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September 18, 1999
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SJP


From Road To Avonlea to Highway of fame
By RANDALL KING


Sarah Polley could easily exercise the option of going Hollywood. Instead, she's going ... Winnipeg.

Polley, 20, comes to town next week to work for three weeks on John Greyson's new film, The Law Of Enclosures, which begins shooting Sept. 26.

"It's the story of a married couple," Polley says of the flick, which is being produced by Winnipeg's Buffalo Gal Pictures. "In the first stage of their marriage, they're desperately in love with each other and then, when they're in the fifties, they're sadistic and horrible to each other, so I play the 20-year-old."

(Oscar-nominated actress Diane Ladd plays the older version of Polley's character. Ladd is the real-life mother of actress Laura Dern.)

Polley's last released film was Doug Liman's Go, a hip, fractured narrative in which she played a drug-dealing supermarket cashier opposite Hollywood vanguard-type who included Katie Holmes, Jay Mohr and Scott Wolf. A project like that may make it hard for some to believe Polley looks forward to glamour-deficient Winnipeg. But she does.

"Everything has this thing about 'Winter-peg' but all of the people I know who are artistic and intelligent love Winnipeg," she says. "They all say there's a really vibrant community there."

I don't take this as hometown flattery. It's not her style. In fact, Polley speaks with a refreshing lack of irony worthy of her Road To Avonlea character Sara Stanley, that plucky little TV girl who resided at the other end of the 20th century.

Doing Road To Avonlea meant Polley grew up in front of the entire TV nation, part of the reason she now craves anonymity. She did stardom as a child. She wasn't impressed.

"I think I'm less in awe of it, because I had it when I was really young, and it freaked me out then," she says. "It's not like I had this thing that I wanted that I couldn't have. I had it, and it wasn't very great. It didn't do a lot for me as a person."

But fame was a by-product of superb work. Polley emerged from adolescence in the role of a physically and emotionally damaged teenager in Atom Egoyan's 1997 film The Sweet Hereafter. She was noticed for her subtle performance and her startling screen presence.

Polley's sensitivity caught the attention of novice filmmaker Audrey Wells, who cast her as the protege/lover of artist Stephen Rea in the upcoming film Guinevere (which premiered this week at the Toronto International Film Festival and should open in Winnipeg in October).

"I think if I was to pull out one quality that makes Sarah so amazing, I would say it's her ability to empathize," Wells says. "Sarah knows how every person on a set is feeling, whether she knows their name or not.

"She's completely aware of other people, and it's this lack of narcissism that's extraordinary to find in the movie business, let alone in actors. It makes her brilliant."

That brilliance could also make Polley a movie star, as Wells learned first-hand.

"When we were in New York recently, we went out to dinner and made the reservation 20 minutes before we went in the restaurant and when we came out, there were people on the sidewalk with her picture, waiting for autographs," Wells says. "I was very worried for her."

Polley -- who was Interview magazine's covergirl last month -- is kind of worried herself.

"When I was in L.A. last time, there were people waiting for me in an underground parking garage who then chased me to my hotel," she says. "That happens in the States, so that's why I live here (in Toronto).

"People aren't out of their minds in Canada, do you know what mean?" she says. "They're Canadian and they're not obsessed by celebrity and they're not abrasive in that way. Americans, I think, feel that if you're in the public eye, they have a right to you, in the same sense of the right to bear arms."

Thus, Polley has decided to resist Hollywood's siren song as best she can.

"I just think independent films are better, and Canadian films are better, so that's what I'm interested in doing," she says.

"I just sort of feel like I would like to live a completely normal kind of life and do this," she says, referring to sustaining an acting career, "which is a ridiculous goal."


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