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Sofia Vassilieva on My Sisterís Keeper

Published June 23, 2009 in Movie Interviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of New Line Cinema
Sofia Vassilieva plays a teenager dying of Leukemia in My Sister’s Keeper. It may sound like a standard tear jerker, but there is a little more going on. The film explores the effects on each family member and everyone’s unique perspective on it, including the patient’s.

Sofia Vassilieva Plays the Sister


“For me, the strength of Kate was to be able to let go and be the first one in the family to say, ‘Look, this is going to happen and it’s time. It’s been 14 years of being sick, and you need to let go,” Vassilieva said. “Off camera, I’d be crying hysterically between every take. I’d be like, ‘I can’t do it!’ [Director] Nick [Cassavetes] would be like, ‘Okay, you have to do this,’ and off we’d go. The journey for me was that balance of letting go, and then being scared to my wit’s end. We’re so separate and so together, at the same time. You feel for every single one of these characters. You can stand by every single one of them and understand why every single person is being the way they are. You can really get into their mind-set.”

Playing the cancer patient meant a complete physical transformation, including weight loss and head shaving, plus makeup applications. “One day, when we were doing a screen test beforehand, we had just done one where it was the wig when the hair was falling out and it was the very beginning of it all. I remember I came into the trailer and I was hysterical. It was so hard to see yourself like that, and it was so hard to envision other people going through that, and that’s something that happens every single day. The two things that made that moment better were that Cammy [Diaz] and my mom were there, and they both fled in, when I was sitting in that chair, crying. I think that it let me see myself in a different light, being so new and pure, and having a completely fresh start. At 15, I wasn’t conformed to any idea of myself.”


My Sister's KeeperMy Sister's Keeper

My Sister's KeeperMy Sister's Keeper


My Sister's KeeperMy Sister's Keeper

Vassilieva also had real survivors and patients on her side, helping her achieve authenticity. “I had met with cancer patients and doctors, and visited City of Hope. We all fell in love with a few incredible kids, including Nicole, Paul and Kelsey. They really were there, on a daily basis, to be a guide and a reference point, and lead the way. One of my very big concerns, after having met with Nicole, was how is this movie going to affect those who have gone through it and who’ve lived this, day in and day out. She was my guiding light. And so, I sat down with her and said, ‘You’ve been through this, you’ve seen this, you know this firsthand. How can you go see it?’ And, she looked at me and told me that we’d be telling the story of these people and these families. When people’s stories are told, it’s always very important to give that lesson that they’ve learned and the stories that they’ve lived. She told me, ‘You go do them justice. You go show these people what lives are like. Don’t shy away from hiding it, or being overly kind. Show the reality of it because that’s what it was.’ We’re not a family, we’re not related, we weren’t going through it, but I felt pretty confident that we did everything in our power and pushed every line we could to create this story, to honor it, and to create relationships that would make it significantly real and important.”

In between takes, Vassilieva and her costars tried to raise each other’s spirits. “Being in that condition was incredibly difficult. I don’t think there are words to describe it. I felt very isolated. Even though you’re the strength of the family and you’re telling them everything’s going to be okay, whether you’re here or not, you have to separate yourself from this world. You have to cut that off, and still be a part of it. So, in a way, I felt very alone. But, we did balance all of that nightmare that we were going through. There would be days when we’d have the most powerful scenes of the film and, when we were shooting, we would be going through that, over and over again. And then, we’d cut and we’d be telling ridiculous jokes that I still can’t bring up, to this day. So, the strength of the people around me, Nick, Abby, Cammy, Jason [Patric] and the whole family, was such a strong unit, outside of the film, and they gave me strength.”

My Sister's Keeper opens to theaters on June 26th.

For the trailer and more movie info, go to the My Sister's Keeper Movie Page.

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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of New Line Cinema
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