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For whom la belle trolls

Category: Beowulf & Grendel News
Article Date: March 10, 2006 | Publication: Toronto Star | Author: Rita Zekas Stargazing

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Sarah Polley is the Swiss Army Knife of actors.

She's actor/activist/scriptwriter/Genie-Award winning short film director currently making her feature film directorial debut in Away from Her, starring Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent.

She was featured in The Young Hollywood issue of Vanity Fair in 1999, when she was "The It Girl," protesting when the cutline info described her as wearing Calvin Klein. She was actually wearing a vintage jacket she probably bought in Kensington.

And far from going Hollywood, she braved no-frills Iceland in October and November, where the winds gusted at 160 km/hr, to play pagan witch Selma in Beowulf & Grendel, directed by Sturla Gunnarsson.

The film is based on the epic 9th-century Anglo-Saxon poem about Beowulf, a Danish Hercules who battles the murderous, vengeful troll Grendel, who is the size of a small Buick.

I went in with zero expectations: the only Beowulf I knew was a friend's Irish wolfhound. I thought Grendel was Beowulf's love interest, not a troll who bowls with human skulls.

But the film is full of sick jokes. My favourite slur (until I saw Thank You for Smoking) is "You look like walrus s---."

The Danish king Hrothgar, who dispatches Beowulf across the sea to rid a village of Grendel, tells Beowulf that while he's at it, he should snare a wife: "Our sheep have had enough."

Polley is only 27 but has been acting since she was 4. Her early credits include Road to Avonlea and The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen and her breakthrough adult role was in The Sweet Hereafter. More recent credits include Siblings, Luck and My Life Without Me.

She was attracted to the script and to the character of Selma, who is reputed to see people's deaths and who has a mysterious relationship with Grendel.

"If it's a Viking movie, it better have a sense of humour," Polley said during an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival where the film debuted. "If you are going to see (Viking) horns, they'd better be funny. It is a contemporary take and is irreverent, not purist, not obsessed with Beowulf of the poem. I read the Irish poet Seamus Heaney translation. He's one of my favourite poets."

Polley allowed that it would be a hard sell, given the title and subject matter. But she thinks the humour will make up for it.

"It's playful with a sense of humour," she said. "It plays with the hero versus monster stereotype and makes fun of it."

Selma doesn't believe in heroes or good versus evil.

"She is a powerhouse: independent, sexual and insightful and challenges the notion of what constitutes a hero," Polley explained. "Selma is a great character, really strong - a feminist many centuries ahead of her time. She is the first witch I've played, except for Halloween when I was 6, trick or treating in North York."

She has a great respect for Gunnarsson as a director and political activist.

She even forgives him for making her film in the frigid conditions of Iceland in November.

"Iceland is another place I love," she insisted. "But October and November is not an ideal time to shoot - filming in the middle of hurricanes is rough. It's a once-in-a-lifetime deal, experiencing that many obstacles between your basic survival."

Polley enjoyed working with hunky Gerald Butler, who plays Beowulf, and who was bruited to be a candidate for the next James Bond.

"Gerald was very generous," she said. "He is very focussed and works very hard. He's going to have a career; he is a fine actor. I think he'll be a huge star."

Which is not for her.

"I don't want a big career," she protested. "My secret fantasy is that I'll be a chef. I'm obsessed."


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