Nov 30, 2020
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For Sarah Polley, some impressive firsts

At the recent luncheon for the nominees for the 80th Academy Awards, the Oscar contenders gave “Away From Her” star Julie Christie probably the loudest ovation of the afternoon, suggesting she’s the favorite for the best actress trophy next Sunday. But Sarah Polley, the 29-year-old Torontonian who scripted and directed Christie’s performance, was nearly lost in the starry crowd.

For the official Oscar photo of this year’s nominees, Polley was tucked between two of this year’s hottest “it” girls: “Juno’s” Ellen Page and “La Vie en Rose’s” Marion Cotillard. Polley could hardly match the wattage, either, of her fellow adapted screenplay nominees: “Atonement’s” Christopher Hampton, “There Will Be Blood’s” Paul Thomas Anderson, Joel and Ethan Coen for “No Country for Old Men” and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’s” Ronald Harwood.

For all of her comparable anonymity, though, Polley’s achievement is nonetheless remarkable: Having never before written a produced screenplay or directed a feature film, Polley not only wrestled a knotty Alice Munro
short story into an articulate script but guided an actress more than twice her age into one of the best performances of her career.

“It’s totally shocking to me,” Polley says of all of the awards attention “Away From Her” has generated. “I think I was the least-prepared person who has ever been nominated for an Academy Award.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has followed Polley’s work. In independent movies as diverse as “Go” and “The Sweet Hereafter,” the Canadian actress has stood out for combining ethereal beauty with forceful intelligence. Although Polley has flirted with commercial projects (an appearance in 2004’s “Dawn of the Dead” being a rare example), more often than not she appears in films so small (“The Secret Life of Words,” “No Such Thing”) that their box-office grosses are less than the Oscars’ catering budget. Seriously.

Given her proclivity for art over commerce, it was only fitting that Polley chose Munro’s “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” for her feature debut. As rightfully celebrated as her short fiction may be, Munro’s stories are not overtly cinematic: In place of narrative, there’s contemplation, and where obvious exposition might reside, you’ll find veiled gestures.

But Polley believed there was a movie in Munro’s story of Fiona, a woman with Alzheimer’s disease slipping away, while her imperfect husband, Grant, labors to keep the one man who brings his wife happiness — a fellow patient named Aubrey at an assisted living center — near her side.

Before she could make “Away From Her,” Polley had to enlist Munro and Christie, neither of whom leaped at the chance to participate. “I thought it was hilarious that I was surrounded in this process by older women who were really elusive,” Polley says. “It felt like the bane of my existence were these women who were older than me and I was chasing them. I had some Freudian analysis of it, to do with the fact that I lost my mother when I was young and I’d created a life for myself where I was chasing these maternal figures around the world, begging them to be a part of my life.”

Munro and Christie, who plays Fiona opposite Gordon Pinsent’s Grant, eventually came around, but that was hardly Polley’s only challenge. There was the matter of the story itself, filled with inner monologues. “That is specifically the huge challenge with adapting her work,” Polley says. “She is so eloquent, in terms of people’s interior lives, and that’s such an impossible thing to convey.”

Although Polley showed remarkable faithfulness to some of Munro’s slightest details — the coffee cup holder in the home of Marian ( Olympia Dukakis
) is precisely as Munro described it — she enlarged several minor characters and overhauled the chronology. “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” ends with Fiona and Aubrey together; “Away from Her” begins there.

“I thought it was more interesting to have the suspense and the tension be about how things happened as opposed to what happened,” Polley says.

She also gave words to a young woman named Monica (Nina Dobrev), a character who darts through but does not speak in Munro’s version.

“That was my entrance into the subject matter,” Polley says of her adding Monica. “That’s sort of me, as someone half the age of these people, looking up to these people: not quite understanding how they got there, being in awe of them, being curious about them. There’s a kind of presumption in making a film about people who have an experience that is so far beyond your own that I felt like I needed to make that my connection somehow.”

Rolling up her sleeves

POLLEY certainly had looked up to Christie and Pinsent but knew that admiration would not get her far as a director. So she came to work obsessively prepared, with a clear vision of the film she wanted to make. “I don’t think I was a nightmare . . . but I certainly was holding on a little bit too tight because I didn’t know any better, and I was really scared of failing,” Polley says.

