‘Ottawa’ Q&A: Ottawa Actress Sarah Fisher Depicts Best Friend’s Cancer Struggle in Kiss and Cry
Ottawa-born actress Sarah Fisher remembers the first time she saw Carley Allison, singing with her guitar at a lunch-hour open mic at Toronto’s Bayview Glen high school.
Allison, two grades Fisher’s junior, was an aspiring singer and an elite-level figure skater who at age 17 was diagnosed with a cancer so rare there was only one other person in the world who had it. She would battle the disease for two years, continuing to skate, twice singing O Canada before Toronto Maple Leaf games and inspiring thousands with her irrepressible optimism. Allison died in March 2015. Now, Fisher stars as her friend in the feature film Kiss and Cry, which premieres in Ottawa on March 23 at the Mayfair Theatre. The movie showing and a post-screening Q&A with the cast and crew is a fundraiser for the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation.
Fisher, who will attend Thursday’s screening, spoke to the Citizen’s Blair Crawford from Los Angeles about what it was like to play her best friend on the big screen.
Q: You not only play the lead in the movie, but this is a story you pitched as well, right?
A: I did a feature film with an amazing producer and director, Sean Cisterna. We loved working together and he said ‘If you want to do something else together, I’d be interested.’ I thought, ‘If I’m going to tell any story, I want it to be an inspiring story.’ And the first person I think of for inspiration is Carley Allison.
I told him ‘I have the best story you’ll ever hear. I’m going to come and give you an elevator pitch.’ We ended up talking for 2 1/2 hours. Within a year, we had a feature film.
Q: Let’s back up a bit. Tell us about your friendship with Carley.
A: I remember so clearly the first time I saw her. She was an incredible performer, an incredible athlete. I saw this little, perfect, gorgeous blonde girl get up with her guitar. It was almost like she had this physical brightness beaming from her. We became very, very good friends. Great friends.
Q: What was it like for you when you learned Carley had been diagnosed with cancer?
A: There’s so much that you learn when you watch someone you love deal with cancer. She was diagnosed at 17 years old and the way she dealt with it — she had a smile on her face every time I went to see her. Everyone jumps to the conclusion that the whole situation was sad. But every time I was with Carley, we were just laughing. It wasn’t a sad experience because she wouldn’t let it be one. If you were sad, she’d tell you to leave the room.
Q: There must have been hard times. Was she open with you about the difficult things?
A: It was very hard to even know how she was feeling. It was never about cancer when I was with her. I really had to push her: ‘How are you really feeling? Can I do anything for you?’ She never wanted anyone to feel sad. She knows how hard it is for everyone around her to see someone you love in that position.
She felt she was the one who was chosen and thrown at this new world of having to deal with cancer and chemo and radiation. Carley has changed my life. You see people who take life for granted, (but) if you’re healthy, you should be so happy. You have so much already going for you. You can do anything.
Q: What did the two of you talk about?
A: lot of people don’t know how to respond or be around someone they love who has a scary illness, so we would speak about that. How do you react? What do you say when your best friend is going through a one-in-3.5-billion disease? But Carley made it such a happy, warm loving environment for the people around her because that’s what she wanted.
Q: When you played her role in the movie, do you tackle the harder things in addition to her optimism and joyousness?
A: We did want to make sure we covered that. She and her boyfriend went to see a movie about two people with cancer (The Fault in Our Stars). When it was over, she looked at him and said, ‘It was good, but our story is so much better.’
But she also said she found the actors in the movie who were playing cancer patients didn’t look sick. She thought, that’s not what you look like. That’s not how you feel. She said (the actress) had all her hair, she had her eyebrows. So we wanted to make sure this movie is realistic to what cancer was like for Carley and what cancer is like for most patients. When I was healthy we added small extra eyelashes and when I was sick we got rid of them. I dyed my eyebrows to get rid of them when I was going through chemo. We made sure you see the many moments that are so hard and so difficult to deal with when you’re going through cancer. We have a scene where she tries on her prom dress after she’s gone through chemo. You can see how she reacts when she sees how much weight she’s lost.
Q: This is the question you’ve been asked a hundred times. How hard was it to play your best friend in a movie?
A: Every time people ask they say it must have been so hard. I always say, ‘Look at what Carley did.’ Yes, there were scenes that were emotional, but when we think of Carley we really don’t think of cancer. That’s not what she left us thinking about.
It was trying to get into her mindset of how Carley was feeling when everyone left the room. Carley made sure we all believed she was OK and everything was good and she was feeling great, even though most of the time she wasn’t. She chose to make all of us feel happy. So as an actress trying to bring that to life, you have to think, even after Mom and Dad go to bed, what was she feeling at that point, when there was no one in front of her to make happy? That was hard. That was a lot of work.
Kiss and Cry plays Thursday, March 23 at the Mayfair Theatre, 1074 Bank St. Doors open at 6 p.m., with the screening at 6:30 p.m., followed by a Q&A with Sarah Fisher and other crew members. The screening is a fundraiser for the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation.