06/28/2012 05:46 pm ET Updated Jun 28, 2012

Sarah Polley, 'Take This Waltz' Director, On How 'Baron Munchausen' Spawned Her Indie Career

It's interesting to hear Sarah Polley admit that her ascension in the world of indie film has quite a bit to do with her role in Terry Gilliam's "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen." Polley -- a diehard Monty Python fan, even at a young age -- found the shoot so miserable that she swore off big budget films. Which bring us to the present with "Take This Waltz," a film that Polley both wrote and directed.

In "Waltz," Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen play Margot and Lou, a married couple that has long ago lost the excitement of a new relationship, something Margot finds with Daniel (Luke Kirby) -- at least at first. Here, Polley discusses the inspiration for "Waltz," her less-than-great experience on "Baron Munchausen," and being accused by a rude doctor of being a child star has-been.

I'm always on board with any movie that has "Video Killed the Radio Star" in it.

But now it makes me sad.
Yeah, it's a sad song. It doesn't sound that way. Yeah, it's a deceiving, brilliant song because you sort of think it's incredibly fun and poppy. And then you go deeper and it makes you really sad about life.

All '80s songs are kind of like that.
[Laughs] The whole decade was like that. It seemed really fun, but it was sad. It's true. Like, that might have been the whole of the 80s -- like all this shiny materialism underneath this pure evil. [Laughs]

This movie is tough because Seth Rogen's character, Lou, is a really nice guy.
I feel like for me, Lou is probably the character I connect the most to in terms of when I wrote the film. I feel like Seth was the first person I thought of for the film when I was writing it. And, for me, the idea of him really anchored the film. And I felt like it was really important to have a big part of you not wanting her to leave that marriage -- if not all of you. And to feel really, really conflicted in the same way that she does.

It's interesting that you connect with Lou the most. I related with him, too. And in the end, he did nothing technically wrong. It just happened.
I think that's what happens is I feel like so many break-ups take place between two really decent human beings. There's very rarely a really good, compelling reason to leave anyone unless there's, you know, some kind of abuse or is really unhappy. So I feel like we respond to that in prickly ways, because we kind of want there to be a hero and a villain. But I think, ultimately, you never really know if it's the right thing to leave a relationship that's basically content for something that seems more exciting.  

Which we see in this film.
So, the question is: How unhappy are you and how unfulfilled are you, really, and what makes sense at that point in your life? I've really loved watching people respond to the film, because I feel like people are very defensive of their character. Like, everyone chooses their character, and they defend them. So people can be really upset with her leaving Lou. People can be really upset for Lou for not giving more, and they think she should have left him two years ago.

The dinner scene is tough, too, when they're sitting at the restaurant. "Why aren't we talking?" "What are we supposed to talk about?" Is any relationship really that hopeless?
Well, I don't know. It's funny, that scene at the dinner table, I remember I grew up, my mom was in a relationship before her relationship with my dad. And she had an affair with my dad and left for my dad. And she and my dad's favorite movie was "Two for the Road," with Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney. And there's this great scene in it where, you know, they're so in love at the beginning and it's so amazing. They're just traveling around the world and they have no responsibilities. They go and see this couple eating together in a restaurant and I think Audrey Hepburn says, "What kind of people just sit there together at a table and don't even say anything to each other?" And he says, "Married people." By the end of the film, they're sitting there, not saying anything to each other. And I feel like that's what do you do when your relationship hits that moment, which a lot of relationships do. Some don't. But when it does, is it possible to reinvigorate it? Does familiarity cancel out the possibility for passion and romance? Can they live together? Those qualities, or are they mutually exclusive? I don't really know what the answer is to those things, but I feel like a lot of us grapple with those questions in relationships, and they're very uncomfortable to talk about.


There's a montage in this film that, at first, I wasn't sure if it was real or not. I mean, all of a sudden Margot is in bed with two guys.
There's this really awesome moment I have to share with you. When we were shooting the moment where she comes back and she's talking to Seth's character and she seems to have some regret about leaving the relationship and she starts tearing up -- the props guy came up behind me and said, "What she's about to say is, I saw him sleep with another guy."  It's just really funny. She was like, "I got to go back to the marriage. He slept with a dude. I can't stand it."

