I met Danielle Miller in an undergraduate English class during my second year at U of T. We discovered that we had several friends in common, and ended up seeing one another pretty frequently while on campus. But once the school year drew to a close and our group of friends dispersed over the summer months, we fell out of touch.
During the fall semester of the following year, I ran into Danielle in front of University College and asked her how her summer had been.
“I actually filmed a movie with Michelle Williams, Sarah Silverman and Seth Rogen,” she replied.
“Cool,” I said. “Wait, what?”
As it turns out, that movie was Take This Waltz, the second directorial venture of Canadian actress Sarah Polley. The film, released in theatres last month, is a gentle, thoughtful, and at times perplexing examination of what remains of a relationship when affection persists, but passion has dulled. Margot, played by Michelle Williams, is a Toronto-based freelance writer who finds herself torn between loyalty for her sweet but unromantic husband, Lou (Seth Rogen), and the creeping desire to jump into bed with the brooding rickshaw driver (Luke Kirby) who lives across the street.
Sarah Silverman plays one of Lou’s sisters, and so, in a smaller role, does Danielle. It was her first part in a major film, but Danielle has been acting since she was a child, participating in community theatre productions and appearing in various commercials. In high school, she scored a supporting lead role in the YTV series Dark Oracle and appeared in an episode of Corner Gas. A graduate of U of T’s drama program, Danielle has been involved with several student productions and also found the time to act in a CBC movie of the week while she was in university.
Although Danielle’s part in Take This Waltz has not been her largest one to date, when me met for coffee a few weeks ago, she told me that it has been, by far, the most exciting. And perhaps unsurprisingly, Danielle’s enthusiasm for the role lies in the opportunities that it created for her to mingle with successful actors as they carried out their craft.
“I [thought] ‘I’m there for five days, I’m going to learn everything I can from [the actors],’” she said. “I pretty much just hung around them as much as I could. They were extremely nice and friendly… Just watching them and watching their process…was a really, really cool opportunity. And to be acting with them in a scene was very exciting.”
Her role in Take This Waltz also gave Danielle her first glimpse of life on the set of a major film. It’s a far cry removed from the air-conditioned trailers and bottles of distilled mineral water that most of us envision when we think of big studio productions.
“It kind of crushes the illusion a little bit,” she said of working on the set of Take This Waltz. One particular scene that was shot in the small living room of a house in downtown Toronto was instructive.
“It was so hot. There must have been… twenty actors in the room, not to mention the ten or twenty people from the crew, and [there were] these massive lights shining on us. We were sweating like pigs… And we’d work like fourteen hour days sometimes… It’s not as glamorous as people make it out to be.”
Long hours and sweltering sets aside, Danielle understands how fortunate she was to have landed a part in a relatively major film like Take This Waltz. The film industry in Canada is highly competitive, with plenty of actors looking for work and relatively few roles up for grabs.
“There are a lot of actors in Toronto…and at any given time, there are maybe 30–40 projects filming,” she said. “I’m not saying that it’s impossible [to get work], but it’s hard. It’s like any other job. You have to work when you’re really tired, you go through times when you’re worried about your next job… It really is extremely hard work, and it’s probably one of the most competitive industries there is.”
I asked Danielle if U of T’s drama program prepared her for the reality of finding work in such a cutthroat environment.
“I’d say all of my teachers had a pretty big impact on me,” she said. “Going the extra mile was really enforced in the program… So I think that helped me in terms of preparing for an audition. You can’t control if somebody has a look that is preferable, but you can really do your research and look into [the role].”
Danielle told me that one of the stars of Take This Waltz also had some wisdom to share about finding success in the acting industry.
“Seth Rogen…actually gave me a really good piece of advice,” she remembers. “He said that if you want to be in the industry, you have to find something that makes you creatively happy and then go do it yourself. So in other words, if you want a part, go write something… If you wait for other people to give you the opportunities to be creative, you’re just not going to get them the same way.”
While Danielle remains committed to furthering her acting career, she has also begun to pursue two additional interests: teaching and community outreach. Having recently completed her Bachelor of Education at York, Danielle will be returning to the St. George campus in the fall as the coordinator of Jewish student life at U of T’s Hillel.
“I still very much want to be involved [in the acting industry], but I’m also doing other things that I’m passionate about,” she tells me. “I will continue to audition and see what comes along… I definitely appreciate the art of acting and it’s something that I will always enjoy doing.”