Interview – Sarah Allen
– by Shawn Conner
Sarah Allen doesn’t have much to say in The Husband. But as a woman imprisoned for having sex with a minor, her eyes and body language express volumes – regret, pain, sorrow.
Directed by Bruce McDonald, The Husband is dark-humoured, layered and blessedly free of any backstory. The audience is immediately plopped down in the midst of the situation, in particular the frustration and grinding, daily humiliation faced by Henry, the husband (Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Kelly Harms). Packed full of incident, novelistic touches (the drawings of Johnny Depp that Alyssa gives Henry – more on which later) and characters who behave realistically in a situation that would challenge anyone, The Husband is the rarest of things – a smart, adult movie about sex, jealousy and human behaviour.
Allen was raised in Nelson, B.C. and completed the acting program at the National Theatre School of Canada. Early credits include supporting roles alongside Mira Sorvino and Donald Sutherland in Human Trafficking, and Johnny Depp in the Stephen King thriller Secret Window. She was the lead in the 2006-7 CBC medical drama, Jozi-H, which was set and shot in Johannesburg, South Africa. Other credits include recurring roles on Nikita, Little Mosque on the Prairie, Murdoch Mysteries and the SyFy series Being Human. Allen can also be seen in the new Bravo series 19-2 and in a lead role on Global’s new series Remedy. We talked to her at a café March 21, The Husband‘s opening day in Vancouver.
Shawn Conner: You’ve been busy with a lot of TV, from Best Laid Plans to Remedy to Murdoch Mysteries. But have you cracked The Republic of Doyle?
Sarah Allen: No, I haven’t. And Allan Hawco, who’s the producer and creator, I went to school with him at the National Theatre School. He was a year ahead of me. So I’m a little burned.
SC: Well someone who shoots for our site is the cousin of one of the executive producers I think, so we’ll make it a mission to get you on that show.
SA: (laughs) Oh, thanks!
SC: So, The Husband. How did you get the role?
SA: I auditioned, put myself on tape, sent it in, and they hired me.
The producer Dan Bekerman has been working his butt off in Toronto to make independent films ever since I’ve been around. We did a short film together when I was at the CFC [Canadian Film Centre]. So we sort of knew each other. And I had been out-of-town so… There’s no budget for this film so I think he was like, “Well Sarah’s not going to come into town to do it” so they didn’t even bother approaching me. Then a friend of mine put a bug in my ear that they were trying to cast this role and they were having a really hard time and would I be interested, yes! I’ve always wanted to work with Bruce McDonald, that’s been one of my measures of success, one of my fantasy jobs was to get to work with him. He is such an institution in Toronto and in Canada. You see him on the street once a week in Toronto just shooting stuff and I thought, to work with him, I would really feel like part of the Canadian film community.
SC: Did he ever take his hat off?
SA: No! I actually saw him at the gym once though without a hat, I had to do a 360 to make sure it was him.
SC: How finished was the script when you saw it?
SA: It was done, it was basically what we shot. in the editing room they realized they needed to layer in a bit more Alyssa just because the other characters talk about her so much but you don’t really get to see her. So three months after shooting we went and shot the dream-sequence stuff, of her lying on the bed, and “the act”, with the teenager. At first we didn’t think it was necessary to see that and I was happy to not have to do it, but then they realized it was necessary to show people maybe not what happened but what could’ve happened.
SC: I took that as what the husband sees in his head, on a continuous loop.
SA: Yeah. Which is horrifying.
SC: Where did the idea for the Johnny Depp drawings come from? I figured that must have been improvised, maybe because you made that movie with him [Secret Window].
SA: Nope. Max has the weirdest sense of humour. I think maybe that’s what I got the role, things like the Johnny Depp drawings and the rasta man necklace [something else that Alyssa makes for Henry], I think people might see that and not really get it but I just took that as part of their relationship, another reason why they are meant to be together – they have this odd sense of humour.
SC: The challenge for you in this role must have been that your character doesn’t have a lot to say.
SA: I felt like it was very easy because she’s so clearly going through things. And she’s talked about so much, the situation’s so clear, it wasn’t hard to just listen to someone. I think Max did a really good job of writing a truthful depiction of a man who’s suffering. Also, none of the characters are black and white. No one’s the bad guy or good guy.
SC: Armand [Alyssa’s father, played by Stephen McHattie] has the best line…
SA: “Sometimes people do stupid things.” That’s how I related to Alyssa. What would it take to do something that stupid, if it wasn’t a sickness? To do something so out-of-character.
SC: Max brings it up once, it’s obvious it’s been talked about. But there’s no answer.
SA: She pays the consequences. She has to give up everything. Well, she’s ready to lose everything.
The Husband opens today (March 21) at Cinematheque in Vancouver, and Sarah will be at the March 22 screening for a q-and-a. For tickets and showtimes visit thecinematheque.ca.