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Date of Birth: 8 January 1979
Place of Birth: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Height: 5' 2" (1.57 m)
Sarah Polley (born January 8, 1979) is a Canadian actress, singer, film director and screenwriter. Polley first attained notice in her role as Sara Stanley in the Canadian television series, Road to Avonlea. She has also starred in such films as The Sweet Hereafter, Guinevere, Go, The Weight of Water, My Life Without Me, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Dawn of the Dead, and Splice.
Polley, the youngest of five children, was born in Toronto, Ontario. She is the daughter of Diane Elizabeth (née MacMillan), an actress and casting director, and Michael Polley, a British-born actor and insurance agent (he attended acting classes with Albert Finney in England before moving to Canada). Polley's mother died of cancer just after Polley's 11th birthday. Polley attended Subway Academy II, then Earl Haig Secondary School, but dropped out before graduating.
Early career and fall-out with Disney
Her first cinematic appearance was at the age of four, as Molly in the Disney film One Magic Christmas. At age eight, she was cast in the title role in the television series Ramona, based on Beverly Cleary's books. That same year, she also played one of the lead characters in Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Polley burst into the public eye the following year as Sara Stanley on the popular CBC television series Road to Avonlea. The series made her famous and financially independent, and she was hailed as "Canada's Sweetheart" by the popular press.
The show was picked up by the Disney Channel for distribution in the United States. At the age of 12 (around 1991), Polley attended an awards ceremony while wearing a peace sign to protest the first Gulf War. Disney executives asked her to remove it, and she refused. This soured her relationship with Disney, and she left Road to Avonlea in 1994. The show itself was cancelled in 1996 (to which she publicly claimed indifference), although she did return as Sara Stanley for an episode in 1995 and for the final episode in 1996.
Acting career as adult
Polley appeared as Lily on the CBC television series, Straight Up. It ran from 1996–1998 and she won the Gemini Award for Best Performance in a Children's or Youth Program or Series for her role. Polley's subsequent role as Nicole Burnell in the 1997 film The Sweet Hereafter, brought her considerable attention in the United States; she was a fan favourite at the Sundance Film Festival. Her character in the film was an aspiring singer — on the soundtrack, she performed a cover of The Tragically Hip's "Courage" and Jane Siberry's "One More Colour", as well as the film's title track which she co-wrote with Mychael Danna. "Courage" was also played in the ending of an episode of Charmed, "Long live the Queen" (Season 4 Episode 20).
She was cast in the role of Penny Lane in the big-budget 2000 film Almost Famous, but dropped out of the project to return to Canada for the low-budget The Law of Enclosures. Her role in the 2003 film My Life Without Me, garnered the Genie Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in 2004. In the same year, she starred in a lead role in the stylish and successful remake of Dawn of the Dead, which was a departure from her other indie roles. In 2005 she starred in The Secret Life of Words, opposite Tim Robbins and Julie Christie. She was nominated as Best European Actress by the European Film Academy for her role as Hanna.
She made her feature-length film directing debut with Away From Her, based on the Alice Munro short story The Bear Came Over the Mountain. The movie, starring Julie Christie, debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 11, 2006 as part of the TIFF's Gala showcase. Away From Her was acquired by Lionsgate for release in the US for the sum of $750,000. It drew rave reviews from Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and the three Toronto dailies, both for the performances of Christie and her co-star, Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent, and for Polley's direction. It also earned Polley a 2008 Academy Award nomination for her adapted screenplay and won the Genie Award for Best Achievement in Direction (the first woman to do so). At the 2008 Genies, she was also awarded the Claude Jutra Award, which recognizes outstanding achievement by a first-time feature film director.
Polley takes pride in her work and enjoys both acting and directing but is not keen on combining the two. "I like the feeling of keeping them separate. I find that really gratifying. I can't imagine combining those. For me, I love the feeling of using different parts of my brain separately."
In 2009, Polley agreed to direct a two-minute short in support of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. In advance of the film's airing in Canada during the 82nd Academy Awards, and following news reports that characterized the film as a marketing exercise for the margarine company Becel, Polley withdrew her association with the film. "In December 2009, I made a film to be aired during the Academy Awards that I believed was to promote the Heart and Stroke Foundation. When I agreed to make this film (The Heart), I was thrilled, as I was proud to be associated with the work of this incredible organization. However, I have since learned that my film is also being used to promote a product. Regretfully, I am forced to remove my name from the film and disassociate myself from it. I have never actively promoted any corporate brand, and cannot do so now." In response, Becel said it was a "founding sponsor" of the Heart Truth campaign and had commissioned the film "to put heart health on the radar of Canadian women."
Following the row with Disney, Polley dedicated more of her efforts to politics, becoming a prominent member of the New Democratic Party, where Ontario legislator Peter Kormos was said to be her political mentor.
In 1995, she lost two back teeth after being struck by a riot police officer during a protest against the Provincial Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris in Queen's Park. She was subsequently involved with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty. She has recently scaled back on her political activism.
She was part of a group in 2001 which opposed the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas. The 3rd Summit of the Americas was held in Quebec City in April 2001.
