A few years from now, Hunting Pignut will be seen as a small but significant station in Taylor Hickson’s inevitable journey to stardom. The 18-year-old actor started to creep onto the general public’s radar earlier this year with a small role in Deadpool, but she carries the low-budget indie feature from Newfoundland.
In writer-director Martine Blue’s raw but poignant (and quasi-autobiographical) tale—which gets its Western Canadian premiere at the Whistler Film Festival on Saturday (December 3)—Hickson plays Bernice “Story” Kilfoy, a wounded teen who sets out to track down her late father’s stolen ashes and ends up finding uneasy shelter inside a community of squatting gutter punks in St. John’s. Hickson’s performance is astonishingly confident, not least of all because the Kelowna-born performer is still in the very earliest stages of a career. Hickson considers herself a musician first; acting is something she got into a whopping two years ago on the advice of an aunt.
“Bernice is very blunt, and her admiration for a world she knew nothing about really reminded me of myself,” Hickson tells the Straight in a call from Winnipeg. “I resonated with her because I walked into an industry that I knew nothing about and said, ‘Take me or don’t,’ and she walks into the gutter-punk world with that same headspace.” The character is a familiar mix of “sarcasm, vulnerability, and desperation to be liked”, she adds. “I think everybody’s been there.”
In this case, it seems that Hickson—bright, chatty, and self-possessed on the phone—was at least fairly desperate to win the approval of her costar, Pignut himself, played with an equivalent degree of brass by Republic of Doyle’s Joel Thomas Hynes. The de facto and sometimes bullying honcho of a gang of ardent outsiders, Hynes’s explosively charismatic Pignut is as fascinating to the young runaway as he is repellent. In real life, Hickson was apparently just as eager to connect with her seemingly impenetrable screen partner.
“He went very Method,” she says with a giggle, describing her first meeting with Hynes on a bizarre hiking trip arranged by their director. He showed up in character, accompanied by his dog, Bruno. “He slept in his costume, actually. Oh yeah,” she continues. “The whole nine yards. Everybody has their knack for what works for them, and he definitely goes all out. He was very quiet and moody and I didn’t know how to approach it. He had this temper that could borderline snap at any moment. At first I was quite afraid of him.”
A year or so later, with the sleeveless hoodie and combat boots retired along with the face tats, Hickson gushes about Hynes as “a cool, intricate, complex personality” who “taught me a lot”. It follows that Hickson’s rapidly advancing chops come from a willingness to learn, both on-camera and off-. Recalling her view of the street punks she used to see in Kelowna as “dark and gloomy people you don’t want to associate with”, Hickson credits Bernice for opening her mind. “She sees life and energy and colour and spirit,” Hickson says. “I realized how easily I’d dismissed them. I’d never taken a second look because that’s what I was taught to do. You’re taught to not understand.”