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Thomas departs from ‘usual’ role in new film

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NEW YORK — Kristin Scott Thomas loves visiting the United States for its museums, shows and especially the shopping.

The downside? All those quick little decisions that Americans make each day, which can be overwhelming.

"You don't just order eggs for breakfast. You're asked, 'How do you want them?' " I ordered a martini last night and they asked me, 'On the rocks or straight up?' I don't know," the 41-year-old British-born actress said.

Scott Thomas, who lives in France, is in New York on this day to promote her newest film, "Gosford Park," an ensemble murder mystery directed by Robert Altman. (The film has since received five Golden Globe nominations, including best picture in the musical or comedy category, from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.)

In "Gosford Park," which opens today in Salt Lake City, she plays the cruel, cold wife of the victim, an even more unpopular man, Sir William McCordle, played by Michael Gambon. Her Lady Sylvia McCordle would probably like to reward the killer with her handsome inheritance. It's a departure from the sympathetic characters Scott Thomas usually plays, which she describes as "quiet, tragic women."

"It's nice to play somebody really mean once in a while. You don't have to justify anybody's behavior," she said.

Working with such a large cast, which includes Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Emily Watson, Jeremy Northam and Ryan Phillippe, was a family reunion of sorts, she said. Going through the "Gosford Park" cast list, she picks out more than a half-dozen actors who have previously played her husband, aunt, uncle or brother.

Scott Thomas was nominated for a best-actress Oscar for 1996's "The English Patient." She also starred in 1998's "The Horse Whisperer" with Robert Redford and this year's "Life as a House" with Kevin Kline.

She's now touring France in a 17th-century play.

1: Why did you decide to do a play?

Scott Thomas: I really wanted to go on stage because I felt like I needed to do some acting. And I needed to do some big acting, something I could never ever do on film. I just wanted to be bigger, bigger in the movement, bigger in the voice, bigger in everything.

2: Do you feel a closer bond with your theater audiences?

Scott Thomas: When people see you on a huge screen and you're towering above them in the arms of Robert Redford, for example, you become something that is unattainable and untouchable, and you become something to them that is bigger than reality. And when they come backstage and they see you with no makeup or with the remains of some makeup because your eyes are all swollen because it's a tragedy (and you) cry for two hours, they see you at your most vulnerable.

3: Do you ever get a chance to be funny?

Scott Thomas: I would love to do a comedy. The trouble is I've got a very dry sense of humor.

4: You caught the attention of American audiences with 1994's "Four Weddings and a Funeral." Do you ever think about what Hollywood and your U.S. fans might be saying about you?

Scott Thomas: In Los Angeles, if they are talking about you all the time, you have nothing to worry about. It is a weird thought that people at home are talking about you, but I guess they do because they go see the movies.

5: Your "Gosford Park" character lives in a grand mansion. Would you like to live there?

Scott Thomas: It's not really my cup of tea. I'm not really into those huge, great big houses. I'd like a smaller house, I would like an 18th-century manor house in my dreams. . . . I live in an apartment in Paris, and I have a farmhouse in the countryside.