There's a scene in the new film, "Someone to Watch Over Me," in which Mimi Rogers – who plays a New York heiress -- is contemplating her relationship with a working class, married cop. Rogers, without a word, conveys the essence of elegance, right down to the fully extended fingers of her hand as she places it under her chin.
It's a good scene for an actress, because she's able to tell the audience all about her character without opening her mouth once.
"I was fortunate in that I had a number of people to draw on," Rogers said recently during a phone interview from Portland, Ore. "There were people I had known over a period of years who had backgrounds that were much more similar to Claire's than mine."
Rogers was raised in a family that was constantly on the move. Her father was a civil engineer, and she lived in Florida, Virginia, Arizona, Michigan, England and California while growing up. Rogers said all that motion during her early years provided a good opportunity for her to observe a wide range of individuals.
"That's one thing I've noticed you do as an actor, you're always observing people," she explained. "And I find myself, almost without thinking about it, jotting down mental notes like, 'What an interesting mannerism. I'll have to use that sometime. "
Rogers, whose last big screen role was opposite Christopher Reeve in "Street Smart," graduated from high school at the age of 14. She said she doesn't think she was a whiz kid, just that she was tired of having gone to so many different schools. When she fell into an experimental program that allowed kids to move through school at a greatly increased rate, she began studying 8-12 hours a day and got out early.
Burnt out on school, Rogers never enrolled in college, but did do a lot of "independent study." While living in Northern California in her late teens -- about 10 years ago -- Rogers began doing a little community theater.
"I did a couple of newly written – probably pretty bad -- plays, but I really enjoyed it," she said, detailing how she became interested in acting. "That's probably when the strongest interest was stimulated, and it just continued to grow over time."
A few years later, in 1980, she made the move to Los Angeles and started making the rounds of auditions. "I never waited tables," she said, laughing. "I don't have any sob stories. But it was very hard to break in and get started. To get an agent you have to be incredibly tenacious. But I was fortunate that it all happened fairly quickly."
Rogers said that before she'd landed a professional job, she met Tom Berenger -- who co-stars as her lover in "Someone to Watch Over Me" -- when the two auditioned for "Body Heat."Her first break came when she landed a part on the TV series "Hill Street Blues." Her character was used in the last four shows of the series' first season. Later, she worked on the TV series "Paper Dolls," "The Rousters," "Magnum, P.I." (she dated Tom Selleck), "Hart to Hart" and "Quincy, M.E." Then came theatrical films. Her first role was in "Blue Skies Again" with Harry Hamlin, but she also played Michael Keaton's girlfriend in "Gung Ho."
To win the role of Claire in "Someone to Watch Over Me," Rogers read and re-read for director Ridley Scott over the course of two months.
"He (Ridley Scott) had read me when they first started casting, and I think Ridley -- just in his own process of casting -- likes to see as many people as he can see," she said. "He likes to cover the whole range of possibility. … And I think he just sort of explored all the possibilities and then maybe narrowed it down to a couple of people.
"And when I came back in to meet with him ... I think we were really coming at it from very much the same point of view, which I'm sure from a director's position has to be kind of reassuring."
Making the character of Claire -- a pampered, wealthy New York socialite who's witnessed a murder and must be protected by the police until the murderer is apprehended -- sympathetic to an audience concerned Rogers.
"There was worry and concern that we do what was necessary to create that sympathy," she recalled. "I mean, that was a big part of what my job was. And I think in casting it, Ridley had to be very careful, because you can't have in this role the kind of look, the kind of beauty, that is too perfect or too glacial. I mean, if you look at it realistically I'm not (perfect) -- I've got all sorts of oddities," she laughed.
Although Rogers wants to be known for her acting talent and the quality work she does, most people outside the business know her not as Mimi Rogers the actress, but the woman whom Tom Cruise married. But being wed to such a high-profile star, she said, hasn't made it hard for them to lead a normal life.
"I have a theory about these things, which is if you're looking for attention you can always find it, and if you're not, it's fairly easy to avoid," she explained. "You know, it's just a matter of how you go about things.
“We truck around New York all the time" without getting hassled, she said, although the Cruises prefer to stay home and watch movies on video.