Three Great Things: Mena Suvari

The actress, who's currently starring in Grace and Grit, sings the praises of the beach, Akira Kurosawa's Dreams and Vince Guaraldi.

Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. To mark the June 4 release of Grace and Grit, a romantic drama based on the true love story of iconic philosopher Ken Wilber and his wife Treya Killam Wilber, one of the film’s stars, acclaimed actress Mena Suvari, shared some of the things that give her life meaning. — N.D

The Beach
I love the beach, partly because I feel incredibly called to the ocean. I’m a Pisces rising, so I joke with people that maybe that has something to do with it, but I’m just always so happy to be by the ocean. As I’ve gotten older, I have felt a pull to live closer to the water. I just love the whole experience of being near the beach. I feel very happy when I’m there; the energy, the air, the frequency of the place, it’s all very healing and very grounding.

A recent shot of Mena Suvari and her husband, Mike Hope, at the beach. (Via Instagram.)

I was born in Newport, Rhode Island, and grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, but I lived in St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands for a year when I was about eight, so that’s probably where my deep connection to beaches and the ocean was formed. I spent a lot of time by the ocean during my year in St. John, as we lived on the water by the coral reef. My mother had a store down by the water and I would go help her there, then walk on the beach, collecting shells. I have really good memories of that time.

Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams
I saw Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams in either 1999 or 2000, and I was just stunned, blown away by it. The film, which is a collection of eight different stories, is absolutely beautiful. I was recently reading about magical realism, and Dreams is a great example of that. The term “magical realism” very much speaks to me. When I saw Dreams, I remember being so struck by it; I’d never seen anything like it. Even though it’s a series of vignettes, rather than a single cohesive narrative, it feels to me as if the meaning of life is in this movie. Not a lot of people know of it, but it’s such a special film in so many ways, such a gem, that I feel like everyone needs to see it.

A still from Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams.

When I first watched Dreams, it was so refreshing to me, because I hadn’t seen anything like it before, nothing which had that style or artistic approach. All of that was really striking to me, but it was also that it had, in a strange way, a perspective on life that I had always hoped for. Just thinking about it makes me want to watch it again right now. I love sharing this movie with people. It’s such a resonant work, and each of its stories affects you in such a different way. I have certain vignettes that are my favorites – I love the blizzard, and also the story about the peach orchard – but everything about it is so wonderful, and it’s an experience that combines the visual, emotional and spiritual in an amazing way.

Vince Guaraldi
I love Vince Guaraldi. He’s such an amazing man and not that many people know of him, or they just connect him with the Peanuts cartoons or Charlie Brown, which he composed music for. For some reason, I really love jazz, and when I first heard Vince Guaraldi’s work, his style of playing just blew me away. It just hits you! I then had the experience of getting to know his music properly. I grew up with the Peanuts cartoons as well and I loved those holiday specials when I was a kid, but there’s so much more to him than that!

For some reason, I initially had this idea that Guaraldi was an older, gray-haired man; I had totally the wrong impression of him. But then when I looked him up, I was even more impressed and fell in love with this man known as Dr. Funk, who had the sweetest handlebar moustache. He also came up with his own technique of playing the piano, because his fingers weren’t as long as you would expect for a pianist. He’s just the coolest man, and what he contributed to the jazz scene – and the music that he made – is just incredible.

Because I love Northern California, my husband and I recently went up north for a trip. I was so happy because I was able to go to Menlo Park, where Vince Guaraldi lived, and visit the cemetery where he and his mother are buried. I brought him some flowers, and I was happy to be able to stand by his grave and say, “Hey, Dr. Funk, you’re amazing. Thank you for everything that you contributed!”

Mena Suvari currently stars in the romantic drama Grace and Grit, starring Stuart Townsend and Frances Fisher, which is out now in theaters, on digital and on-demand through Quiver Distribution. Suvari made her film debut in Gregg Araki’s 1997 cult movie Nowhere, which was followed in 1999 by the back-to-back blockbuster successes of American Pie and American Beauty. Among her other notable film credits are Rob Reiner’s Rumor Has It, Tony Scott’s Domino, Amy Heckerling’s Loser and Jonas Åkerlund’s cult-classic Spun. On TV, she reteamed with American Beauty screenwriter Alan Ball on his show Six Feet Under, played the Black Dahlia in Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story and appeared on the hit show Chicago Fire. She currently resides in Los Angeles, CA and is an active face of PETA and ardent supporter of animals.