For years, Maria Bello has been building up one of the most eclectic resumes in Hollywood -- with roles ranging from sassy bar owner ('Coyote Ugly') to loving wife ('A History of Violence') to ass-kicking action star ('The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor').

With the inspired-by-a-true-story drama 'Downloading Nancy' (in select theaters June 5), she takes on her riskiest part yet, playing a suicidal sexual abuse victim whose only source of happiness is cutting herself. And, while 'Nancy' is clearly not the feel-good movie of the year, it just may be Bello's finest work to date.

We chatted with the gregarious actress from the set of her new Adam Sandler comedy 'Grown Ups' to find out how 'Nancy' helped Bello exorcise her own demons, why Kevin James always gets the gorgeous gals, and why she's (almost) always up for getting naked. For years, Maria Bello has been building up one of the most eclectic resumes in Hollywood -- with roles ranging from sassy bar owner ('Coyote Ugly') to loving wife ('A History of Violence') to ass-kicking action star ('The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor').

With the inspired-by-a-true-story drama 'Downloading Nancy' (in select theaters June 5), she takes on her riskiest part yet, playing a suicidal sexual abuse victim whose only source of happiness is cutting herself. And, while 'Nancy' is clearly not the feel-good movie of the year, it just may be Bello's finest work to date.

We chatted with the gregarious actress from the set of her new Adam Sandler comedy 'Grown Ups' to find out how 'Nancy' helped Bello exorcise her own demons, why Kevin James always gets the gorgeous gals, and why she's (almost) always up for getting naked. -- By Tom DiChiara

Maria Bello Photos

    BEVERLY HILLS, CA - APRIL 29: Actress Maria Bello (L) and Bryn Mooser attend the Feminist Majority Foundation's Fifth annual Global Women's Rights Gala at the Beverly Hills Hotel on April 29, 2009 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Maria Bello;Bryn Mooser

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 26: Actresses Maria Bello and Kathy Baker arrive at the Benefit for Maternal Fetal Care International (MFCI) hosted by the Fergusons and the Mastersons at Cafe des Artistes on April 26, 2009 in Los Angeles California. (Photo by Alexandra Wyman/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Maria Bello;Kathy Baker

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 26: Actress Maria Bello speaks at the Benefit for Maternal Fetal Care International (MFCI) hosted by the Fergusons and the Mastersons at Cafe des Artistes on April 26, 2009 in Los Angeles California. (Photo by Alexandra Wyman/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Maria Bello

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 26: Actress Maria Bello speaks at the Benefit for Maternal Fetal Care International (MFCI) hosted by the Fergusons and the Mastersons at Cafe des Artistes on April 26, 2009 in Los Angeles California. (Photo by Alexandra Wyman/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Maria Bello

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 26: Actress Maria Bello speaks at the Benefit for Maternal Fetal Care International (MFCI) hosted by the Fergusons and the Mastersons at Cafe des Artistes on April 26, 2009 in Los Angeles California. (Photo by Alexandra Wyman/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Maria Bello

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 26: Actress Maria Bello speaks at the Benefit for Maternal Fetal Care International (MFCI) hosted by the Fergusons and the Mastersons at Cafe des Artistes on April 26, 2009 in Los Angeles California. (Photo by Alexandra Wyman/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Maria Bello

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 26: Actress Maria Bello arrives at the Benefit for Maternal Fetal Care International (MFCI) hosted by the Fergusons and the Mastersons at Cafe des Artistes on April 26, 2009 in Los Angeles California. (Photo by Alexandra Wyman/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Maria Bello

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 26: Actress Maria Bello arrives at the Benefit for Maternal Fetal Care International (MFCI) hosted by the Fergusons and the Mastersons at Cafe des Artistes on April 26, 2009 in Los Angeles California. (Photo by Alexandra Wyman/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Maria Bello

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    Actresses Maria Bello (L) and Diane Lane attend the US Doctors for Africa - African First Ladies - 1st Annual Historic Health Summit - Kickoff Lunch with Maria Shriver at The Skirball Cultural Center on April 20, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. 1st Annual Historic Health Summit - Kickoff Lunch With Maria Shriver The Beverly Hilton Beverly Hills, CA United States April 20, 2009 Photo by Brian To/FilmMagic.com To license this image (57235610), contact FilmMagic.com

