Actress Mia Farrow is in Venice for the first time as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF. She looks rejuvenated. Her hair is long and loose and she’s wearing an antique pink t-shirt, black pants and sandals. Accompanying her is her son Seamus, the child she had with Woody Allen, who is considered to be a young genius. At age fifteen he became the youngest student ever to graduate from Bard College, and was admitted to Yale Law School at age sixteen. At Yale, he is to study human rights law. Mia Farrow is a kind, poetic woman with a strong sense of determination. Just the way we’ve come to know her in films like “Rosemary’s Baby” or in the many films directed by her ex-husband Woody Allen.
Mia Farrow, how long have you been a UNICEF Ambassador?
How did you begin working with the organisation?
I was asked to help in the fight against polio. I think they chose me because I had polio when I was nine years old, but thank God I got through it without any consequences. One of my adoptive children, a little boy from Calcutta, also had polio.
And how is he today?
Unfortunately, he is in a wheelchair. But he is getting much better care now than he was before.
You have lots of children. How many do you have exactly?
I have fourteen. Ten of whom I adopted from war zones. Some are already grown and work and are married. One is a lawyer, another one is a teacher, another one is a psychologist, and another is the director of a school. In addition to all of these children, I have three grandchildren as well.
Are all your children the same for you, whether they were adopted or not?
Yes, of course. For me, they are all exactly the same.
So would you recommend that people adopt more?
No, I wouldn’t push anyone to take that path. It seems obvious to me because I adore children, and I can take care of them. I have a beautiful house in New York. I am very lucky and have enough money, and therefore it is right for me to adopt these kids in desperate situations. Now, for example, one of my adoptive children is blind and needs a lot of care and really needs me. I began working at age eighteen and so today I can work less and dedicate myself to this. Certainly, I occasionally work in the theatre, on television shows, or in films.
What does your commitment to children involve?
For example, now I am in Venice for an evening event raising money to send to the health crisis in Ossetia. I’ve also been to Nigeria, Angola, Somalia, and Sarajevo. Now I hope to go to Sudan.
What do you do during these trips?
I look around as much as possible. I try to understand what UNICEF does and what the aims are. I especially listen to the people who speak to me about their needs. I try to best represent UNICEF and to help the organisation reach its objectives. UNICEF is able to do things that many political leaders aren’t able to do. When I return to the United States, I speak with the media. I try to tell about the things I’ve learned in the best way possible. People listen to me because they trust me.
What is the worst situation you’ve seen?
In Angola, right after a fragile peace agreement after twenty-seven years of conflict. A place where there are millions of mines that haven’t been defused, where the infrastructure has been destroyed and where nobody knows anything about anyone else. Everyone is looking for someone, and a third of the population is in refugee camps. I saw too many children die in Angola, and it was truly a distressing situation.
Have you adopted children from there as well?
From Angola, no. However, I remember having seen a man who looked at my son Seamus’s belt and told me that he had had the same belt, and that he had had to eat it. People were eating anything – roots, seeds. And then there is the frightening problem of the mines, which are everywhere and out of control.
Were you scared?
I have to say that I was only in certain areas, which can only be reached by airplane.
Can you tell me more about this work?
UNICEF is extraordinary, and it allows one to do great work. To vaccinate children and bring food and blankets. To help those in need. Here in Venice, for example, now we are raising money to send to Beslan where that horrible tragedy happened.
How many people has UNICEF saved?
It would be impossible to quantify.
Why do you bring your children with you?
Because Seamus is sixteen years old, and we need young people who can speak with other young people.
As a UNICEF ambassador, how much money have you been able to raise?
It is hard to give a number, but I know that when I did a show on CNN people were calling into a toll-free number and the donations really went up. As I said before, because I am fortunate to have many people that put their trust in me, many people respond to my appeals.
What kind of relationship have you maintained with the cinema?
I love films. I have always liked the cinema very much. But now that I don’t have any big parts planned, I’m acting in “Fran’s Bed”, which is playing on Broadway. The show is going very well, and I am very happy about this. When one has worked for many years in the cinema and wants to have a long career, one needs to know how to wait for the right role. Furthermore, one also needs to know how to do other things, and not let the cinema take up all of one’s time. I am lucky because I love many different things, and I especially love getting together with my children and grandchildren. I have to say that my life is truly full right now.
September 9th, 2004