This summer two lakecity actors got the chance of a lifetime to appear in Tsilhqot’in filmmaker Trevor Mack’s new feature-length film Portraits From a Fire.
Semi-autobiographical to Mack’s own life, Portraits From a Fire tells the tale of a young Indigenous boy growing up on a reserve making movies in his spare time with his friends. The discovery of his parents’ old wedding tapes, however, sends him down a path of rediscovering both his family history and his own place within it.
When casting for this production, Mack wanted to use all Indigenous actors for an added level of authenticity, both big name and local unknowns. As such he held an open casting call on May 29 at the Sandman Inn in Williams Lake for any actors who were interested. Two of those who tried out, both on the spur of the moment, were Pauline Bob-King and William Magnus Lulua who both went on to play major roles in this production.
Lulua lives in the lakecity during the school year, where he goes to school at Lake City Secondary School, Columneetza campus, while during the summer he lives at Nemiah Valley. He enjoys riding pedal and dirt bikes in his spare time as well as helping his grandpa feed their cows by hand with a pitchfork. When he gets the chance he also goes fishing and ice fishing, depending on the season.
“I grew up all around, here, Kamloops, Vancouver, here again, and then Nemiah. Most of my time out in Nemiah has been very peaceful and quiet until the fires, then it was way quieter and smoky,” Lulua said. “My favourite part (about Nemiah) is how we got glacier water flowing right through, it’s really cold when it’s running though.”
When it comes to acting, Lulua decided to just give it a try this summer and went into his audition largely “blind” with no real prior experience. However, Lulua said he was bored at the time and didn’t want to just sit around his house for the entire summer and do nothing, so he decided to take a chance.
During the audition, when he was reading parts of the script, Lulua said he just was having fun and didn’t expect to be considered or offered the role. Mack had said in an earlier interview with the Tribune that it was the jokes Lulua made combined with his personality that secured him the role, in the end.
“It was just an average day. Just cracking jokes and I’m still coming up with new material,” Lulua said.
When he received the part of Tyler, Lulua said he “felt like he was dreaming” and after pinching himself to see if he’d wake up, he knew it was the real deal. He was excited and nervous to be filming slightly far away from home in Anaham, but he said the cast and crew became like a second family and were very warm and friendly.
Lulua loved the overall organization the film crew displayed onset and the fact he was able to use and take home a BMX bike he helped fix himself. His greatest challenge was memorizing his lines, as well as finding a back brake for the bike.
When it came to his character, Lulua was able to connect with him and relate to what he is going through to his own life, as he too has experienced personal familial loss in the past. He instinctively used elements of method acting to become his character and act as him rather than simply read lines.
“I really connected with him because of how immature and mature he is (at the same time), it’s very funny,” Lulua said. “I just read the line and thought of how he would do it and if he could do it I could do it, so then I’d just do it like him.”
One of the things he enjoys about Portraits From a Fire, from a narrative perspective at least, is the unpredictability of the plot. Lulua said generally he’s pretty good at predicting where the story is going but was unable to with this film when he first read the script through. In his opinion, too many movies these days have “hit bedrock” and are no longer interesting but he feels this movie bucks that trend and offers up a “heartwarming story.”
Looking to the future, Lulua is unsure if he’d try his hand at acting again but he said he’d like to try it again to meet new people.
Bob-King, meanwhile, has more experience in the field of acting and has taken part in a few past Williams Lake Studio Theatre (WLST) productions. A single mother of two, both of whom also have been flexing their acting muscles in recent years, Bob-King has been many things in the community from a delivery driver to a greenhouse gardener and everything in between.
She got into acting “sheerly by accident” when a friend suggested she try out for a role in The Lodge, a WLST production from 2016, when she filled in for an actress who was unable to commit to the role. Bob-King said she must have been in a “daring” mood so she went out and tried it and got the part, which ended up being fun but a lot of work. Most recently, she was in the WLST’s production of Much Ado About Nothing which was its own kind of hilarity.
Other than this, much like Lulua, Bob-King has no formal training and said it’s mostly just been her getting out of her comfort zone. Trying out for the movie started much the same way, as she originally saw the casting call and thought of her son Tian Walker.
She drove him out to the Sandman where he turned the situation around on her and asked why she wasn’t auditioning for a role. Despite her reservations, he was able to convince her to give it a try in a way, not at all, unlike her own methods to get him to step out of his comfort zone.
During the audition process, Bob-King was asked by Mack how she felt about doing the five stages of grief off-script. By chance, she’d just lost her longtime pet shih tzu Gizmo two weeks earlier, so it wasn’t hard for her to tap into those emotions.
“The emotions were pretty raw and still present, so I got through that and I didn’t hold back. I just went with it and that is definitely present in the movie, there was definitely a reason why my character Trish was asked to do the five stages of grief because the movie takes you through them,” Walker said.
“For some of the shoots I had to go pretty deep it’s a powerful movie about beginning, love and the powerful emotions of bringing life into the world and the excruciating emotion of losing a life in a very tragic way.”
Bob-King plays the single mother of Lulua’s Tyler in the film and portrays a strong woman with a quirky sense of humour but deep regret and sadness for her past, that impacts her relationship with her son. Much of the movie, Bob-King said, really focuses on themes of reconciliation, especially when it comes to her character and the renewal of hope.
Her experience as a mother helped her get into character and Bob-King said that by the end, she felt she’d done Trish justice.
Filming Portraits From a Fire was an adventure to her and brought some of the most powerful emotions she’s ever experienced and in a way, it was a healing process for her.
Filming in a beautiful location like Anaham made the experience even more meaningful for her, especially because her first day of shooting she got up at 3 a.m. to shoot a scene with the sun rising which was incredible to watch.
Working with so much talent, both in front of the camera and behind it, was rewarding for her, especially observing all the care they put into each scene and shoot. It was also amusing for her to watch all the city folk freak out without any wifi or cell service at times, she remarked with a smile.
She herself can’t wait to see the movie from start to finish and see a woman who grew up in “little old” Alexis Creek on the big screen, knowing that she’s come so far and gone through so much in her own personal story. Bob-King was visibly emotional at this thought and said she has profound gratitude to Mack and his team for making her a part of his vision.
Much like Lulua, Bob-King is not sure when she’ll return to acting and in what capacity. For now, she’s keeping her eye on the WLST’s future productions and seeing where life takes her.
Portraits From a Fire currently does not have a release date, but Mack has indicated to the Tribune he plans to have it ready by the fall of 2020 and hopes to bring it to Indigenous communities across Canada.
For further updates on the film’s progress, you can follow its Facebook page.