The Hollywood veteran opens up about her much-scrutinized past and what drives her actions -- on the world stage and the big screen
Mia Farrow
Credit: Mario Sorrenti

Moments after entering a coffeehouse near her home in rural Connecticut, Mia Farrow has become a magnet for the lost and needy. A frazzled mom wanders up, tells a tragic tale of losing custody of her autistic son, and asks if the actress will advocate on her behalf. Soon after, a middle-aged man approaches with his map and ignores Farrow’s protests of being ”directionally challenged” until she charts his course with her pen. Nonetheless, the 63-year-old actress doesn’t seem to mind a bit. ”This happens a lot,” says the single mother of 14, dressed in jeans and leg warmers while perched on a beat-up couch. ”I feel very connected to other people’s struggles.”

Farrow has spent over a decade making the world’s problems her own. The sparrow-like star of Rosemary’s Baby and Hannah and Her Sisters and erstwhile muse to geniuses ranging from Frank Sinatra to composer André Previn to Woody Allen has recently become known more for her activism than her acting. Just ask Steven Spielberg, who earlier in February walked away from his position as an artistic adviser for the ’08 Beijing Olympics after a year of Farrow accusing him of indirectly supporting a genocidal regime (China’s investment in Sudanese oil funds much of the conflict in Darfur). Farrow and her son Ronan called for a boycott of the games’ sponsors, comparing Spielberg to accused Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl in a 2007 Wall Street Journal op-ed. ”Spielberg is one of the kings. Nobody wants to cross him,” says Farrow, who says she sent the director two unanswered letters before publishing her piece. ”How great that he didn’t disappoint.” (Spielberg’s camp disputes the connection, calling Farrow’s tactics ”irresponsible” and claiming the director was using his position as leverage to push the Chinese to broker peace in the region.)

Now Farrow is trying to make the same splash in her day job. She returns to the big screen with Be Kind Rewind, writer-director Michel Gondry’s absurdist ode to the local video store. It’s an auspicious moment for Farrow, who reemerges after her retreat from Hollywood in 1992 when her 12-year-long relationship with Woody Allen combusted into a blaze of tabloid scandal. Though Farrow vented her devastation at length in her best-selling 1997 memoir, What Falls Away, she’s since come to terms with what happened and moved on. ”At that time, the coverage of it seemed to be wall-to-wall, and I was compelled to document [the truth],” she explains. ”But in the fullness of time, it’s that big.” She holds her hand up, her thumb nearly grazing her forefinger.

Even so, she’s still unable to acknowledge her contribution to the 13 movies she made with Allen, from 1982’s A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy to 1992’s Husbands and Wives. ”Crimes and Misdemeanors is Woody’s best film, but I barely remember my part in it,” she says. ”Some of the different [characters] were basically just us. He would draw from our life together.” She pauses. ”I feel fortunate to have made films with him, and some of them were good. [But] there’s lots of people who could have done it better than me.”

It would be a mistake to confuse Farrow’s candor for false humility. She simply remains ambivalent about the career she fell into as the child of director John Farrow and actress Maureen O’Sullivan. ”I felt overwhelmed by fame — I thought it had destroyed my connection to other people,” recalls Farrow of her early years, when Peyton Place and Rosemary’s Baby transformed her into an icon and her marriage to Sinatra broke up. ”I was completely lost. I didn’t know how to find a life that would be meaningful.” Nearly 40 years later, she’s finally struck the right balance, which for Farrow means placing her actions on the world stage ahead of her work on the big screen. ”I am now a messenger, and it’s my responsibility to those people who can’t speak out for themselves. If I do nothing else, at least let me get this right.”

Farrow offers a rare glimpse into life as Woody Allen’s leading lady — on set and off

Broadway Danny Rose (1984) & The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
Among the first movies Farrow made with Allen, these comedies don’t get bogged down in domestic melodrama. ”We made them simultaneously, and I love these movies. It was a year of crazy days.”
Hannah and her Sisters (1986)
”It was [shot in]] my apartment, with my kids and my mom. My kitchen was a hot set. My cat never recovered,” Farrow laughs. Later, catching the movie on TV, ”I saw my bed and that very same TV. Salvador Dalí would have loved that moment.”
Alice (1990)
Most people assumed that this portrait of a New Agey society mom was Farrow’s alter ego. Not so, says the actress. ”She was based on a friend of ours who would get acupuncture. I had to make myself into that East Side crusty woman. Sigourney Weaver would have been better.”