By Sonja Bennett
The almost rise, kinda fall, and sorta resurrection of a Canadian actress
In 2001 I was in theatre school getting the dregs of the acting roles. In the last production, I played eight parts – two of which were barnyard animals. My career goal at that point was to be a Bard on the Beach regular and maybe not have to live with three roommates. But my prospects weren’t looking great.
Then something happened. My father, Guy Bennett, was about to direct his first feature, Punch, about a father-daughter relationship. The story goes that the producer said offhandedly, “Too bad your daughter isn’t an actress, that’d be a good hook.” Um, does a proficiency in the back half of a horse costume count? I was “cast” in the movie and my career in film was put in motion.
Headhunters from Fox television were at our TIFF premiere and put me on a contract old-school style like I was Shirley Temple or something. Me and a little unknown comic named Zach Galifianakis. Ever heard of him?
Suddenly I was being groomed as “the next Calista Flockhart.” But my body rebelled against this idea. Somewhere I had read that cashew nuts were a healthy snack and I was eating them by the Dan-D-Pak. I gained 20 pounds, had a stress rash all over my face and had developed an audition-selective stutter. I was completely unprepared for 12-page last minute auditions in LA where I had no support network except my loyal agent, Dylan Collingwood, who came down and tried to help jam lines in my head and figure out the LA highway system.
Needless to say, I didn’t get my Ally McBeal, nothing came of my Fox contract and I slinked back to Vancouver with my tail between my legs. My ego was bruised pretty bad and I took to embarrassing behaviour like hitting gold-level tanning beds to give the town the impression I was “just up from LA for the weekend.”
Six months after my Fox contract had ended, I booked the new lead character on the seventh season of the Canadian series Cold Squad, and despite my whole management team’s disappointment, I was very happy. From that point on I worked steadily for almost a decade. I did comedy, I did drama, I got to work with Atom Egoyan and I won awards and stuff. Life was pretty sweet. I’d once again redefined what my dreams were and could say I was now living it.
And then the recession happened.
Movie stars were turning to shitty TV for work, and the roles I realistically had a shot at were getting smaller and sillier and less lucrative. I had also turned 30 and was apparently no longer the “right kind” of pretty for Smallville. So I did what most actresses do when the work dries up. I decided it’s time to have a baby!
I’m kidding – sort of. Motherhood gave a context to my career. I tried being pickier with roles, but all the good ones went to Oscar winners.
My body was starting to rebel against the slog of being a Vancouver actress in her 30s; to the high probability that the project I was auditioning for had the word “Fatal” or “Tornado” in the title.
I was getting bitter-actress-itis.
I remember my kid saying, “Mama sad, mama have dish-in.” I guess I was sad about my “dish-in” and more importantly I wasn’t a good enough actor to hide it from my son.
So I stopped acting. For almost three years. It was hard. But it was the right decision. I detoxed from the crack that is the highs and lows of the entertainment industry, I had a second child without consulting the UBCP/ACTRA “what’s shooting” list, and I went back to university to seek out another career path cause god knows if I’m not pretty enough for Smallville I’m definitely not getting a job at Cactus Club.
But I still found myself drawn to my husband’s (actor Stephen Lobo) callsheets and scripts. I missed being creative and telling stories and making movies. I wanted back in but knew it had to be different this time round.
I decided to write myself the juicy lead role that no one was going to give me otherwise. The plan was to write a starring vehicle to resuscitate my nearly dead career. I had stories from my motherhood experiences and I came up with the concept for a movie called Preggoland.
And then I wrote. Before my kids woke up, during their naptimes, in the middle of the night if I couldn’t sleep. I channeled all that creative energy into a story. My dear friend Kevin Eastwood agreed to produce. Ironically, by far the most difficult thing about getting the film made was convincing the decision makers to have me star in it. But the producers and the director, Jacob Tierney, supported me entirely – which meant a much smaller budget and a bigger pain in the ass for all involved. They did it anyway and never made me feel guilty.
Now, of course, I would never be so cavalier as to suggest the answer to all out-of-work actresses is to just “go out and make a feature.” It was the simple act of being creative on my own terms and taking control of my own destiny that empowered me. My bitter actress-itis was cured long before Preggoland went into production.
And did all my dreams come true with this film? Has Hollywood come knocking?
I guess the answer is, I don’t know yet. I’m not thinking about it all that much because I’m too busy with my family and the new ideas in my head. In my quest to write a vehicle to launch a “comeback,” I fell in love with writing along the way. And so the parameters of my dream life have shifted once again.
I won’t pretend that it doesn’t twinge my heart a little when I see Zach Galifianakis hosting Saturday Night Live and wonder what could have been if I’d laid off the cashews. But then I move on fast because I’m too busy writing my next feature.
Social Media Handles
Website: sonjabennett.ca, mongrelmedia.com/film/preggoland.aspx, indiegogo.com/projects/preggoland-help-us-finish-the-movie
Twitter: @sonjabennett123, @Preggoland
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