CANNES -- Four years ago, the Cannes Film Festival was the coming-of-age experience that celebrated Toronto actress Sarah Polley needed in order to come to terms with the dark side of movie stardom.
In 1997, she was here with Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter, which went on to two Oscar nominations. This week, she is back as the beauty in Hal Hartley's twisted beauty-and-the-beast monster movie No Such Thing, part of the Un Certain Regard section at the 54th Cannes filmfest.
"I think the first time I came here, I was completely unprepared for what this place was and for the reaction the film got, and for the amount of attention I got for The Sweet Hereafter," the thoughtful, articulate Polley said yesterday.
"You know, I think it's an incredibly easy place to lose yourself, and you can probably trace a lot of actors going completely off their rockers and becoming egomaniacs to their first experience at Cannes. When you have three days of nothing but people asking you questions and being interested in you, it's hard to remember that most of the world doesn't give a shit about you and what you are doing.
"I think it's really important to remember that, but difficult when you're 18 years old and swept up in something. I think it was the beginning of my becoming incredibly protective of myself and my personal life, and deciding not to market myself in the way that a lot of people are forced to do.
"And I feel that now, coming back, I'm a little bit older (22) and I've been through that. I've come back with a very, very specific idea of what I will do and what I won't do to be an actor. I will support a film. I won't put on tons of makeup and be on the cover of a magazine in designer clothes. I won't market my sexuality. I won't do a lot of things that seem to be expected.
"But, as long as you're very clear about what you're willing to do and what you're willing to talk about, it's okay. And, actually, I've had a fine time."
It helps that she has come to terms with actually being an actress. When she was a child star in Canada and appeared in Terry Gilliam's Hollywood movie, The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen, Polley was quoted as saying she never wanted to be a movie star -- or even an actress -- as an adult. Now, obviously, she is both.
"I've discovered something that I didn't know that I would discover, which is that I really love acting," she said. She just won't succumb to the lure of a big Hollywood studio movie again, "where people are secondary to the money," and suffer as she did on the Gilliam picture.
As for the eccentric Gilliam, who is serving on the Cannes jury, Polley said with a laugh that: "I'm going to hunt him down. I have a few issues to talk about with him!"
Polley finds the subject of stardom amusing. "First of all, I'm not famous. Well, yeah, but in kind of an obscure way. Being famous in Canada is very different from being famous anywhere else. It's the kind of thing where someone will come up to you on the bus in the morning and go: 'I didn't like that thing on TV last night -- at all!' There is no sense of separation or glorification.
"But I found the few times I got recognized in the States were a really daunting experience. In Canada, it's just: 'Hey, what's up?' It's fantastic. So it's actually the perfect place, if you're uncomfortable with that kind of attention. I think I am really Canadian, whatever that means. I really feel comfortable there."