The wait is finally over! KC Carthew’s adventure thriller, Polaris, first premiered at the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival and has since been screened at numerous festivals. This week, Epic Pictures Group is bringing the film to U.S. audiences. The film’s summary reads: Set in 2144 against the harsh backdrop of a frozen wasteland, SUMI, a human child raised by MAMA POLAR BEAR, narrowly escapes capture from a brutal MORAD hunting party and sets out across the vast winter landscape. When Sumi stumbles across FROZEN GIRL, an unlikely friendship is forged and together they race ahead of the vindictive hunters towards the only guiding light Sumi knows, the POLARIS star.
Leading the cast is Viva Lee, who plays the title role of Sumi. Some of Viva’s other credits include Syfy’s Deadly Class, Hallmark’s Field Day and Universal 1440 Entertainment’s Ready Jet Go! Space Camp. We spoke to Viva about tackling the role of Sumi in the interview below.
When did you decide you wanted to be an actress?
I started taking acting classes when I was about 5 or 6. But it wasn’t until I booked a recurring role that I knew that I had to be an actor. I think I was around 8 at the time. It was the final day for me to shoot and I spent the entire day focused on how I was going to play my character, who had just lost her mom. I think I cried on and off for about 8 hours. We had running scenes, screaming, crying, hiding, and I got to hit a bad guy with a prop 2 by 4, which was considered a “stunt” and I loved it!
I was later told I had gotten a standing ovation when I wrapped, but I don’t remember any of it. I was still way too deep in my character and my vision was blurred from crying!
I remember it was dark and we got the car and my mom said she didn’t think acting was healthy for me.
She said she couldn’t stand seeing me crying and emotional like that ever again. But I looked up at her with tears still in my eyes, still had shudder breathing and said, that was the best day of my life! I told her I want to do this for the rest of my life. I wasn’t lying!
How did you become involved with Polaris?
Along with hundreds of female identifying young actors from across Canada, I sent in my audition through my amazing agents. It was during the pandemic, so everything was done through self tapes. I really just let myself go and went all in. I used my entire body to portray Sumi and jumped and crawled and growled to bring her to life. After a while my agents told me I’d be having a call back and I was super excited!
What was the most challenging thing about the shoot?
The most challenging thing about the shoot was having free range of motion in cold, wet, stiff, animal pelts. The second I went outside, everything would freeze! It even felt like my eyeballs were frozen.
We were fortunate to have record breaking snow fall, which makes the film so beautiful, but we also had to deal with -20 to -40 degree temps and it’s not easy crawling around on snow because you sink, but you have to look natural like you’ve been doing it your whole life! While I was quarantined, I would go outside in the snow and practice moving on top of the snow, like an animal. And that was cool because I noticed a lot of people sinking on set, but I didn’t because of my funny walk/crawl. So the hardest thing had to be the extreme temperatures and the snow.
Do you have a favorite scene in Polaris? Why is it your favorite?
I have so many favorite scenes! But most of my favorite scenes were when I got to do stunts or combat scenes. I loved the fight scenes with Dr. Kara Wooten who plays Stag Morad and Horns. She is one of the nicest people I have ever met, but then such an amazing stunt performer! I also really loved all the scenes I did with the FX Team, The Blood Brothers. I learned so many things like, puppeterring, and stage blood and explosives! WooHoo!!! But I also have to say I loved exploring vulnerability with Miss Khamisa who plays Frozen Girl and with Miss Muriel who plays Dee. I was 11 at the time and I had stars in my eyes and was mesmerized by all the adults. Well, I still do.
You play Sumi in Polaris and carry the majority of the movie without relying on dialogue. This must have been pretty difficult. How would you get into character before each scene?
When I first got the script I thought, where are my lines? I thought how was I going to be the lead in an entire feature film and have no lines! But as my incredible Director Miss KC and acting coach Miss Melee and I started to explore, Sumi just sort of started to reveal herself.
My process was to get into the mind of Sumi. I think about what she wants and needs and what her emotions might be and why she does what she does. At the end of the day, I become her and respond as her. What I love about Sumi is how honest she is. She isn’t of our time. She doesn’t care about social pressures or education or if she has an iPhone. Her responses to everything are based on survival and raw emotion. It was an amazing journey for me to go on. It changed me. Every year during my birthday or during the holidays, everyone asks, what do you want? And I honestly just can’t think of anything.
Is there anything else you would like audiences to know about your work on Polaris?
I’m older now and I could probably ‘act better” in terms of technique, but at the time, I gave it my all. I remember pulling out the ottomans in the house so I could crawl and jump on them like they were icebergs for the original audition and after I was told there would be a call back, I created an entire language for Sumi. So if there was anything I want to relay to the audience is that it was a labour of love. I loved being Sumi. It was never far from my mind that she was a child, a bear and a heavenly body. And in our own way, we are like a little bit human, animal and heavenly.
You also worked on Syfy’s Deadly Class. Do you have a favorite memory from that set?
I loved working on Deadly Class! It’s when I realized I wanted to be an actor forever. Mr. Benedict Wong, who played my daddy was so amazing. He’s actually super philosophical, which is kind of amazing since, well if you know his Marvel character Wong, it just feels right.
I remember him telling me that I should conserve my emotions and that I should try and stay rooted and grounded like a tree. To think of the people close to me, to think of my family. I never forgot. I still think of that when I have to do big scenes.
I also really loved Mr. David Zayas. First of all, he has the coolest accent. Secondly, he was really super knowledgeable about things like firearms safety. And third, he gave me some advice that I have been using since then. He told me a story about Leo DiCaprio and I have no idea if it’s real or not, but the moral of the story is, to go big and give it your all. And so, yeah I’ve been so blessed to have such legends to look up to and there’s no doubt that being a little kid at the time, I took all that to heart.
What was the last movie you saw that really stuck out to you?
It’s not one I watched recently, but something I frequently go back to watching and it’s an animated feature from South Korea called Oseam and it was made in 2003. It leaves me emotionally wrecked, but also at the same time, I feel like I have become enlightened. I can’t believe more people haven’t seen it and I totally want to gatekeep it, but everyone should see it. As an actor, I look for things that trigger certain responses in me and Oseam seems to elicit a total purging of emotion.
What would be your dream role to play?
Oh I love this question! I would want to play a character that is multifaceted. Some sweet and some edginess. And it would have to include action and fight scenes. I see a future in action and thrillers because a lot of my acting is very physical. It’s how I interpret characters, so I hope it involves wires, weapons and a lot of bad*ssery!
Many thanks to Viva Lee for taking the time for this interview. Polaris is available now on VOD.