Actress Sarah Polley has given uncompromising performances in films such as Atom Egoyan's "The Sweet Hereafter," "Go," "My Life Without Me" and the current release "The Secret Life of Words." But she describes writing and directing her first feature, "Away From Her," as "the most exhilarating, difficult, nightmarish, fantastic experience I have ever had." Based on the Alice Munro short story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain," Polley's film, due in the spring, stars Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent as a couple married for more than 40 years whose lives and marriage are severely tested when Christie's Fiona is diagnosed with Alzheimer's and sent to a facility. Fiona gradually loses all memory of her spouse and begins a romance with a fellow nursing home resident.
"I was intrigued with the kind of love that is portrayed in the story, which is so rarely explored in film," Polley says. "I think we explore the most boring part of love, which is when two people sort of crash nonsensically into each other. Here was this story about what happens to love after life as it was with you."
Brian Cox first played him in "Manhunter." Anthony Hopkins won the Oscar for best actor for bringing him to vivid life in "The Silence of the Lambs" and then reprised the role for "Hannibal" and "Red Dragon." And now 22-year-old French actor Gaspard Ulliel is taking on the role of the Chianti-loving cannibal in "Hannibal Rising," which opens Feb. 9.
Ulliel, who is best known as Audrey Tautou's fiance in "A Very Long Engagement," was nervous about following in Cox's and Hopkins' footsteps. "It was a bit risky for me," he says. "It was really challenging to work in English and also to come after Anthony Hopkins. At the beginning, I was not completely sure of accepting the role."
But meeting director Peter Webber ("The Girl With the Pearl Earring") persuaded him to do the film, which chronicles Hannibal Lecter's harrowing childhood during World War II -- "he's going to see his parents die in front of him and his sister is going to die too," Ulliel says. After Lecter escapes from a prison camp, he goes to live with the family's only surviving relative, the Japanese wife (Gong Li) of his uncle.
"She's a bit strange and has a kind of dark side to her," hints Ulliel, who began acting just 10 years ago. "Their relationship is going to be a bit insane sometimes."
Save for a brief year or two when she harbored thoughts of becoming an ice skater, Kate Mara, 23, has always wanted to act, and since her film debut in "Random Hearts," with Harrison Ford, her roles have become more substantial.
She's one of the stars of the Christmas release "We Are Marshall," a drama about the aftermath of the 1970 Marshall University plane crash, playing a cheerleader who was engaged to the team's star player.
She'll be seen next in March as Mark Wahlberg's love interest in the political thriller "Shooter," directed by Antoine Fuqua. And she's currently on location in Lithuania for another thriller, "Trans-Siberia," directed by Brad Anderson. "It's a really cool, interesting indie," she says.
-- Susan King