Sarah Polley
Birth Date:
January 8, 1979
Birth Place:
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
5' 2
Famous for:
Her role in 'The Sweet Hereafter' (1997)
Left school during her senior year of high school to devote herself to political activism.
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Away from Her


“It is important to me to stay in Canada. I used to think it was because I thought it was important to build up an indigenous film industry, but now I realize I'm incapable of living anywhere else. I'm a real homebody.” Sarah Polley

Academy Award nominated Canadian actress, director, writer and producer Sarah Polley was launched to fame playing Sara Stanley on the popular television series “Road to Avonlea” (known in the U.S. as “Avonlea,” 1990-1996). As an adult, the high school dropout first gained recognition for her supporting role of Nicole Burnell in Atom Agoyan's “The Sweet Hereafter” (1997). Her good acting in the Oscar nominated drama earned her a Boston Society of Film Critics Award and a National Board of Review Award. Polley continued to offer good performances in such movies as “Go” (1999, received a Canadian Comedy Award), “The Weight of Water” (2000), “The Claim” (2000), “My Life Without Me” (2003, won a Genie Award), “Dawn of the Dead” (2004), “Don't Come Knocking” (2005), “The Secret Life of Words” (2005, earned a European Film Academy nomination), “Mr. Nobody” (2009) and “Splice” (2009).

“I'm in total disbelief. I'm thrilled but kind of in shock too. It's been such a strange year and I'm bowled over by the life of the film. It's more than I could have ever hoped. This now adds a very surreal element to it.” Sarah Polley (on her Oscar nomination)

As a filmmaker, Polley, who made her debut in 1999 with the shorts “The Best Day of My Life” and “Don't Think Twice,” enjoyed widespread attention with her feature debut “ Away from Her” (2006), from which she netted her Oscar nomination for her outstanding writing effort. Her second film, “Take This Waltz,” which she wrote, directed and produced, is set to be released in 2011.

Political Activist

Childhood and Family:

The youngest of five children, Sarah Polley was born on January 8, 1979, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, to Michael Polley, a British actor, and Diane Elizabeth, an actress and casting director. Two of Sarah's siblings are actor Mark Polley and casting director and producer John Buchan. Her mother died of cancer on January 10, 1990, when Sarah was 11 years old. At age 15, Sarah underwent surgery to correct scoliosis. The same year, she moved out of her family home to live on her own. She enrolled at Subway Academy II and then Earl Haig Secondary School in Toronto. She quit school during her senior year of high school to become a political activist for socialist groups. Sarah married Canadian film editor David Wharnsby on September 10, 2003. They have since divorced.



Multi talented Sarah Polley began her acing career at age 4 when she landed the role of Molly Monaghan in the Disney family film “One Magic Christmas” (1985). The same year, she broke into the small screen with a guest stint in “Night Heat,” the first Canadian television series to be broadcasted on an American television network (CBS). Young Polley went on to appear in the Canadian movies “Confidential” (1986), “Tomorrow's a Killer” (1987) and “Blue Monkey” (1987) and in the American film “The Big Town” (1987, starred Matt Dillon, Diane Lane and Tommy Lee Jones). She also appeared in the NBC TV film “Hands of a Stranger” (1987, starred Armand Asante) and as a guest in the shows “Screen Two” and “Friday the 13th” (both 1987) before scoring the title role of eight year old Ramona Quimby in the Canadian children's television series “Ramona,” an adaptation of Beverly Cleary's popular book series of the same name. The show ran from September 10, 1988, to January 21, 1989. She was nominated for a Gemini in the category of Best Performance by a Lead Actress in a Continuing Dramatic Role for her performance on the series. Polley gained further notice with her portrayal of Sally Salt in Terry Gilliam's feature “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” (1988) and picked up a 1990 Young Artist nomination for Best Young Actress Starring in a Motion Picture for her performance. She closed out the decade with voiceover work in the animated film “Babar: The Movie” (1989).

Polley's first real success arrived in 1990 when she received the role of eleven year old Sara Stanley in the dramatic series “Road to Avonlea,” which was created by Kevin Sullivan. The show was a hit in Canada and was picked up for the United States by the Disney Channel. After some disagreements with Disney because of her political views, Polley left “Road to Avonlea” in 1994 and the show was canceled in March 1996. She would return to reprise her role in an episode in 1995 and then the final episode in 1996. For her performance in “Avonlea,” she collected Gemini nominations for Best Performance by a Lead Actress in a Continuing Dramatic (1990) and Best Performance by an Actress in a Continuing Leading Dramatic (1993 and 1994) and Young Artist nominations for Best Young Actress Starring in an Off-Primetime Series (1991) and Best Young Actress Starring in a Cable Series (1993).

