A star in both official languages, Montreal actress easily jumps
between French and English films, though it takes her a moment to
adjust to the different demands.
Caroline Dhavernas is a poster girl for official bilingualism. The
Montreal actress will next be seen on the big screen opposite Paul
Gross in the Canadian actor/director's First World War drama
In the flick, which opens here Friday, Dhavernas
plays a nurse in a Calgary hospital in 1917 who takes care of an ailing
Canadian soldier, played by Gross, and, as is always the case with her
English performances, there isn't even the slightest trace of a franco Québécois accent in her delivery.
Dhavernas is, in fact, a francophone - something the
English-language producers with whom she works often don't even realize
because she's so fluent in the language of Anne Hathaway.
loves being able to work in both languages, effortlessly shifting from
American films like Hollywoodland to English-Canadian projects like
Surviving My Mother to French Quebec films like the recently wrapped
comedy De père en flic. That one stars Michel Côté and motormouth
comic-turned-thespian Louis-José Houde as father-and-son cops, and it
is expected to be one of the major local film releases next summer.
an interview this week in a spacious suite on the 19th floor of the
Queen Elizabeth Hotel, Dhavernas said toiling in each language is
really quite a different experience.
"It's always wonderful to
shoot here (in French) because it's my language," said Dhavernas. "So
it'll always be easier somehow because I own the words, much more than
I do in English. But it's an interesting phenomenon. When I work in
English there is some kind of distance between me and the words, and
that's very comfortable to work with. It's a difficult thing to
explain. I like it. And when I go back to working in French, it always
takes me a few moments to adjust. It's like I don't have any control
over the words for some reason. I've heard Antonio Banderas talk about
this on television once, so I know I'm not crazy and I know I'm not the
For those looking for the secret formula to become as
happily bilingual as Dhavernas, here's how her parents ñ actor
Sébastien Dhavernas, who is running as the Liberal candidate in
Outremont, and actress Michele Deslauriers ñ did it. They put their
daughter in French school for kindergarten and grade one, then she
moved over to elite English private school The Priory in Westmount for
the rest of grade school, and, with that English base, the NDG native
again hopped the linguistic fence, and did her high school years at
Villa Maria en français.
"My father had done the same thing,"
said Dhavernas. "It's a great way of learning because you get to learn
how to read and write in French (in kindergarten and grade one), which
is important, and then you do it all over again the next year in
She also started spending a lot of time in New York
City when she was in her early 20s and that's where she really
perfected her English.
"You become kind of a sponge. At least that's what I do. I look at people, and hear the accents and the cultural differences."
helped her enormously when she auditioned for and won the lead role in
the quirky, critically-acclaimed Fox sitcom Wonderfalls, which, sadly,
lasted a mere four episodes on the network back in 2004.
"English comedy has a very specific sense of humour and rhythm, and
it's very different from French comedy. So I was like a little computer
taking all this information in and trying to make it my own."
is, as the title suggests, a re-enactment of the World War I battle of
the same name, but at the heart of the movie is a classic romantic
drama about an unlikely couple. Gross's Sergeant Michael Dunne is
smitten with Dhavernas's Sarah Mann from the moment he sets eyes on her
in the Calgary hospital where he's recovering from his battle wounds,
but there are no small amount of obstacles keeping these two apart.
Sarah and her brother David are ostracized by the community because
their dad fought with the Germans ñ and died - at Vimy Ridge, and
that's left her emotionally wounded and reluctant to open up to anyone.
She also happens to be addicted to morphine.
"The love story, to
me, is very moving," said Dhavernas. "These two human beings are very
damaged and meet under these horrible circumstances. She comes from a
place where she's always been very responsible and she's promised to
protect that heart of hers. Then when she meets him, something in her
opens up and lets go. There's something so beautiful in that. In epic
pictures, women are always very romantic. But I love the fact that she
has an edge. She is very vulnerable but strong, and also with the
morphine addiction and her background, all of that made her very rich
and very interesting to play."
Since Passchendaele, Dhavernas has appeared in a couple of high-profile
American projects. She shot Cry of the Owl, a thriller also starring
Julia Stiles, and she worked on an episode of The Pacific, the World
War II mini-series produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. That
drama, the follow-up to Band of Brothers, will be on HBO sometime next