This year, the Whistler Film Festival chose to shine the spotlight on two rising Canadian stars, Emily Hampshire and Ali Liebert, who, on December 5, shared their stories of navigating the challenges of making it in the Canadian film industry.
The Montreal-born and –raised Hampshire has headlined in Canadian films such as The Trotsky and My Awkward Sexual Adventure, and served as a jury member for this year's Borsos Competition for Best Canadian Feature at the festival. Meanwhile, Liebert, who hails from Duncan, B.C., has starred in films such as Down River, Year of the Carnivore, and Sisters and Brothers, as well as on the TV series Bomb Girls. She also produced and starred in Afterparty, which had its world premiere at WFF.
(Oscar-winner Melissa Leo [Frozen River, The Fighter] was also scheduled to be honoured at the event but she unable to attend the event because she got delayed by shooting in Vancouver. However, she instead participated in a presentation of Prisoners on December 6.)
While Liebert is now a Canadian lead actor, she said it wasn't until two years ago that she was able to quit her waitressing job. In spite of that, she noted that there's a humorous gap between how her family perceives her success and reality.
"My family, first of all, thinks that I'm a millionaire and that I can't walk down the street, and it's really adorable," she said. " 'How are you going to be able to take the ferry without people swarming?' Like, 'No, Mom. No one knows me.' "
Her struggles to make it in the industry as an actor prompted her to take action: she channeled her frustrations into forming the production company Sociable Films in 2011 with Michelle Ouellet and Nicholas Carella.
"I actually did start my production company because I was so depressed that I couldn’t get a really good role," she explained.
One benefit she found from becoming a producer is that she found she's annoying her agent less with questions (such as asking whether or not she got parts) because she's preoccupied with other pursuits.
"I think human desperation is very unattractive and so I feel like maybe because I'm doing something else, I'm kinda more relaxed when I audition for other peoples' projects," she said. "[As a producer,] I feel more in control."
Hampshire said it wasn't until she saw a Statestide view of Canada that she began to appreciate what is available for actors in the Canadian film industry.
“I actually feel like now that I’m living in the States that I’ve really noticed how much opportunity there is in Canada for actors," she said. "I notice that with actors in the States, they don’t get the opportunity to be the lead in 10 movies whereas I get that chance and still nobody knows who I am but I get to work. And I love that. And I think in the States, you get to do that one movie and you’re hugely famously but other than that they’re doing commercials and doing job-jobs. And I’ve been fortunate enough…this is my job. I’ve never had a job-job. And I believe that’s because of Canada and because of this community here where I work with my friends, my friends hire me again, and I think it’s particular to Canada.”
But Hampshire also discovered that becoming a star isn't all that it's cracked up to be. She learned that lesson from her Cosmopolis costar Robert Pattinson.
"I expected some kind of ego, some kind of star," she said of the Twilight idol. "And what I found was completely the opposite: someone who so badly wants to be taken seriously as an actor. And I realize that he has kind of a burden that I don't have in a way that when I get hired for a movie, as much self-doubt as I have, I can at least know that the people who hired me didn't hire me because of my name. They hired me because they think I'm the best actor for this thing. He doesn't know that. And he wants so badly to be taken seriously as an actor. And he was an actor first."
That same lesson was reiterated when she costarred with the late Cory Monteith in All the Wrong Reasons.
"I, once again,…expected some kind of star and what I found was a real actor—somebody who wants so badly to break out...and act."
When asked what advice she would tell actors just starting out, Hampshire doled out advice that is applicable to numerous professions, if not life in general.
"Learn who you are as an artist, an artist not just in the film industry, and not just as an actor, but an actor among those poets and painters and find out who you are because that, I think, is your biggest commodity, and if you just go into the industry not knowing that, not knowing who you are—which I think I did—I think you just spend so much time trying to get back to just figuring that out, and once you figure that out, you're fine."