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My Life Without Me - Sarah Polley Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. What sort of intensity exists when you're making a film like this? How much intensity is it necessary to have?
A.
Well, it didn't really have the kind of intensity that you might think it would. I think because the character has a lot of joy, and a lot of fun in the last few months of her life, and that's who she is. Had she been a different kind of person, then that would have been an emotionally draining kind of experience.
She's so focused on life, that it's not like we were thinking about death all the time. It's kind of backdrop against which the film happens.

Q. Was your reaction immediate to the quality of the script?
A.
Yeah, I knew immediately I wanted to do it. And I think I was kind of stunned by the fact that it never fell into any of the traps that were there for it to fall into; I never felt like it got too sentimental; there was never a moment where we would have our big Terms of Endearment scene... I was waiting for it to disappoint me the first time I read it, which it never did.
I was sort of surprised you could take this kind of premise and make it surprising, and interesting, and uplifting.

Q. Did you perhaps draw up a list of things to achieve before you die, onset, to sort of get into the character?
A.
You know, I never did and I still haven't, which proves to be a bit of a problem when doing interviews [laughs]. I think I'm terrified of being the kind of actor who claims to know more about a subject, just because I made a film about it. For me the classic example is Adrien Brody saying that he knows about war, because he made a film about it.
So I'm sort of terrified of being one of these people who says I know more about death, or dying, so that's part of my avoidance.
And, also, I think Ann is better than me in every way, she's stronger, and more noble, and more generous, and I kept feeling that if I thought about what I would do in that situation, or the list I would make up, I'd be coming into conflict with the character in a way that wouldn't be helpful in playing her.
I just tried to see things through her eyes, because the truth is I'm not like her. The things she puts on her list are so noble and heroic and beautiful.

Q. Is there something in this subject matter that appeals especially to the Canadian sensibility?
A.
It very much fits in to the kind of films we make in Canada, except I think there is a Spanish sensibility as well, that wouldn't be there if a Canadian filmmaker had made it. I don't think you'd have people dancing in a supermarket if a Canadian had made this film [laughs].
I do think it fits into that very well, but I do think it's a complete coincidence than it happened there, you know.

Q. In The Sweet Hereafter, we don't actually see you die, and in this, we don't either, is there something about you, as an actress, that relishes avoiding a good death scene?
A.
[Laughs]. I'm trying to think if I've ever died in a film. I got shot once, in a David Cronenberg movie, but I hated it, so no, I don't want a good death scene.
I think there are a few things that are really hard to do onscreen; I think it's really hard to be in love, convincingly, to vomit convincingly, and it's really hard to die convincingly, so I try to avoid at least the latter two.

Q. Was there a temptation to include the big death scene, though?
A.
Well, we've seen that so often. Almost every TV movie has that scene in it, so I was really happy that it didn't go there. It would have been a lot less interesting if we had actually seen that.

Q. Do you have any Blondie songs that you would admit to? And what was it like starring alongside Deborah Harry as your mother?
A.
Yeah, but to tell you the truth, of course I knew Blondie songs, but I don't know if I actually knew that Blondie sang those songs.
I actually knew her more as an actress, than a singer, because I think I missed Blondie by a couple of years. I'd seen her in Videodrome, and this gay porn movie called The Fluffer [laughs], so I really loved her acting, and it was great to work with her.
But there was never any sense of that. The most I've thought about her being Blondie is during these interviews. Really, she was just one of the great actors in the cast, and she was incredibly normal and grounded. You can't really imagine her as an icon when you are spending time with her; she's just so down to earth and normal.

Q. I can't recall a movie, for a while, where an actress is playing a mother, with two daughters, and the sense of bonding between them is absolutely perfect. How did you achieve that? Because it just felt totally natural...
A.
Thank you, it's very nice, and you couldn't say anything nicer, because it was the thing I was most scared of doing the film. I think it can ring really false to people who have kids when someone who doesn't have kids is pretending to be a mother.
I was really concerned about it, but it was also one of the exciting things, to me, about playing the part because, usually, you don't get to play mothers until you are a little bit older.
Isobel gave us tonnes of time with the kids before we started shooting. Scott and I got to spend a lot of time with them, and we did get really close to them. So, I really loved that part of making the film.

