Canada.com / National Post interview
by Katrina Onstad
Feet on the ground. The young stars of Falling Angels already know about the dark side of the business.
The three young actresses play sisters, and they sit like sisters: three in a tight row on the couch, limbs and sentences overlapping.
“We represent Canada,” says Monté Gagné, a brunette with a small braid framing one side of her face. “I’m from Saskatoon, she’s from Vancouver,” she continues, gesturing at the redhead with the oval eyes, who is Katharine Isabelle. “And she’s from Toronto.” That she is blond Kristin Adams, who has the kind of white skin that looks like it wants to blush. Adams adds in a breathy voice: “And we’re all only children.”
“Isn’t that weird?” somebody says, and then they are all saying it.
It is only weird because the film in which the trio stars, Falling Angels, is a coming-of-age tale about sisters and a big, unruly family led by a screw-loosened patriarch (Callum Keith Rennie) and a mother (Miranda Richardson) harbouring a family secret that’s plunged her into a decade-long mental haze. The novel, by Barbara Gowdy, exposed the wormy foundation beneath the neat facades of Toronto suburbia in the late ’50s and ’60s, though director Scott Smith moved the story to a Brady bungalow in Regina. On the set last November, the women — whom Gowdy describes in the book’s first pages as “the thin girl” (Isabelle), “the pretty girl” (Adams) and “the fat girl with glasses” (Gagné, but hardly) — bonded in their hotel, drawing pictures and cooking together.
“Once we went for karaoke — Kate’s first time!” laughs Adams.
“I did a Lauryn Hill song and I was shaking. It took me, like, two drinks, and I went to the bathroom for an hour to practise by myself,” says Isabelle. It’s hard to imagine such shyness, as Isabelle is the precocious sister in the group. She’s the chatterbox and the best-known, having starred in the surprise Canadian smash werewolf movie Ginger Snaps, and shared scenes with Al Pacino in Insomnia. “I’m always cast as the super-bitch murderer, blah blah blah,” she says.
Falling Angels has received mostly glowing notices since it debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in September (it opens wider today), but the women aren’t basking in the glow of success. Even at 21, 21 and 28 (Gagné is the eldest, though she looks the youngest), there is a world-weariness about the actresses on this particular fall day, and the conversation keeps pulling toward the dark side of the industry.
“Everyone wants you naked. I think I’ve done one or two movies in the past six years where they haven’t tried something slimy to get me naked,” says Isabelle. She describes working on a TV show with another actress who was shooting a dream sequence. “They wanted her in J.Lo bum shorts. She didn’t want to do it, and right in the middle, in front of the whole crew, the director is shouting: ‘Come on! You have a great body!’ And he would not take the fact that she was uncomfortable as reason enough not to do it. He was like: ‘What — do you have a giant wart on your ass?’ ”
It’s a pertinent train of talk because in one scene in Falling Angels Adams appears topless. In go-go boots, she plays the dreamy sister having a clandestine affair with an older man, played by Mark McKinney. “Oh, that was different,” says Adams, and the other women murmur accord. “Mark made it lighter, and it was a closed set, and it was relevant to the script.”
“Plus, it’s about choice,” says Gagné, who often chimes in with the weightiest commentary, like an older sibling does. “If you want to choose to be sexy, then you’ve got the power, and that’s different.”
All three grew up acting, and accordingly, they’re extremely close with their mothers. This real-life dynamic is the opposite of Falling Angels, where the mother is ill and needy, and the girls play her protector. Adams’ mother, an actress, drove her to auditions at 16, and Gagné’s, who is a doctor, is her best critic.
“I think my mom would have made a great director. She’s been correcting my work since I was little. She’ll tell me: ‘You were walking like a duck on stage!’ ”
“Oh, Monté” says Adams, wounded on her friend’s behalf.
No, no, in a nice way, because I was a dancer,” Gagné explains.
“Your mom is the only one who cares, the only one you don’t have to pay to take care of everything for you,” says Isabelle. When she was a kid, she says, her mother forbade her to take roles in “child-rape-of-the-week movies.”
“I have some friends that made movies like that when they were eight, nine years old, and they got stressed out, their hair and eyelashes fell out and they had to go into therapy. Kids kind of know ‘the movie’ isn’t real, but at the same time …”
Isabelle is off and running. “It’s a sleazy business. You’re selling the idea of sex — not sex, but the idea of it. Not in Falling Angels, but in a lot of other things, I’m basically thinking: ‘Yeah, I’m a high-class prostitute right now.’ It’s just the way they treat you — it’s not even what you’re doing.”
“Someone will say: ‘Do it again, but can you lean forward this time?’ “says Gagné, imitating a breast heave manoeuvre.
Isabelle is being followed around by a fashion reporter from a Canadian magazine today, and she claims to loathe this part of the job. “I love working, I love meeting cast and crew, but I wish the film would burn and no one would see it and I wouldn’t have to do any of the stuff that comes along with the industry.”
“I want people to see the movie!” says Adams, looking alarmed as I write down “burn movie.”
“I’d like me to see it and then it’s burned,” says Isabelle. “Everyone loves to tear down an actor. It’ll be on the front page: ‘Look how big her feet are! Isn’t she disgusting!’ ”
“We’ve created this super-race of celebrities that everyone else is inferior to, so of course people have to ‘take down’ celebrities,” says Gagné. “That’s one thing I struggle with — body image. I look in entertainment magazines, and every successful actress out there pretty much has a great body and is super-beautiful. That’s one thing about my part in Falling Angels that I appreciated. It’s a part for a woman who isn’t star-shaped.”
“Whatever that means,” says Isabelle. A publicist appears to whisk her off for a television interview. The other girls, not yet as famous, get to take a break. They sit on the couch, waving goodbye to their play sister as she goes.