While on the show, Polley played Jody Turner in a television film adaptation of Lucy Maud Montgomery's “Jane of Lantern Hill” called “Lantern Hill” (1990), in which she was handed a Gemini for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role. She then appeared with her father, Michael Polley, in the TV film “Johann's Gift to Christmas” (1991) and guest starred in the Canadian anthology series “The Hidden Room” (1993). After leaving the show, she landed a small role on “Exotica” (1994), an acclaimed Canadian thriller produced, written and directed by Atom Egoyan. The film was nominated for 12 Genie Awards and won eight, including Best Motion Picture.

Polley made the successful transition to adult roles with the praised drama “The Sweet Hereafter” (1997), which received Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium. She nabbed awards and nominations for her performance in the film. Polley also contributed music to the song “The Sweet Hereafter” and received a Genie nomination for Best Original Song for her effort, which she shared with Mychael Danna.

Still in 1997, Polley played Rosemary in Thom Fitzgerald's drama “The Hanging Garden” and Butter in Clément Virgo's “The Planet of Junior Brown.” The following year, she won a Genie in the category of Best Performance in a Children's or Youth Program or Series for her portrayal of Lily in the Canadian series “Straight Up,” which ran on CBC from 1996 to 1998. She next costarred with Joe Mantegna, Sam Rockwell, Maury Chaykin, Ted Danson, Charles Durning, William H. Macy and Peter Riegert in the movie “Jerry and Tom” (1998), played Catherine Chapman in the TV film “White Lies” (1998), was cast in “Last Night” (1998) and starred in Audrey Wells' “Guinevere” (1998), opposite Stephen Rea, Jean Smart and Gina Gershon.

In 1999, Polley attracted attention with her portrayal of Ronna Martin in Doug Liman's hit comedy “Go.” Her acting received a Canadian Comedy award, an Independent Spirit nomination for Best Supporting Female, a Teen Choice nomination for Film - Breakout Performance, and a Chlotrudis nomination for Best Actress (also for her performance in “Guinevere”). The same year, she was reunited with Don McKeller in David Cronenberg's “eXistenZ,” where she portrayed his assistant, supported Catherine O'Hara and Joe Pantoliano in the Canadian movie “The Life Before This” and briefly returned to television with a guest spot in “Made in Canada.” It was also in 1999 that Polley made her directorial debut with the short “The Best Day of My Life,” which she also wrote. She also wrote and directed the short “Don't Think Twice” (1999).

Polley next acted in the award winning short “This Might Be Good,” the Clément Virgo drama “Love Come Down” (starred Larenz Tate and Deborah Cox) and John Greyson's “The Law of Enclosures.” She then offered memorable performances in Kathryn Bigelow's “The Weight of Water” and the Michael Winterbottom directed British western “The Claim” (all 2000). The following year, she starred in Hal Hartley's “No Such Thing,” opposite Helen Mirren, Julie Christie and Robert John Burke, and returned to the director's chair to helm the short “I Shout Love,” which she wrote. “I Shout Love” earned a Genie award for Best Live Action Short Drama, which she shared with producer Meredith Caplan and co-producer Jennifer Weiss.

After directing “All I Want for Christmas” (2002), Polley gained praise for her acting in the 2003 Canadian/Spanish film “My Life Without Me,” Isabel Coixet's adaptation of the book “Pretending the Bed Is a Raft” by Nanci Kincaid. Starring as Ann, a young wife and mother diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she won a Genie for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, a Chlotrudis for Best Actress, a Vancouver Film Critics Circle for Best Actress and a Goya nomination for Best Actress. 2003 also saw her in the films “The I Inside,” “The Event,” “Dermott's Quest” and “Luck.”

