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
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
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
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.