So why does another guy jump in there?
Because I felt like it'd give the trajectory of a sexual relationship, where it's so unbelievable and so exciting and you do all the things you've ever fantasized about. Just watching the natural progression of a sexual relationship I thought would be kind of interesting, that whole idea of things get old.

I was concerned that I had missed a character introduction because I didn't know who he was.
That was my friend Dustin. I had him put a t-shirt on because he was so cut, he looked like a gigolo. So I was like, "Dustin, put a shirt on. You've totally ruined the scene." And he's like, "I can't believe I'm in a threesome scene and I have to put my clothes on."

I have a friend who swears Dustin was Jason Segel.
[Laughs] That would have been amazing. That's so funny. That was Dustin. And Dustin's really into being naked on camera, and he was so mad that I made him put his clothes on. So that's something that's really trivial about the film that nobody else has. That's something I haven't said before.


Was it difficult to disassociate yourself from the Disney films that you were in?
I think a lot of people associate me with those in Canada, who maybe aren't going to see independent films all the time. But I think there would probably be people who know me from [them] or have no idea I did anything else. I remember there was this one dude who came into my hospital room when I was in the hospital recently. I had a dude come into my room and -- while he was putting an IV in that was backing up and spraying blood everywhere -- he went, "You were in 'Road to Avonlea,' right? I haven't seen you in about 20 years." And I was like, "Maybe after the blood is finished spraying all over the bed you could tell me that I've done nothing for the last 20 years." [Laughs] So you're wrong, okay! That's another thing I haven't told anybody.

You know what that is? That's a bad bedside manner.
[Laughs] It's like the worst bedside manner in the world. Anyway, yeah, it can be hard. But I think it was a bit flukey in my case. Like, I feel like I took a few years off of acting after "Avonlea," and I was politically active.

I think that plays a large part in changing your image, doesn't it?
I think not being ambitious is really helpful. Like, I didn't really want to act at that point. I wanted to get as far away from acting as I possibly could. And then Atom Egoyan offered me a part in a film, and I was like, well, that would be kind of an awesome thing to do as a one-off, and I'll just do that. And then that kind of led to a whole other career. So I feel like there are two sections of my life that have very little to do with each other.

So you just didn't want to act anymore?
I didn't want to do it at all. I was so desperate to do anything else other than act. But, I feel like what I was doing until I was 12 or 13 was entirely different from what I did from 15 and up. But I feel like to become an actor, really, I had to unlearn everything I learned as a child actor. I had to forget all the stuff that you learn.

What's the difference?
Well, I think doing series television as a child, it's very much about learning your lines and hitting your marks and being technically really good and really efficient, and just getting it done. And I felt like I had to kind of become a little more deficient technically, and a little less aware of the process and kind of just learn how to disappear into a character a little bit more.

When you were in "Baron Munchausen" -- a Terry Gilliam movie -- at that age, do you know what's going on?
I was obsessed with Monty Python when I was a little kid because my family was obsessed with Monty Python. So, you know, I remember my parents being called into the principal's office of my Christian kindergarten, because I had sang "Sit on my Face" to my entire class for show and tell. So, I was deep into "Monty Python" by the age of about five or six -- and they distanced themselves from me. They were like, "We have no idea where she would have heard that!" So they totally didn't take responsibility. So, I was really excited to do that film when I was eight -- it turned into a pretty hellish experience.

It was terrifying and dangerous and it went on for many, many months. And it was scary.

What was the most dangerous thing?
There were explosions all the time, there was freezing cold water all the time. It was like, I was working 16, 17-hour days. It was not a good time.

It doesn't sound like this was the best experience in your life.
No, and it was probably the reason why I focused almost entirely on independent film after that. I was not interested in anything big, studio, lots of money, ever again.

So we've come full circle?

So "Take This Waltz" exists because of "Baron Munchausen."
Probably, yeah. Vaguely, yeah.

Mike Ryan is senior entertainment writer for The Huffington Post. You can contact him directly on Twitter.

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CORRECTION: An earlier edition of this post said Richard Burton starred in "Two for the Road"; it was actually Albert Finney.