When Andrew Thomas Hunt's gritty revenge thriller Sweet Karma rolled to Austin's Fantastic Fest 2009 following a premiere at Montreal's Fantasia Festival it was a textbook story of what festival play can do for a low budget film. Produced on a shoestring budget in Canada by a first time director with a first time actress in the lead, it was precisely the sort of film that would be ignored and overlooked in most places. But not at Fantasia and definitely not at Fantastic Fest, where the film won star Shera Bechard a very well deserved Next Wave Best Actress award and talk started heating up.
There's no doubt at all that the entire weight of Sweet Karma rests on Bechard's shoulders. Playing a mute Russian girl on the trail of her sister who disappeared as part of a flesh trading ring Bechard is front and center of every scene, needing to project a balance of anger and vulnerability with zero dialogue. She had to be fearless physically, both in terms of the action she was asked to carry and the lack of clothing she was asked to carry it in.
Oh, did I mention? After making the film Bechard would go on to be Playboy's Playmate of the Month for November 2010. She's not ugly.
And Sweet Karma continues to be the little film that could, with a Canadian theatrical release coming March 11th. I had the chance to ask Bechard some questions this week, so read on for those.
TB: You had worked with Andrew a bit before doing the film. Can you describe how the film came about - what Andrew saw in you that made him believe that you were the right person for it and how he approached you?
SB: Yeah, I worked with Andrew as a model a few years ago when I moved to Toronto from Kapuskasing. Photography was something he dabbled in but he was really a director. We also worked together once on a Trailer Park Boys commercial, which was my first experience with acting. He started writing the movie with me in mind, even though I didn't know about it, and then gave me the script. He said he was impressed with my emotional range as a model - my ability to portray a different mood with a subtle look. I guess I have very expressive eyes. At first I didn't think I could do the role, but he had faith in me and encouraged me to do it. I'm glad I did.
TB: Had you ever planned on working in film before? Was this a goal?
SB: No this was never a goal of mine. I'm not one of those people who wants to be famous or wants to try to do everything. I wanted to model for a while because I have the abilities for it, and I would have been happy with just that. Having had the chance now to act as well is a bonus.
TB: Your role in Sweet Karma is a deceptively demanding one, I think. What did you find the biggest challenge?
SB: Carrying around that inner rage all the time was tough. Even though I'm no method actor, you still have to put yourself in a mindset to portray the emotions your character is feeling. So putting myself in Karma's shoes, and feeling all that hatred every day on set was definitely tougher than I expected.
TB: How did you set about creating a character that doesn't speak?
SB: One thing I did was watch a lot of films that had mute characters in them. They Call Her One Eye, Ms. 45, Mute Witness, even Woody Allen's Sweet & Lowdown. I also just drew from my experience as a model, because again modeling is about conveying a mood with just a look in your eyes, or with body language, so that background really came in handy.
TB: You came in to Fantastic Fest with a tiny budgeted Canadian feature that nobody knew anything about and left with an award for your performance. What was that experience like for you?
SB: That was one of the biggest & best surprises of my life. For days I couldn't believe it, and when it finally sunk in I cried (tears of happiness of course). I had never won any kind of award or recognition prior to that in my life, so it was an amazing feeling. Good thing it wasn't an Oscar or I would have been a complete mess!
TB: I think the reasons Playboy was interested in you after the film are pretty obvious, what was your interest in them? How has that experience impacted your life and career?
SB: I've always been fine with nude modeling and as a glamour model Playboy is the ultimate goal. So when I was asked last year to be a Playmate I didn't hesitate. Obviously being in Playboy has brought more attention to Sweet Karma which is great. And Hef just recently watched the film and was really impressed with my performance too. But how it's impacted my life and career has yet to be seen as it's still fairly new. I'm moving to L.A. in April (I just got a work visa) but I've already started getting other work offers, and have agents interested in me, so we'll see where the next year takes me.
TB: There are so many aspects to your character in Sweet Karma that it seems like you could basically choose from a number of paths and types of roles for your next project. Are you going to continue acting? What sort of roles are appealing to you?
SB: Yeah, I think I will continue acting. Being in the film, winning the award, and then hearing from fans from all over the world has been really encouraging. I'm fairly aware of my strengths and limitations as an actress, so I'm going to choose my next roles wisely. I recently turned down a middle-ages / Lord of the Rings type action film because I didn't feel it was a role I could do well enough just yet. I'm not also the type to play the happy, sweet girlfriend character. I like playing darker roles, so hopefully I'll get a chance to kick some more ass soon.
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