December 10, 2019

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Bright future

Local 13-year-old actor takes next step in career starring opposite Casey Affleck

A few short years ago, Anna Pniowsky was a typical Winnipeg kid, living in Fort Garry and, in her extra-curricular time, taking acting classes.

Movie Preview

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Light of my Life
Starring Casey Affleck, Anna Pniowsky, Tom Bower, Elisabeth Moss
● Rated R; ● 119 minutes
● Opens Monday 

Less typical: both she and her little sister Abigail found themselves scoring roles within the local movie industry. A few years ago, both Anna and Abigail appeared in the locally shot ghost story Wait Till Helen Comes, as well as the TV movie The Gabby Douglas Story.

It wasn’t long before the projects started to get bigger. In 2016, Abigail played Amy Adams’ daughter in The Arrival. Anna found roles on the miniseries The Hot Zone and the Hulu coming of age comedy series Pen15.

But Anna’s biggest career boost comes with what is essentially a co-starring role, opposite Casey Affleck, in the post-apocalyptic drama Light of My Life. Set in a future in which the human female gender has been all but wiped out by a mysterious plague, Anna plays "Rag," a young girl, immune to the ravaging bio-hazard and obliged to pretend she’s a boy while seeking a safe space under the protection of her loving father, played by Affleck, who also wrote and directed the film.

Her success has resulted in a geographic shift. Anna now lives with her family in Los Angeles.

"I moved here from Winnipeg about two years ago," she says. "I really do love it here."

Anna is now 13, but was just 11 when she shot Light of My Life in and around Vancouver beginning in January of 2017. The weather was wild, including a snowstorm that became incorporated into the movie’s timeline.

"There was also a record-breaking rain in Vancouver when we filmed," Anna recalls. "It wasn’t that bad. I am from Winnipeg."

The demands of the film were equally rough, including Anna having to cut her waist-length tresses for the part.

Local actor Anna Pniowsky portrays Rag in the post-apocalyptic drama Light of My Life, written and directed by Casey Affleck, who also stars as her father in the film. (Saban Films)

Local actor Anna Pniowsky portrays Rag in the post-apocalyptic drama Light of My Life, written and directed by Casey Affleck, who also stars as her father in the film. (Saban Films)

It was Affleck himself who did the trimming.

"Casey cut it all off," she says, admitting the savage coiffure did have an emotional impact.

"It was my first year of middle school and I was walking around with this terrible haircut, so that was a little hard, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat. It was all so worth it. Part of my job is to give the realest performance I can. I think that was one of the things that helped me find the character."

Casey Affleck on Anna Pniowsky:

“Anna is one of the rare actors who really makes you think about what’s going on inside their head, no matter what they’re saying or doing, or if they’re sitting in silence. I was always curious about what she was thinking about, and that does so much work for the movie. You worry about her, and the circumstances Rag is in, but that’s not quite enough. You’re also curious about what her response will be to all of this will be.

“Anna is one of the rare actors who really makes you think about what’s going on inside their head, no matter what they’re saying or doing, or if they’re sitting in silence. I was always curious about what she was thinking about, and that does so much work for the movie. You worry about her, and the circumstances Rag is in, but that’s not quite enough. You’re also curious about what her response will be to all of this will be.

“Anna never said or did anything that felt like she was just repeating the dialogue the way someone told her to say it. Even if it was exactly the way I asked, it still seemed like it was a decision she was making on her own. Once I met with her, the only thing I wanted to see her do is just react, without any preparation. She has a real presence, she listens intently, and she thinks deeply about what’s happening in the scene as if it was happening to her as a real person. And that’s a lot to ask of any actor, let alone an 11-year-old kid.”

From the press notes of Light of My Life

The film also required shooting some emotionally intense scenes with Affleck, who proved to be a conscientious acting partner as well as a director.

"He’s a great actor and also a really good, genuine person," she says.

Her collection of experiences have left her intent on maintaining an acting career into adulthood.

"I’m just starting high school now, so I still have time to think about it, but I think I want acting to be my job and my career," she says.

‘I’m really lucky that I kind of found my calling in life early. I don’t have to depend on it now, but it’s good that I’m getting this work because it’s what I want to end up doing."

And if future roles are as intense as the one she plays in Light of My Life, so much the better.

Pniowsky (left) pretend she’s a boy while seeking a safe space under the protection of her loving father, played by Casey Affleck. (Saban Films)

Pniowsky (left) pretend she’s a boy while seeking a safe space under the protection of her loving father, played by Casey Affleck. (Saban Films)

"I enjoy intense things. It’s kind of fun," she says. "It’s like a rush of adrenaline.

"Some people like roller-coasters. I like to act."

Light of My Life opens Monday.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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