The ironic thing about Michelle Borth’s role as Jamie, a woman whose fiancé won’t commit to monogamy in the new HBO series “Tell Me You Love Me,” is that she is the kind of sexy, intoxicating woman that could probably drive the best-intentioned married man to cheat on his wife.
BOB ANDELMAN/Mr. MEDIA: I was fascinated watching the show. It was very unlike anything I think I’ve ever seen, even on HBO.
BORTH: It was pitched to me about three years ago, during pilot season, and it was very much what you would think. It was proposed to me as this really graphic show, and that that was something I should know before going into it. And I was like, “Okay, well, let me read it.” And I read the pilot, and I was floored. I was really floored by it because I personally really connected with the character Jamie on a personal level that I was like, “Someone is following me around and writing my life because this is my life.” So I went into the audition for this project with wanting it moreso than I think anything I’ve ever auditioned for in the past before that.
ANDELMAN: It seemed like, looking over your resume, that it was quite different from anything you had done before.
BORTH: It is. It absolutely is. I haven’t actually done much TV work. I’ve worked quite a bit and have been in the low-budget indie/horror/sci-fi genres, which are great. But this is actually more along my speed and what I really would like to do. This kind of show, on this kind of network, specifically, is a dream come true for me and I think for any actor, but for me, specifically, it was a dream come true.
ANDELMAN: Well, you mention right at the top there that it was presented to you as a very graphic, sexual show.
ANDELMAN: Did you have any hesitation with that?
BORTH: Of course. Initially, I did when I had the first conversation with my agent. The way that it was presented I was like, “Oh, I don’t know, I don’t know how I feel about that.” Because, even in the films that I’d done, I’ve done one topless scene prior to any of this, and I was like that’s it, I did my one, I’m not doing anything more. So I was like oh, no, but after reading the pilot, it was just so smart and so beautifully written. Something, like you said, I’d never read anything like that. I haven’t read a movie script or a pilot or anything even close to what I read. It automatically then didn’t become an issue. And that’s the truth. It honestly was not an issue to me from that point on.
ANDELMAN: It’s funny. Ten years ago, I probably wouldn’t have even thought to ask you this, but here I am. I’ve got a daughter going on 11. My view of some of these things, I notice, has changed, and I think, my goodness, how would I feel if my daughter was portraying a character like that on screen? You said you did one topless scene. This is, for people who haven’t seen it yet, this is way beyond a topless scene.
BORTH: Absolutely. It’s absolutely difficult. It’s not a show that I am pushing my father or my brothers to watch because I think it might be awkward for them as family members. But, in general, I think that it’s a big deal because there hasn’t been anything that’s been this true to life on TV at all, especially primetime TV, and HBO is known for raising the bar and setting a new precedent. And I think that this goes along the lines of anything else that they’ve done. “The Sopranos” was an extremely violent show and showed things that you wouldn’t be able to show on basic cable and stuff like that. And we’re just doing the same thing with a different context. We’re now dealing with sex which, in America, I’m realizing now that we’re a little sexually repressed. So I think it rubs people the wrong way.
ANDELMAN: How do you think America will be after a season of “Tell Me You Love Me”? Will we be less repressed, or will the people who are repressed want to be more repressed and the people who aren’t want to be more exposed?
BORTH: How do I feel? Well, first off, I think people are gonna be, I hope not, but I think people might be a little disappointed when they initially watch the show and realize that it’s not a big porn fest. That it is actually a really smart, intelligent show, and sex is a part of it because we’re dealing with intimacy of relationships and all of that. So I think that the HBO audience is a smart audience, and the show is slow-paced, and there’re no bells and whistles. There’re no big booms or music or fast cuts that it’s gonna take a certain audience to watch it, but once they do, the storylines will pick up where maybe the sex drew people in. I think the storylines are gonna draw people in, and so the people who watch it just for the sex I think will be disappointed because it’s not just about that. And the people who I think maybe will get offended, just don’t watch it. Don’t watch it.
ANDELMAN: I have to say, in defense of the sex scenes, that, if you like to watch a movie or TV and check out the sex scenes, the ones in the first two episodes are pretty intense.
MICHELLE BORTH podcast excerpt: “I’ll save you all the time, and it’s only on a DVD. Silent Warnings was actually one of my first films with Stephen Baldwin and Billy Zane. It’s a bunch of aliens, yeah, trying to kill us in a crop circle. Sorry to disappoint, it’s only two seconds. It’s a two-second topless scene. And that’s it.”
