“Hard Drive” is a tough, challenging Independent Canadian film from veteran filmmaker William D. (Bill) MacGillivray. A recent recipient of the Governor General’s Award for Visual and Media arts, the Genie-nominated filmmaker has been crafting feature and documentary film for over 30 years.
With a story about young love between two people with troubled pasts, MacGillivray chose Laura Slade Wiggins to play Debs, a runaway with a dark secret held on the drive of her computer. Wiggins may be best known for her role as Karen on the long-running TV show “Shameless,” yet her resume shows a breadth of roles, from features to guest appearances to TV movies.
Moviefone Canada spoke to MacGillivray and Wiggins in Toronto before the film’s public premiere in the city.
Moviefone Canada: Laura, what brought you to the project?
Laura Slade Wiggins: I got an e-mail a couple of years ago with an offer for a Canadian indie film. I just found that the characters were really deep and had a lot of different aspects that I wanted to work with, so I Skyped with Bill. Plus, I had never been to Nova Scotia and that sounded fun!
Bill, how did the project come about, and how you came to cast your leads?
WM: The project started out as a book by Had Niedzviecki. We started the process of trying to create the script, which, over many years, evolved into “Hard Drive.” We started casting and it was actually my daughter who suggested to see one of the actors from “Shameless.”
Laura, what did you know about out East before you got there? Is there something different about shooting in Canada vs. shooting in the States?
LW: I find in Canada there’s a lot less ego a lot of the time. I feel like the arguments we were having, if we did, were over the content of the film and just everybody being 100 percent invested and wanting to cover all angles before we moved on too fast. I’ve worked in Vancouver and out there too it’s just really cool sense of community. It’s a little bit less feeling like you’re in an industry.
As for the transition from “Shameless” to this — did you see anything between the two roles that you could see the connection your director was seeing?
LW: They’re very similar characters to me in many ways. They’re both so young and so sexualized for their age, which is one of those murky subjects people don’t like to touch on as much, teenagers and sex and all of that. Debs is trying to fix that situation, whereas Karen likes to throw flames on the fire as often as possible and cause explosions.
Are you more like one or the other?
LW: I guess it depends on whether I like that fire or not!
You’ve done a bunch of television and a bunch of film work, how do you prepare differently?
LW: I try to read the script as much as I can, and try to pick up what other people are doing for where we need to hit it on different scenes. I’ll sometimes read chat forums of people that are going through different psychological things just to hear someone real talk about it and how they’re feeling.
Usually, with TV, you don’t have any time to prepare for it, but because the plot points are so commercial, you can pick up on them a little faster, whereas going into the indie film circuit, it was learning to wait a little bit, to let there be some space and some dead time to build up to where we’re going. It’s kind of nice to be able to take your time with the storyline instead of trying to get as much information to the audience as possible.
As a director, what were the biggest challenges you faced to bring this project forward?
WM: The money is always the biggest challenge and it’s still very difficult in Canada to fund an independent film. Multiply that by 10 when the subject matter is difficult. We’ve had distributors say I’m not going to touch this film, I can’t sell this film. One person described it as “a Debbie Downer.”
We take the opposite tack, of course, but it didn’t make it easy to raise money for the film, so it’s always a battle at the best of times. But we were lucky in our casting to have Laura and Douglas Smith, who are known actors within another genre, television, but that drew attention to the film for sure, and thankfully, they worked out really well.
Laura, what was it like working with Smith, an actor who had huge success on “Big Love”? Had you met him before and what was he like on set?
LW: I had never met him. Douglas is a very smart Canadian boy. Very tall. He comes from a very large family, so he’s sarcastic and has a dry sense of humour which led to us bickering a lot. It was really fun, though, to work with someone you can be completely honest with and not worry about hurting their feelings or being sensitive or precious. I got to be the sensitive one and he was the sarcastic one, so perfect. And I thought he’s a wonderful artist, I enjoyed working off of him.
WM: It was interesting for us as producers, bringing these two people together who had never worked together before. So our risk level was pretty high — is this actually going to work? Because we didn’t audition them. We didn’t put them in a room together and see what the electricity was like. We had a sense it would work out, and on the screen it was really good. And on the set, it was really interesting.
