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Minnie Driver: Bad mom on-screen, good one at home

Minnie Driver arrives at Variety and Women in

Minnie Driver arrives at Variety and Women in Film's pre-Emmy celebration at Gracias Madre in West Hollywood, Calif. on Aug. 23, 2014. Credit: AP / Evan Agostini

Minnie Driver rarely plays the villain. She's often girl-next-door types (in "Good Will Hunting," which earned her an Oscar nomination). Or quirkily unpredictable (like her Emmy-nominated role on FX's "The Riches" or her current stint as uptight single mom Fiona on NBC's "About a Boy").

But in "Beyond the Lights," a film about the pop music world that opens Friday, she shows a colder side. She plays Macy, a poor single mom desperate to turn her talented biracial daughter, Noni (the remarkable newcomer Gugu Mbatha-Raw), into a superstar. Noni attempts suicide, then winds up romanced by a Los Angeles cop (Nate Parker), all to mama's dismay.

In real life, Driver, 44, has a 6-year-old son, Henry. She chatted with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio.

I gotta say ... you're one awful mum. On-screen, at least.

I know, she is sort of terrible. But there's an interesting psychology here. We're in this weird place culturally -- so many people think fame is a cure-all that'll somehow make them feel better about who they are. Of course, ultimately it does absolutely nothing.

Early in the film, we see you being rotten to your little daughter. Does acting an intense role opposite a child pose certain challenges?

Yes. You're a human being, first and foremost. I was worried about the little girl playing my daughter. Me saying these terrible, mean things. Sure, she's acting, but with children -- their tears are real. I've said it before, and I'll say it again -- this is no business for children.

What if your Henry wants to act?

Henry's never gonna be in films till he's a grown-up.

Oh. Really?

Hell no! My parents said the same thing. They were like, "Listen, love, you can do whatever you want ... join the circus if you want, but you're gonna finish school first." Art has been made for ages. Look at those cave paintings in southernmost France. The Neanderthals were doing it. And it'll be there after you graduate.

That Gugu, playing Noni all grown up, seems like a major star in the making.

You watch -- she's gonna be huge. And not just because she's talented and beautiful ... which are good qualities in a movie star. But she's such a good person. She's almost too good to be a movie star, really. She's too nice. I'm so happy for her. I hope there'll be enough parts that are worthy of her.

How's your music going? You just released a new album, "Ask Me to Dance."

It's No. 20 on the Billboard Heatseeker's chart.

Excellent. Do you get a different satisfaction from music?

Yeah -- it's pure undiluted me. The characters I play are only certain emotions synthesized through me. It's not actually me. It's nice to do both. But if I could do music every single day, I would -- and not act.

These days, the music industry seems more and more about people with a hairstyle, or a big butt -- and nothing to do with musical talent. I say that ... and then feel like a crotchety old man.

There's a weird homogeny happening in pop music, to do with Auto-Tune and the way they're treating people's voices. Ariana Grande sounds the same as Miley Cyrus sounds the same as ... take your pick. They're processed, and like anything processed, it tastes the same whether you're in London or Beijing. That's the most revolting thing. Not those lovely young artists, but their treatment. I remember being told I wasn't going to be allowed to write any songs for the first two records, and then we'd talk about it.

Just like Gugu's character!

Exactly! It was an amazing offer. But having input was not part of the deal. So I didn't do it. I had to wait another 10 years.

In this film, and TV's "About a Boy," you're a single mom of an only child -- like you in real life. Are there special pressures on moms of only children?

Oh, yes. Only children tend to be more adultlike. It's a delicate, beautiful relationship. You have to be careful not to become this monopoly in their life, and allow them to have a world outside of you. Particularly with a son -- it's just the most exquisite love affair of your life. Henry ... loves being around me, but he also can't wait to run around naked with his friends and jump in the pool and stalk lizards. And I want no part of that.

No lizards for you?

I'll sit on the sidelines then, drink a glass of wine and read the paper. "Mummy, look, I've got its head." "Greeeeat. That's greeeeat."

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