Cobie Smulders is best known for her role on the long running CBS comedy “How I Met Your Mother” as well as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill in Marvel’s “Avengers” movies.
The French-Canadian actress can’t say yet whether she will be reprising the Maria Hill character in the upcoming “Avengers” installments, and politely deflects the question when asked.
In “Unexpected,” she stars as an inner city schoolteacher who discovers she is pregnant and must come to terms with her situation. Directed and co-written by Kris Swanberg and Megan Mercier, the drama is based on Swanberg’s personal experience. The film also stars Anders Holm, Elizabeth McGovern and Gail Bean.
As Samantha, Smulders finds out she is pregnant just as her job is being eliminated at an urban Chicago high school. Though she is in a loving relationship with boyfriend John (Anders), the two hadn’t quite planned on this happy accident. They quickly get hitched at city hall, which doesn’t sit well with Sam’s traditional mother (McGovern). Meanwhile at the school where Sam teachers, a young student (Bean) learns that she also is pregnant. The teen is dealing with a whole different set of challenges and obstacles, including whether she’ll be able to go to college. The two women soon find a common bond as they navigate the choppy waters of first-time pregnancy while continuing to pursue their dreams. Coincidentally, Smulders was pregnant during the filming of “Unexpected.”
Dressed in a blue and white print sleeveless dress for an interview, Smulders hobbles into the room on crutches. The injury to her right leg wasn’t during filming, she explains, but rather a mishap at home.
“I’ve got to come up with something more interesting than ‘I fell down,’” the brunette beauty says with a laugh.
Q: You have an exciting story to go with this?
Smulders: No. It’s super mundane. It’s super dumb. I was in my apartment in New York playing with my kid and I just fell one way and my leg went the other way, and I just cracked it in half.
Q: Working and kids thing—it’s the eternal question. Do you stay home? Do you work and get childcare? How long do you stay home?
Smulders: I think it’s different for everybody. Kris Swanberg wrote and directed it with Megan Mercier. It was very much based on her personal experience. She worked in the public school system in Chicago, and she found out she was pregnant, roughly around the same time that she found out one of her students was pregnant as well. I met with Kris. We sat down and talked about it. I like to think that a stay-at-home-mom is a working mom. Staying at home with your kids is probably one of the hardest jobs, emotionally, physically and mentally. We had a lot to talk about from that perspective and really bonded through that. I feel very jealous towards women who can say, “I’m going to stay home and be a mom.” I wish that’s what fulfilled me but I like to work and I have to have something for myself. And that comes with it’s own feelings of guilt. It’s a challenge. It’s a constant balancing act.
Q: How has the transition been from being a working mom of one to a working mom of two?
Smulders: I feel like I haven’t quite figured that out yet. My kids have a big age difference (six years), so it’s been manageable. I don’t know how women do it who have three kids under three. That’s insane to me.
Q: Were you able to draw on your own pregnancy for this role?
Smulders: I was pregnant (with my second child) during this movie. I was in my last trimester.
Q: So you didn’t have to use a fake belly in this?
Smulders: Sometimes it’s a fake one; sometimes it’s me. We had to do a bit of a dance with the belly because in the morning we’d be shooting a scene where I was three weeks pregnant and then after lunch we’d be shooting a scene where I was supposed to be six months pregnant. So we had some prosthetics, some cotton bellies. We had a great wardrobe team helping with that. But sometimes we got to use my real belly. I really didn’t start showing until the very end of the film.
Q: Did you relate to your character?
Smulders: Yeah, I’m very driven. I like to work, and I have a hard time being told, “You can’t do this,” even if it’s something like, “You can’t take this job because you have this new baby.” I’m like, “Why can’t I do both?” That’s what I like about the character. She has to educate herself in what’s important and what sacrifices have to be made and how does she make them, and be happy. I found that really interesting with her.
Q: You were on “How I Met Your Mother” when you were pregnant with your first child. Did you work out your schedule with them?
Smulders: It worked out well. I had my first when I was not working so I was able to take some time off. It worked out really brilliantly; I didn’t have to carry too many handbags.
Q: Now that you’re a mom, has it changed what roles you take?
Smulders: It has to be something I’m really passionate about because now I know if I’m taking time away from my family, and then it has to be something that I really want to do. When I was younger, it was such a hustle. I was hustling, hustling, hustling. Now, I choose projects based on what I want to do, then I figure a way to do it.
Q: What are you working on now?
Smulders: Well, I’m waiting for my leg to heal. I’ve got to come up with a better story. I’ve got a couple more weeks (with the brace) and then we’ll see. I don’t have anything in the works as of yet.
Q: Are you doing “Civil War?”
Smulders: I can’t talk about that. I just know what I hear from (the press).
Q: Samuel L. Jackson, who plays Nick Fury, said he won’t be in that “Avengers” movie.
Smulders: I heard that he said that.
Q: The pregnancy becomes real for Samantha when she sees the ultrasound of the baby for the first time. Could you relate to that?
Smulders: Yeah, and I love that Kris worked that into the movie because (the ultrasound) is your first sense of tangibility when you get pregnant. Because you don’t really feel pregnant until you feel the baby move inside you. There’s that show, “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant.” I don’t know how that’s possible but I guess it works out that way for some people. When you go for the ultrasound, it’s the first time you get to see inside your body, and whenever you do that, with whatever you’re dealing with, it’s such an amazing scientific feat that you’re able to see. Like getting the x-rays and MRIs on my leg, I’m like, “So that’s what my bones look like!”
Q: What has motherhood taught you about yourself?
Smulders: That I’m not as patient as I thought I was. I always wanted to be a mom but I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t know what that job entailed. I think that being a mom has made me a better person. I’m much more patient and much more chill than I was before.