Christine Horne, like many of us in this country, had Margaret Laurence's The Stone Angel assigned to her---rather than discovering the novel on her own. If you are going to play the role of Hagar Shipley, the book is a requirement: Horne read it while auditioning to play the famed Canadian heroine.
"I didn't have to write essays on it when I was 16 like a lot of people did," Horne says, "and I think that was actually good for me because I could use the novel and the script as companion pieces instead of being really familiar with the novel and trying to readjust to the screenplay.
"I read the script and then the novel but I think that really served me. You know the movie's different---it's been updated---and I didn't come into it with any preconceptions and I hadn't already made up my mind about what the story should be or who this person should be."
Horne is on the phone talking about her starring role and the perspective her experience with the film and book has given her. The Stone Angel, which opens this week in Halifax, was written and directed by Kari Skogland, who will be in town this weekend to give a Q&A before screenings on Friday (6:30pm) and Saturday (2pm, 6:30pm) at the Oxford Theatre.
"I think I drew on both the script and the book but I really consulted the novel to fill out detail," Horne explains. "In my part, the scenes are quite short---we sort of flit through time---so if I had a really brief moment at a certain age of the character I was able to go back to the novel to flesh that out a little more for myself."
Indeed The Stone Angel is updated to present day but the form of the book remains intact: Hagar Shipley (an older version is played by Ellen Burstyn), as she nears the end of her life, reflects on missed opportunities and heartaches. Horne read the novel to prep for her role---it found her, not the other way around---but in the end, she formed her own opinion of the book.
"This is kind of weird for me. I read it with such an analytical brain because I read it when I was auditioning, so I was trying to put myself in that role and I didn't read itas I would read a normal book. But I loved it and I've read a bit more Margaret Laurence since because I had never read any of her stuff."
She adds, "I can see, though, why boys who are forced to read it aren't thrilled."
Horne's inexperience with the novel was compounded by her inexperience on the set: The Stone Angel is Horne's first significant film role.
"I didn't start small. I was handed a lot at that first go so anything after that is sort of easy by comparison," she says. "I spent the first little while really feeling like I was in the way and by the end of it, I was thinking, 'No, no, I'm supposed to be here, they'll go around me. This is my job too.' So I feel like I can now take my space on a film set instead of feeling like I'm in everybody's way."
On top of that valuable professional experience, Horne's encounter with The Stone Angel granted her a profound piece of personal insight about the value of her elders' own life experiences.
"I think that what I figured out as wewere shooting it, which seems so obvious as I was 24 and should have known this by now, was realizing that my grandparents weren't always my grandparents, you know? I freeze people in time and I don't think of my parents as having been any younger than they are."
Horne hits upon a major theme of the novel and the film when she shares what else she gained from her role: "I thought about how the choices I am making and the experiences I have now will accumulate and add up to the person that I am."