Stepping onto a film set for the first time is difficult for any actress.
Stepping on a set to play an iconic Canadian literary character is another matter altogether, as Aurora, Ont.-born actress Christine Horne discovered when she took on the role of the young Hagar Currie Shipley in the screen adaptation of Margaret Laurence’s classic 1964 novel The Stone Angel.
“I read the novel and the screenplay at the same time so I wasn’t coming at it with years of having this story in my brain,” Horne says. “I’d never had to write an essay on it or do these character studies, but I knew that a lot of people did and would have already decided who this should be.”
The 26-year-old Horne relished the opportunity to play the conflicted character — one noted for her frailties and humanness — qualities, which have come to define the novel as a whole.
Taking on the complex part was tough, Horne admits, but sharing a role with Oscar-winner Ellen Burstyn (Alice Doesn’t Live Her Anymore), who portrays Shipley in her twilight years, was particularly daunting.
“It was a challenge partly because the material was tricky and I was spanning quite a few years. I’d never done film before and I was sharing a role with Ellen Burstyn so it was a set of challenges on every conceivable level.”
Like so many who have been exposed to, and come to appreciate, The Stone Angel’s thematic undertones, Horne began a meditation on her own mortality during filming, much as the nonagenarian Shipley does throughout the film in a series of flashbacks as she searches for emotional closure. “The people in my life who are (in their 90s like Shipley) I’ve frozen in time,” Horne explains. “I’ve had this feeling that my grandma’s always been my grandma, but she’s had an entire life behind her and she has been the ages that I have been and has gone through the things that I’ve gone through.
“It also made me look at the decisions that I have or have not made, and look at the experiences that I go through, and think about how they’re going to add up and how they’re going to contribute to the person that I am when, God willing, I make it to 90, the person that I’m going to be then because of the things that I’m doing now.”
- The Stone Angel opens in theatres today.
- Read the Metro movie review on The Stone Angle