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    Actress and Writer Maria Bello Adds a New Letter to Our LGBT Acronym: “W”

    GaryMaria Bello may be known for her roles in films such as A History of Violence, and The Cooler, but she garnered considerable attention for her essay “Coming Out as a Modern Family” when it appeared in the “Modern Love” column in The New York Times. In the essay, Bello explained how she told her son Jack about her relationship with Clare, her best friend. His response: “Whatever, Mom, love is love.” Bello uses this phrase as the title of her new book, a collection of essays that questions labels and identity. In a recent phone interview, Bello spoke about her life, work, and family.

    Gary M. Kramer: How did the success of your magazine story about being “whatever” change your life and visibility?

    Maria Bello: After the New York Times article, I had so many people saying “I’m a whatever,” or “I have a whatever family.” It was a duty or responsibility; I think people want to talk about labels to see if they empower us or dis-empower us. I am proud to be a part of the LGBTW community that fights (for the right) to love whomever you love and to marry whomever you want to marry. “Whatever” identifies as anything. There is a lack of restriction. I see that with a lot of traditional labels, which don’t fit a lot of people anymore, especially in terms of family and partnership.

    film2Gary M. Kramer: You write rather painfully, and quite candidly, about the struggles you have experienced over the course of your life. What coping skills have you found to be effective? Laughter seems to be the one you advocate for the most.

    Maria Bello: There are not many people who go throughout life without having trouble. I can’t answer questions (like this for others), but I question for myself, and it’s what to do with that pain. I turn my pain into compassion, and to do that, I had to learn to accept what happened, that I am in the right place, doing the right thing. Take that pain and turn it into compassion. For myself, and my family, it was about acknowledging where my father’s pain came from and understanding mental illness, and addiction, and learning to forgive others and to forgive ourselves.

    Gary M. Kramer: What can you say about the characters you play? Your role in Downloading Nancy affected me deeply. Are the characters you play an extension of your life?

    Maria Bello: Downloading Nancy was one of my favorite films. I do believe all the parts I play are some other person. There are hundreds of crevices of pain and joy from my past. I draw on the pieces that character possesses. For Nancy, I’m sure I drew from my suicidal experiences and from my bipolar disorder. I didn’t create her, (but) I was her at some point.

    Gary M. Kramer: You mention shame often in the book. How do you feel you have been able to transform your shame into pride?

    filmMaria Bello: Let’s go back to the old adage that the truth will set you free. Everyone is not gong to like you. Including perhaps, your own mother and father. But if you get to your true essence, you can change the people around us, and change policy. The opposite of shame is pride, and by owning the labels that empower us and getting rid of the labels that disempower us, we create pride. The only thing I can say to folks is, “To be your own self.” Everything positive comes from that. The basis is love. Whatever…love is love. I wanted to belong to a club based in love.

    Gary M. Kramer: You look for signs throughout the book. Why do you place such emphasis on fate, or is it faith?

    Maria Bello: That’s not something I learned from growing up Catholic. I learned it from my mother, who taught us about signs. Angels were looking out for us. If you look for signs they will be there. Turn superstition into super. I talk about being “enough” in the book. I realize my only soul mate and partner is myself—and God, whomever you call God—even if you don’t believe in God. The universe is so much bigger than we are.

    Gary M. Kramer: You write about Haiti as your mistress. What is it about that country that appeals to you?

    Maria Bello: As soon as my foot hit the ground in Haiti, I knew this was my place. I belonged there in some way. And Haiti knew I belonged to her. And the friends I met before the quake—whoever and whatever we were—we experienced something together that no one will understand. We saw a lot of pain, seeing friends suffer, and we had joy. We went back to meet my friends’ niece. So there is a life force in Haiti that is like no other I know. I would encourage people to go and see the beauty of the island. Most people think of it as poverty and ghettos, (but) there is celebration in the streets; every day (there is) music, dancing, colors and art.

    Maria Bello will be reading from “Whatever…Love Is Love” on May 8 at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco.

    © 2015 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer