The 31-year-old actress was honored with a star on Canada's Walk of Fame on Saturday, an annual event created to celebrate Canadian achievement, now in its thirteenth year. Unlike its American counterpart in Hollywood, the award isn't restricted to the entertainment industry. It acknowledges excellence in a variety of fields, including science and innovation, as well as sports and the arts.
Joining Polley and the 124 existing inductees this year were singers Nelly Furtado and Blood, Sweat & Tears frontman David Clayton-Thomas, 'Will & Grace' star Eric McCormack, author Farley Mowat, Olympic medalist Clara Hughes, and late magician Doug Hennings. Past honorees have run the gamut from uber-Canadian icons like Céline Dion to those that keep their citizenship on the down-low like James Cameron (though, in his defense, we're pretty sure he's got dual citizenship with Pandora).
This year's star unveilings took place in front of the Canon Theatre on Yonge Street in downtown Toronto. The red carpet ran a lengthy block along the world's longest street, and fans lined up three or four rows deep on either side for a glimpse of the inductees as they made their way to pose with their stars. Polley stopped and talked with some fans – and unlike the evening's host and infamous germaphobe Howie Mandel, even shook some hands.
That evening, Polley was lauded for her "searing intelligence and courage" by Gordon Pinsent, a former inductee himself that Polley introduced to American audiences with her twice Oscar-nominated directorial debut 'Away From Her.' But, in stereotypically humble Canadian fashion, Polley claimed to be taken aback by the honor and subsequent praise, saying, "It's not anything I ever thought about. It was definitely a surprise."
Mounties mixed with evening gowns and suits as the honorees made their way into the Canon for the tribute award show, where the seven new inductees would join the exclusive Canadian club. A relatively relaxed affair, with fewer "names" than previous years, it was an evening for celebrating where they came from, and for many, a chance to return home. But unlike past star recipients like Jim Carrey and Mike Myers who left for Canada for Hollywood, Polley stayed even as her star power grew south of the border.
She first started acting at age four, and by 10, Polley had landed the lead in the TV series 'Road to Avonlea,' endearing her to generations of Canadians who watched her grow up over the course of her five seasons on the show. But it was her appearance in fellow Canadian Atom Egoyan's 'The Sweet Hereafter' that proved her breakthrough role, earning her the attention of American critics and back at home, helping the former child star transition to adult roles.
After a starring role in 'Go' opened the Hollywood floodgates, Polley famously closed them by turning down the part in Cameron Crowe's 'Almost Famous' that would make Kate Hudson a household name, instead choosing to return to Canada to film the low-budget and little-seen 'The Law of Enclosures.' And though Hudson landed an Oscar nod as Penny Lane, Polley's never starred in a Matthew McConaughey movie – so the jury's still out there. It was a move that encapsulated Polley's career: she wanted no part of the Hollywood and tabloid scene, preferring to chart her own path instead.
Even now, after 'Away from Her' drew rave reviews and landed her an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay and a place on Variety's 2007 "10 Directors to Watch" list, Polley chose to film her directorial follow-up, a 'dramedy' starring Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, and Sarah Silverman called 'Take This Waltz,' in her hometown of Toronto. According to Polley, the choice to film at home was an easy one. "I've always just wanted to work here and make films here," she said. It was a sentiment she echoed in her acceptance speech, saying she feels very grateful and "lucky to have been able to make a career in film and stay home."
In a time when so many actors have career paths seemingly shaped by armies of managers and publicists, Polley's independent streak and refusal to be labeled has served her well. And rather than restricting her appeal or limiting her to a Canadian audience, her career moves have instead opened the actress and filmmaker up to a much wider range of fans – from zombie geeks to drama lovers. No wonder Canada has been so quick to claim her.
The ceremony will be broadcast in Canada on Wednesday, October 20, at 9PM ET/PT on Global and Slice.