She may be starring in her first major role, but Newfoundland-born Joanne Kelly already has a knockout list of collaborators. The Bay Of Love And Sorrows actor has recently completed a TV movie, Mafia Doctor, with Paul Sorvino and Olympia Dukakis, and a feature film, Crime Spree, with Gérard Depardieu and Harvey Keitel. "Harvey is so cool. He gave me a lot of advice about acting," she says on the phone from Vancouver, where she's shooting the TV series Jeremiah. Kelly sounds young, even kittenish, compared to the husky-voiced hard-ass she plays in The Bay Of Love And Sorrows.
Keitel even gave her a book, Richard Boleslavsky's Acting: The First Six Lessons. "It was the same thing when I worked with Paul Sorvino; there's an old-school sort of mentorship that goes on."
That mentorship, she says, is crucial, because even the most promising career is always teetering on the brink of oblivion. Which is sort of where she came from when she auditioned for the part of Madonna Brassaurd in The Bay Of Love And Sorrows.
Kelly was born in the tiny Newfoundland town of Bay d'Espoir (pronounced "despair"), where she read Shakespeare and fell in love with the stage in spite of never having seen a play. She was so smitten, in fact, that she turned down a hefty scholarship in the sciences to study drama and English at Acadia University.
In The Bay Of Love And Sorrows, based on the novel by David Adams Richards, Kelly plays a tough-as-nails, poor-as-dirt backwoods beauty with a heart of gold. Her looks and poverty make her easy prey for a manipulative ex-con who draws her and her friends into an ill-fated drug scam. It's the kind of performance you remember even if the film itself isn't memorable.
Being from the same neck of the woods as her character helped Kelly flesh Madonna out.
"Because I'm from Atlantic Canada, I understand a bit about the poverty there," she explains. "There are huge disparities within these little communities. It was clear to me from the beginning that the film was about the class system in the 70s, and I think that helped me with Madonna's anger."
Scoring the role of Madonna, after little experience apart from a stint in a Halifax Shakespeare troupe, was a bit of a shock.
But despite her relative greenness, director Tim Southam was impressed by her intuition and work ethic.
"It was like being dropped out of a plane with a parachute and being told that I have to run 50 yards when I hit the ground," laughs Kelly. But it could have been worse. "I hit the ground running. Everyone was very supportive and patient with me."
And to all appearances, she's just kept running. Kelly doesn't seem at all cowed by her rapid ascent
"Working with big movie stars instead of indie actors does add a new element. I mean, you look at someone and you can see their whole body of work," she decides. "But in its essence, we're all there to do the same thing." email@example.com
The Bay of Love and Sorrows directed by Tim Southam, written by David Adams Richards and Tim Southam, produced by Anna Stratton and Gilles Bélanger, with Joanne Kelly, Peter Outerbridge, Jonathan Scarfe, Christopher Jacot, Elaine Cassidy, Zachary Bennett, Torquil Campbell and Rhonda McLean. 94 minutes. A Triptych Media/Second Wave Productions release through Odeon Films. Opens Friday (January 31). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 71. Rating: NN