Q. So how did you go about achieving it, did you play with them?
A.
Yeah, we played with them a lot. We had a lot of pillow fights. They were actually just really great people and really lovely kids to hang around with, and really funny. They were also given a lot of freedom, which meant we were really following their lead, as they were improvising a lot. I think that helped.

Q. The films you've done are human dramas, which really engage the audience emotionally, yet now you've gone and done a zombie movie - Dawn of the Dead - what made you decide to do it? And how do you approach that type of a character?
A.
I think that every movie should have at least one zombie in it! I don't know if you've seen the original, but I'm a huge fan of the George Romero films, particularly Dawn of the Dead, and I think there's a very obvious political subtext through Dawn of the Dead about consumer culture, and instead of taking that out of the remake, they've actually put it more in, which I sort of find universal.
But I'm a really huge zombie fan, and I did think about how much I wanted to do it, and I almost stopped myself, to tell you the truth, because of this kind of question. I just couldn't see how I could explain this. But I just wanted to do it, and I had to stop thinking about how I was going to justify it in the future, and I had such a fun time doing it.
I don't think I'm going to make a career out of doing big Hollywood horror movies, to tell you the truth; I don't feel this is the beginning of a new path for me, but I really wanted to do it, and I think it's going to be really good, so it's completely different, but it also fits completely into my criteria about why I want to make films, so...

Q. We've known your work from The Sweet Hereafter and other stuff, but Mark Ruffalo and Scott Speedman we've only really discovered much more recently. What was it like working with them?
A.
I was sort of astonished by how great they both were. Mark's probably one of the kindest, most generous actors I've ever worked with. He's unbelievable... and great.
With Scott, I actually went to High School with, so I've actually known him for a long time.
It's very, very strange to work with two actors who are doing really well, who are good-looking, and who aren't arseholes. I'm constantly astonished, and I think it set me up badly for the world in front of me, because I've had so many disappointments since then [laughs].
And that is not indicative of what successful young actors are like. They were fantastic.

Q. Just to clear up the going to school with Scott thing, were you in the same year?
A.
Not the same year, the same school, so we had some of the same friends. We weren't really close, or anything, but we knew each other...

Q. You seem to have consistently appeared on shortlists, in magazines over the years, of the next best thing, or the actress to watch out for, yet perversely you've always gone the other way. Does that exasperate you? Does it make you more determined to seek out the more individual roles?
A.
I really just want to do things with the right intentions, and want to feel like I'm working with filmmakers who are trying to say something, or contribute something, or tell an interesting story. That's sort of the only criteria I follow.
I don't very often shoot films because of what film it's going to lead to next, or where it's going to get me. I think that's a really large part of why I will always be at a certain level of exposure, and that's actually fine with me. I feel incredibly lucky to be working with these kinds of people and I don't really know how to crave another level of exposure.
I just feel that my life, as it is right now, is exactly how I want it.

Q. Some people, though, make the type of films you're making, and then go away and make a major film, that sort of subsidizes projects such as these? But you've never done that...
A.
Yeah, but you know, I had a different answer to this question before I did Dawn of the Dead [laughs]. I just can't imagine spending three or four months of my life doing something I just didn't want to do, or believe in.
Even if you do only independent films, if you do a couple a year, you still make a pretty good living. I don't have some out of control lifestyle I need to support, so I can kind of do what I want and feel really lucky.
I actually had a conversation with a big actor, once, who shall remain nameless, but we were talking about what you needed to live. And this person was saying, you know, you've got to do really commercial films, because you want to be able to pay your bills, and I was like, well what kind of bills do you have!?
If you made $40 or $50,000 a year, you can still live very comfortably. I mean, my parents, combined, made $40,000 and supported five children, and we never felt poor. And he was claiming that you needed $2 million a year to live, just because he had a child. I just think people have different perceptions of what's necessary, and I think actors can still make a really good living doing strong independent films like this.

Q. So could we classify you as the type of actress who has to have a point to the work, as opposed to the work being the point?
A.
I guess, in some way, if you have the opportunity to do things that have some meaning, I don't know why you would choose to do other things. I understand that maybe people don't have that opportunity, but I do right now, and so I'm happy to sort of hold out for the films that I feel have something to contribute.

 

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