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What We Learned From Mena Suvari’s Book on the ‘Dark Part’ of Her Life

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When she started her acting career, Mena Suvari quickly became used to playing the much-younger object of a man’s desires.

In 1999 and 2000, when she was in her late teens and early 20s, she played a choir girl in the teen sex comedy “American Pie” and a lusted-after high school cheerleader in “American Beauty.”

“I was getting accustomed to being cast as the sexy one or the sex object,” Suvari writes in her memoir, “The Great Peace,” which Hachette released on Tuesday. “It was art imitating life. I was fine with that; I wanted only to get done what needed to be done and escape back into my own little world.”

Soon, her safe space became marijuana, which she used to distract herself from her broken family life and the predatory men she encountered in and around Hollywood.

In her 20-plus years in the public eye, Suvari, 42, writes that she had “never mentioned anything about the dark part of my life.” But in the book, she recounts years of drug addiction and sexual abuse. She was compelled by the #MeToo movement and the women who spoke publicly about their own experiences to share hers.

“I spent almost my entire life feeling disgusted, ashamed, and in denial about what happened to me and what I had allowed myself to do and be a part of,” she writes. “Then one day, I stopped. I stopped running away and I looked at myself. I looked into the pain and what I saw was that I was ready to leave it all behind and heal.”

Here is what readers will learn from “The Great Peace.”

The film is about a suburban father, played by Spacey, who becomes obsessed with his teenage daughter’s friend, played by Suvari. On the day that Spacey and Suvari filmed an intimate scene in which they lie together on a sofa, Suvari writes, Spacey took her into a small room with a bed, laid down with her and held her.

At the time, Suvari, who was 19 when the filming began, said that she was not sure whether Spacey, who was 39, had discussed this exercise with the film’s director, Sam Mendes.

“Whatever it was, it worked,” she writes. “Lying there with Kevin was strange and eerie but also calm and peaceful, and as for his gentle caresses, I was so used to being open and eager for affection that it felt good to just be touched.”

Spacey, who won an Oscar for best lead actor for the role, did not make any sexual advances in the room, she says.

In the context of the anecdote, Suvari did not mention the sexual assault and misconduct allegations against Spacey, which he has denied. But in a People Magazine article published last week, she said that when the allegations against Spacey started surfacing years ago, she thought of that moment with him on the bed.

During the production of “American Beauty,” Suvari was dating and living with a man she describes at one point as “the devil himself.”

Suvari had already dealt with sexual abuse. When she was 12, Suvari writes that she was coerced into sex by a 16-year-old boy. At 16, she says that her Hollywood manager, who was in his mid-30s, had sex with her. She was young, vulnerable and desperate for affection, she writes.

The abusive relationship she describes in the most detail is with a man named Tyler, a lighting engineer she met at a rave when he was 26 and she was 17. The family she had grown up with had fractured, so Suvari surrendered to Tyler, she writes. Throughout their relationship, she said, he verbally abused her and forced her to participate in sex acts against her will. “Little by little he whittled away the thin layer of self-worth I had left,” she writes.

Suvari moved in with Tyler early in their relationship, making her feel trapped, but once she was cast in “American Pie,” her breakout role, she had somewhere where she could thrive.

She writes that her character — Heather, a “sweet, innocent, virginal choir girl” — was in a loving relationship, which was in sharp contrast to what she would return to after work.

When Suvari was in high school in Burbank, Calif., she writes, methamphetamines took over her life. She spent her school hours thinking about getting out to take the drug, then she started snorting it during bathroom breaks.

When Tyler convinced her to quit, she switched to smoking copious amounts of marijuana instead.

“I took drugs to numb myself from the pain,” Suvari writes. “Alcohol. Pot. Coke. Crystal meth. Acid. Ecstasy. Mushrooms. Mescaline. It was my way of detaching from the hell of my existence — and surviving.”

As her career started to take off, she felt as though she was concealing a secret life, leaning on her acting skills to convince the rest of the world that she was stable.

During her second marriage, Suvari decided to get breast implants, thinking that they would give her confidence. She recalled a photo shoot she did for a women’s health and beauty magazine, during which the photographer and art director decided that she needed to insert flesh-colored plastic slabs to made her bust look bigger.

Years earlier, she had fixed the small gaps between her front teeth and her eyesight, surmising that the procedures were small attempts at exacting control over her life.

But the breast implants ended up making her feel ashamed, she writes, and in 2019, years after her second marriage had ended, she decided to get them removed. Her third husband left the decision up to her and said her appearance did not matter to him.

“I wanted to feel as perfectly imperfect, awkward and unique as I came into the world,” Suvari writes. “I wanted to rediscover myself and reclaim my power.”



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