"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.