It is rare - and downright refreshing - to interview someone with no filter.
Most people in the movie business are loath to share details of their personal lives. Not Newfoundland-born writer/director Adriana Maggs, who can't help but dish about her private life - primarily, she figures, because "I have no boundaries."
Thus, in the first 25 minutes of meeting the 34-year-old brunette, we know that she and her partner (with whom she has a five-year-old son, Billy) just split; that she has another eight-year-old son, Owen, with a different beau; that she was devastated when her debut feature film, Grown Up Movie Star, was turned down by the Toronto International Film Festival; and that all those factors prompted her to get a grip on her life last summer and seek therapy.
"It felt like everything was collapsing at once - the film didn't get into Toronto, my boyfriend and I were splitting up and I thought my movie was going to end up on a shelf somewhere," Maggs says. "I had to fix things about my life. So I slowed down, took stock, and things started to kind of go right."
In November, she was one of the surprise Gemini winners for the short-lived CMT comedy Three Chords From The Truth. In December, she found out that Grown Up Movie Star had been accepted into the world cinema competition at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where its big premiere will be at the Egyptian Theatre Jan. 25. Better yet, the film has five screenings during the 10-day festival, all but one of which are sold out.
"Things have happened this year that have made me believe in God 100 per cent," Maggs says. Speaking about her film in Toronto, where she moved from St. John's in 2006, Maggs is dressed in head-to-toe black and sports fishnet stockings under a tight skirt slit up the back to panty level. Ample bosom is also on display, and she readily admits that she has always been a fan of low-cut, well, anything.
"My friend told me recently I was getting to an age where I can't wear cleavage like that any more," she says with a giggle. "I choose to ignore her."
Maggs's film, starring Newfoundland native Shawn Doyle and Regina's Tatiana Maslany, is as blunt and honest as its maker. It revolves around Ruby (Maslany), a teenager whose mom has run off and whose father (Doyle) is a flamed-out National Hockey League player beginning to come out of the closet after years in an unhappy marriage.
Tragic and touching, the film uses earthy humour to confront some chilling truths about sexuality, friendship and family. Maggs says the film had to be shot in her home province - it was filmed on a shoestring budget in Flat Rock, Nfld. - because "Newfoundlanders are naturally adept at finding beauty and humour in tragic circumstances."
"A lot of the film are themes I've dealt with in my life," adds Maggs, who grew up in Corner Brook. "And a lot of the characters are based on real people. But no, my dad is not gay, God love him. The film is simply a fictionalized journey and exploration of real life, as I saw it around me growing up."
As much as she drew on real life, though, Maggs says her goal wasn't to "represent" Newfoundland: "Look, George Costanza doesn't represent all New Yorkers. So why do we put this pressure on our films in Canada - or in Newfoundland - to represent all Newfoundlanders?."
The way Maggs draws on Newfoundland to get at shared experiences is part of what appealed to her male lead. Born in Wabush, Labrador, Shawn Doyle had been approached many times to return to the region to act in film and television. But he had always resisted - until he read Maggs's script.
"It had that kind of universality that is similar to Irish films like The Commitments," he says on the phone from Los Angeles, where he is currently in the HBO series Big Love, before returning to Toronto to play Sir John A. Macdonald in a TV movie for the CBC. "And the reason it had that universality is because it is so specific to an area. It's not trying to be anywhere else."
Maggs's comfort with both where she comes from and her artistic bent can be partly explained by her family. Her dad is a retired English professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland and just published a book of poetry. Her brother, David, is a classical pianist who spends part of the year as artistic director of the Gros Morne Summer Music festival. Her sister, Jane, is an actor and playwright.
"I think we all gravitated to the arts because we grew up around a lot of artistic people," Jane says.
Maggs is also part of a pack of up-and-coming young Newfoundland artists. They include her friend Sherry White, the creator of the film Crackie, and Allan Hawko, who shot his new CBC series Republic of Doyle in Newfoundland.
As for Sundance, late last week Maggs was settling into a chalet with some of the female cast and crew of Grown Up Movie Star while her sister took care of her kids. Reached on her cellphone, she reported that it had started to snow and she was "on the hunt for celebrities."
Grown Up Movie Star will be released in select Canadian theatres on Jan. 29.