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December 17, 1999
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SJP


Que Sera, Sarah
By RANDALL KING


Toronto -- Sarah Polley is trying to keep her cool about being hot.

At the time of our conversation, she's on the cover of two magazine covers -- Interview and Saturday Night.

She betrays a touch of annoyance about the Interview cover, and not because the mag's layout elves have perversely applied glitzy neon colours to the unadorned, makeup-free kisser in the photograph.

"The Interview piece wasn't a cover story when I did it," she says. "It became that later."

Young actors generally like it when they receive high-profile media attention. (Jennifer Lopez, anyone?) But though Polley is just 20, she's been in the business long enough to be nervous about fame.

"People care about you a little bit if you're just an actor," she says. "But if you're on the cover of a magazine, then they feel you're somehow their property, and that is what I'd like to avoid."

Remember, Polley has been a working screen actress for 12 years. She made her screen debut in Terry Gilliam's The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen when she was just eight, and from ages nine to 15, Canada knew her as the plucky Sara Stanley on the Disney-syndicated CBC series The Road To Avonlea.

She's done fame. She didn't like it.

"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 it was this thing that I wanted and couldn't have. I had it and it wasn't very great."

In case you think this is just another case of a star playing hard-to-get with the media, consider this: Sarah had just turned 11 when her actress mother Dian Polley died of cancer.

"What happened after that was so appalling, because journalists after that, their favourite story was: Let's talk about her mom," she says.

Audrey Wells, who directed Polley in the film Guinevere, affirms the actress comes by her prematurely seasoned quality honestly.

"Most women don't have that kind of a collection of things to overcome until they're already in their 60s," Wells says. "Sara really racked it up before turning 20 years old."

Polley projected her bruised maturity in Atom Egoyan's 1997 art film The Sweet Hereafter, which paradoxically boosted her cachet in Hollywood. Roles followed in American films such as Doug Liman's Go and, now, Guinevere, in which she plays Harper Sloane, an artist who blooms under the tutelage of an older lover played by Stephen Rea. Though Polley has never had the kind of sexually intimate mentoring relationship portrayed in the film, she could relate to Harper.

"There's a sense of shyness and a desperation for anonymity that Harper has in a lot of ways that I connected to, definitely," Polley says, adding that she and her character also deviate significantly too.

"Her problem is that she hasn't been recognized as a person unto herself and so that makes her want to disappear even more," she says, "whereas I feel like I would like to live a completely normal life -- and do this -- which is a ridiculous goal.

"In a weird way, I would like to be recognized as a person a lot less."

No wonder. Polley says she's had some scary encounters with fans south of the border.

"The last time I was in L.A., there were a bunch of people waiting for me in an underground parking garage, who then chased me to my hotel.

"That's why I live here," says the native of Toronto. "People aren't out of their minds in Canada, you know what I mean?"

Wells describes Polley's anti-fame impulse as a desire to be "democratic."

"That sounds like something that's just an intellectual ideal, to be democratic," Wells says, "But it can also be an emotional need, to be one of a group, to be like everybody else.

"She doesn't want to be looked at as a star, she wants to be looked at as a friend, as a colleague, as part of something."

Polley's solution is to stay in Canada and put her professional emphasis on Canadian films. That's why she followed up Guinevere with a role in John Greyson's film The Law Of Enclosures, which she shot here in Winnipeg in September.

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


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