Interview: Ali Liebert

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Ali Liebert is full of energy. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and fits the personality of someone who is one of Canada’s skyrocketing young actresses. This year’s TIFF you saw her play Miss Freedom in Mike Clattenburg’s Afghan Luke. She appeared in Carl Bessai’s Sisters and Brothers and she’ll be coming to the big screen in Laurent Cantet’s girl-gang drama Foxfire. She’ll join Michael Clarke Duncan and Vivica A. Fox in Robert Townsend’s In The Hive and you’ll also see her soon on the small screen in the upcoming television series Bomb Girls.

Liebert recently moved to Toronto to film the series, so BALLnROLL sat down with her to discuss TIFF, her characters, her upcoming films, improvising, and her new home.

BALLnROLL: What was TIFF like?

Ali Liebert: I went to the premiere of Afghan Luke [at TIFF], which was exciting and terrifying, because I had never seen it before. Seeing yourself the first time in a packed theatre is not an ideal situation. If I could have seen it before, that would have been good, but there never seems to be the opportunity to see these things before these types of screenings. It was good; it was exciting. I missed seeing Sisters and Brothers because I was shooting.

How was the audience for Afghan Luke?

It was good! They seemed to really like it. Mike Clattenburg is an awesome director and a really nice person as well, and yeah, they truly responded to it. I would describe the movie as sort of an amusing romp through Afghanistan.

I actually want to see it again before I label it. It’s sort of a political drama, but there’s definitely that, you know, Clattenburg-type comedy flair to it, which…

It’s hard to put it into a category?

Yeah! I think I was expecting it to be more of a straight-up comedy, but it actually had a lot more heart than I had remembered. We shot it so long ago, over a year and a half ago, and you never know how the music and editing—how it’s all going to piece together.

How would you describe your character in the film?

She’s simple. I don’t want to call my really blonde characters dumb. I like to say that they’re simple. Yeah, Miss Freedom, she was really fun to play and she’s got a big heart. It was really fun working with Nick Wright. He’s an awesome actor, and Nick Stahl was, of course, amazing.

I heard Sisters and Brothers was entirely improvised.

Yes, it was. Carl Bessai had just asked me to come in and do a little part as a favour. Cory Monteith is a really good friend of mine, and same with Dustin Milligan, and they’re really great. Everybody in it, just, fully, fully improv-ing. I ended up shooting about three scenes and most of it got cut. We shot for a good—We would just be improv-ing for, I think, hours. And what actually makes it to the movie is always so small, so Carl and I’m not sure who else edited it, but to create a whole storyline and everything from hours and hours of improv is—It is an accomplishment in itself. It was, everything, completely improvised.

I mean, there was certain storypoints that needed to be hit, but— It was a very exciting way to work. I’ve gone to theatre school and taken lots of improv classes and stuff, so it wasn’t super terrifying or anything, but it was pretty thrilling, actually. I’d like to work like that more often.

Have you done a lot of improv?

I mean, there have been certain films where I’ve been allowed to improv, which has been great, but for the most part, especially with television there aren’t really opportunities, you know, you can reverse two words. You know, different people—The film I just did, Foxfire, Laurent Cantet, the director, would often do improv, little additional improv scenes, or once we finished doing the dialogue, he would just let the cameras roll and see what happens. I find that it’s in film that they really let you explore. TV, I’ve never really had the experience of improv-ing.


What can you tell me about Foxfire?

Foxfire is set in the fifties, and it’s about a girl gang. It’s based on the book of the same title. and it’s really going to be a really exciting project, because the director, Laurent—He looked at over two thousand girls to find the main cast for these teens and the girls had never really been on set before. Some of them take high-school drama and some of them are just naturally talented, I guess. It was really fun working with these kids. They were pretty inspirational and nutty. The film is a drama, for sure, a period drama.

Had you seen the original?

With Angelina Jolie? I could never find it. I tried to find it, and then I couldn’t find it. But they didn’t really base it on the book. Ours is quite close to the text, actually.

It follows the book closely?

Yeah! It definitely follows the book. I mean, Laurent adapted the screenplay from the novel and there are chunks about the characters there that are literally straight out of the book. The Angelina Jolie one wasn’t set in the fifties and it was missing a lot of the characters, but ours is pretty true to the book. I love the book, so I can’t wait to see it. Hopefully it will be ready for Cannes in 2012. That will hopefully be its world premiere.


I understand you have a leading role in the film In The Hive?

Yes, yes. That was a cool one too—I need a better word than cool. But yes, my character in that is a punky little smartass rich girl from New York who comes into this poverty-stricken part of America to teach these boys of this school called the Hive, which was based on a real school.

It’s based on a true story so it was very emotional. It was an incredible experience working with Michael Clarke Duncan, and Loretta Divine. The director, Robert, was such a generous man. He was so thoughtful and so deliberate with his direction. We would have breaks during filming and he would say to all the extras and all the actors, “Is there anything you want to ask me, about directing, about how to make your own films?”

You know, because he made his first film all on credit cards with a hope and a prayer that that would break his cycle of being a young black man in Hollywood, and not really getting anywhere. He’s a really inspirational filmmaker and director and actor, so that was a pretty positive experience for me.

What do you think of Toronto?

I love Toronto. I’ve worked here before, but in very sporadic visits and I’ve been back and forth all summer, but only for a week at a time. It’s so vibrant, it’s so colourful, and the sun is shining. It’s the ideal time to move here. I told all my friends that I’m going to stay here and to get back to them in the winter. So far, I love it.

 

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