One of the smartest and strongest Canadian features to come from the 2004 Vancouver International Film Festival was director David Weaver's Siblings, a dark comedy about a group of kids and how they deal with the sudden and tragic death of their parents, which they inadvertently caused. From the film's shocking opening moments through to the bittersweet but still dark ending, not a minute goes by without a number of laughs.
Written by Jackie May (Fast Food High), Siblings is truly the kind of Canadian film that has a chance to break through the usual stereotypes and hurdles, and gain a loyal audience both at home and in the United States. The talented cast is made up of some recognizable Canadian faces including Sarah Polley and Nicholas Campbell, but the real stars of the film come in the way of relative unknowns Alex Campbell, Sarah Gadon, and Samantha Weinstein.
Read what happened when Mark McLeod and Candice Coughlin caught up to these wild young adults just prior to the film's Canadian theatrical release.
ShowbizMonkeys.com: All right, the first question is for everyone. How would you describe the movie?
Samantha Weinstein: Okay, let's just say it's a basic how-to-guide for killing your evil stepparents and knowing how to get away with it. So in other words, it's the film your parents don't want you to see. Especially if you happen to have evil stepparents.
Sarah Gadon: Well it's a dark comedy... I think it's a wonderful film. There's definitely a certain audience that it's geared towards. I think it's a little risque but it has a very, very powerful script. I think everyone else involved with the project were just phenomenal and all the elements were really there, and I think all that made it a very great, entertaining film.
Alex Campbell: A heart-warming dark comedy. It's heart-warming because you really want to see them get away with it, at least I think so. Maybe I'm a morally-depraved person. I'd say it's a dark comedy because it has comedic aspects and [is] full of swearing. We say the f-word about 100 times.
SBM: When did you first discover acting?
AC: When I was a little kid, I wanted to be an actor. Mostly from old movies. I grew up not having cable television, so I used to watch and I know it's a strange thing to say but I watched a lot of Perry Mason because it used to be on reruns. So I liked that and old movies like Singing in the Rain and pretty much everything that Humphrey Bogart did. I think that's also the reason I started smoking. So I watched those movies and kept going to my mother and said, 'I want to be an actor'. This was when I was a little kid, like 4 or 5 years old. I was a pretty weird kid because I used to wear my Superman outfit to school for two years. I also used to repeat the Humphrey Bogart lines from Casablanca to all the little girls, so when my mother showed up for teacher-parent interviews she always used to meet all the mothers of all the girls I had married. I was a bit of a polygamist. I really wanted to be an actor, but my mother said it was a terrible industry and didn't want to let me get into it. Finally, when I was 11, I spoke to the right person which happened to be my godfather. He tracked down an agent and I went on auditions and nailed it, and now I'm an actor.
SW: Let me just think about that. I actually started acting when I was 6 and a half. When I started off, I was in a theatre camp and we had one week to put a play together. I just had such an amazing time doing that play, and I was the lead character in it, that I had such a great time. I decided that I wanted to pursue acting, so I did.
SG: I danced at the National Ballet School of Canada when I was younger, as a junior associate, and it was there where I did the Nutcracker at the Hummingbird Centre when I was 11. So that was my first taste of sort of commercial performance. I just loved it, I loved it so much that after that I knew I really wanted to start acting.
SBM: So then you just sort of tried to make the transition then?
SG: Yeah, I don't think it was a very difficult transition to make. I mean, acting is not for everyone, it's something you have to love to do it because yes it's an art form but it's also a business. So it can be difficult for those who don't really want to do it.
SBM: What was each of your impressions about of the whole audition process for the film?
AC: Oh God. David, I love his directing and I think he's an awesome director, but as far as the actual audition process goes with him, it was the most frustrating thing in the world. For one thing, I had no idea what he thought of my performances. I had to go in four times, which is a lot more than you normally have to. The only time you go in four times is when your testing for a television series in the States and you have to go in front of the money people who have absolutely no credibility in the artistic side of things, but are a part of the process. So there, it's usual to go in for four auditions, but with this I met the same people four times and the last audition was between me and this one other guy who looked nothing like me in any way and I didn't really get any feedback from David Weaver about it. I felt like I didn't know if I was going to get this, screw it, and it turned out to be the best thing I've ever done. There you go, that's David Weaver for you.
