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Tom Brook Saturday, 27 November, 1999, 08:13 GMT
Janet's Oscar hope
Soul mates: Kimberly J Brown and Janet McTeer in Tumbleweeds
By BBC News Online Entertainment Correspondent Tom Brook

Actress Janet McTeer is creating waves in America with her striking portrayal of a free-spirited Southern woman in a new independent film called Tumbleweeds.

Her performance is indeed authentic, vibrant and extremely human. She is winning accolades in all quarters, from film festivals to even the New York Times, which last week declared that she had delivered an "astoundingly vital portrayal".

It is being widely predicted that when the Oscar nominations are announced in February McTeer's name will be on the list.

McTeer won a Tony award for her part in A Doll's House
She is best known to American audiences for her critically acclaimed portrayal of Nora in the Ibsen play A Doll's House on Broadway two years ago, for which she won a Tony award.

In the UK she shot to fame in the title role of the ITV drama The Governor in 1995, and last year she appeared in the film Velvet Goldmine.

Tumbleweeds, is her first major role in an American film. She plays Mary Jo Walker, a woman who has been married four times and keeps picking the wrong man.

The picture chronicles her relationship with her latest boyfriend, but it really focuses on the love between Mary Jo and her precocious 12-year-old daughter, played with a startling confidence by the young American actress Kimberly J Brown.

What has amazed American audiences is how realistically McTeer takes on the mannerisms and distinct cadences of a woman from the American South.

She says: "The idea of being American, particularly that kind of Southern American was really, really frightening, I was more frightened of that than anything else."

The actress remembers the worst moment for her was when the film was unspooled before an audience. "The first time that we screened it was at Sundance. I was absolutely terrified."

She says relief didn't come until the end of the film, "when I got up and spoke to the audience".

Janet McTeer: From English rose to Southern Belle
"There was this gasp, once people realised that I was British and I thought, 'Oh! I've done it!' I thought they were going to turn and laugh me off the screen."

McTeer was cast as Mary Jo quite by chance after the film's director and co-writer, Gavin O'Connor, saw the actress being interviewed on an American TV talk show and decided she was right for the part.

O'Connor, who also appears in the film, wrote the screenplay with his ex-wife.

The story is based on childhood memories of her footloose mother. It is basically about a woman who makes a geographical move every time a relationship fails. Only through her daughter's stubborn intervention does she eventually stop to face reality and grow up.

"It's a really wonderful love story," says McTeer, referring to the relationship between mother and daughter.

"I liked the idea that you would tell a story that could so easily become miserable, dysfunctional or abusive, or whatever, and actually it's a love story and they're very healthy, happy, people with a good relationship. I like that."

Mother and daughter hit the beach in Tumbleweeds
McTeer's chances in the Oscar sweepstakes will become clearer by mid-December when the various American critics groups have published their annual lists of favoured performances.

But with talk of an Oscar nomination already in the air, McTeer hasn't been able to resist dwelling on the event.

"It makes me think I might get into a really nice frock and meet all those stars. It's quite funny. It's not something that you think about when you come from England. It's what Americans do!"

It's clear that McTeer is the best thing in Tumbleweeds. Her performance is perhaps more interesting than the film itself.

The picture is a slice of Americana that contains a touching, well wrought story, but it is not that profound.

McTeer wonders how Tumbleweeds will fare with British audiences, but right now in America she has little to worry about. She's being inundated with scripts for other film roles - quite clearly she's on a winning streak.

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