Known as much for her intelligence as for her talent, Canadian actress Sarah Polley has been wowing television and film audiences since she was barely out of diapers. Born January 8, 1979, in the Toronto area, Polley got her first screen role at the age of six, in Disney’s One Magic Christmas. From 1987 to 1988, Polley made her name in the title role of the Canadian television series Ramona. Her work on the show led to more screen work, first in the Matt Dillon flop The Big Town (1987) and then in Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989).
In 1990, Polley got a lead role on the acclaimed TV series The Road to Avonlea, a part that she played for five seasons. In 1994, she had a small but significant role in Atom Egoyan’s Exotica and again collaborated with the director in 1997, for his critically lauded The Sweet Hereafter. The film was nominated for a host of awards, including a Best Director Oscar for Egoyan, and won a Special Grand Prize at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival. Polley drew her share of praise for her performance as the paralyzed survivor of a catastrophic bus accident and soon Hollywood was courting the waifishly unconventional actress, whom one critic remarked looked like Uma Thurman’s wiser younger sister. However, for her next picture, Polley opted for a small Canadian production, The Last Night (1998), directed by Don McKellar.
Hollywood did become part of the picture with Polley’s casting in Doug Liman’s Go (1999), in which she starred with such other young notables as Katie Holmes, Scott Wolf, Taye Diggs, and Breckin Meyer. Her role in the film, combined with her performance in David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ (1999) and a lead role in Guinevere (also 1999), helped to classify her as one of the most talented actresses of her generation, not a bad accomplishment for someone who repeatedly stated that her primary goal in life was to become a writer.
In 2000, Polley returned to Canada to star in Kathryn Bigelow’s The Weight of Water, a drama about the efforts of a photojournalist and her husband (Catherine McCormack and Sean Penn) to investigate a 19th century murder. That same year, she also appeared in Michael Winterbottom’s The Claim, playing the daughter of a gold miner (Peter Mullan) who sells his family for a bag of gold.
Over the next four years, Polley continued to stick mostly to smaller independent films. She played a journalist opposite a monster in Hal Hartley’s 2001 fantasy No Such Thing and won rave reviews and a Vancouver Film Critics Circle award for her performance as a terminally ill young woman in 2003’s My Life Without Me.
In 2004, Polley took another stab at Hollywood, heading up the ensemble cast in the remake of George Romero’s horror classic Dawn of the Dead. She returned to artier fare with the 2005 film The Secret Life of Words opposite Tim Robbins.
Polley made her direcotiral and screenwriting debuts in 2007 with an adaptation of Alice Munro’s story The Bear Came Over the Mountain, a beautifully observed drama about an elderly married couple dealing with the wife alzheimer’s disease. The film earned a handful of year-end awards and nominations, garnering Polley a nod for Best Adapted Screenplay from the Academy.