SG: I just went in twice. So I guess I wasn't as --
SBM: I guess you were just better.
SG: (laughs) Nooo. Not at all. I've been auditioning for a long time now so it wasn't anything new. I think that David is a really clear director. Sometimes you go on auditions and directors don't really know what they are looking for so they can't really give you constructive criticism. I guess it comes from being a dancer first, but I guess that I really take direction and criticism well and it's one of the things I really appreciate in being an actor. David and I really clicked because he was like, 'this is what I want' and I was like 'okay, here you go'. I guess we had the same sort of vision for the character, and we were on the same page. I think it was hard not to be since the character is pretty clear.
SW: I auditioned with the recital piece. I had to practice it a lot but eventually I really got into the character. The whole process went very well with David seeming to laugh a lot. We just really had a lot of fun with it.
SBM: Sarah and Alex, in Siblings, you and the rest of the cast appear as though you could actually be related -- there are moments on-screen that you seem like genuine brothers and sisters. What was that experience like working as the eldest sister and brother respectively? Did you feel like those roles carried on off screen as well?
SG: Yeah I did, I think that when you are a child actor, you really sympathize with other child actors. Alex was also a child actor, so we know what it's like to be a kid on the set in sort of an adult world. So I think that for us it was really important to kind of make them feel at home. They were great kids and very professional -- hard-working -- so I didn't really feel like I was babysitting them. It felt like they were my peers and Samantha too is very sophisticated. The same goes for Andrew (Chalmers). We really got along and there was definitely a connection.
AC: That was one of the things that was unavoidable on the actual set because we had a smaller budget to deal with. I mean, we shared dressing rooms and also, because it was an 18-day shoot, we were together all the time. Andrew and Sammy, the younger actors in it, would go home earlier than Sarah and I, but we spent an incredible amount of time together and we were all living in the same house that we shot in, outside of Kingston. So yeah, that was very much like it, and I felt like the older brother because I've been acting the longest of any of the group. Also just like in the movie, Sonia Smits and Nicholas Campbell were almost absent. I definitely felt like the elder.
SBM: Samantha, in the movie, you had a dog named Potter. It kind of farts a lot.
SBM: In real life, do you have any pets?
SW: No, I don't. It was really fun to work with the dog. It was the first time I got to act with an animal and he's an amazing actor dog. But no, I don't have any pets. I used to have 5 fish but they all died.
SBM: What happened?
SW: They didn't get along with each other and they just decided to eat each other's fins. It was very unfortunate.
SBM: Alex, throughout your growing career in acting, what has remained a constant supportive backbone for you?
AC: When I was younger, it would have been my mother, but now it's more a self-relying thing for me. I've been at this for so long now that I don't really feel anxiety about acting. I don't really have expectations of where exactly I want to go with it or that sort of thing. It's just something I like doing and will continue doing regardless of notoriety. I don't have anxiety towards fame or any of that because I don't really desire that. When I need advice on the business aspect of things, then I go to either my brother or my sister because they live in the States and they are both working actors down there, and they have a better idea of the business side of the film industry. I approach it as I go in and do my lines and interpret it the way I can, and if they don't like it they don't, and if they do like it then they do. When it comes to the business stuff, I'm a bit clueless, so I need support on that end.
SBM: Sarah, between you and your character, what similarities can you identify on a personal level?
SG: Well... hmmm, that's a good question. Yeah, I'm similar in some ways to Margret and the stuff she's dealing with. I think that when you're a teenager, it's a very confusing time in your life and you're just trying to find yourself. Yeah, I can definitely relate to her in that sense, but in terms of the whole killing your parents, not so much.
SBM: Come on... do you think by being in this film it's kind of a way to kill your parents without actually doing it?
SG: (laughing) No. I really do have a good relationship with my parents. I guess especially at this age, you're just trying to live at home, but while still having space for yourself. It's inevitable that you're going to get into tiffs with you parents.
SBM: What was your favorite scene in the movie?
SG: Yeah, I really liked the scene where Samantha is doing the poem. I think it's great and she's just brilliant in it.
SBM: Wish you had a poem of your own?
SG: Oh yeah, for sure, but I don't think I could do it as well as Sammy.
SW: It was probably the poem scene because the ballet dancers had been practising all morning with the ballet teacher on all the dance steps. Then when I was ready, David just put me up on the stage and said 'Action!' and I had to completely improvise. It was like Danielle had no idea what she was doing, which is true, because I had no idea what I was doing. The scene ended up being very funny and the poem too, which was very hard because it was such a funny poem, but it's so dark. Yeah it was really fun to shoot.
AC: I've been asked that question a bunch of times. That seems to be a question you guys like to ask. I would actually say my favorite scene, because it's so indicative of the entire movie and because it's not very obvious, is right at the beginning of the movie after the credits and we're all sitting on the couch and the parents are fighting upstairs and they are calling each other names and they leave, and only then do we actually move. It's also the only time in the beginning of the movie that we're all filmed together in one shot. David Weaver did this on purpose and there's two additional times in the movie where we're filmed all four of us together in the same shot as together, as in a family. There's that time and also when we're standing underneath the tree talking and giving suggestions on how to kill our parents.
SBM: And the most memorable day on set?
SW: I think all of them were. It was the most amazing experience of my life. I'll never forget it. Even up 'til the day that I die, it will remain the best experience I've ever had in my life.
SG: The whole thing was pretty memorable since we shot in such a short amount of time -- living in very close quarters and sharing dressing rooms. I think the last day was probably one of our favorites. We had a little party afterwards. Yeah, it was a lot of fun.
SBM: Alex, your character Joe is the leader of the family and is trying to hold the family together and is obviously having a difficult time at that. What was it like portraying that character and being planted in the middle of the crisis.
AC: It was actually relatively easy to get into that head space. It's not as though you're watching some mellow drama where the people are doing things for no reason. I mean, he has genuine reasons for concern because of the murder. I found it pretty easy to step into that and portray it, because I totally understood where he was coming from. I also really got the character. It wasn't one of those things that I had to guess at the motivation, because Jackie May really wrote a person and it wasn't really a character. At the same time it was stressful.
SBM: And with the subject matter -- have you ever had to deal with portraying a character going through anything similar or was this a first time diving into such heavy topics?
AC: Yeah, this is the first time where I've had to be the main character during the film and I had a lot of anxiety of that initially because I hadn't done it. It's like having sex for the first time -- you don't really know exactly what is going to go down. You know how it works, the mechanics of it and what you're supposed to do, but as for what it's actually going to be like, you don't know. So there was that aspect of it. I've never had to take on such a heavy role before, but I found it really liberating. Every day I felt more and more that not only was I becoming the character, but the character was becoming me.
SBM: Has there ever been a time in your life when you felt you were under a lot of pressure to hold your own family together?
AC: You see, my family, we're actually all quite spread apart. My parents were divorced before I was born. There was a certain time when I was acting the most heavily, when I was doing Riverdale and another TV series at the same time and my mother was going through breast cancer and subsequently menopause as a result of the chemotherapy. During that time, obviously she couldn't work as much and that was one time when I felt I had to be an adult. At that time I was aware I had to be the one that was solid and the adult in that situation, and that forced me to grow up quite a lot. So in that way, I felt an attachment with the character because Joe was forced into a situation where he had to grow up really fast.
SBM: Sarah, going back to the subject matter of the film which Alex touched upon -- what was it like for you to play a character that not only has to deal with the sexual undertones, a questionable relationship with her boyfriend, but also the death of her parents?