“I’ve spent a lifetime working with disorganized first-time filmmakers who don’t get the support of their crew because they feel they are wasting their time,” Polley says. “And I knew how badly I needed their support. You know as an actor so acutely what destroys morale, what creates complaints, and that can be good and bad, because when you’re directing you can become hyper-aware of that.

“I think that what a lot of first-time filmmakers don’t realize is that they are the least experienced person on that set. Everybody else has been doing their job for years, so the whole act of playing the filmmaker, playing the person in command, is a charade. So the best you can do is work your . . . off and admit what you don’t know and ask for help when you need it.”

Although Polley worked collaboratively with Christie, the veteran actress deferred to her neophyte director’s decisions, even when she wasn’t entirely happy with them, Polley says. When Polley was trying on Oscar dresses in Christie’s presence, Christie offered her own fashion advice. “She was trying to convince me to wear a light blue dress, because I made her wear a light blue jacket that she so didn’t want to wear, because she hates that color,” Polley says. “So she was trying to force me into that light blue dress as her ultimate revenge!”

In addition to the “Away From Her” awards attention, the film’s critical reception has brought Polley new projects. She is writing two screenplays (one original, the other an adaptation) and will direct “Buttercup,” a drama about a daughter’s relationship with her eccentric father, written by playwright Alice O’Neill.
“When it comes to films, you never have as much of a foothold as you think you do,” Polley says. “You should always be ready to struggle. You’re never safe.”

Source: Los Angeles Times

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Headline

For Sarah Polley, some impressive firsts

At the recent luncheon for the nominees for the 80th Academy Awards, the Oscar contenders gave “Away From Her” star Julie Christie probably the loudest ovation of the afternoon, suggesting she’s the favorite for the best actress trophy next Sunday. But Sarah Polley, the 29-year-old Torontonian who scripted and directed Christie’s performance, was nearly lost in the starry crowd.

For the official Oscar photo of this year’s nominees, Polley was tucked between two of this year’s hottest “it” girls: “Juno’s” Ellen Page and “La Vie en Rose’s” Marion Cotillard. Polley could hardly match the wattage, either, of her fellow adapted screenplay nominees: “Atonement’s” Christopher Hampton, “There Will Be Blood’s” Paul Thomas Anderson, Joel and Ethan Coen for “No Country for Old Men” and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’s” Ronald Harwood.

For all of her comparable anonymity, though, Polley’s achievement is nonetheless remarkable: Having never before written a produced screenplay or directed a feature film, Polley not only wrestled a knotty Alice Munro
short story into an articulate script but guided an actress more than twice her age into one of the best performances of her career.

“It’s totally shocking to me,” Polley says of all of the awards attention “Away From Her” has generated. “I think I was the least-prepared person who has ever been nominated for an Academy Award.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has followed Polley’s work. In independent movies as diverse as “Go” and “The Sweet Hereafter,” the Canadian actress has stood out for combining ethereal beauty with forceful intelligence. Although Polley has flirted with commercial projects (an appearance in 2004’s “Dawn of the Dead” being a rare example), more often than not she appears in films so small (“The Secret Life of Words,” “No Such Thing”) that their box-office grosses are less than the Oscars’ catering budget. Seriously.

Given her proclivity for art over commerce, it was only fitting that Polley chose Munro’s “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” for her feature debut. As rightfully celebrated as her short fiction may be, Munro’s stories are not overtly cinematic: In place of narrative, there’s contemplation, and where obvious exposition might reside, you’ll find veiled gestures.

But Polley believed there was a movie in Munro’s story of Fiona, a woman with Alzheimer’s disease slipping away, while her imperfect husband, Grant, labors to keep the one man who brings his wife happiness — a fellow patient named Aubrey at an assisted living center — near her side.

Before she could make “Away From Her,” Polley had to enlist Munro and Christie, neither of whom leaped at the chance to participate. “I thought it was hilarious that I was surrounded in this process by older women who were really elusive,” Polley says. “It felt like the bane of my existence were these women who were older than me and I was chasing them. I had some Freudian analysis of it, to do with the fact that I lost my mother when I was young and I’d created a life for myself where I was chasing these maternal figures around the world, begging them to be a part of my life.”