In 2003, she was part of newly elected Toronto mayor David Miller's transition advisory team.
On September 10, 2003 she married Canadian film editor David Wharnsby, her companion of seven years. "My relationship [with him] is the thing I'm proudest of in my life. I had a lot of opportunities to end up in some pretty bad situations and, despite all my faults, I had the sense to find someone like him and make the decision to be with him. You spend a lot of time wanting to be with the wrong person and I just feel incredibly lucky because I've succeeded at that one thing. I figured that out." They have since divorced.
|1985||Night Heat||Cindy||Episode: "The Game"|
|1985||One Magic Christmas||Molly Monaghan|
|1987||Screen Two||Episode: "Heaven on Earth"|
|1987||Tomorrow's a Killer||Karla|
|1987||Hands of a Stranger||Suzie Hearn||TV movie|
|1987||Big Town, TheThe Big Town||Christy Donaldson|
|1987||Friday the 13th||Mary||Episode: "The Inheritance"|
|1988||Ramona||Ramona Quimby||TV series|
|1988||Adventures of Baron Munchausen, TheThe Adventures of Baron Munchausen||Sally Salt|
|1989||Babar: The Movie||Celeste (voice)|
|1990||Road to Avonlea||Sara Stanley||1990–1996 (65 episodes)|
|1990||Lantern Hill||Jody Turner||TV movie|
|1991||Johann's Gift to Christmas||Angel||TV movie|
|1993||Hidden Room||Alice||Episode: "Dangerous Dreams"|
|1994||Take Another Look||Amy||TV movie|
|1996||Joe's So Mean to Josephine||Josephine|
|1996||Straight Up||Lily||TV series|
|1997||Sweet Hereafter, TheThe Sweet Hereafter||Nicole Burnell|
|1997||Hanging Garden, TheThe Hanging Garden||Teen Rosemary|
|1997||Planet of Junior Brown, TheThe Planet of Junior Brown||Butter|
|1998||Jerry and Tom||Deb|
|1998||White Lies||Catherine Chapman||TV movie|
|1998||Last Night||Jennifer 'Jenny' Wheeler|
|1999||Life Before This, TheThe Life Before This||Connie|
|1999||Industry, TheThe Industry||Rhonda||Episode: "It's a Science"|
|2000||Might Be Good, ThisThis Might Be Good|
|2000||Weight of Water, TheThe Weight of Water||Maren Hontvedt|
|2000||Love Come Down||Sister Sarah|
|2001||Law of Enclosures, TheThe Law of Enclosures||Beatty 'Beatrice'|
|2001||No Such Thing||Beatrice|
|2003||I Inside, TheThe I Inside||Clair|
|2003||Event, TheThe Event||Dana|
|2003||My Life Without Me||Ann|
|2004||Dawn of the Dead||Ana|
|2005||Don't Come Knocking||Sky|
|2005||Secret Life of Words, TheThe Secret Life of Words||Hanna|
|2005||Beowulf & Grendel||Selma|
|2006||Slings and Arrows||Sophie||5 episodes|
|2008||John Adams||Nabby Adams||4 episodes|
Director & writer
|1999||Best Day of My Life, TheThe Best Day of My Life||Also co-producer|
|1999||Don't Think Twice|
|2001||I Shout Love|
|2002||All I Want for Christmas|
|2004||Shields Stories, TheThe Shields Stories||Episode: "The Harp"|
|2006||Away from Her|
|2011||Take This Waltz||Also producer|
Awards and nominations
On June 8, 2010, it was announced that she would receive a star on Canada's Walk of Fame.
- 2006 – ACTRA Toronto Award of Excellence (Won)
- 2008 – Best Adapted Screenplay, Away From Her (Nominee)
- 2008–Best Director, Away From Her, (Nominated)
- 2008–Best Adapted Screenplay, Away From Her, (Won)
- 2008–Best Actress, The Secret Life of Words (Nominated)
- 2004–Best Actress, My Life Without Me (Won)
- 2002–Best Supporting Actress, The Claim (Nominated)
- 2000–Best Actress, Go and Guinevere, (Nominated)
- 1998–Best Actress, The Sweet Hereafter, (Nominated)
- 2007–Best Feature Film :DGC Team Award, Away From Her (Won)
- 2007–Best Director :DGC Craft Award, Away From Her (Nominated)
- 2007–Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Supporting Role in a Dramatic Series, Slings and Arrows (Nominated)
- 1998–Best Performance in a Children's or Youth Program or Series, Straight Up (Won)
- 1998–Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Supporting Role in a Dramatic Program or Mini-Series, The Planet of Junior Brown (Nominated)
- 1998–Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Program or Mini-Series, White Lies (Nominated)
- 1994–Best Performance by an Actress in a Continuing Leading Dramatic Role, Road to Avonlea (Nominated)
- 1993–Best Performance by an Actress in a Continuing Leading Dramatic Role, Road to Avonlea (Nominated)
- 1992–Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, Lantern Hill (Won)
- 1990–Best Performance by an Actress in a Continuing Leading Dramatic Role, Road to Avonlea (Nominated)
- 1988–Best Performance by an Actress in a Continuing Leading Dramatic Role, Ramona (1988 TV series), (Nominated)
- 2008–Claude Jutra Award, (Special Prize)
- 2008–Best Director, Away From Her, (Won)
- 2008–Best Adapted Screenplay, Away From Her, (Won)
- 2004–Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, My Life Without Me, (Won)
- 2003–Best Live Action Short Drama, I Shout Love (Won)
- 2002–Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, The Law of Enclosures (Nominated)
- 1997–Best Original Song, The Sweet Hereafter, (Nominated)
- 1997–Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, The Sweet Hereafter, (Nominated)
- 2000–Best Supporting Female, Go, (Nominated)
- The youngest of five children. Both parents, Michael Polley and Diane Polley, were actors and she had her first audition at age 5. She debuted in films at age 6 with One Magic Christmas (1985).
