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Copyright 2003 Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd.
March 7, 2003 Friday Ontario Edition
SECTION: ENTERTAINMENT; Pg. B03
LENGTH: 753 words
HEADLINE: Val & Deb deliver the unexpected
BYLINE: Rita Zekas
Wanna talk Method acting?
Robert DeNiro put on 50 pounds to play Jake La Motta in Raging Bull.
That's water retention compared to Valerie Buhagiar. Buhagiar wasn't even enceinte in January 2001 when she was cast as the pregnant lead of Expecting, opening today. But when the movie was shot in September 2001, she was eight months along. She is now the mother of Nazareno, her 15-month-old baby boy.
"I got the part in January and for Valentine's Day, I went to Cuba with Steve (Andrews, her partner) - rum, Cuban music, all that stuff, that did it," she laughs over lunch at Kit Kat.
Expecting director Deborah Day wasn't with child when she was shooting; she got pregnant during the editing process. It must have been a contagious set. Day's daughter, Adrienne, was born three weeks ago, weighing in at 10 1/2 pounds. Adrienne's daddy, Graham Holt, is 6-foot-4.
In the film, Buhagiar plays performance artist Stephanie, a flamboyant free spirit about to give birth at home surrounded by a circle of friends and prospective fathers. As Day describes it, Angela Gei, one of the film's co-stars as well as an associate producer (as is Buhagiar), came up with the concept.
"I thought, omigawd what a perfect scenario with an automatic climax naturally built in," says Day, multi tasking and nursing Adrienne over lunch.
The film starts off with a bang, "a sex-a-thon" between Stephanie and the putative father. Tina Brown put a naked and heavily pregnant albeit body-painted Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair. Expecting's sex scene took matters further.
"Where that came from," explains Day, "was a combination of, as anybody who's pregnant knows, a woman's libido is heightened."
"Yeah," Buhagiar laughs, "I'd get home, go to my bedroom and yell, 'Steeeeeve.'"
"I was really struck by that Vanity Fair image of Demi Moore," Day continues. "And The Vagina Monologues, the last monologue of Eve Ensler's when she talks about being present at the birth of her granddaughter and the miracle of womanhood. That, I thought about in January before we started. How come we never celebrate this?"
Day had the actors - an impressive ensemble including Colin Mochrie, Debra McGrath, Karl Pruner and Barbara Radecki - improvise their dialogue.
"The one caveat I have to say about the improv," qualifies Day, "is that it was very structured improv. There was a very distinct outline and a map. I never let them rehearse what was being shot; I let them rehearse the back-story. All of the dialogue was very organic to the characters, eh, Val?"
"Yes," Buhagiar concurs, "we had months of prep as actors to create our characters - every little detail, so once we were on set, we didn't have to stop and think 'hey, did I sleep with you?'"
Who didn't Steph sleep with?
"Everyone except for Anita (McGrath's character)," Buhagiar jokes.
Mochrie and McGrath, married in real life, play exes in the film. "They are very generous as actors," Buhagiar testifies. "I hadn't done a lot of improv - just for theatre but never for film, so I was pretty nervous on the first day of our workshop rehearsals. And then you have the king and queen of improv (Mochrie and McGrath) and then I got there and I felt so safe, they were so warm."
"We had so much fun. We laughed so hard, someone peed their pants on camera - and not the pregnant one."
She shall remain nameless.
"People go on about how naked and how brave I am," Buhagiar reflects, but I got to take charge. I made those choices with Deb Day that Stephanie would do that and she is totally in her body. I picked those moments where she would take her clothes off. It wasn't because I was pleasing somebody else, a male partner or anything, I was pleasing myself."
"And the thing was, this project is so compelling to the women," Day adds, "they were all in lead roles playing charismatic and real characters."
Moreover, the film appeals to both men and women. "Val's biggest fans," says Day, "have been film students, quirky 19-year-old boys at film festivals."
"Pregnant women are going to be the sexy fashion thing or something," Buhagiar laughs.
Yeah, the new little black dress.