Mena Suvari speaks candidly about being abused and how that led to her relating to her “American Beauty” character in a new interview with the Guardian.
Suvari, who played teenager Angela Hayes in the 1999 film, explains how she suffered years of sexual abuse, starting when she was raped at age 12 by her brother’s older friend.
She was also taught to look “sexy” from a very early age in her acting and modelling career, telling the paper how she was just 12, but looked 18, so therefore was treated like an adult.
Suvari says she thinks older men used her, including a twentysomething photographer who took pictures of her nude, alone at his home, when she was 15.
One of her business advisers, who was in his mid-30s, also started having sex with her when she was 16, with Suvari telling the publication: “I didn’t have anyone telling me, ‘That’s not right, that person shouldn’t be doing that with you.’”
She also had an abusive relationship with a lighting technician, who encouraged her to have threesomes and have rough sexual experiences that she didn’t want.
Suvari opened up about the abuse she suffered in her memoir The Great Peace, which was released last year.
“I identified with Angela,” Suvari says of her “American Beauty” character.
“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.”
A synopsis for the critically acclaimed film, which also stars Kevin Spacey, reads: “Lester’s life seems perfect, having a respectable job and a family, but inside, he is slowly slipping into depression. Struggling with life, he gets infatuated with his daughter’s friend, Angela.”
In her chat with the Guardian, Suvari reveals how she would go home from the set, where she felt adored, to “the worst relationship of my life, where I was being extremely abused. It was very dark for me at that time, [and the film] felt like a respite, because I could go to work and be important there. I wasn’t called a ‘retard’ and an ‘idiot.’”
Despite the movie being praised around the world, Suvari insists she didn’t have much power and was still encouraged to take her clothes off to promote it.
She talks about the time she had to pose with a medallion covering her pubic area, as well as a photographer asking her to move her hair to show a nipple.
Suvari tells the paper, “I just don’t know what the goal of that is. Just sell as much of yourself, as young as you are, for as long as you can?
“I don’t know what that message is. But, yeah, it felt very much like that: how sexy can you be?”