BORTH: We come in with a bang. We’re coming in with a bang. I would say probably the two most graphic episodes of the entire season are the first two. Absolutely. So, yes, we’re coming in with a big bang.
ANDELMAN: You mentioned other HBO shows. It kind of reminded me of the opposite of an older HBO show, “The Mind of a Married Man.” It’s not a comedy. It’s a drama, and it’s more like, except for your character, “The Mind of a Married Woman,” although when we meet you, you’re on your way to becoming a married woman.
BORTH: Right. I actually just got HBO. I needed to get HBO. So I haven’t seen that show, but viewing the lives is really voyeuristic. You feel like you’re there going through these problems with these couples. And what I think is great about the show is that it’s so universal, and it hits every demographic that pretty much, if you’ve been in a relationship and you’re an adult, you’re gonna be able to relate to one of them. There’s gonna be one of the relationships that’s gonna draw you in and say, “Ah, I know that, I know that and I have said that before.”
ANDELMAN: Are you or have you ever been married?
BORTH: No, I am not married, and I have never been married. I have not been in a relationship in four years.
ANDELMAN: So you’re even a little separated from where Jamie is.
BORTH: I am. The thing about Jamie, though, that was difficult for me and what initially drew me in, what I said earlier about the pilot, was just a lot of the pain and heartache that she has in her relationship with Hugo and the breakup with Hugo and all of that is something that I have experienced. So, for me, as an actress, what was difficult was all that baggage that you dealt with and put away, I had to pull out and open up and live it for six months so that wasn’t fun. That wasn’t great. I’m like I spent a lot of time and hard work getting over all those issues, let’s go on back out and play in it again.
ANDELMAN: Michelle, I have to ask, maybe you’ll tell me, maybe you won’t, how old are you?
BORTH: I just turned 29.
ANDELMAN: Oh, that’s amazing. I would’ve guessed 22, 23.
BORTH: Thank you very much. You know what though, I will say this much. I auditioned for this show on my birthday, on my 26th birthday. So this has been a very long process filming the show. It’s been about a year since I shot it, and it’s been two years since I shot the pilot. So the first episode you actually watch is the pilot. We shot that over two and a half years ago. So I am younger.
ANDELMAN: And do you guys know yet if you’ll be picked up for another season?
BORTH: We don’t know because the show hasn’t aired yet. So we don’t even know what the response or the ratings are gonna be like, and they haven’t told me anything specific. They can’t because there’s no guarantee.
ANDELMAN: Usually, they have a sense of this.
BORTH: Yeah, but HBO’s track record because they can, they have the ability to, they give shows a chance. I can only think of one show in the past that didn’t get past the first season, but they usually give them two or three seasons for people to start to settle into it.
BORTH: I would be really surprised if we didn’t have a second season, honestly.
ANDELMAN: Well, let me come back to the characters for a minute. Most of the married couples in the show seem likely, at this point, to stay true to one another, although perhaps, tempted by other fruit. And that kind of allows the actors in those relationships to build intimacy with one another. But Jamie and Hugo, they seem doomed from the start, leading me to think that you’ll be getting physical with, perhaps, a series of actors or, for all we know, actresses, in search of the right mate. And so I wondered, does that make the role and your job tougher than maybe some of the other actors on the show?
BORTH:Oh my God, absolutely, absolutely! The one thing that was difficult, specifically, is that throughout the entire shooting of the episodes, everyone’s got their partner. As an actor, you’re working with the same person over and over and over again. You build that trust. You build that stability. You build that chemistry with that other actor. And little things like right now, like interviews, when you do interviews, a lot of the couples get interviewed together, and so they bounce off one another. And what’s been difficult for me is that because of my storyline and Jamie going in and out of relationships to try to find what she’s looking for, I’ve had to do this journey on my own, not only as the character but as Michelle Borth. And it’s a little frightening because number one, this is my first big anything, especially my first TV show, so having to go through all of this by myself and figuring it out all myself is ironic to me because it parallels my character on screen. But it is, it’s difficult. I would like to have had Luke, say, go through all of that with me and do it as a team like the other couples and the other actors got to do. But that wasn’t the case. But it’s been a great learning experience. Had to do it trial by fire.