Munro and Christie, who plays Fiona opposite Gordon Pinsent’s Grant, eventually came around, but that was hardly Polley’s only challenge. There was the matter of the story itself, filled with inner monologues. “That is specifically the huge challenge with adapting her work,” Polley says. “She is so eloquent, in terms of people’s interior lives, and that’s such an impossible thing to convey.”

Although Polley showed remarkable faithfulness to some of Munro’s slightest details — the coffee cup holder in the home of Marian ( Olympia Dukakis
) is precisely as Munro described it — she enlarged several minor characters and overhauled the chronology. “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” ends with Fiona and Aubrey together; “Away from Her” begins there.

“I thought it was more interesting to have the suspense and the tension be about how things happened as opposed to what happened,” Polley says.

She also gave words to a young woman named Monica (Nina Dobrev), a character who darts through but does not speak in Munro’s version.

“That was my entrance into the subject matter,” Polley says of her adding Monica. “That’s sort of me, as someone half the age of these people, looking up to these people: not quite understanding how they got there, being in awe of them, being curious about them. There’s a kind of presumption in making a film about people who have an experience that is so far beyond your own that I felt like I needed to make that my connection somehow.”

Rolling up her sleeves

POLLEY certainly had looked up to Christie and Pinsent but knew that admiration would not get her far as a director. So she came to work obsessively prepared, with a clear vision of the film she wanted to make. “I don’t think I was a nightmare . . . but I certainly was holding on a little bit too tight because I didn’t know any better, and I was really scared of failing,” Polley says.

“I’ve spent a lifetime working with disorganized first-time filmmakers who don’t get the support of their crew because they feel they are wasting their time,” Polley says. “And I knew how badly I needed their support. You know as an actor so acutely what destroys morale, what creates complaints, and that can be good and bad, because when you’re directing you can become hyper-aware of that.

“I think that what a lot of first-time filmmakers don’t realize is that they are the least experienced person on that set. Everybody else has been doing their job for years, so the whole act of playing the filmmaker, playing the person in command, is a charade. So the best you can do is work your . . . off and admit what you don’t know and ask for help when you need it.”

Although Polley worked collaboratively with Christie, the veteran actress deferred to her neophyte director’s decisions, even when she wasn’t entirely happy with them, Polley says. When Polley was trying on Oscar dresses in Christie’s presence, Christie offered her own fashion advice. “She was trying to convince me to wear a light blue dress, because I made her wear a light blue jacket that she so didn’t want to wear, because she hates that color,” Polley says. “So she was trying to force me into that light blue dress as her ultimate revenge!”

In addition to the “Away From Her” awards attention, the film’s critical reception has brought Polley new projects. She is writing two screenplays (one original, the other an adaptation) and will direct “Buttercup,” a drama about a daughter’s relationship with her eccentric father, written by playwright Alice O’Neill.
“When it comes to films, you never have as much of a foothold as you think you do,” Polley says. “You should always be ready to struggle. You’re never safe.”

Source: Los Angeles Times

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Headline

For Sarah Polley, some impressive firsts

At the recent luncheon for the nominees for the 80th Academy Awards, the Oscar contenders gave “Away From Her” star Julie Christie probably the loudest ovation of the afternoon, suggesting she’s the favorite for the best actress trophy next Sunday. But Sarah Polley, the 29-year-old Torontonian who scripted and directed Christie’s performance, was nearly lost in the starry crowd.

For the official Oscar photo of this year’s nominees, Polley was tucked between two of this year’s hottest “it” girls: “Juno’s” Ellen Page and “La Vie en Rose’s” Marion Cotillard. Polley could hardly match the wattage, either, of her fellow adapted screenplay nominees: “Atonement’s” Christopher Hampton, “There Will Be Blood’s” Paul Thomas Anderson, Joel and Ethan Coen for “No Country for Old Men” and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’s” Ronald Harwood.

For all of her comparable anonymity, though, Polley’s achievement is nonetheless remarkable: Having never before written a produced screenplay or directed a feature film, Polley not only wrestled a knotty Alice Munro
short story into an articulate script but guided an actress more than twice her age into one of the best performances of her career.

