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Sarah Polley (born January 8, 1979) is a Canadianmarker actress, singer, film director and screenwriter. Polley is best known for her role as Sarah Stanley in the Canadian television series, Road to Avonlea. She has also starred in such films as The Sweet Hereafter, Guinevere, Go, The Weight of Water, My Life Without Me, and Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Dawn of the Dead.


Early life

Polley, the youngest of five children, was born in Torontomarker, Ontariomarker, the daughter of Diane, an actress and casting director, and Michael Polley, a Britishmarker-born actor and insurance agent (he attended acting classes with Albert Finney in England before moving to Canada). Polley's mother died of cancer just after Polley's 11th birthday. Polley attended Subway Academy II then Earl Haig Secondary Schoolmarker, but dropped out before graduating.

Early career and fall-out with Disney

Her first cinematic appearance was at the age of four, as Molly in the Disney film One Magic Christmas. At age eight, she was cast in the title role in the television series Ramona, based on Beverly Cleary's books. That same year, she also played one of the lead characters in Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Polley burst into the public eye the following year as Sara Stanley on the popular CBC television series Road to Avonlea. The series made her famous and financially independent, and she was hailed as "Canada's Sweetheart" by the popular press.

The show was picked up by the Disney Channel for distribution in the United Statesmarker. At the age of 12 (around 1991), Polley attended an awards ceremony while wearing a peace sign to protest the first Gulf War. Disney executives asked her to remove it, and she refused. This soured her relationship with Disney, and she left Road to Avonlea in 1994. The show itself was cancelled in 1996 (to which she publicly claimed indifference), although she did return as Sara Stanley for an episode in 1995 and for the final episode in 1996.


Polley appeared as Lily on the CBC television series, Straight Up. It ran from 1996–1998 and she won the Gemini Award for Best Performance in a Children's or Youth Program or Series for her role. Polley's subsequent role as Nicole Burnell in the 1997 film The Sweet Hereafter, brought her considerable attention in the United States; she was a fan favourite at the Sundance Film Festival. Her character in the film was an aspiring singer — on the soundtrack, she performed a cover of The Tragically Hip's "Courage" and Jane Siberry's "One More Colour", as well as the film's title track which she co-wrote with Mychael Danna. "Courage" was also played in the ending of an episode of Charmed, "Long live the Queen" (Season 4 Episode 20).

She was cast in the role of Penny Lane in the big-budget 2000 film Almost Famous, but dropped out of the project to return to Canada for the low-budget The Law of Enclosures. Her role in the 2003 film My Life Without Me, garnered the Genie Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in 2004. In the same year, she starred in a lead role in the stylish and successful remake of Dawn of the Dead, which was a departure from her other indie roles. In 2005 she starred in The Secret Life of Words, opposite Tim Robbins and Julie Christie. She was nominated as Best European Actress by the European Film Academy for her role as Hanna.

She made her feature-length film directing debut with Away From Her, based on the Alice Munro short story The Bear Came Over the Mountain. The movie, starring Julie Christie, debuted at the Toronto International Film Festivalmarker on September 11, 2006 as part of the TIFF's Gala showcase. Away From Her was acquired by Lionsgate for release in the US for the sum of $750,000. It drew rave reviews from Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and the three Toronto dailies, both for the performances of Christie and her co-star, Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent, and for Polley's direction. It also earned Polley a 2008 Academy Award nomination for her adapted screenplay and won the Genie Award for Best Achievement in Direction (the first woman to do so). At the 2008 Genies, she was also awarded the Claude Jutra Award, which recognizes outstanding achievement by a first-time feature film director.

Polley takes pride in her work and enjoys both acting and directing but is not keen on combining the two. "I like the feeling of keeping them separate. I find that really gratifying. I can't imagine combining those. For me, I love the feeling of using different parts of my brain separately."

Political activism

Following the row with Disney, Polley dedicated more of her efforts to politics, becoming a prominent member of the New Democratic Party, where Ontario legislator Peter Kormos was said to be her political mentor.

In 1995, she lost two back teeth after being struck by a riot police officer during a protest against the Provincial Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris in Queen's Parkmarker. She was subsequently involved with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty. She has recently scaled back on her political activism.

She was part of a group in 2001 which opposed the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas. The 3rd Summit of the Americas was held in Quebec Citymarker in April 2001.

In 2003, she was part of newly-elected Toronto mayor David Miller's transition advisory team.