ANDELMAN: I have to ask you so I guess this is a man’s question, I don’t know. There’s a scene with you and the actor who plays Hugo in the car, which is pretty intense and pretty graphic. How do you start and stop where the acting and the human being begins and ends in a scene like that?
BORTH: That’s actually a really good question because I thought about it, and I don’t really know how to answer it. You have to distinguish your work from personal, absolutely, and although Luke and I did develop quite a strong relationship, and it made those scenes a lot easier to do because we had this really great chemistry in real life. So I think that just shows even more on screen. But it’s acting, and I feel like in whatever technique or however people work, I substitute people. So in that scene, I’m thinking of someone else. I’m bringing someone else into that scene in my mind.
ANDELMAN: And thank you for thinking of Mr. Media in that scene. I appreciated that. I could see that.
BORTH: I was! I was thinking about you in that scene, which is why it was so intense. But you have to. You have to distinguish, otherwise you’re gonna find yourself in really awkward, weird situations which happens a lot on sets. I kind of understand now why people who work together tend to date afterwards. Just reading magazines and watching “Extra” and stuff like that, I get it because you spend a significant amount of time with that person and, especially with what we’re dealing with on this show and that close and that intimate, you do develop that relationship off-screen. I think you have to in order to bring it on-screen, but it is all for the sake of the work and for the job, and that’s it. And then you come home and let it go.
ANDELMAN: One of the things that I know people have talked about a lot about the show is the male full frontal nudity, which, even in movies, you don’t see that, and that seems to bring that other element to the show that makes it seem that much more graphic because you’re really not used to seeing that.
BORTH: I think that’s the whole point, though. I think it’s really interesting that that’s been like a big fuss because I almost want to say to the men, “Oh, boo hoo, are youfeeling exploited? I’m sorry!” I think it’s funny that people are shocked by it because we’ve seen frontal nudity from women. We’ve seen topless scenes and all of that. I like the show. I like that we’re bringing that to the screen. I think that it wouldn’t do the show justice if we just favored one gender. The show is about the truth of relationships, and it doesn’t favor specifically to the men audience by giving you lots of T & A. I love that because that’s not what the show is about. It is not about the sex and the nudity and all of that because a lot of the sex, number one, is unsexy sex. It is not sex that turns you on. It is awkward, and it’s weird. And maybe showing male genitalia will reinforce the whole point. People are comparing it to pornography, but it’s not. It’s about showing an authentic relationship, and I’m glad that we’re doing it because I think we should be.
ANDELMAN: But, Michelle, at the same time, you’re right, fair is fair. We’re gonna see female nudity; we should see male nudity. But because we’re so unused to seeing it, it seems like seeing that penis, at times, makes the sex seem that much more real even if it’s not “happy” sex. I think that’s the part of it that makes it more surprising to people when they see it because it’s like, “Wow, that guy’s not covered up there. That doesn’t look as simulated as that movie I saw in the hotel.”
BORTH: No. You are absolutely right. And I think that the reason for that is it will pull you out of the moment and pull you out of the scene, I think, if you cut to a lamp during a sex scene. The show is very voyeuristic. You’re watching people go through all their troubles. You’re watching them in the bedroom. You’re watching them in the therapy room. We don’t cut away at the awkward moments. We don’t pan to something else when you’re not supposed to see something, so you’re right. It does make it more real, and it does exactly what it’s supposed to do for the show, and that is to make you feel involved with these characters and to live and breathe with these characters. And it doesn’t take you out of the moment. So I think that it does justice for the scenes.
ANDELMAN: Now, you said that you’re 29. You’re not 22 or 23, which is what I guessed from just watching, so you seem more confident and more secure in your sexuality and who you are. That’s got to make it easier for you to do something like this.
BORTH: Absolutely. I am. I am really comfortable with sexuality and nudity. I think it’s just kind of the way that I was raised, just really liberal. And I am just comfortable with myself. My mom did a good job. I’ve got great self-esteem. This doesn’t say that it wasn’t completely nerve-wracking doing them. It absolutely was. It’s not easy. It’s not easy getting naked and being in scenes in front of a room full of people. Oh my God, it’s terrifying. I don’t care how confident or how great you think you look, you’re nervous. Once I initially got over the nerves in doing it, it’s like riding a bike, after the first one you’re just like oh alright, let’s do it. Let’s do it. Let’s get naked. Let’s do it. Yeah, then absolutely then it’s fine. But I also thought it was really essential to really own the confidence because that is Jamie’s whole deal. She is this really sexually confident woman and individual. She uses it as a crutch for so many different things, and if I didn’t portray that, I wouldn’t be doing her character justice. I had to.
