Sarah Allen stars opposite Maxwell McCabe-Lokos in the Bruce McDonald directed The Husband, which premieres tonight (Sunday, September 8) at the Toronto International Film Festival in the Special Presentations program.
"Is it fear you're feeling? Or is it excitement?" my good friend, who's been seeing a life coach, asked me when I told her about the growing dread I've been experiencing as the night of the premiere approaches.
See, I got the good news way back in the spring; sometime in May I think. It was one of those "I was about to write you!" email responses:
"'Funny, I was about to write you. We got into The Toronto Film Festival!!!!!! Don't tell anyone. It hasn't been announced yet."
Thrilling news! I told everyone I knew immediately. Because, even though I hadn't seen a frame of it, I was already proud of the film. The experience had just been so satisfying: a wonderful script, a cozy cast and crew, auteur director -- it was a dream job. We shot in Toronto just before Christmas and I'd been coasting on that cloud of creative satisfaction for the entirety of pilot season in Los Angeles (a time of year which has been engineered to crush the weakened hopes and dreams of struggling actors -- a kind culling). Getting into the festival was an assurance that not only had the experience been a good one, but apparently the film had turned out all right too! Awesome. Definitely excitement I'm feeling at this point.
Then something changed. On the afternoon of August 7 the films were announced and there was a Canadian press conference at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto. There were drinks and a table of desserts and pickled things. Max Macabe-Lokos (the writer/star of the film) and I were there to get the word out, hopefully draw an audience to our screenings. And that's when it happened. As we described our film to the reporters something became very clear to me: Anyone watching this film is going to be inclined to hate me.
It's actually incredible that this fact hadn't sunk in before: The Husband is the story of a broken man who is struggling to pull his life back together after his wife, the mother of his infant son (the character I play), has an affair... with a 14-year-old boy.
A visible shudder of disgust would pass over the reporters' faces when we got to that last part.
"It's funny too though!" we would say... hahaha...
"Doesn't sound funny," one reporter answered with a judging raised eyebrow.
So, look, I did know that the film is complicated to grasp -- it's not categorized as an "easy movie." And I did know that it wasn't going to be easy to like this woman I had brought to life. What I didn't expect the gut reaction to hate her... and maybe even us for daring to be part of such an uncomfortable talking point in an E! Canada interview. So suddenly, there was shame accompanying the aforementioned excitement.
See, when I read the script for the first time, I knew nothing of the plot and only knew the name of the character I was auditioning for. So as the story unfolded I was simultaneously trying to understand her. The same compassion was shown to the character on set -- the director and other actors were all trying to understand. We were operating in a reality where someone that we knew and loved deeply had done something completely out of character. We were seeking desperately to find a way to understand and forgive this person, even though we kept returning to the same conclusion: She is a woman, a mother and a teacher who had sexual intercourse with a child. Gross, wrong, unforgivable. But our hearts were softened; we kept looking for a way to forgive.
The interviewers, who were all women, all asked me the same two questions with a grimace:
"So did you have a scene where you had to... be physical...with a 14-year-old?" And always followed with, "What was that like?"...
And I, naively unarmed with a witty deflection, tried to explain, to make light, to assure them that it was... obviously uncomfortable but really honestly it was...fine.
I should have gone on to clarify that the scene represented Henry's fears of what the act had been. It was a choreographed bit of blocking, details were discussed and decided upon. We weren't required to be swept away with passion. But I didn't have the time to explain myself, the interview moved on. Judgment was passed.
As the premiere approaches a growing fear has been making its way into my tummy. I'm scared, because my character doesn't have a good defense. The strangers in the audience know the crime but they don't know the offender. They're coming in with their judgments and their (correct) perception that she has done wrong. The audience will definitely be a little grossed out by her if not full on revolted. And that queasy, nauseous sensation in your gut makes it very difficult to want to get comfortable with someone. And really, looking past those faults is the same as permitting them... and the film doesn't work if the audience can't bring themselves to root for her a little bit. I haven't seen the film yet so I don't know what to expect at the premiere tonight....
Does she stand a chance against the odds? Will the remorse I felt playing her be enough for the audience to give her a chance? Will they tear at my beautiful hair and dress as the lights come up?
Fear... but also a little excitement.
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