Acting has been a part of Anna Pniowsky’s life for as long as she can remember. The Winnipeg, Manitoba native has always loved being creative, and performing is a means of expressing herself that she can’t in any other way. There is nothing else she can see herself doing in her life, and at only twelve-years-old, this determination, combined with raw talent, has earned her a career that many much older can only dream of.
The young actress is already recognized as one of her country’s best. Pniowsky has worked with some of the industry’s finest, and even at a young age, she can steal a scene. She has acted in high-profile television programs, such as The Gabby Douglas Story, telling the story of the young Olympian, as well as celebrated films, like the suspenseful thriller Wait ‘Til Helen Comes. In the new film horror film, He’s Out There, Pniowsky plays the pivotal role of the daughter, Kayla, who is trapped with her sibling and mother while being terrorized by the murderer. Yvonne Strahovski, who plays the mother in the film, says the young actress’ talent is far beyond her years.
"Anna is a dream to work with. She is professional, polite, talented and never complains, even if we are working into the wee hours of the night. It was an absolute delight to work with her,” said Strahovski, known for her work in The Handmaid’s Tale and Dexter. “Aside from her natural talent, Anna is a keen observer and has a hunger to keep learning. Often, she would be absorbing everything that was happening around her on set. You can see that she has that drive."
Most recently, Pniowsky co-starred with Oscar-winner Casey Affleck in the upcoming drama Light of My Life. The movie is written by, directed by, and stars Affleck, with Pniowsky playing his daughter Rag. It tells the story of a father and daughter who live on the outskirts of a society destroyed by a pandemic ten years prior. Almost the entire movie centers on Pniowsky and Affleck and the relationship between the two characters. This movie is a career-defining move for the young Pniowsky, and she is eager to once again show not only Canada, but the rest of the world, just how talented she is.
“This was an amazing project to work on. The story is so powerful and beautiful. Rag is a great character to play; she isn’t a cutesy girl, and she drives the story. She has so many emotions inside her as she is starting to grow up and see what it means to live in her world - longing, anger, strength, empowerment. Rag is intelligent and sharp, but still a young girl. She has never known a different life than what she is living, but she knows a different life once existed and she longs for that,” said Pniowsky.
Affleck chose Pniowsky specifically to play the pivotal role in his film, recognizing her talent immediately. The two felt extremely comfortable together the moment they started filming, making it easy to portray the father-daughter relationship believably. The father feels the need to protect Rag from the outside world, as she is extremely special. For the young actress, working alongside Affleck made it easier to bring out the best of such an intricate character.
“Casey is amazing to work with. I cannot say enough about him. He is a genius at his craft, so it was really incredible to watch what he brought to each take and to think about why he made certain choices. As a director, he challenged me to bring my best and to try different things. I felt totally safe making choices that weren’t ‘easy’; we developed a relationship of trust that allowed us both to dig deep into our emotions. Watching him work and working with him was like going to ‘acting university’,” Pniowsky described.
With the story focusing so much on just two characters, having mesmerizing performances was a must. This required a long rehearsal period before the shoot, and Pniowsky went a step further and learned the entire script before filming commenced, wanting to focus on being in character rather than remembering lines when the camera was on her. The shoot itself required a lot of physical challenges to overcome while working through snowstorms and record-setting rain; however, Pniowsky saw such obstacles as an asset. They helped her with building her character, as Rag would experience such conditions in her daily life. She consistently would remind herself what Rag would be living through – wanting things she was unable to have and wanting to express herself but unable to do so. This mindset is difficult for even the most seasoned actors to perfect, but at 12, Pniowsky does it with little effort.
With such a mature mentality, Pniowsky recognizes the story of the film is the true heart of the movie. The messages it conveys do not just apply to the dystopian world the story is set in, but life in general.
“There are so many layers to the story of this film. It is hard to really describe it without giving away a major part of the story, so I will just say that it has themes of inner strength, the bond between parent and child, and the fear that every parent has about trying to protect their children in a scary world,” she concluded.
Light of My Life will be released next year, and audiences can expect a critically-acclaimed and captivating performance from 12-year-old Pniowsky.
Photo by Paul Smith