    Brian To/FilmMagic.com

    LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 20: Actress Maria Bello speaks during the 1st Historic Health Summit kick-off luncheon with Maria Shriver at the Skirball Center on April 20, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Angela Weiss/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Maria Bello

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1. The title of this movie, 'Downloading Nancy,' sounds like it could be a cutesy romantic comedy about online dating, but it's clear from the first 10 seconds that's not the case. Did you have any reservations about tackling such a dark role?
[Laughs] You know, I didn't. A friend said to me who read it, "Either it's going to be really great, or no one will ever see it." And I think that's not true now -- it's somewhere in the middle. I'm pleased that the movie causes conversation. I'm pleased that it sticks with people and makes them think. It's not for everybody for sure; I wouldn't tell my grandmother to go see it. We knew it would be a really controversial film -- that it would be really polarizing, that some people would hate it and some people would love it. But for us, it was an exploration of people's isolation and wounds and deep damage. And that it was based on this true story just notched everything up.

2. How'd you get in the mindset of someone who cuts herself and constantly contemplates suicide? And was there anything in Nancy that you also saw in yourself?
I did research on the woman it actually happened to, and unfortunately or fortunately, I had a lot of mental illness in my family growing up and was very moved to explore that in a really serious way and put it on screen -- because it is a reality for people. Suicide is a reality for some people who are so isolated and so damaged and can't see any other way out. And Nancy's a real coward. She couldn't do it herself. She had to hire somebody else to do it. [But] I don't think that I could do any character [where] I don't have something inside of me that is a similar quality. Part of me thinks when I did 'Nancy,' it was the end of something for me. I feel like I did it, like I can't do better than that in terms of getting my demons out and portraying the biggest darkness that somebody can have on screen. So in a way it was really cathartic and a real relief. And I've found myself since then being attracted to things that are a lot more light-hearted.



Watch a 'Downloading Nancy' clip


3. Speaking of which, you're currently filming the Adam Sandler comedy 'Grown Ups,' in which you play Kevin James' wife. How is it that Kevin always gets the beautiful women?
[Laughs] Well, I understand why. He's so charming and so funny and so kind. We're just having the best time together. And I've known Adam for a few years, and I've always wanted to work with him. I think he's a savant; he can do drama and comedy. Yesterday he was doing a scene at a funeral giving a eulogy, and there were funny parts of it, but I cried my eyes out because it was so moving. You could tell it was coming from a really real place.

4. You recently had your first foray into action with 'The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.' Was it fun to get into a really physical role?
Well, it was really one of my biggest dreams come true. Since I was a little kid I wanted to be Indiana Jones, so I couldn't believe that Rob [Cohen, the director] gave me the opportunity to do that when not a lot of people would see me like that. I was thrilled about the movie. I thought it was so much fun to do and so much fun to watch, and I was real proud of that. And the shining moment of my whole career was sitting in the premiere next to my 8-year-old son, and I come on screen and he goes, "That's my mom!" He thought it was really cool.

5. As far as something you probably don't want your son to see just yet, you're very brave about doing on-screen nudity. Are you ever apprehensive about stripping down for a role?
I don't have any issue with it at all if I think it's important in terms of the story and if it shows a real vulnerability, and it's there for a reason. It's not like I've ever done a love scene naked that's just like: Oh my God, you know these two people just love each other so much they want to f*** [laughs]. You know, they want to make love. I've never done a love scene like that. They've always been, I think, more complicated than that. The nudity in 'Downloading Nancy,' which actually wasn't very much considering what kind of movie it was, was a real necessity. You know, in terms of who this woman is and who this man is and what their relationship is and the vulnerability of that, and how she was probably never naked like that with anyone, soul-wise or body-wise. You know, it was always about something else. And that's it; it's not a big issue for me. Maybe as my ass gets bigger and less tight it will be [laughs].

Summer 2009 Indie Sleepers