LW: Us trying to undermine each other constantly.
WM: Yeah, but the vibe on the set was good and I wouldn’t say it was competition between you two, but there was a little edge, which I think was good.
The film has intense and raw moments for you. As a performer, where do you set your limits for such scenes, and are there specific things that you hold back to make it more powerful, or is it just something that you simply have to go with in the moment?
LW: I think you have to look at the depth of the emotions. If you’re someone who was really angry, you have to understand there was something that made them happy that adds depth into that. At certain points, there’s explosive emotion where I let go of everything, and Debs is crying and bawling and completely unraveling but then there’s also scenes where I think it’s proper to be more hiding and try to function even though there is this pain that’s present. We just try to keep it inside and make new friends and leave our sad pasts behind if we have them and heal that way.
WM: She had the more difficult role, really, because it’s really hard to make a troubled person attractive, in the sense that people want to stay with you. If you’re troubled, then people want to distance themselves from you.
Much of the rawness is more implied than shown.
WM: I’m accused of many things, one of them is being too subtle. So there is a certain subtlety in the script than in a television show or a more commercial film, there’s no doubt.
What was your first reaction when you saw the movie?
LW: At first it freaked me out because it was so much and getting really dark. I felt like in the beginning I was really frustrated, because I wasn’t enunciating my words that well and I was just thinking oh gosh, this is going to be an hour and a half of cringing, but then it started to get going and it was enjoyable. I loved the music. And towards the end of the film I started to speak a little bit more clearly and I felt like OK. But I’m just so bad at watching myself.
“Hard Drive” is now playing in limited release in Canada.
Gallery | Toronto Film Festival 2014: Canadian Movies
- ‘Bang Bang Baby’
A small-town teenager in the 1960s believes her dreams of becoming a famous singer will come true when her rock-star idol gets stranded in town. But a leak in a nearby chemical plant that is believed to be causing mass mutations threatens to turn her dream into a nightmare. Starring Jane Levy, Justin Chatwin, Peter Stormare and David Reale.
- ‘Maps to the Stars’
A tour into the heart of a Hollywood family chasing celebrity, one another and the relentless ghosts of their pasts. Starring Julianne Moore, Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska.
In a fictional Canada, where a new law allows distressed parents to abandon troubled children to the hospital system, Die Despres, a feisty widow, tries to cope with Steve, her wild yet charming ADHD son. While they both try to make ends meet and live under the same roof, Kyla, their mysterious neighbour, offers her help. As Kyla’s heartwarming presence becomes increasingly intense, questions emerge about her own mysterious life, and the way her destiny may ultimately be linked to that of Steve and Die. Starring Anne Dorval, Suzanne Clement and Antoine Olivier Pilon.
Part road movie, part spectacle, part drama, Monsoon is Sturla Gunnarsson’s meditation on chaos, creation and faith, set in the land of believers. The subject is the monsoon, the incomparably vast weather system that permeates and unifies the varied culture of India, shaping the conditions of existence for its billion inhabitants.
- ‘Wet Bum’
It’s the start of the spring term in a small northern town, heralding swimming lessons, hanging out with best friends, new classes and new possibilities. But this year, things are different for 14-year-old Sam. While her friends are moving on, focusing on boys, experimenting with drugs, Sam is too uncomfortable to even take off her bathing suit in front of the other girls. After landing herself into trouble, she is forced to work as a cleaner at the retirement home run by her mother. Sam finds unexpected and unlikely friendships with two of the retirement home’s residents who end up teaching Sam a few things about growing up — and growing old. Starring 2014 TIFF Rising Star Julia Sarah Stone, Kenneth Welsh, Leah Pinsent and Craig Arnold.
- ‘An Eye For Beauty’
Luc, a talented young architect, lives a peaceful life with his wife Stephanie in the stunning area of Charlevoix. He has a beautiful house, a pretty wife, dines often with friends, plays golf and tennis, and goes hunting — leading a perfect life, one might say. One day, he accepts to be a member of an architectural jury in Toronto. There, he meets Lindsay, a mysterious woman who will turn his life upside down. Starring Éric Bruneau, Mélanie Thierry, Melanie Merkosky and Marie-Josée Croze.