Personal life

On September 10 2003 she married Canadian film editor David Wharnsby, her companion of seven years. "My relationship [with him] is the thing I'm proudest of in my life. I had a lot of opportunities to end up in some pretty bad situations and, despite all my faults, I had the sense to find someone like him and make the decision to be with him. You spend a lot of time wanting to be with the wrong person and I just feel incredibly lucky because I've succeeded at that one thing. I figured that out."

Awards and nominations

    • 2006 - ACTRA Toronto Award of Excellence (Won)
  • Academy Awards
  • Director's Guild of Canada
  • Gemini Awards
    • 2007 - Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Supporting Role in a Dramatic Series, Slings and Arrows (Nominated)
    • 1998 - Best Performance in a Children's or Youth Program or Series, Straight Up (Won)
    • 1998 - Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Supporting Role in a Dramatic Program or Mini-Series, The Planet of Junior Brown (Nominated)
    • 1998 - Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Program or Mini-Series, White Lies (Nominated)
    • 1994 - Best Performance by an Actress in a Continuing Leading Dramatic Role, Road to Avonlea (Nominated)
    • 1993 - Best Performance by an Actress in a Continuing Leading Dramatic Role, Road to Avonlea (Nominated)
    • 1992 - Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, Lantern Hill (Won)
    • 1990 - Best Performance by an Actress in a Continuing Leading Dramatic Role, Road to Avonlea (Nominated)
    • 1988 - Best Performance by an Actress in a Continuing Leading Dramatic Role, Ramona, (Nominated)
  • Genie Awards
  • Independent Spirit Awards
    • 2000 - Best Supporting Female, Go, (Nominated)



Year Film Role Notes
1985 One Magic Christmas Molly Monaghan
1986 Confidential
1987 Heaven on Earth
Prettykill Karla
Hands of a Stranger Suzie Hearn Made for TV.
The Big Town Christy Donaldson
Blue Monkey Ellen
1988 The Adventures of Baron Munchausen Sally Salt
1989 Babar: The Movie Young Celeste (voice)
1990 Lantern Hill Jody Turner Made for TV.
1994 Johann's Gift to Christmas Angel Made for TV.
Take Another Look Amy Made for TV.
Exotica Tracey Brown
1996 Children First!
Joe's So Mean to Josephine Josephine
1997 The Sweet Hereafter Nicole Burnell
The Hanging Garden Teen Rosemary
The Planet of Junior Brown Butter
1998 Jerry and Tom Deb
White Lies Catherine Chapman Made for TV.
Last Night Jennifer 'Jenny' Wheeler
1999 Guinevere Harper Sloane
eXistenZ Merle
Go Ronna Martin
The Life Before This Connie
2000 This Might Be Good
The Weight of Water Maren Hontvedt
Love Come Down Sister Sarah
The Law of Enclosures Beatty 'Beatrice'
The Claim Hope Burn
2001 No Such Thing Beatrice
2003 The I Inside Clair
The Event Dana
My Life Without Me Ann
Dermott's Quest Gwen
Luck Margaret
2004 Dawn of the Dead Ana
Sugar Pregnant Girl
Siblings Tabby
2005 Don't Come Knocking Sky
The Secret Life of Words Hanna
Beowulf & Grendel Selma
2009 Mr. Nobody Elise
Splice Elsa


Year Title Role Notes
1985 Night Heat Cindy Keating "The Game"
1987 Friday the 13th Mary "The Inheritance"
1988 Ramona Ramona
1990-1994 Road to Avonlea Sara Stanley
1993 The Hidden Room Alice "Dangerous Dreams"
1995 Road to Avonlea Sara Stanley "Comings and Goings"
1996 "So Dear to My Heart"
Straight Up Lily
1999 Made in Canada Rhonda "It's a Science"
2006 Slings and Arrows Sophie 5 episodes.
2008 John Adams Nabby Adams Smith "Reunion"; "Unite of Die"; "Unnecessary War"; "Peacefield"

Director & writer

Year Film Notes
1999 The Best Day of My Life
Don't Think Twice
2001 I Shout Love
2004 The Shields Stories Episode "The Harp"
2006 Away from Her


  1. Sarah Polley Biography (1979-)
  2. Polley, Sarah
  3. Yahoo! Movies
  4. European Film Academy
  5. Exclusive: Filmmaker Sarah Polley
  6. Toronto Life: Woman on the Verge - Page 4
  7. Sarah Polley profile

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