Jeremy Ball’s stunning short film Frost premieres at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) as part of the Short Cuts Canada: Programme #4. Frost starts off with cinematic sweeps of a barren, snow-covered landscape. Through quiet close-ups of our heroine Naya (Emily Piggford), a sense of suspense begins to build as she ventures out into a Planet of the Apes-style forbidden zone. One thing leads to another, until we find our Naya has stumbled into a sci-fi distopia. Criticize This! caught up with Emily Piggford to talk about wordless acting, what she’s doing next, and women who kick ass.
Congratulations on Frost premiering at TIFF at this year. Are you looking forward to seeing the audience reaction?
Emily Piggford: Thank you so much! Yes, I’m very excited to have Frost premiere at TIFF, and am definitely looking forward to the reactions of the audience. We have been lucky enough to receive some fantastic reviews so far. It’s wonderful that Frost is being recommended as a “to-see” for the Festival. It was tested before an audience already at a CFC screening, for the CFC Short Dramatic Film Program… through which director Jeremy Ball completed it, and the reactions were all very complimentary. Everyone seemed very excited by the film.
This entire short was filmed using a green screen, and a set built to look like the convenience store. Yet to the viewer, the stunning landscape is seamless, and looks like a location shoot. What was your reaction when you watched the final product?
EP: It was glorious! I’d had it described to me before and during the shoot, but the quality of it all ended up being seamless and beautiful indeed. You can rest when you’re in the audience, because you feel you can trust the environment. You can just watch the story and drink in the world that has been created. I was so impressed and so proud.
There was a fantastic team working on the visuals for Frost and putting it all together – editing by Richard Mandin, and Jeremy with all his experience with visual effects and his awesome vision for the piece at the heart of it all. The beautiful camera work by Guy Godfree. Not to mention everyone who was making the snow on set! Makeup artist Kat Crisp giving me my face tattoos and cold, rosy nose, and then a bloody nose… On and on. I just want to list everybody’s name here who was involved. It was, again, such a satisfying culmination of talents and hard work.
Although there is a voice-over narrative, there is no actual dialogue or speech in the film. How do you communicate the essence of Naya’s character to the viewer, all non-verbally?
EP: A person can communicate a great deal about themselves through their walk and how they behave in different situations. You can watch someone who moves without speaking, and gather so much about them. Communication of Naya’s character came through in the choices she made, the looks in her eyes, how capable and confident she seemed, or how brave or naive.
I have done quite a few silent performances and was part of the founding days of a physical / dance theatre company called Impulse Theatre, established by my friend, Andrew Barrett. I wrote and directed a piece called Savage in my final year at university, which also was free of speech. It is a comfortable element for me. Though I love to analyze text and work with dialogue, I find I am forced to be that much more direct in my performances, when I do not have words to articulate my character’s intentions.
How much of you is in Naya, and how much of Naya is in you?
EP: The moment I read the audition breakdown for Polaris (the CFC project we shot before Frost), I felt a very natural understanding of Naya. I could see clearly how she would behave and how I would depict her. Naya is strong in spirit and will, but she is not cocky. I believe she is respectful and patient, and she knows when she is entitled to act.
I’m a Pisces, a water sign, and was raised on the sea, my dad is a sailor, my mom’s last name means “slow river” in Japanese – I feel very connected to the water. If I were to describe Naya in terms of water, I’d say she has a strong, deep current in her. I feel we share this, though Naya seems to take action more directly than I would. I am so patient and sometimes I wish I were quicker acting. When you know what you must do, when you know that you are right, I find it is easier to act. I admire those who have confidence in their actions.
You’ve said that you’d like to do more action roles, and love the idea of a brave females who can kick ass. Are there any roles you’ve played in the past, or any movies you’ve seen, with strong female leads that inspire you?
EP: The first piece that comes to mind where I had to “kick ass” was in a show I created with Andrew, for Impulse, called WRATH. There’s a transition from kids at play, all dressed in white, to stripped down, black body paint with braided dread locks and sinister, aggressive movements. I have played other strong female roles and I believe that there is strength to be found in every role, but WRATH was a particularly fun and active one to do.
As far as my inspirations go, actresses like Ziyi Zhang, Maggie Q, Zoe Saldana kick ass! I also love Penelope Cruz, Rachel Weisz, Cate Blanchett. Noomi Rapace is beautiful in so many ways, and I can’t wait to see more of her performances. Some films with strong, dynamic female leads, which I enjoy, are Moonstruck, The Brother’s Bloom, Volver, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (both American and Swedish). As far as action movies go, I love the fun ones. Superhero and comic book movies, James Bond, Charlie’s Angels, Transformers, Indiana Jones and Tarantino’s films.
You’re young, talented, smart and beautiful – I can hear Hollywood calling. What are your thoughts on fame, and what opportunities might come along with it?
EP: Oh my goodness! That’s really kind. It is so much fun to work. Up until recently, I have been in school, making my own shows and taking on as many productions as I could juggle. These one-hit wonderful times are what I have been raised on and trained in. When you have the opportunity to work on things you like, it shows and it grows. If you are lucky enough, you can build momentum and project leads, which then lead to places and people. A natural paper trail is left behind you the more you work.
When it reaches the point where people start to follow that paper trail and anticipate the future as eagerly as you do – that, to me, is what fame is. It can be both a great pressure and a great pleasure. I am honoured to have been part of Frost, to be asked to do this interview, and to have projects to look forward to. Modesty might drive me to say that I don’t want fame, but the reality is that fame can bring you the chance to work and play more, and that is what I would like. I know I can’t always be the poster child for this or that, and work might not consistently come, but I am happy for the moment and for the prospects of the future.
What other upcoming projects can we expect to see you in?
EP: I am working on a new series from Eli Roth, Hemlock Grove, which is based on the novel by Brian McGreevy. Brian writes for the series as well, and created it with Eli. It will be released on Netflix in the New Year. I play the recurring character Ashley Valentine. I have also just been cast in the pilot Port Hope, which will be shooting shortly, and have a couple of short films in the works.
Why should people go see the TIFF premiere of Frost?
EP: TIFF is a pretty spectacular event, in life and in cinema. Art always reflects the current generation; its needs and where it wants to go next. I am pleased that Frost was chosen to be a part of this, to represent the tastes and desires of this viewing generation. I think Frost is one of those films that make you feel thrilled and motivated when you watch it – however this motivation manifests. You may want to make your own films, or go out on your own journey. On the chance that this piece stirs audiences, whether to viewing joy or to action (and I believe it will), I say it is very worth watching.
And to see it alongside the other shorts… Shorts are wonderful! It’s like a film or play without dialogue: you have to tell your story within certain restrictions and with shorts it’s time. The juice of the piece is so concentrated, that viewing them is a quick rush for the spirit, even if you don’t know what it means, or what it’s done to you, at first. I hope many will come to see the Short Cuts Canada series at TIFF. Not to mention, if you come to the premiere it’s an excuse to dress up!
Frost is playing as part of the Short Cuts Canada: Programme #4 at TIFF 2012 on Tuesday September 11 at 6:30 p.m and Wednesday September 12 at 4:45 p.m. at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
Follow all of our TIFF 2012 coverage at criticizethis.ca/tiff.