ANDELMAN: As we’re talking, the show is still a few days away from airing for the first time. Are you nervous about the potential loss of privacy that may take place if the show catches on? Even if the show becomes a minor hit, people are gonna see you in a completely different light.
BORTH: I never even thought about that. I honestly didn’t think about that. No, no I’m not. If it happens, yeah, then fine, great if people notice me. I think people are gonna have their own opinions. I know some people are gonna judge me and whether or not I’m gonna get heckled or people are gonna be mean to me, I don’t know. I think that I prepared myself for all of it because I’ve been with this project for so long and after the TCA’s and the big stir of the sex, I was like, “Alright, this is gonna be a big deal. I need to prepare myself for anything that’s gonna come because there’s gonna be good and there’s gonna be bad and, whatever it is, I’m just ready for it.” So, yeah, I think that maybe I’m ready for it. I hope so. I think I’m ready for the good and the bad.
ANDELMAN: A few weeks ago I interviewed the editor of Playboy for Mr. Media, and we were talking about how, over the years, many actresses who are looking to break out or change the world’s perception of them posed for Playboy. I wondered if this was the kind of thing that would have kind of the same effect or if that might even be the effect that you might be looking for.
BORTH: I would say no. For me personally, I don’t feel I need to have to justify. No, I don’t. I didn’t do it for any other reason than I thought it was a great show and a great character and a great job on a great network.
ANDELMAN: Let me ask a little bit about you. We’ve talked an awful lot about sex. I think I’ve talked to you more about sex this afternoon than I usually talk to my wife about it in a month. Where are you from? Why did you want to become an actress?
BORTH: I’m from New York, and I don’t really know why I wanted to become an actor. Now, in hindsight, I would’ve been like, “No, don’t do it! I don’t advise it!” I think it was because it was the only thing that, for me, it was an outlet for me that I couldn’t find anywhere else that allowed me to express myself. I was a little out of control as a teenager, and I did some bad things. I found acting to be that outlet that allowed me to express my anger and my pain and my hurt and my fears without having to do anything bad, without having to be bad, or do anything bad. It was just an outlet that I finally found. I was like, “Oh, my God. This makes me feel good. It feels right. I’m good at it, and I’m not breaking any laws.” So that’s why.
ANDELMAN: And you mentioned brothers. How many siblings do you have?
BORTH: I have two younger brothers. Two younger brothers, yeah, and they’re back in New York.
ANDELMAN: Okay. And your folks, what do they do?
BORTH: My mother owns a home improvement business. She’s like the Mrs. Bob Vila of the 21st century. She’s a hot, hot Italian woman with a lot of tools. She is. I want to get her her own show so bad. She’s like Sophia Loren with a tool belt. She’s amazing.
ANDELMAN: She sounds like a TV show waiting to happen.
BORTH: She is! I could talk about it forever. And my father works for the New York Times.
ANDELMAN: What does he do with the New York Times?
BORTH: He has for about twenty years. He does all the layout and formatting and color corrections. Whatever you see physically on the page, he’s probably put there.
ANDELMAN: You’re a perfect interview for the Mr. Media space. Great. We talked earlier before the interview. I found your MySpace page kind of by accident. You allow people to see your page, but let’s warn them ahead of time, they cannot contact you directly through the page.
ANDELMAN: It looks like you have a lot of fun. It looks like you have a lot of friends, and there’re some good times on there. This comes back to the privacy issue, though. Are you a little nervous about letting people see that much of you? Will that page disappear soon?
BORTH: It’s interesting that you’ve brought this up, but I really never thought about it in the past. I’m a person who’s pretty honest, and more than anything else, I’m a really honest person. I’m really open. I don’t like secrets. I think it takes too much energy and effort to lie about stuff. So it’s a lot easier just to tell it like it is, and I’ve always been that way. I honestly couldn’t say that six months from now that page is gonna not be private. I can’t say because if I start getting flooded, it’s one thing if I’m getting flooded with positive things, but if I start getting flooded with negative things, then yeah, I will make it private because I don’t need it, and I don’t want it. There’s no point in it so I would probably make it private if that starts to happen. But otherwise, I don’t have anything to hide unless it completely inconveniences my life to a point where I can’t function on a daily basis. I don’t have a problem with it. I think that if you’re on a TV show, and you do a hit movie or something, yeah, okay, you need to expect the fact that people are gonna be interested in your life. And people are gonna want to know what you’re doing and stuff like that, and I’m like why not? I don’t care. I don’t. I don’t care. If people want to see or they’re just curious, fine. I think it’s harmless.
