Performance Indicators

By Richard Mowe

sarah-polley.jpgSarah Polley

Canadian actress Sarah Polley’s first came to prominence internationally when she appeared in Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter. Despite gaining rave reviews and receiving numerous Hollywood offers in the wake of this film, Polley has generally spurned the trappings of mainstream stardom and instead primarily concentrated on arthouse projects like My Life Without Me and Don’t Come Knocking. She has also made her own shorts.

Richard Mowe: You still live in Canada. Wouldn’t it be better for your career to move to the United States?

Sarah Polley: Yeah, probably. But it’s one of those things where I’d much rather have the quality of life I have in Canada. I know it puts me at a disadvantage in all kinds of ways but I also think that so much of what I do is formed by where I’m from and I’m culturally extremely different to Americans. And that contributes to my work and that’s something that’s really important to hold on to. I think I would be a much worse actor if I lived in the United States because I would lose some really important connection with who I am and where I am from.

RM: Are you saying you wouldn’t accept a part in a big movie if it gave you the chance to become popular?

SP: I never know what I’m going to feel until it happens. One [Hollywood experience I had] was a film I was offered five or six years ago. I agreed to do it and it was strange as it got closer and closer to the shooting, I realised that this film was designed to make somebody a big star and the closer I got to that, the more terrified I became and the more I realised I didn’t want that to be my life. I ended up dropping out at the last minute. I gave up a lot of opportunities doing that but I’ve never really regretted it because it would have changed my life so much and I’m actually so happy.

sweet-hereafter-atom-egoyan.jpgThe Sweet Hereafter, 1997

RM: Do you think non-American filmmakers often try to cater to Hollywood tastes?

SP: Yes. It’s scary because in a way you start to see all of these countries that have really vibrant film histories making picture postcards for America. Like Amelie for instance. A French filmmaker should not have accordion music in a film about France. That’s for Americans; that’s what Americans want to see of Paris. Even Irish and English films offer the cute versions [of their countries]. To me even the Czech film Kolya is like an American movie. I think I would like to see a Czech movie but I don’t know where I’d see it in North America. When I was doing some research about child actors, one of the most horrible stories I heard was the director of Kolya [Jan Sverak] talking about how he made the little boy cry. I thought about when you see a child cry on screen. How ethical is it for us to be consuming this moment of real sadness? I don’t think a child can fake tears.

RM: How did you get to work with Wim Wenders on Don’t Come Knocking and what was it like?

SP: It was an amazing experience. It wasn’t an easy part to get and I’m very unambitious in many ways when it comes to acting. I’m just not one of those people who fight and claw to get every part that I want. I’ve always been too confused about my relationship to acting to be that ambitious. So that was the first time that I’ve really fought for something. Wim is one of my favourite filmmakers. Wings of Desire is probably one of my top four films of all time so it was really the first time it was worth it for me to humiliate myself. I auditioned and I wrote him letters, I went to meet him in Berlin. It was a really long process before I ended up in the film, but it was something I absolutely fought for.

Richard Mowe is a film journalist, critic, director of the French and Italian film festivals in the UK, and a director of independent distributors CineFile.