“It’s totally shocking to me,” Polley says of all of the awards attention “Away From Her” has generated. “I think I was the least-prepared person who has ever been nominated for an Academy Award.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has followed Polley’s work. In independent movies as diverse as “Go” and “The Sweet Hereafter,” the Canadian actress has stood out for combining ethereal beauty with forceful intelligence. Although Polley has flirted with commercial projects (an appearance in 2004’s “Dawn of the Dead” being a rare example), more often than not she appears in films so small (“The Secret Life of Words,” “No Such Thing”) that their box-office grosses are less than the Oscars’ catering budget. Seriously.

Given her proclivity for art over commerce, it was only fitting that Polley chose Munro’s “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” for her feature debut. As rightfully celebrated as her short fiction may be, Munro’s stories are not overtly cinematic: In place of narrative, there’s contemplation, and where obvious exposition might reside, you’ll find veiled gestures.

But Polley believed there was a movie in Munro’s story of Fiona, a woman with Alzheimer’s disease slipping away, while her imperfect husband, Grant, labors to keep the one man who brings his wife happiness — a fellow patient named Aubrey at an assisted living center — near her side.

Before she could make “Away From Her,” Polley had to enlist Munro and Christie, neither of whom leaped at the chance to participate. “I thought it was hilarious that I was surrounded in this process by older women who were really elusive,” Polley says. “It felt like the bane of my existence were these women who were older than me and I was chasing them. I had some Freudian analysis of it, to do with the fact that I lost my mother when I was young and I’d created a life for myself where I was chasing these maternal figures around the world, begging them to be a part of my life.”

Munro and Christie, who plays Fiona opposite Gordon Pinsent’s Grant, eventually came around, but that was hardly Polley’s only challenge. There was the matter of the story itself, filled with inner monologues. “That is specifically the huge challenge with adapting her work,” Polley says. “She is so eloquent, in terms of people’s interior lives, and that’s such an impossible thing to convey.”

Although Polley showed remarkable faithfulness to some of Munro’s slightest details — the coffee cup holder in the home of Marian ( Olympia Dukakis
) is precisely as Munro described it — she enlarged several minor characters and overhauled the chronology. “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” ends with Fiona and Aubrey together; “Away from Her” begins there.

“I thought it was more interesting to have the suspense and the tension be about how things happened as opposed to what happened,” Polley says.

She also gave words to a young woman named Monica (Nina Dobrev), a character who darts through but does not speak in Munro’s version.

“That was my entrance into the subject matter,” Polley says of her adding Monica. “That’s sort of me, as someone half the age of these people, looking up to these people: not quite understanding how they got there, being in awe of them, being curious about them. There’s a kind of presumption in making a film about people who have an experience that is so far beyond your own that I felt like I needed to make that my connection somehow.”

Rolling up her sleeves

POLLEY certainly had looked up to Christie and Pinsent but knew that admiration would not get her far as a director. So she came to work obsessively prepared, with a clear vision of the film she wanted to make. “I don’t think I was a nightmare . . . but I certainly was holding on a little bit too tight because I didn’t know any better, and I was really scared of failing,” Polley says.

“I’ve spent a lifetime working with disorganized first-time filmmakers who don’t get the support of their crew because they feel they are wasting their time,” Polley says. “And I knew how badly I needed their support. You know as an actor so acutely what destroys morale, what creates complaints, and that can be good and bad, because when you’re directing you can become hyper-aware of that.

“I think that what a lot of first-time filmmakers don’t realize is that they are the least experienced person on that set. Everybody else has been doing their job for years, so the whole act of playing the filmmaker, playing the person in command, is a charade. So the best you can do is work your . . . off and admit what you don’t know and ask for help when you need it.”

Although Polley worked collaboratively with Christie, the veteran actress deferred to her neophyte director’s decisions, even when she wasn’t entirely happy with them, Polley says. When Polley was trying on Oscar dresses in Christie’s presence, Christie offered her own fashion advice. “She was trying to convince me to wear a light blue dress, because I made her wear a light blue jacket that she so didn’t want to wear, because she hates that color,” Polley says. “So she was trying to force me into that light blue dress as her ultimate revenge!”

In addition to the “Away From Her” awards attention, the film’s critical reception has brought Polley new projects. She is writing two screenplays (one original, the other an adaptation) and will direct “Buttercup,” a drama about a daughter’s relationship with her eccentric father, written by playwright Alice O’Neill.
“When it comes to films, you never have as much of a foothold as you think you do,” Polley says. “You should always be ready to struggle. You’re never safe.”

Source: Los Angeles Times

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Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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