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September 21, 1999
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SJP


Like a guest in her own home
By BRUCE KIRKLAND


Sarah Polley, actress-filmmaker, left-wing activist and passionate Canadian, entered The Twilight Zone at the Toronto International Film Festival last week.

"It was weird, actually," Polley tells me about her recent experiences here as an emerging celebrity who not only starred in the festival film Guinevere but made her directorial debut with a short called Don't Think Twice. "I've found the last few weeks a little bit disturbing."

Flying back to Toronto from New York, Polley was met at the airport by two guest relations volunteers from the festival.

"Welcome to Toronto," they chimed in a greeting. "How long are you staying? We have a room for you at the Best Western." Then they handed her a packet of tourbook guides.

Polley lives in Toronto -- within walking distance of the hotel where the filmfest was headquartered. Now 20, she has lived here all her life. She doesn't want to leave.

"It's just amazing to me that there's this assumption that I live in L.A. because I'm in an American movie," she says of her starring role in Audrey Wells' sensual drama Guinevere, which made its debut at the festival and opens here in theatres on Friday.

"It really bothers me. I made a point of staying here! It's been a really big deal for me. At the same time, I'm just happy to be home again."

Polley, the daughter of Toronto actors Michael Polley and the late Diane Polley, is so thoroughly rooted in her community she is part of the socio-political fabric of the city, and this country. She is finding it surreal that the fest changes things.

FEST SPARKS STARGAZING

"I really love living here because of the fact that people are not really impressed by celebrity and do treat actors generally like people with a job, like everyone else. In the neighbourhood I live in, people don't treat me differently. And they shouldn't. I don't feel that I do anything that extraordinary.

"But it seems that, around festival time, everyone decides to become an 'American.' All of a sudden, I walk down the same street I've walked down every day for the past three years and people are really making a big deal out of the fact that I'm an actor." Polley visibly squirms.

Her American profile is also soaring, thanks to her performance in an Oscar-nominated Canadian film, Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter. Since then, she has co-starred in Guinevere, Go, and is signed to co-star with Sean Penn in The Weight Of Water. Yet Polley shrugs off celebrity.

"I sort of shelter myself from it," she says. "I'm ruthless about not getting swept up in it. I think I really could get screwed up if I was going to parties and premieres in L.A."

Being "lucky enough to live here" means she can get work in Hollywood without letting Hollywood work on her.

Polley is now shooting three films this fall, all to be shot in Canada. This week she flies to Winnipeg to shoot The Law Of Enclosures for John Greyson, a man she respects enormously. Then she goes to Nova Scotia for The Weight Of Water. Finally, she will return to Toronto for her friend Clement Virgo's Love Come Down. Each of these films has a strong theme and challenging characters to play.

FILM EXPLORES AGES

Co-starring with Irish actor Stephen Rea (The Crying Game) in Guinevere let her explore an age issue. She plays a San Francisco youth who falls in love with a much older man, a photographer who has made a career of nurturing girls.

"It is an interesting phenomenon that, in almost every movie, you have a much older man and a younger woman. And it's not discussed. It's treated as normal."

In Guinevere the issue is discussed in detail. "But it's discussed generously without passing judgment," says Polley. "I think that's where the film finds its real strength. It doesn't take a puritanical position. I think that's brave."


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