Paloma Kwiatkowski is remarkably calm for a teen who has gone from aspiring high school actor to a three-picture deal in the course of a couple of months.
Last September she started Grade 12 at Vancouver’s Templeton Secondary, taking a program heavy on theatre and film that included her launching an improv team that went to the national championships in Ottawa. Her drama teacher got her a scholarship for after-school acting classes last fall, which led to her getting an agent, which then led to an audition in February for the role of teen demi-god Thalia in the fantasy sequel Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters.
“The night before the audition I was talking to one of my friends who is a huge fan of the book series,” says Kwiatkowski, who lives in Burnaby with Polish immigrant parents and two siblings.
“My friend told me, ‘You look exactly like her, just what I pictured.’ It was a huge confidence boost to me.”
The audition was her first ever, and after a couple of callbacks, a bit of studio chin-scratching, and a full-costume screen test complete with dyed hair and coloured contact lenses, she was cast as Thalia, daughter of Zeus.
“They searched all over North America,” says Kwiatkowski’s agent Carrie Wheeler. “It’s not just the small role in this film, but casting a complete unknown for bigger roles in the next two. Even though they loved Paloma, they wanted to find someone with more experience because she was going to be a supporting lead in the next two.”
The Percy Jackson films (the first one filmed in Vancouver in 2009) star Logan Lerman in a story about modern American teens descended from the Greek gods, based on the five-book series of fantasy novels.
“It was interesting to get to see all the behind-the-scenes, the vast amount of work they put into it,” says Kwiatkowski, who had never been on a movie set before her two days of filming in April.
She can’t talk about her scenes, but an actor’s day on a set starts with up to two hours with the hair and makeup team, whereupon an assistant director talking through a headset walks the actor to the set.
Once the actors are in position, a dozen electrical and lighting crew shine their lights and arrange the shadows before the director says action, launching the camera crew’s work. And at every break, a production assistant will rush up and offer bottled water or muffins as the actor’s makeup is touched up.
“The weirdest thing is people waiting on you,” says Kwiatkowski, who turns 18 this month. “To suddenly be so important to everyone.”
She’s joining a cast of veterans including 20-year-old Lerman.
“It was so strange seeing the faces that you see on TV and the movies, and they’re talking to you,” she says. “They’re all talking about their next big movie things and I’m like, ‘I’m in my high school play.’ I didn’t think I’d see all the actors as much as I did.”
Another student had to take her place for one night of that school play, the comic satire 7 Stories.
The actual film acting wasn’t so nerve-racking, she says, because unlike stage, film actors get do-overs.
“You’re on set one day, and the next day you’re taking the bus to school, and no one has any idea that you were on a huge movie set.”
Kwiatkowski has had more auditions since Percy Jackson, sending video auditions to New York and L.A., and she’s waiting to hear on a couple. She’s been accepted in Simon Fraser University’s film program, but she’ll wait a year before starting classes.
And when pressed, she’ll admit to one “omigawd” in this whole journey.
“The only moment where I’ve ever freaked out about this whole acting thing was when Carrie sent me an audition for Darren Aronofsky’s new film, my favourite director of all time. I literally screamed when I read it.”
Article written by: Glen Schaefer, The Province