SG: Well I'm 18 now, but I was 17 when we shot the film. I think that I'm really teetering that line as an actress where I can play parts as an adult actor and young adult roles. Siblings for me was definitely a step forward at the adult acting world. You know, at the end of the day, it is acting. I think that for me, though, it was one of the more mutual roles I've done yet in my career. I don't think the transition was really so hard for me to grasp. So in terms of the whole sort of sexual side of Margret, I didn't really have that big of a problem. I think she was grasping with her parents' death and I think that people who have seen the film will say, 'well, Margret is really sassy and can be kind of mean and nasty'. Well put it into context, yeah they just did kill their parents. So if you take it out of context, then maybe, but I think everything considered, she's dealing with things pretty well. I think she's really cool, a bit self-centered, and the most blunt and painfully truthful character.
SBM: Alex, on set and just with this whole experience, what would you say was the biggest lesson you learned or greatest challenge that you tackled?
AC: Being in that position where it's very important for me to be right there in the film. It actually forced me to grow a lot as an actor. In this case, I had a lot of responsibilities. Not only did I love it, but I loved the script and everyone that I worked with, which is actually sort of uncommon because I'm kind of a misanthrope. But yeah, there was that whole aspect which forced me to grow and that's the most important thing for me right now.
SBM: What do you think of the whole Canadian film industry and trying to get people out to see them?
SG: I think it's sort of a shame that given all the talent in Canada that people don't go out and support Canadian films. I think that the traditional Canadian indie film may be not as commercially accessible, but I think that Siblings is proof that an indie film that is Canadian is totally accessible to mainstream audiences. It's not your classic indie. We as Canadians have to drop this whole self-loathing and really start promoting our work nationally and internationally.
SBM: It's just that there's no marketing for so many Canadian movies.
SG: Oh totally, for this movie a lot of it is word-of-mouth and we're just sort of telling everyone come see our film so it'll get a good turnout. I heard on the radio the other day that the person couldn't even name three Canadian films, and I think that in itself is really sad.
SBM: Yeah I've seen the poster around, but I just discovered there's a trailer on the website.
SG: I haven't seen the trailer either. I didn't even know there's a trailer.
SBM: What's up next for you?
SG: I'm going to do a film called Where Love Reigns which will be filming this summer in South Africa and London, England. I'm hoping to do that. I think they've had a bit of a funding issue, but hopefully I'll be off doing that. It'll be great.
SW: I'm just being a kid right now and going to school. I'm just waiting for the right roles to come along.
AC: I just got back from Los Angeles. I went down there to find an agent and I think the next thing I do will try to straddle the border a little bit because if there's one thing I have learned with this entire acting industry, it is I have to find work in a place I'm not interested in. I'm not interested in going to the United States, I don't want to move there or live there or make films there. I want to stay in Canada, but I need to get American work. It's such a paradox that to work here, I have to work there. In order to be on that sort of list of people, I have to vote. That's going to have to be one of things I need to do -- trying to straddle the border while staying in Canada.
SBM: Lastly, to wrap things up, a group question. What are some of your favorite movies?
AC: I have many favorite movies. I would say my top three favorite movies, I'd probably say Brazil, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Blade Runner.
SW: Probably The Incredibles. It's an amazing movie. I've seen it about 15 times in a row now. It's really good.
SBM: Thanks all of you so much for your time this afternoon to talk about your film.
SG: It was nice meeting you and talking to you.
AC: My pleasure.
SW: It was very nice talking to you, too. A real pleasure.
Special thanks to Alex Campbell, Sarah Gadon, and Samantha Weinstein for taking time out of their busy schedules, and to Maria Papaioannoy at AmberLight Productions for pulling off the difficult task of getting all this set up. Siblings is now playing in Toronto and Vancouver, released by TVA Films.
Mark McLeod has always loved film. In addition to his roles with ShowbizMonkeys.com, Mark also works on many film promotion projects in Vancouver, BC, through his company, Mark McLeod PR.