooled in it. ‘Oh, you want me to be sexually attractive?’ Done.
“I felt unavailable in a million other ways, but I knew how to play that card.”
Following her time on set, where she felt “adored”, she would return home to “the worst relationship of my life, where I was being extremely abused”.
She added: “It was very dark for me at that time, [and the film] felt like respite, because I could go to work and be important there. I wasn’t called a ‘retard’ and an ‘idiot’.”
Suvari opened up about her abusive relationship and struggles with drug addiction in her memoir The Great Peace, released last year.
Describing the process of writing the book, she added: “I think the biggest thing is that, for me, I felt like I wasn’t allowed to consider a lot of these moments as abuse or trauma, because I always excused it. That’s a big part of survival – I had to learn how a lot of things served me then, and they don’t have to serve me any more.”
American Beauty’s legacy has been tainted by the ongoing controversies around Kevin Spacey, who recently pleaded not guilty to sexual assault charges dating back 17 years.
A trial for the allegations against Spacey, which relates to three men across London and Gloucestershire, is scheduled to begin on June 6, 2023.