'Take This Waltz' filmmaker Sarah Polley says acting less a priority now
Published Thursday, June 28, 2012 11:56AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, June 29, 2012 8:53AM EDT
TORONTO -- Though she's been in the film and TV industry since childhood, actress-turned-movie maker Sarah Polley says she feels like she's at the beginning of her career in a way.
This Friday's theatrical release of "Take This Waltz," Polley's second feature film as a writer-director, comes four years after she received an Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay for "Away From Her."
Now, as Polley writes the screenplay for an adaptation of Margaret Atwood's novel "Alias Grace" that she also plans to direct, she says filmmaking has become a bigger priority for her than acting.
"I think every now and then I'll work with a director I really admire or respect, but making films just takes up so much time and I don't want to make one film after another," said Polley, who had a baby earlier this year with husband David Sandomierski.
"I really want to have a life in between, so just by default I'll probably act quite a bit less than before."
The bittersweet comedy-drama "Take This Waltz" debuted at last year's Toronto International Film Festival.
Polley started writing it when she was editing "Away From Her," a tender Alzheimer's tale she wrote and directed based on Alice Munro's short story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain." Co-star Julie Christie earned an Oscar nomination for playing the wife alongside Gordon Pinsent.
Like "Away From Her," "Take This Waltz" also gives an unflinching look at the complexities and nuances of long-term relationships, in this case a young married couple (Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen) caught in the mundane patterns of domestic life.
The bond between writer Margot (three-time Oscar nominee Williams) and Lou (Rogen) fractures when she meets a handsome rickshaw-driver neighbour (Luke Kirby) during a sweltering summer in Toronto. Sarah Silverman co-stars as Margot's sister-in-law, who is a recovering alcoholic.
"It's been really fascinating to just see how some people connect so much to Margot, some people judge her so harshly, some people love the Seth Rogen character, some people feel like they don't understand why she's with him," said Polley, 33, who first endeared audiences as a child actor in projects including "Ramona," "Road to Avonlea" and "The Sweet Hereafter."
"It just feels like no one seems to agree on who's right and who's wrong. The film was written to not have any heroes and villains and to be full of flawed ... characters who are likable at times.
"But it's just interesting to see how people really bring their own relationships to it or their past relationships to it."
One scene in particular has drawn big reaction. It's when Margot, Geraldine (Silverman) and several other women hit the showers at the YMCA gym and scrub down on-camera completely naked.
"I wanted to shoot a scene that showed female nudity in a really different way than we usually see it, where women are neither objectified nor mocked for their bodies," said Polley. "It was important for me to sort of have women's bodies shown in this everyday way."
Polley said she made sure her stars were OK with the scene before they signed on to the film and then asked them again the day before shooting it, telling them they could back out if they wanted.
"But I feel like they were all really into the idea of doing a scene that wasn't about objectifying themselves but just dealt with the female body as it was," said Polley, noting it also "appealed to their kind of feminist instincts in a strange way."
"Take This Waltz" is filled with vibrant hues. Polley shot it in Toronto in the summer because she wanted to portray her home city "at its most sexy and its most colourful," she said.
Though the cast includes some big names, shooting in the city's downtown was manageable, said Polley.
"There was one time, it was hilarious, while Seth Rogen was getting pulled on a rickshaw through the streets some guy yelled out, 'Hey Seth, I went to high school with you, what the hell are you doing?' That was the most hysteria."
Polley admitted she's still learning the ropes of movie-making, noting with a laugh that every feature she helms "is a big expensive film school."
But despite getting an Oscar nomination for her last effort, she didn't feel any pressure with "Take This Waltz," heeding the advice of a film critic who told her: "'Through your second film just do whatever you want to do because chances are it's not going to get a great critical response."'
"I made exactly the film I wanted to and exactly the way I wanted to make it, with the people I wanted to make it with, so I feel like the response has been much better than I thought it would be, which has been great," said Polley.
"But if it had been a total disaster, that wouldn't have bothered me because I just feel like, if you get to make a film and it's what you wanted to make and the end-product is exactly what you wanted it to be -- as opposed being muddled with by a million different people -- you're so lucky and have such a rarefied experience. So I would've been happy with a lot less."
Polley said she's partway through writing the screenplay for "Alias Grace." It's the only film in her future and she's putting all of her creative energy into it.
It's a passion project for which Polley spent about 10 years trying to get the film rights.
At first it was in other people's hands so she "was sort of following it around and chasing it."
"Then when the rights finally became available I wasn't free to right away write it so I asked if I could get the rights -- but knowing that I wouldn't start on it right away -- and (Atwood) was really generous to allow me to do that and has been really supportive and generous through working on writing it and helping me with research," said Polley.
"It's been really great to have her as a resource."
Polley said she's happy it took her so long to get the rights to the ambitious project, which she feels can only be made with a high budget and will take a lot of focus and time to pull together.
"I don't think it would've been a good first film," said Polley, laughing. "I think I could've really fallen on my face pretty hard with that as a first film, so I think it's a great film to make in my mid-30s."
News about Polley's pregnancy and marriage spread last fall when "Take This Waltz" debuted at the Toronto film festival and she revealed in some interviews that she was expecting.
Polley said she understands that type of news is more and more in demand, but she didn't realize it would make headlines the way it did and it made her want to "create this little shell now." Thus, as she conducted interviews this time around for "Take This Waltz," she politely declined to discuss her personal life.
"It was really weird for me around the release of this film where the entire news in the Canadian press was just about me being pregnant, and I was like, 'Oh my God, I'm not even acting that much anymore and now I'm behind the camera and a writer-director and now people are talking about my personal life?"' she said.
"I was just kind of shocked by it and taken aback by how much it usurped talking about the work and it sort of terrified me. I was like, 'Oh my God, is this going to be a trend?' And I don't think it is because, frankly, I'm just not famous enough for people to care, which is awesome," Polley continued with a laugh.
"But I just feel like really all of a sudden I got really protective of talking about my private life generally in a way that I never have been."