Fox finds whole new world in Hanging Garden
By BRUCE KIRKLAND
Kerry Fox arrived on the Halifax set of The Hanging Garden as a brassy, New Zealand-born, Australian-trained, English-based actress who instinctively transformed herself into a quintessential Canadian Maritimer.
Now Fox is in on the excitement as The Hanging Garden made its world premiere at the Toronto film fest and instantly established itself as one of the most exciting Canadian films of the year. It is the gritty yet sardonically funny story of a dysfunctional family struggling over issues of rejection, suicide, wife abuse, sexual identity and loyalty.
The feisty Fox is featured in another acclaimed festival film, Englishman Michael Winterbottom's Welcome To Sarajevo, a humanist look at the victims of civil war.
Doing both films was an act of faith for Fox. In the case of The Hanging Garden, she was paid next to nothing to work because Halifax writer-director Thom Fitzgerald had only a modest budget to make his directorial debut. Fox met him through mutual friends and bought into the dream.
"No fear," she says of working with a first-time filmmaker. "Anyone who could write a script like that had to be pretty smart, you know -- really, really smart.
"It's not actually that hard to make a film, but people, in my experience, make it terribly hard. There's too much fuss." That notion became particularly focussed in Sarajevo, where they required a mine-sweeper to clear shooting areas before setting up scenes. The fuss then seemed absurd.
So it is important that the fuss is made over something that is worthwhile for audiences, says Fox. She learned that during her film debut, Jane Campion's extraordinary An Angel At My Table. She became an actress and an idealist.
"The big thing for me, to kick off my career with that, is that it gave me the confidence that I could act and I didn't have to prove that anymore. Within myself I feel good and confident." Her earlier career was spent in fringe theatre. She harbored doubts.
"It also gave me a level to work on," she continues on Angel. "It gave me an ideal of what film is about. It solidified for me what I'm trying to do as an actor, all in one experience. Because the experience was vast, far beyond anything I'd ever come across.
"The way it affected people so deeply gave me faith that, through film as a medium, you can move people and you open their eyes and you can upwell a deep pool of compassion. It opened up something in me. So now that's what I'm trying to do with all the pieces I do."
The Hanging Garden was certainly a new world to explore, especially because of its rich Nova Scotia setting, she says.
"You have your prejudices and you have your blind spots about other people and you're fearful of them for no reason. So I try to do things that open me up to people and places and things I've never come across before. And The Hanging Garden is about such a comically dysfunctional family."