Artist Spotlight: Sofia Banzhaf

For Sofia Banzhaf, who has called many places home over the course of a life well travelled – the east coast holds a special magic. No more is that so than with Banzhaf’s ties to Newfoundland and Labrador, where she spent her formative adolescent years.“It was definitely my home for many years,” Banzhaf shared with The Herald. “I live in Toronto now but I get back as much as I can. My parents have since moved to the States. Any opportunity I can get I go back.

Rising Actress & Author

“In the summer I really like to go swimming at Flatrock,” she explains. “In the winter, Mallard Cottage is one of those places, and Raymonds. I try to go to Raymonds every time I’m there. Sometimes I’ll just go for a drink, those two places obviously. I used to live in Portugal Cove. I hang out and go to the water. I’m really happy to be out there.” Born in Germany and currently living in Toronto following a brief stint in Montreal, the rising actress and author admits to embracing the chameleon-like nature of her ever evolving childhood.

“I think the reason why I liked it so much was I really liked the opportunity to reinvent myself over and over again,” she shares. “Whereas my siblings – I have two older siblings, and maybe it was a little less exciting for them because maybe they’d feel that as soon as they made friends they’d have to leave again – but for me, I really loved that. Now that I’m thinking about it, there may be parallels with acting, just enjoying trying on different things and different personalities. Of course I’ve stayed the same person, I’m not a different person in every place I go, but it feels like, especially when you’re younger, that it’s an opportunity to sort of redefine yourself.”

‘Such an Honour’

Reinvention is nothing new to Banzhaf, who has become one of Canada’s most promising young talents through her work in film and television, including Bitten, Reign and the locally shot, award-winning indie-drama Closet Monster. Banzhaf most recently took to the acclaimed Toronto International Film Festival and Atlantic Film Festival in promotion of her latest work, Splinters, the Thom Fitzgerald adaptation of the Lee-Anne Poole stage play.

“It’s been really incredible, a whirlwind. It’s so exciting. I’ve had a couple of pinch me moments where I was in the room with people that I really, really admire. It’s such an honour to be at such a prestigious festival with an Atlantic Canadian movie. It’s a real thrill for me.” Banzhaf tackles the complex and layered leading role of Belle, who returns to her rural Nova Scotia home for her father’s funeral. Having caused her mother Nancy considerable consternation when she came out as a lesbian teen, Belle is now desperate to keep secret from her mother that she’s been in a relationship with a man for the last two years.

‘Authentic & Real’

It’s emotionally weighty – at times uncomfortably so – and speaks to the ties of family, the struggle for identity and the call and push of a small town.  “I loved the script. Lee-Anne Poole who wrote the stage play is an incredibly gifted writer. She based the play on her life. I’m happy that it remains as authentic and real as I think she intended,” Banzhaf says.

“I read it a lot and I really like the fact that it takes place over just three days or so. It also ended up being one of the biggest challenges for me as an actor. When you’re shooting over three or four weeks, but the story is only three days long, you’re constantly trying to remind yourself of where you’re at in the emotional journey. In other projects you show up at a different day and you’re wearing a different outfit and it’s easier to find your place. With this it required so much precision in terms  of what the scenes demanded on that day from me. I drew a very big map of the emotional journey. I think that was the biggest challenge. I talked with Thom about that a lot. It was the fun part, but also the challenge.”

Unique Voices

Outside of performing alongside the likes of Bailey Maughan, Callum Dunphy and the incomparable Shelley Thompson, Banzhaf has enjoyed spotlighting Atlantic Canada in her most recent works, especially in avenues as promising as the world renowned TIFF.  “There are so many beautiful shots of Nova Scotia in this film that were so easy to get. We just drove for 10 minutes outside of base-camp and would be overlooking this incredible valley. It was fun that it didn’t feel like we were trying very hard to highlight that. It’s the same with Closet Monster where it just displays Newfoundland in such a gorgeous way, although that wasn’t very hard.

“It’s a thrill that I can do that. I love that we can tell Atlantic Canadian stories, because I feel like there’s a real need for them and I’m really excited that there are all of these unique voices emerging and that we have a platform like this to tell them.” Balancing her dual lives as an actress and author, Banzhaf shares that each provide her a rare opportunity for expression and release few find in other mediums.

“I think they both have their own kind of magic. With acting, you can only ever really ever do it once. What I mean by that, even when you’re doing a play and doing it every night you’re doing something completely different, completely authentic and fresh every time. Every take is unique. There’s something that I love about that because it can’t be repeated. You find magic in the moment with another actor that cannot be recreated. That’s something that I love. With writing you’re processing. The things that I like to write about are things that I myself am processing. That certainly is also magical, because you’re writing and learning about your own life and at the same time the words that come out can be surprising to you. Of course with writing you’re isolated. I love it because I can do it on my own, whereas acting of course you need a relatively large machinery around you. It can be really nice to have that autonomy and say I’m going to go write and use my creative muscle and nobody can tell me I can’t do it. With acting there is of course waiting and the projects you want don’t always happen. They both have their drawbacks and advantages for sure. I think they both hold such specific and precious parts in my life that I can’t say I prefer one over the other. They’re just so different.”

Biggest Revelations

As to what the young actress has taken away from her ascension through the ranks of the film and television industry, Banzhaf shares that the biggest revelations have come from within.

“The biggest thing I’m learning, and still learning actually, is that happiness doesn’t come from external validation,” she says. “I think that’s something I really had to learn. For a while you think all I want is a recurring cast role on a TV show, and you get it and you’re like OK great, what’s next? You’re never satisfied, which is something kind of cool in a way. OK, if I’m never actually truly satisfied that means I can kind of relax and say OK I’m working, but also find happiness outside of my working life. That’s been a learning experience for me for sure.”

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