At 12 years old, Cassandra Sawtell has a filmography that actors of any age would envy. The Canada native was most recently seen in the television murder-mystery series, “Harper’s Island,” where her character, Madison, emerged unscathed after the series’ 13-episode run. Next up, audiences can see Sawtell in Terry Gilliam’s highly anticipated The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which opens in the U.S. on December 25, 2009.
In the film, the young actress takes on the role of Olga, a Russian orphan who encounters Tony, the character played by Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell. Sawtell spoke with MovieMaker about the challenges of playing Olga, her film festival experience and how she spends her time when she isn’t shooting.
Natalie Sullivan (MM): There is a lot of buzz surrounding the upcoming release of your latest film, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. The film debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in May and is set to open in the U.S. and Canada on December 25, 2009. Have you attended any of the premieres or festival screenings? What was that like?
Cassandra Sawtell (CS): Yes, I attended both the Toronto International Film Festival and the Vancouver International Film Festival. It was extremely exciting. At TIFF I walked my first red carpet. I also had the opportunity to reconnect with the director, producers and stars of the movie. They were very gracious and very generous with their time. It really was a unique experience.
MM: In the film, your character, Olga, spends a proportionate amount of her time crying on-screen. How did you prepare for the role and were you able to cry on cue?
CS: When I did my initial audition they wanted the lines spoken in a foreign language, I chose French. Olga is Russian, and in the second audition they wanted the lines spoken in an Eastern European dialect. My mom and I phoned Russian and Romanian restaurants in Vancouver and asked them to help us prepare the lines. On set, I was given a Russian dialect coach. Crying on cue comes easily for me, because I have done it many times before.
MM: Most of our readers probably recognize you from your role as Madison on the television series, “Harper’s Island.” How did filming Doctor Parnassus compare to filming a television series?
CS: It was very much the same; a job varies between how much time you have on set. Also, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was filmed with a green screen instead of on location, my role on “Harper’s Island” was filmed mostly on location. But whether I am on a series or a movie, I feel very much like a part of a team. I really enjoy working with the cast and crew.
MM: At 12, you already have an impressive filmography. What was the first job you booked? Are there any moviemakers with whom you’re most interested in working?
CS: The first job I booked was for the television series “Touching Evil.” I played a little girl whose mother is stalked by a serial killer. I filmed it six years ago this month! I’d like the chance to work again with many of my previous filmmakers and also with Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg.
MM: When you are not filming movies or television shows, what do you like to do in your free time?
CS: I like to spend time with my friends, and read. In the winter I enjoy skiing and in the summer swimming and horseback riding. All year round I enjoy playing with my dog, Henry.
MM: What’s up next for you?
CS: Christmas, lots of auditions and I will be spending time in Los Angeles in February!