‘Welcome to Marwen’ star Leslie Mann finds connection through a doll

“It was the coolest movie experience I’ve ever had.”

"Welcome to Marwen" tells the true story of Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell), a man who survives a vicious hate crime, leaving him with memory lapses and severe anxiety. He takes small steps to cope using his incredibly creative imagination by building his own armor in the form of the fictional Marwen town. Marwen is an art installation that acts as a Belgian town set in World War II and is adorned with dolls that resemble the people who have a significant impact on his life. While he’s often introverted, it’s in the town that hosts his greatest dreams and darkest fears, where he truly lives as his alter ego, fighter pilot Cap’n Hogie.

While it seems like he might never live outside of his art installation, his world slowly begins to change once his new neighbor, Nicol (Leslie Mann), comes to town. Through her inquisitive personality and inherent kindness, Nicol offers Mark the most unexpected of adventures — the possibility to find a connection without reservations.

amNewYork spoke to Leslie Mann about the magical film, out Dec. 21.

Before receiving the script, did you have any idea about Mark’s story?

I had never heard of him. Robert [Zemeckis] met me at my local coffee shop and told me for two and a half hours all about him and about this story and he basically told me about the movie as if it already existed. It already existed in his brain and then I went home and watched the documentary and [have] seen it about 15 times since then. It’s so great.

What did you take from the documentary, "Marwencol"?

It’s interesting how this person who was beaten up for being different, punished for being different, turned his trauma that he went through and that he experiences into something so beautiful and creative as a way to heal himself. It’s an incredible story that can be helpful to a lot of people.

You have a great way of being a smart comedic voice in films period, but this film sees you in a new light. What do you look for in projects in general?

It seems like what I’m doing speaks to whatever it is that’s going on in my life. It’s what usually connects me to something that I read. If I have something that I want to say emotionally, then I usually will find a script that I can express that thought through.

What stuck out to you about the script, particularly in what you wanted to say as a performer?

I love that we get to go into the mind of someone. It’s like a window into someone’s mind who is using their creativity and art as a form of therapy. We usually get to see a more two-dimensional person who is struggling with something or who is dealing with that trauma or PTSD. We only get to see so much of it, but to have this whole animated imaginary world and go off into the mind of someone who’s dealing with trauma is like the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. Everybody deals with their stuff differently and it’s the little things that you do to, to deal with your struggles in life.  

I was really fascinated by the dolls. Can you take me through the process of becoming a doll and filming those portions?

You basically put on this really ugly gray suit made out of a very thin polyester material that is like just so unflattering and they put little sensors all over your body and your face and you have on a little helmet. You do the scenes with very few props, and you’re in this giant green screened warehouse. Robert Zemeckis kind of sets the scene and then you just use your imagination and you act as if you are in the actual place. Then it becomes this whole world that he creates later on. It was the coolest movie experience I’ve ever had.

Niki Cruz