ANDELMAN: Then let me ask you two questions based on your MySpace page. Can you stand on your head?
BORTH: Oh, my God! I was a gymnast for thirteen years. I can! I can stand and twirl and twist on my hands and on my head.
ANDELMAN: And then explain the quote right next to your picture. It says, “Bikers n bitches, skydivers n witches.”
BORTH: That is exactly what it means. I like bikers and bitches, and I love skydivers and witches. My dad’s a big biker, and I love motorcycles. Skydiving is my biggest passion, second to acting. Yeah, I can’t say anything more than that. It just makes me feel incredible and alive. And one of my closest friends, who I actually met through skydiving, is a goddess witch, and I just really started getting into it. I’m not practicing anything. I’m not really a religious person, but it’s interesting to me. And it’s a really interesting kind of people in that whole witch world. It’s interesting to me. It’s like a big summation of me, that quote.
ANDELMAN: Is your friend a Wiccan?
ANDELMAN: Okay. I don’t know that much about it, but I know enough to be dangerous.
BORTH: Yeah, yeah. She throws goddess parties, and she does, if your pet is out of whack, she can come and talk to your pet, and she cleanses houses for people. She’s like a Hollywood witch. Her name is Fiona Horn. She’s amazing. She does these great things, and she’s got a huge following, and it was just something that I never knew about. This whole world I didn’t know about. They’re really quite interesting.
ANDELMAN: I thought your page was quite interesting. It looked, like I said, it looked like you have a lot of fun, and you have friends. And it’s nice to see that. It’s obvious that a page like that was set up for you, literally, as a personal MySpace page because there’s no hint of an HBO publicist putting their stamp on it yet.
BORTH: No. I thought about it. I don’t think I’m gonna try to use that page as a tool for promoting myself. The closest thing I’ve done is probably put some photos that I use to submit myself for magazines and stuff like that because, more specifically, the photographers are friends of mine so I want to promote them, and I have their name under. But otherwise, I’d like to keep it personal. I don’t want to use it as a tool for like oh, what’s Michelle Borth doing next. It’s just more for me like, “Hey, my skydiver friends, when are we going up north? Where are we going next, and what’s happening?” I’d rather keep it to that.
ANDELMAN:Well, you’ve been very patient and generous with your time. Just a couple last things. Where would you like to see your career go alongside and beyond “Tell Me You Love Me”? What kind of things would you like to be offered?
BORTH: I would love for my career to go alongside and beyond “Tell Me.” It’s hard to say because my personal taste is definitely more towards the indie films. I’d love to work with Darren Aronofsky. I just really like those dark sort of indie films. So I’d like to go in that direction, more of like a Lili Taylor or something. But, which isn’t to say that, if Superman 3 came out, that I wouldn’t want to do it. Absolutely. I just hope to continue to do quality work more than anything. I enjoyed the work and the films that I’ve done in the past, but now having been on a show, I feel unspoiled, and I’m fucked at the same time because I’m like, “Oh, well, it doesn’t get any better than this.” So I can’t digress into anything bad. I just want to do good work whether it’s big blockbuster films or small indie films. I just want to do good work that I’m proud of.
ANDELMAN: And I was giving you an opportunity to say, “I’d really like to do a voice on ‘The Simpsons,’ or I’m a secret Trekkie, and I’m really hoping to get a cameo on a Trek film” or any of that kind of stuff.
BORTH: David Fincher, call me!
ANDELMAN: That’s good. Alright. And for the men, you brought it up early on, and I have to ask the question. You mentioned that before this, you had done one topless role, and I want to save them some time searching the internet. What movie was that in?
BORTH: I’ll save you all the time, and it’s only on a DVD. It’s not on when it’s on cable. Silent Warnings was actually one of my first films with Stephen Baldwin and Billy Zane. It’s a bunch of aliens, yeah, trying to kill us in a crop circle. Sorry to disappoint, it’s only two seconds. It’s a two second topless scene. And that’s it.
ANDELMAN: Sounds like a Mr. Skin moment.
BORTH: If you want the skin, you tune in to HBO.