Liane Balaban can now shrug off the fact that it took seven auditions to land her first acting gig in director Allan Moyle's New Waterford Girl. NThe Ryerson journalism student had no intention of becoming an actor, but New Waterford's producer and Balaban family friend Julia Sereny coaxed the then 18-year-old to audition for the leading role of Mooney Pottie.
"I don't think anyone's had to do seven auditions for a role, ever," says Balaban coyly. "I thought it was cruel to dangle the role in front of me. I was so sure I would be disappointed when I didn't get it, so it felt pretty sadistic. But amazingly, surprisingly, I got the part."
Youthful visage To say Balaban is fresh-faced is like saying Eric Lindros is accident-prone. But underneath the youthful visage lies the soul of a wise old woman. It's that combination of naivete and maturity that led Moyle to cast the novice.
In the film, Mooney is an almost silent 15-year-old who dreams of leaving her small Nova Scotia town to study art in New York. But her family -- mom Mary Walsh and dad Nicholas Campbell -- won't hear of it. So Mooney and her tough new best friend Lou (Tara Spencer-Nairn) devise a plan: Mooney pretends to be pregnant so she can be sent away from town and then make a run for New York.
"Mooney's character mostly thinks and reacts," explains Balaban. "She doesn't have long monologues, and it was difficult to play that type of character. You have to develop a kinship with the audience so they believe in what she's doing.
"Mooney has an aside relationship with the audience. It's not like Ferris Bueller's Day Off, where Ferris talks directly to the camera, but the audience does have the same perspective as Mooney."
Balaban and I are seated in a Second Cup on Yonge, where the young actor is chewing on a muffin and slowly waking up. At both the Toronto and Sundance film festivals, her performance has been singled out for praise. Now, juggling school and a blossoming acting career is tricky.
"I remember frantically writing an essay at Sundance. It was on Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse. I was at the airport, and my flight was delayed 13 hours. And I had a French test the next day. I was sitting in the lounge completely frantic."
Auditions monthly "Did you get the essay in on time?"
"No, I had to ask for more time. I really didn't want to, but they understood."
Balaban's committed to both school and acting. She has a Canadian and L.A. agent, and auditions for films every month.
"Acting is like a snowflake -- I don't want to handle it or it'll fall apart. I never intended to be an actor, but I do want to pursue it, without cancelling my other life plans. I'm still going to school, getting my degree. I might as well come away with a B.A. in four years."
But she's also a new-media girl, hosting an Internet music show called This Is Loungecore on www.2kool4radio.com, and works as a freelance writer. Her pieces have appeared in Venus and Watch magazine.
"I'm very ignorant about films," admits Balaban. "My spare time is spent contacting record labels and getting CDs sent to me for my radio show. I'm having so much fun, and it's such a wonderful forum to meet musicians I admire.
"I dropped classes to do it, but I feel justified. I thought, 'I'm not going to let school get in the way of my education.'"
NEW WATERFORD GIRL, directed by Allan Moyle, written by Tricia Fish, produced by Julia Sereny and Jennifer Kawaja, with Liane Balaban, Tara Spencer-Nairn, Nicholas Campbell and Mary Walsh. 97 minutes. A Sienna Films production. An Odeon Films release. Opens Friday (June 2). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 158.
* 2000 New Waterford Girl
NEW WATERFORD GIRL Rating: NNN
Canadian-born filmmaker Allan Moyle (Pump Up The Volume, Empire Records) returns home to helm this wistful, bittersweet drama about Mooney Pottie (Liane Balaban), a deep-thinking 15-year-old who barely tolerates her raucous family and dead-end, East Coast mining town. Mooney is befriended by the recently arrived Lou (Tara Spencer-Nairn), a Bronx girl who gains popularity by knocking out the town's inconsiderate boyfriends, and together they hatch a plan for Mooney to feign pregnancy so she can head to New York to study art. Moyle has a feel for disenfranchised-youth stories and for getting great performances from young actors -- he did it with Christian Slater in Pump Up The Volume and he does it here with newcomer Balaban. Her slumped shoulders show us a young woman defeated before her life's begun. Slowly, she comes alive. Balaban is a talent to watch -- think Sarah Polley's soul inside a Winona Ryder look-alike. IR