Impact: The Berlinale discovery has been winning awards for her gender-bending role in “Tomboy.”
Next: Heran is focused on school for now, but hopes to act again.
Imagine “Boys Don’t Cry” with 10-year-olds. In “Tomboy,” a girl uses her family’s recent move to reinvent herself as a boy to her new group of friends. Such a scenario would be challenging for any actress, but factor the character’s age into the equation, and it’s no wonder “Tomboy” has been collecting prizes on the fest circuit since its February debut in Berlin, where the film earned the GLBT-focused Teddy jury award.
Working on a tight deadline, director Celine Sciamma knew the film would work only if she found a child actress capable of pulling off the character’s transformation. “What I normally would have done is something we call ‘casting sauvage,’ which is searching in the streets, school theaters and so on. This time, I only had three weeks to complete the casting,” she says. “I spread the word that I was looking for a girl who looked like a boy, and the word came back that there was this special little girl who was not working much because she did not look like the others.”
Sciamma knew she’d found her tomboy when Zoe Heran came in for the first day of auditions, despite the fact the actress showed up with long hair and girlie clothes. “The thing I wanted but didn’t expect to get is how intense she is. That’s hard to picture for a kid. Even when she’s doing nothing, something is happening,” says Sciamma, who gave Heran a boyish haircut a month before shooting so the actress could start playing with her new identity. “To get the right performance, you have to make it all a big game, and that was really the spirit on the set.”