25 in 2009: Mamie Gummer

Born: 08/03/83 In: New York, NY Is: Actress

Unless you are a robot tele-journalist from Access Hollywood, you get the sense that Mamie Gummer is probably sick of talking about her mother, Meryl Streep. "My favorite question is, 'What's it like...?'" It's got to be trying on the ego to have an iconic actress for a mom, especially when acting turns out to be your passion, too. But, over lunch near her apartment on the Upper West Side, Gummer says she always felt like theater was just her thing. "I found solace on stage. They had a terrible theater department in my high school, but it must mean something that I kept gravitating to it, no matter how deeply uncool it was."

Lucky for her, Gummer is talented. Stagewise, she was nominated for the 2007 Lucille Lortel Award for her performance in The Water's Edge; won the Theatre World Award in 2006 for her performance in Mr. Marmalade; and held her own in Austin Pendleton's production of Uncle Vanya last winter with marquee names like Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard. So far, she has appeared in just a few films -- including a small role opposite Richard Gere and Hope Davis in The Hoax, and a larger role as a younger version of her mother's character in Evening, the 2007 film based on Susan Minot's novel. This summer she can be seen descending from a helicopter into a group of writhing, naked hippies in Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock, in which she plays Tisha, a producer of the event (based on a real person). "She was sort of the hippie Paris Hilton, which I suppose may be an anachronism," says Gummer, who never met the real Tisha because apparently Woodstock's founders have a discordant relationship with both the film and each other. "They all slept together and then sued each other," says Gummer. So, like any intrepid actress, she worked with what she had: "The costume really did it for me. I wear a big floppy hat and carry a little dog."

When we talked, Gummer had recently finished work on The Lightkeepers with Richard Dreyfuss, Blythe Danner and Julie Harris, and was soon to start shooting The Ward, a John Carpenter film that takes place in an insane asylum. "John promises me it isn't going to be one of those torture porn movies." Still, who knows -- it's not like she has any pull. "I am not quite at that 'greenlight' level," she jokes, "No one is saying, 'It's a Mamie Gummer vehicle!'" While Gummer talks, though, one can't help but notice similarities with her mother: the blond hair, an articulate style of speech, a dry wit and, like her mother, a lovely face that -- unlike those of the surgeried starlets we have grown accustomed to -- is refreshingly natural.

A couple other traits may be coded in her DNA -- including an ambivalence about Hollywood, which her mother seems to politely avoid like someone with a cough. "We lived [in L.A.] for about three years when I was a kid. My mom always says we weren't living there, we were 'on location.'" Instead, Gummer is more comfortable in New York, where she lives with her boyfriend, Benjamin Walker, also an actor, whom she met working on a short film together, and, later, when they worked in the recent staging of Les Liaisons Dangereuses with Laura Linney. "He was Keanu to my Uma."

Like any actor, Gummer can't help herself. Near the end of lunch, she tries to put her passion for acting in perspective. "I am either a total idiot or incredibly brave," she says, with a wave of her hand.
Mike Albo

Wears: a dress by Miu Miu and shoes by Moschino Cheap and Chic

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