Polley next starred opposite Ving Rhames, Jake Weber and Mekhi Phifer in the Zack Snyder directed “Dawn of the Dead” (2004), a horror remake of George A. Romero's 1978 film of the same name. She was then featured as a pregnant girl in the Canadian drama “Sugar” (2004), played Tabby in the dark comedy “Siblings” (2004) and directed and wrote the episode “The Harp” of “The Shields Stories” (2004). She also had the noted supporting role of Sky in Wim Wender's “Don't Come Knocking” (2005), opposite Fairuza Balk, Gabriel Mann and Tim Roth, was teamed with Tim Robbins and Julie Christie for Isabel Coixet's “The Secret Life of Words” (2005), in which her portrayal of Hanna earned an European Film Academy nomination for Best European Actress, and had a featured role in Sturla Gunnarsson's “Beowulf & Grendel” (2005).

In 2006, Polley joined the cast of the Canadian series “Slings and Arrows” as Sophie. She also gained extensive recognition with “Away from Her” (2006), her feature film debut as both a director and writer. An adaptation of Alice Munro's short story “The Bear Came over the Mountain,” the movie, which starred Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent, earned good reviews from critics and was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Christie) and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published (Polley). Adding to her Oscar nomination, she won a Writers Guild of Canada Award, two Directors Guild of Canada Awards, three Genies for Best Achievement in Direction, Best Screenplay, Adapted, and a Claude Jutra Award, to name a few awards and nominations.

Back to acting, Polley portrayed the role of Nabby Adams in the HBO TV miniseries “John Adams” (2008), which was directed by Ton Hopper and starred Paul Giamatti. The miniseries won 13 Emmy Awards and 4 Golden Globe Awards, among other award and nominations. In 2009, she costarred with Jared Leto and Diane Kruger in “Mr. Nobody,” a dramatic film written and directed by Jaco Van Dormael. She then portrayed Elsa Kast in Vincenzo Natali's thriller “Splice.”

Polley will star as Hillary in the Canadian movie “Trigger” (2010). She will also return to the director's chair to helm Seth Rogen, Michelle Williams, Sarah Silverman, Aaron Abrams and Luke Kirby in the upcoming drama “Take This Waltz,” which is slated for a 2011 release. She also wrote the script and serves as a producer for the film.


  • Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA): Breakthrough Film Artist, “Away from Her,” 2008

  • Chlotrudis: Best Adapted Screenplay, “Away from Her,” 2008

  • Genie: Claude Jutra Award, “Away from Her,” 2008

  • Genie: Best Achievement in Direction, “Away from Her,” 2008

  • Genie: Best Screenplay, Adapted, “Away from Her,” 2008

  • Online Film Critics Society (OFCS): Breakthrough Filmmaker, “Away from Her,” 2008

  • Directors Guild of Canada: DGC Craft, Direction - Feature Film, “Away from Her,” 2007

  • Directors Guild of Canada: DGC Team Award, Feature Film, “Away from Her,” 2007

  • Los Angeles Film Critics Association: New Generation Award, “Away from Her,” 2007

  • New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC): Best First Film, “Away from Her,” 2007

  • Phoenix Film Critics Society (PFCS): Breakthrough Behind the Camera, “Away from Her,” 2007

  • Portland International Film Festival: Audience Award, “Away from Her,” 2007

  • San Francisco Film Critics Circle (SFFCC): Best Screenplay - Adapted, “Away from Her,” 2007

  • Sarasota Film Festival: Audience Award, Best in World Cinema, “Away from Her,” 2007

  • Sedona International Film Festival: Excellence in Filmmaking, “Away from Her,” 2007

  • Toronto Film Critics Association (TFCA): Best First Feature, “Away from Her,” 2007

  • Writers Guild of Canada (WGC): Feature Film, “Away from Her,” 2007

  • ACTRA: ACTRA Toronto Award of Excellence, 2006

  • Chlotrudis: Best Actress, “My Life Without Me,” 2004

  • Genie: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, “My Life Without Me,” 2004

  • Vancouver Film Critics Circle (VFCC): Best Actress - Canadian Film, “My Life Without Me,” 2004

  • Genie: Best Live Action Short Drama, “I Shout Love,” 2003

  • Canadian Comedy: Film - Performance - Female, “Go,” 2000

  • Gemini: Best Performance in a Children's or Youth Program or Series, “Straight Up,” 1998

  • Boston Society of Film Critics (BSFC): Best Supporting Actress, “The Sweet Hereafter,” 1997

  • National Board of Review (NBR): Best Acting by an Ensemble, “The Sweet Hereafter,” 1997

  • Gemini: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, “Lantern Hill,” 1992

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