Young and talented: At 13, Sophie Nélisse is already touted as an emerging talent to look out for in Hollywood. – AFP
Young actress Sophie Nélisse is ready to make her mark with The Book Thief.
AN OLYMPIAN or an actress, either way, Sophie Nélisse was destined for fame. The young Canadian actress who is the star of Brian Percival’s latest offering, The Book Thief, was initially a championship-level gymnast competing for a spot in the 2020 Olympic Games when the people behind the movie made an offer she could not resist.
“Making the movie would have meant four months away from a daily training regime. And then I thought, ‘I can’t not accept this, it’s such a big deal,” said the 13-year-old actress. “So I chose not to continue with gymnastics. (It) will always be a part of me, but this is much more fun to do, and it’s less hard on the body.”
And judging by the rave reviews Nélisse has received for her role in The Book Thief, an adaptation of Markus Zusak’s novel of the same name, one could only assume that the actress did indeed make the right choice. She is absolutely engaging in the movie as Liesel Meminger, a 10-year-old orphan sent to live with her foster parents in a small German town during the Nazi era.
She shares her prized possession, a book she found at her young brother’s funeral, with her foster father Hans Hubermann (played by Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush) who teaches her how to read and eventually finds solace in words and literature.
“She’s a fighter, a bit like me. I won’t really give up when I want something. She’s courageous and she never gives up, which is most like me,” said Nélisse on the character she plays in the period film.
The Book Thief also features English actress Emily Watson, who plays the strict and foul-mouthed foster mother Rosa who eventually finds it in her heart to have some feelings for the child who is trying to make sense in a senseless world during the war.
“They’re so good because they’re professional and I can learn so much from them,” said Nélisse on the experience of working with the two Hollywood heavyweights. “They’re inspiring in how they work, how they act and their preparation beforehand. Sometimes they give me advice, which is really good. It’s so fun to get the chance everyday to be sort of spoiled to be with them.”
The actress, who made her debut in the critically-acclaimed 2011 movie Monsieur Lazhar for which she won the best actress in a supporting role trophy at the 32nd Genie Awards, also said that she learned more from Rush and Watson by just watching them prepare for their respective roles.
“Most of the days, they don’t give me advice by talking to me but just by being there, so I can learn how they prepare mentally.”
Although Nélisse’s career in the movie industry has only just begun, the actress – who received a Spotlight award at the Hollywood Film Festival last year as among the three emerging talents to watch – has already set her eyes on her possible co-stars.
“I really like Johnny Depp because I think he’s hilarious in Pirates Of The Caribbean. Maybe Jessica Chastain (as well), I think she’s good. There are a lot of good actors. Most of the actors I’d like to work with, all of them have so much to give me.”
However, as much fun as it would be to work alongside Hollywood’s A-listers, Nélisse has another reason to stay in the movie industry; her love for acting.
“I just love to play a role that’s not mine and to try other things that I never tried before. It’s amazing to go into other characters and to really be like that character. It’s hard – it’s a job – but it’s so fun, and then you can look at yourself and say, ‘I’ve experienced that,’ and it’s fun to do.”
So, with that said, does she consider herself as an actor for life now?
“Yes. Unless people stop liking me and won’t hire me. But as long as I have an opportunity, I’ll keep going.”
> The Book Thief opens in cinemas
nationwide on Thursday.