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:: A N  I N T E R V I E W  W I T H  M I A  K I R S H N E R ::
The Globe and Mail
Bob Strauss
September 15, 2006

LOS ANGELES -- Since her earliest appearances for some of Canada's best filmmakers, Mia Kirshner has brought heart and sensitivity to roles that, let's face it, could be mighty disturbing. Now the humanizing factor in Arcand's teenage dominatrix and Egoyan's schoolgirl stripper has reached a heartbreaking maturity in The Black Dahlia. In a series of soul-crushing screen tests, Kirshner reveals the desperation, but also the dignity, of Elizabeth Short, the would-be actress dubbed the Dahlia when her mutilated corpse was discovered in 1947. Director Brian De Palma provides the film's mocking, off-screen male voice. Though bigger stars such as Hilary Swank and Scarlett Johansson have larger parts in the movie, Kirshner's thoughtfulness and compassion -- which quickly became evident during a telephone conversation with the actress while she was filming in Vancouver -- leave the most memorable impressions.

You paint a really poignant picture of Elizabeth Short in those "audition" clips. Can you describe your take on this famous yet mysterious figure?

How do I say this without sounding like a Pollyanna or corny. . . . But I think that when you're playing somebody that existed, and beyond that someone whose life ended in such a brutal fashion, I feel a tremendous responsibility to honour her humanity. That was my primary goal. In terms of research, I strove to ignore everything malicious that has been written about her -- which is most of it -- and tried to draw on the specific details that seem to be true, because they've been repeated over and over again. I think she's a tragic figure who came from this small town and wanted to be an actress and a lady. It was pretty simple for me. There was nothing malevolent or femme fatale-ish about her.

Dahlia was filmed in Bulgaria, where your mother is from. Had you ever been there before?

No. That was really unique, to go make a project like The Black Dahlia in a place where people spoke the language that surrounded me as a child. It was pretty surreal. I did a lot of things in Bulgaria. There was a market near where I was staying; I met these women who were embroidering and they taught me their technique. And I'd go to the Black Sea, which is beautiful.

You seem to have been drawn to sexually provocative material since you were a teenager, and of course there are all kinds of erotic implications associated with the Dahlia. Was that intriguing to you?

I think that actors often exercise their own curiosities and thought processes when they take on a role. I've definitely done a number of roles that were sexual in nature. I think it might have reflected a period in my life. But my interests have changed. Elizabeth, aside from one scene, I wouldn't describe her as that kind of character. I wouldn't ever want to be part of anything that was exploitative, unless it was to illustrate an element of truth in the movie.

How would you describe Jenny Schecter, your character on the TV show The L Word, and what can we expect from her next?

She's very mischievous and tricky. And this season she becomes extremely successful, gets a novel published in New York.

Has your career turned out the way you expected it to?

I'm happy where I'm at now. When I was 18, I realized that to just act was not something that I particularly wanted to do. I went to McGill, and as you can see from my résumé, I was in a lot of not-so-great films, because I made a very conscious decision to be less ambitious and put much more of a focus on my own life. That meant more travel, more time off. I think that actually brought much more meaning to the work. I very quickly realized that, if I'm always working, I don't have a lot to draw on. I can say this: I'm stronger as an actress, more confident as an actress and I love my job more than I've ever loved my job, probably, because I've bought an apartment in Paris and I'm writing a book for Pantheon.

That book is about refugees. Was it inspired by family members who were displaced during the Second World War and the Holocaust?

I just really wanted to address what a home is. It was also inspired by growing up in Toronto, which I'm very grateful for. It's such a multicultural, beautiful city, incomparable to any other city in that sense. I love living in Paris now, but I am very, very, very proud of my Canadian identity, and it was very important to me that the book reflect that.

What other interests do you have?

French fashion. Clothes are frivolous, but it's sometimes a way of expressing yourself, and essential to a character. It sounds funny to talk about a book and then switch over to talking about clothes. But I'm a lucky woman to get to wear things like Lanvin, Balenciaga. It's a treat. And it's a thing that little girls probably dream about when they decide they want to be actors.

I competed in a triathlon a couple of weeks ago. It was pretty amazing. That's one of the amazing things about Vancouver, it's such a wonderful outdoor city that you just want to spend time outside. That's something that I've been trying to do all summer.


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