There’s no romance like a war-time romance — a fact to which versatile
Canadian actor Caroline Dhavernas can attest after playing Paul Gross’s
love interest in the World War One drama Passchendaele
Caroline Dhavernas is the actor’s equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife —
she’ll travel anywhere to work, and has a multitude of tools at her
disposal to get the job done.
The former Québécoise child star (she began her career as an eight-year-old dubbing Babar
cartoons), has evolved into a truly international performer. Now 30,
she’s an actor who’s just as comfortable plying her trade on American
TV shows (the short-lived Fox series Wonderfalls), English- and French-Canadian films (Niagara Motel, La Belle bête), Hollywood movies (Breach, Hollywoodland) or faraway European films (The Tulse Luper Suitcases).
You can see her in this month’s World War One drama Passchendaele,
playing Canadian nurse Sarah Mann. Sarah works in the shock ward of a
Calgary Hospital where she meets a wounded soldier named Michael Dunne
(Paul Gross). Their budding romance brings him back to life, but the
relationship is short-lived as Michael, and Sarah’s brother, David (Joe
Dinicol), return to Europe to fight in the brutal, bloody third battle
of Ypres, commonly referred to as Passchendaele.
Dhavernas was in Montreal shooting an upcoming cop comedy when we
spoke to her about making writer/director/actor Paul Gross’s dream
Q: Tell me a little about Sarah, your character in Passchendaele.
A: "I think she’s very broken, and so is Paul’s
character, Michael, and I think they find something very soothing in
each other, especially during a time of war. No one was prepared for
this war, the soldiers, the nurses. It was a very difficult time, and
for two people who were broken like that to find each other...that’s
where the beauty of this relationship comes from.”
Q: Had you heard of the Battle of Passchendaele before you took the role?
A: "No, I knew very little about the First World War
actually, and I got to learn a lot making this film and just being on
set. The battlefield looks amazing.”
Q: You were part of the battlefield scenes?
A: "Yes, I had a few scenes on the battlefield and it
felt like you got a little bit of an idea of what it could have been.
The weather was horrible. They fought in the rain and mud and cold with
no food. It was just inhuman.”
Q: Paul Gross is both your co-star and the film’s director. Does
acting with someone who is also directing you change your process as a
"I had never worked with an actor who was acting with me and
directing me, so I was curious how you do that, how does [Paul] still
feel he’s in the scene when he has to look at what I’m doing and what’s
going on around him? But he does it beautifully. Paul has so much
energy, he’s a talented actor and he’s been doing it for so long that
he knows what he’s doing.”
Q: You shift between making movies in Quebec, English Canada,
Hollywood and Europe, almost as if you purposely rotate through those
different filmmaking worlds.
"Well no, it all depends on the story and the people I want
to work with. It has been a choice to work in different countries, but
I never say, ‘This next project is going to happen in this country so
I’ll take it.’ It all depends on who wants to work with me as well.
People have a tendency to believe that we can just choose all our own
Q: You grew up in an acting household, both your parents are well-known actors in Quebec. Did you feel any pressure to act?
A: "Well I started working pretty young, I started
doing dubbing when I was eight years old. But I didn’t really love it,
my father introduced me to it and said, ‘Dubbing will be very
productive for you.’ But when I was 12 I started auditioning for films
and television and that’s when I felt like it became my choice. I
remember when I did my first film, that’s when I fell in love with this
job and knew I wanted to do this for a long time, and I’ve never really
stopped. I’ve been really lucky, I mean I’ve worked hard, but a lot of
actors when they start off young have a difficult time going from the
child actor to the adult actor. It happened naturally for me.”
Q: If you ever have a child who wants to act will you allow it?
A: "I would never stop them because I know how much I
wanted it. I remember my parents had a talk with me when I was 13 and I
got a role in a soap that aired every night. I was just starting high
school at the time and my parents said to me this was going to be a lot
of work and maybe I should think twice about this and concentrate more
on my studies. I told them if they tried to stop me from doing it I
would run away from home.”
Q: I imagine every character you play teaches you something about yourself. What did you learn by playing Sarah?
A: "It’s funny, with some characters it’s more subtle,
it’s more difficult to pinpoint what they’ve brought out. This
character is really a beautiful reflection on love, I think. Human
beings need to love, there’s no other way to live even though you try
and protect yourself from it. And also she made me realize how you
could find the energy to do things you never thought you could do
because you are in love. It’s physical, it’s all the hours
you can stay up, you become like a superhero. The countries you are
ready to go to, the time you are ready to spend on this love. It’s
almost like you change time, it’s like, what do you call it again, the
space-time continuum? You can change the space-time continuum.”