Julia Sarah Stone shines in coming-of-age tale

Vancouver teen stars in new indie feature Wet Bum

Graduation is only a few weeks away, but it's not likely that Julia Sarah Stone will be caught setting up a beach scene on the school steps or tp'ing the principal's car.

The 17-year-old actor has nothing but good things to say about Eric Hamber secondary, the Vancouver high school she still attends full time, despite a lot of time off for auditions and long shoots. "My teachers are very supportive," she insists. She says she's not treated any differently by the kids at school, either: "I'm just another person to my friends."

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True, while her classmates may have missed her breakout role in the indie film The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom, they couldn't miss her as street-kid Lyric in season three of locally shot AMC series The Killing, which brought international attention.

And out this week is Wet Bum, in which Stone has the starring role - and wet posterior of the title - as Sam, a 14-year-old who is tormented by the other girls in her lifeguard course.

In the film Sam's mom (Leah Pinsent) works in a nursing home where Sam cleans the rooms, vacuuming around unresponsive residents like Judith (Diana Leblanc) and combative seniors like Ed (Kenneth Welsh). Sam practically lives in her saggy-bum swimsuit, even wears it to work under her scrubs. "It looks like you peed yourself," snaps Ed, who seems to be struggling just as much as Sam is.

"I need you to be responsible," mom demands, while Sam is constantly asking Judith if there's anything she needs. No one stops to consider Sam's needs, which is why she's such an easy target for Lukas (Craig Arnold), her older, charming swim coach.

Written and directed by Lindsay Mackay, Wet Bum is a coming-of-age tale where Sam's angst parallels much of the frustration, confusion and fear of the nursing home's residents. Clearly Sam's constant protestations of "I'm changing!" are about more than just getting dressed.

"I definitely identify with Sam," Stone says. "I think a lot of people have gone through something similar to what she's gone through. Hopefully they can relate to the character and learn from her." Sam's only freedom is underwater in the pool: freedom from her body issues, from the jeers of others, from judgment. There are plenty of underwater shots, so the day after a chemistry reading in Toronto Stone headed to the pool for a water audition for Mackay and cinematographer Guy Godfree. "It was kind of fun when I got into it!" Stone was equally unperturbed by the need to get naked, literally and figuratively, for the role: "As actors that's an enormous part of what of what we do," she says matter-of-factly. "The physical aspect wasn't so big of a change from what I do on set every day, because every day we're so emotionally exposed."

It's tough to throw yourself into being another person when as a teenager you haven't even figured out who you are, but Stone says "in a way, acting has actually helped me to figure out who I am" and that each character she has played has taught her something about herself.

The young actor's sensitive approach to the role of Sam earned her a nomination as one of TIFF's Rising Stars last fall. But don't expect the distinction to get her out of doing the dishes: "I try to do everything I can to help out around the house, it's the least I can do," she laughs. Stone says she pestered her "hesitant" mom to start acting at an early age, and after a year of acting classes they started going to real auditions, when Stone was 11. Now mom is right up there with Meryl Streep as the people Stone most admires: "I really admire my mom: she's one of the strongest and most loving people I know."

After graduation Stone will be auditioning, reading ("I read a LOT"), writing (poetry, short stories) and attending acting classes: "I don't see myself ever not taking acting classes, I love it so much... it's a way for me to keep building on my craft."

And like any high school senior, actor or no, Stone dreams of travelling. "I've never been outside North America, so I'd love to visit some of the places in Europe: Venice, maybe." How about a script shooting in Venice, co-starring with Streep? "Yeah, that would be amazing!"

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