- Dropped out of high school to become a political activist for Socialist groups. Was attacked by police at a political protest at Queens Park in 1995.
- In 1994 had surgery to correct scoliosis.
- Mother died when she was 11.
- Lost some back teeth at a rally, in a violent clash between police and protesters.
- When she was 12, during the first Gulf war, she attended a children's awards show in Washington, DC, and was seated at a table with some representatives from the Walt Disney Company. They asked her to remove a peace symbol that she was wearing but she refused. Disney has blacklisted her ever since.
- Was originally cast as Penny Lane in Almost Famous (2000). When she dropped out of the film because she did not feel comfortable with the role, writer-director Cameron Crowe considered canceling the film. Brad Pitt, who originally was cast in the role of Stillwater guitarist Russell Hammond and, reportedly, was anxious to work with Polley, quit the film after her departure.
- Attending the Canadian Film Centre's director's program. 
- Appointed to transition advisory group by new Toronto mayor David Miller
- Appeared on "The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn" (1999) on the 15th of March 2004 to promote the film Dawn of the Dead (2004). She stated that it was her first appearance on an American late-night talk show.
- Names White Zombie (1932) and George A. Romero's Living Dead films as her favorite zombie movies.
- Atom Egoyan, who directed her in Exotica (1994) and The Sweet Hereafter (1997), originally considered casting Polley as the character Felicia in Felicia's Journey (1999). After talking it over with her, they jointly decided that she should not take the role as her intelligence and awareness were antithetical to the character, who remains quite unconscious of other characters' motivations.
- Her father, Michael Polley, said of his famously independent daughter in 1997, "She was at her best when she was out of kilter with society in some way."
- Both Sarah and her husband, David Wharnsby, won 2004 Genie Awards, she for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for My Life Without Me (2003), and he for Outstanding Achievement in Editing for The Saddest Music in the World (2003).
- One of five children, her birth came eight years after that of her youngest sibling, when her parents were in their mid-forties.
- Shares a birthday with Francesco Roder and Amber Benson.
- In November 2005, it was announced that the Harold Greenberg Fund was financially backing 24 film scripts in development, including one by Polley. She is adapting the Alice Munro short story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain", which has been optioned by Pulling Focus Pictures. Rechristened Away from Her (2006), the story is about a faithful husband married to a woman who, afflicted by Alzheimer's disease, unknowingly betrays him.
- Provided vocals on two tracks for The Sweet Hereafter (1997) soundtrack. The Tragically Hip's "Courage" and Jane Siberry's "One More Colour".
- On February 24, 2006, the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists awarded her the Award of Excellence for a critically acclaimed career at the 2006 ACTRA Toronto Awards. ACTRA's Toronto chapter, the union's largest, has approximately 21,000 members.
- Has worked with the legendary actress Julie Christie three times: Polley co-starred with her in No Such Thing (2001) and the Goya Award-winning "La Vida secreta de las palabras" (The Secret Life of Words (2005)), and Christie is playing the lead in Polley's first feature film as a director, Away from Her (2006). Polley is impressed by not only with Christie's talent, but praises her intelligence and independence. After appearing with her in No Such Thing (2001), Polley -- who lost her mother when she was 11 years old -- said that Christie had become one of her surrogate mothers.
- She had intended her feature film debut to be "Itchy", based on a script she wrote about a 12-year-old actress starring on a television series. However, she was unable to get the project greenlighted, and turned to another property she had, an adaptation of one of her favorite short stories, Alice Munro's "The Bear Came Over the Mountain". The story, which deals with a couple dealing with the wife's Alzheimer's disease, appealed to her as her own grandmother had suffered from the affliction.
- Was chosen by Variety as one of "10 Directors to Watch" (January 2007).
- Member of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007.
- Was member of the dramatic jury at the Sundance Film Festival in 2007.
- Has lived on her own since she was fourteen years old.
- Was presented with the Dallas Star Award at the 2007 AFI Dallas Film Festival.
- Dec. 2007 - Ranked 49 on EW's The 50 Smartest People in Hollywood.
- Served on the mayor of Toronto's transition team in 2003.
- Was offered the female lead in the film The Bourne Identity (2002) but declined the part.
- Member of jury at the Mar del Plata International Film Festival in 2008.