Sarah Polley: The Movieline Interview

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Sundance's Park City at Midnight section is always among the most discussed group of films every year the festival, and in 2010, the Sarah Polley-Adrien Brody sci-fi-horror freakout Splice is arguably the most discussed of its peers. Director Vincenzo Natali's film features Polley and Brody as Elsa and Clive, a couple who share a bed, a laboratory and a passion for cutting-edge genetic engineering. Confronted by front-office pressures that threaten to squelch their research, the pair goes for broke with a human-animal hybrid that not only thrives, but also acquires an independence that turns against its ersatz parents in decidedly unpredictable, horrific and shocking ways. Both a single-minded, cutthroat scientist and a doting maternal presence, Elsa represents a fairly radical departure for the 31-year-old Canadian star -- one she spoke to Movieline about before the film's recent Sundance premiere.

Considering how much happens and is spoilable in this film, how would you explain it to potential viewers?

I never know how to explain it to people, because it's so crazy and so unlike anything else. I have a really hard time explaining it in less than an hour. I think it's a movie that really pushes boundaries in a way I haven't seen before. I think it's shocking, but in an almost playful way? I guess "sci-fi Freudian nightmare" is how I'd best describe it -- just the way it deals with the relationship between these two people and the creature they've created. Their parental obsession gets completely out of control with the thing they've created.

Shocking but playful?

I feel like in this film, every time there's a subtext where you feel like, "Oh my God, lingering underneath the surface of that is something horrible that will never happen," it actually then happens a couple scenes later. I think it constantly plays with your expectations that it's going to shy away from something, and then it never does.

Is that what appealed to you about the project?

The character that I play is so ambitious and so energetic and has such vision -- not necessarily all for the good of the world. Just this single-minded, crazy ambition. I've never played anyone like that, and I've never felt even close to being someone like that. That was a huge adventure. And the script, to me, I just couldn't put it down in the way that I could with other scripts.

Do you have a soft spot for the horror genre in genera, particularly the thinking-person's horror-fantasy like Splice?

What's odd is that horror is too effective for me. It completely terrifies me, so I actually can't watch films like this. I don't think this is so much a horror movie, though. It's odd. Vincenzo described it as finding the monsters in the human and the human in the monsters, and I think it's an interesting examination of the relationship between these two people -- and this creature they create -- more than it's a horror film.

How does being a filmmaker yourself impact your relationship with Vincenzo and your other directors?

I really like to revert to just being an actor when I'm acting. I don't like bringing anything I've learned as a director to the process. That's really unhelpful, generally. When I work with really good actors who also direct -- that is, when I work with them as fellow actors -- they completely abandon the director's side. I think that's appropriate. You really can't fully understand a director's vision until the film is done. So to try and influence or interject, I think sometimes there's a fundamental misunderstanding of what the filmmaker is trying to do. So no, I think I'm actually more interested in watching someone like Vincenzo, because he has a set of skills that I don't have and probably won't ever have -- how to construct things that are magnificent visually.

So then to what extent do you allow yourself to be influenced by the filmmakers you're working with?

A little bit, but not as much as you'd like. I always think, "Oh, I'll be a director's observer." But the truth is you have to stay focused on what you're doing. It is a film school, but you kind of have to be doing the job.

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