- ‘Teen Lust’
An awkward high school student strives to lose his virginity before his parents and their satanic cult can sacrifice him to the devil. Starring Jesse Carere, Daryl Sabara, Kristin Bauer van Straten, Cary Elwes and Jon Dore.
When 35-year-old Ruth ruins a baby shower with her juvenile antics, her old high school cronies — who are all mothers now — promptly de-friend her. Later, when she is mistakenly thought to be with child she is inexplicably welcomed back into the group. Although she initially tries to come clean, the many perks of pregnancy are far too seductive to ignore. Preggoland is a comedy about our societal obsession with babies and the lengths people will go to be part of a club. Starring Sonja Bennett.
Based on a true story, “Backcountry” follows an urban couple who go camping in the wilderness and get hopelessly lost. Without food or water, they struggle to find their way back. When they enter a predatory bear’s territory, their trip turns into a horrific tale of tragedy, will, and survival. Starring Missy Peregrym and Jeff Roop.
- ‘Trick or Treaty?’
The new documentary from Alanis Obomsawin follows the journey of Indigenous people in their quest for justice as they seek to establish dialogue with the Canadian government. By tracing the history of their ancestors since the signing of Treaty No. 9, they are raising people’s awareness about the issues that concern them and finally putting an end to inertia.
- ‘Big Muddy’
Martha Barlow has a dark personal history she’d rather not remember and more skeletons in her closet than she’d care to admit. After her teenage son Andy becomes involved with seedy characters, Martha must face her violent past in order to secure her son’s future. To do so, she must ward off a crazed racehorse owner, reconcile with her estranged family, and reunite with Andy’s dangerous and long forgotten father. Big Muddy is an outlaw tale played out as a modern-day murder ballad. Starring Nadia Litz, Justin Kelly, Stephen McHattie and Rossif Sutherland.
- ‘We Were Wolves’
Two estranged brothers return to the family cottage after the death of their father. Over the course of three days they must learn to let go of the man they thought they knew, and accept responsibility for the men they have become. Starring Peter Mooney, Steve Cochrane and Lynda Boyd.
Montreal, 1966. Jean Corbo, an idealistic 16-year-old of Québécois and Italian descent, befriends two far-left political activists and joins the FLQ (Liberation Front of Québec), an underground movement determined to spark a socialist revolution. Jean thus begins an inextricable march toward his destiny. Starring Anthony Therrien, Antoine L’Écuyer, Karelle Tremblay and Tony Nardi.
A closeted former child actor, an out-of-work alcoholic, fakes his résumé and gets a job as a high-school guidance counsellor, where he thrives while giving bad advice. Starring Pat Mills, Zahra Bentham, Alex Ozerov and Tracey Hoyt.
Justine hasn’t played her guitar since a spell of stage fright caused her to faint and fall on her head. Now, forced to give up her lifelong dream of becoming a musician and to avoid the big risks that would give her fulfillment, Justine is stuck. She lives in the unchanged house of her dead grandmother, works at an unfulfilling office job, and continues to sleep with her ex-boyfriend, Ben. When Ben suddenly puts an end to their late night trysts, Justine is inspired to play and write music again. Starring Tanya Davis, Stewart Legere, Stephanie Clattenburg and Jackie Torrens.
- ‘Songs She Wrote About People She Knows’
Carol, an emotionally repressed woman, loses friends and alienates people when she begins singing songs she wrote about people she knows. But she unexpectedly inspires her boss, to whom she dedicated the song Asshole Dave, to resurrect his dreams of becoming a rock star. As Dave flounders, Carol continues to hone her creative voice. Starring Arabella Bushnell, Brad Dryborough and Ross Smith.
- ‘Tu dors Nicole’
Making the most of the family home while her parents are away, 22-year-old Nicole is enjoying a peaceful summer with her best friend, Véronique. When Nicole’s older brother shows up with his band to record an album, their vacation takes an unexpected turn and the girls’ friendship is put to the test. Amidst a rising heat wave, Nicole’s insomnia — and romantic misadventures — mount each day. Tu dors Nicole takes a humorous look at the beginning of adulthood and all its possibilities. Starring Julianne Côté, Juliette Gosselin, and Marc-Andre Grondin.
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