Screen

Young Canadian actor Anna Pniowsky already stealing scenes with her starring role in Casey Affleck’s Light of My Life

From a prepubescent Anna Paquin winning an Academy Award at age 11 for her role in The Piano to seven-year old Jacob Tremblay’s more recent star-making turn in 2015’s adaptation of the novel Room, Canada has a great history of turning out scene-stealing actors with a talent beyond their years.

Now Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea) may be introducing the world to the Great White North’s newest adolescent master thespian.

Winnipeg’s 13-year-old Anna Pniowsky isn’t just making her big-screen debut in Affleck’s latest film Light of My Life (which he wrote and directed), she’s stealing the screen from her Oscar-winning co-star as the book-obsessed daughter of a survivalist father.

Set in a near-dystopian future, Light of My Life (which opens Friday at Canyon Meadows Cinemas) centres on the paternal bond between the pair as they navigate a bleak society after a global pandemic wipes out most of the women of the world. As her father (Affleck) shields young Rag (Pniowsky) from the dangers of being exposed, she is forced to disguise herself as a boy anxiously mindful of a civilization where no one can be trusted.  

With her portrayal of Rag, young Pniowsky has been lauded by critics including the Hollywood Reporter, which wrote she delivers “a performance of luminous naturalism.” With such an esteemed endorsement, it seems Pniowsky is certainly set for cinematic success. We had a chance to catch up with the teenager recently from Los Angeles to talk about her stunning film debut, shooting in a B.C. blizzard and how big an impact The Little Mermaid has made on her young life.

Q: This movie opens with a 10-minute scene where Casey Affleck is reciting a prophetic story to you. That almost seems like it would have been one of the hardest scenes to shoot since it’s so lengthy and without much action. How many times did you have to go through filming that?  

A: I really do wish I could remember but I think it took about eight hours to finish that scene (but) it didn’t actually seem like eight hours to me; it felt like a minute. When I’m filming, I don’t really feel how long it takes; it just goes by in a flash.

Q: You filmed this movie over 34 days in and around Vancouver during some extreme weather and a big snowstorm. What challenges do you recall about that experience?  

A: I am from Winnipeg so I’m pretty tough when it comes to cold weather, but sometimes it was tough trudging through the snow because it was very high. I got there on my first day and it was a total blizzard in the middle of nowhere. But it actually wasn’t as hard as I made it look like!

Q: With that in mind, it’s also a pretty adult story with some pretty dark themes – what was the biggest challenge for you in dealing with the story?

A: That’s a good question. Maybe just getting into the character. Sometimes it’s difficult to really immerse yourself into the person you’re supposed to be playing – especially with such a complex storyline and background, so I think that was the toughest thing. 

Q: The casting director has stated how you connected with this role on such a visceral level during the audition. What did you find you had most in common with the character of Rag?

A: I don’t really know. She’s a very complex character so it’s hard for me to find something to relate, but I do like to read and I would like to think of myself as mature; I would like to say so — I’d hope so. I’m not in her situation but I feel if I were in her situation I would handle it the way she does.  

Q: As you said, you like to read a lot just like your character. Do you have a favourite book or what are you reading at this moment?

A: I’m actually reading a book for my school for summer reading – school starts in a week for me. It’s called The 57 Bus. I forget who it’s by but it’s a really interesting book (that follows the true story of an agender teen who was set on fire by a bully while riding a city bus in Oakland). I like to read and I feel like whatever book I’m reading at the time turns into my favourite book — so right now it’s The 57 Bus. 

Q: I read that you have said one of the films that got you interested in acting was The Little Mermaid. What was it about that animated movie that you found so inspiring?

A: When I was younger I didn’t really realize it, but now that I look back on it I think maybe the character Ariel. She wants to be something and she just kind of goes for it. Even if she loses some things (and) she is affected negatively, she still ends up as something that she wants to be and I don’t necessarily relate to it but it’s inspiring – this idea of following your dreams, which is what I’m doing!

Light of My Life opens Friday, Aug. 9 at Canyon Meadow Cinemas. For showtimes go to http://www.canyonmeadowscinemas.ca/.

Steve Gow has spent a good amount of his time conducting interviews for a variety of publications as well as on television. Most notably, he was a film reporter for The Movie Network/HBO Canada and his written stories that were regularly featured in Calgary’s former “go-to guide” FFWD weekly, as well as Metro, Toronto Star and more.

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