Films

From scribbler to star

Brian D. Johnson June 12 2000
Films

From scribbler to star

Brian D. Johnson June 12 2000

From scribbler to star

Films

New Waterford Girl could take journalism student and novice actress Liane Balaban to The Big Time

Brian D. Johnson

Liane Balaban knew that her life had changed when Courtney Love came up to her at the Sundance Film Festival and introduced herself as a fan. The occasion was last January’s American première of New Waterford Girl, a charming Cape Breton comedy in which Balaban, a 19-year-old actress from Toronto, makes a stunning debut. It was hard not to notice Love in the audience at Sundance. “She was laughing all the way through, and got into a fight with an audience member who was being too loud,” recalls Balaban, who ended up at a private party hosted by the infamous rock/movie star later that night. “It was such a surreal experience, meeting Courtney Love and having her stroke my arm while she spoke to me.” Before she landed the lead in New Waterford Girl, Balaban’s only experience on camera was playing a corpse in a student film. Now, she has a Hollywood agent and is auditioning for starring roles alongside big-name actors in major studio productions. But in the meantime, while she waits for The Big Time, Balaban is happy studying journalism at Ryerson Polytechnic University. “I may as well get a degree if I can’t be a movie star,” she shrugs. “Julia Roberts didn’t work for three years after Mystic Pizza, or so they tell me.” Balaban may not be the next Julia Roberts—she seems more complicated than that—but in New Waterford Girl, she has a natural charisma that makes it impossible to take your eyes off her. The movie’s 53-year-old director, Allan Moyle—who was born in Shawinigan, Que., and made the 1990 cult hit Pump up the Volume with Christian Slater—is emphatic: “I can say, without blinking, that she will be a big star if she wants it.

But she’s very ambivalent. Half of her wants to go and be a giant success, and the other half wants to stay and be a journalist. She has some reticence, and the camera loves reticence.”

In Moyle’s film, Balaban plays 15year-old Mooney Pottie, a ’70s misfit longing to escape the Cape Breton

coal-mining town of New Waterford. Her teacher,

Cecil (Andrew McCarthy), has arranged a scholarship for her to attend an arts school in Manhattan. But Mooney’s fretful parents, comically played by Mary Walsh ( This Hour Has 22 Minutes) and Nicholas Campbell [Da Vinci’s Inquest), will not hear of it.

Mooney then hooks up with a 16-year-old spitfire from the Bronx named Lou (Tara Spencer-Nairn) who has just moved in next door with her mother (Cathy Moriarty), a Latin dance instructor. Lou, who has a talent for dropping guys with a punch (“if they are guilty, they fall”), soon becomes

the scourge of New Waterford. And together, the girls plot Mooney’s escape.

With her first feature script, Nova Scotia screenwriter Tricia Fish, 33, has created an offbeat yet remarkably uncontrived portrait of small-town life. And Moyle, shooting on location in Cape Breton, conveys a distinctive sense of place—under gun-metal skies, many of the exteriors look like interiors. Balaban, meanwhile, offers a beguiling mix of naïve introspection and precocious wit.

Off-screen, the actress comes across

as a sunnier personality—outgoing enough to host her own radio show on the Internet [2kool4radio.com). Born in Toronto, she is the daughter of a Catholic mother, a medical secretary, and a Jewish father from Uzbekistan, who works in real estate. Balaban had never considered acting until a family friend suggested she audition for New Waterford Girl. “The waiting room was full of intense blond girls,” she recalls. “One of them was reciting her lines to the wall. I thought, ‘Oh, my God, what am I doing here?’ ”

But after seven more auditions, Balaban got the part. On the set, she relied on intuition, and had no reason to be starstruck by such seasoned actors as Walsh and Campbell. “No one my age watches Canadian TV,” she explains. Besides, Balaban had her own connection to the story. Her mother’s first husband was a coal miner from New Waterford, where they spent their honeymoon in 1961—just another serendipitous element in making a rare piece of Canadian movie magic. El