Nanaimo child actor Hannah Zirke’s recent roles are a far cry from her recurring work on the Hallmark Channel’s When Calls the Heart.
This spring the 13-year-old wrapped up filming a pair of more dramatic, mature productions. In March she spent a day on the Langley set of the Twentieth Century Fox film Bad Times at the El Royale, a star-studded crime thriller featuring the likes of Jeff Bridges, Chris Hemsworth, Jon Hamm and Dakota Johnson. In the film Zirke portrays a young Johnson. The film comes to theatres Oct. 5.
In May Hannah filmed what her mother Sarah describes as “the first role where she’s actually getting more lines and it’s more of a real character.”
That role is for the upcoming series Sacred Lies, spearheaded by two of the producers behind HBO’s vampire drama True Blood and broadcast on Facebook’s new Facebook Watch streaming service. The program is planned to be an anthology series, with each season containing a single story.
Season 1 follows a teenage girl without hands who has information about who killed her cult leader. The program is based on American young adult novelist Stephanie Oakes’ Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly and the Grimm Brothers story The Handless Maiden.
Hannah plays the girl’s sister. She said it’s a “juicy” role.
“I really like being a character that has a very big personality, a wide personality. She’s a character,” Hannah said.
Auditioning for the role was a challenge. Hannah had to cry during the audition, while simultaneously pushing through a cold. Despite the distraction, she refused to have her lines in front of her to prove that she had the material memorized.
“I was so focused on not coughing because, you know that itch in your throat when you’re about to cough? I had that the whole entire time and I was almost shaking because I wanted to cough so much,” she recalled.
Sarah said Hannah’s strength lies in drama, and the young actor brings extra enthusiasm to those kinds of auditions and in this case, it paid off.
As the audition suggested, Hannah was required to shed a few tears in her performance and they had the technology to keep her weeping, including a tear-inducing gel and the “tear blower,” which pumps a menthol irritant into one’s eye.
“It’s like, you know when somebody’s chewing really minty gum and then they talk to you right in your face and it gets in your eyes? Well it’s kind of like that…” Hannah said.
“I didn’t want it at first because I wanted the crying to be genuine, but I did end up getting it after a while because after a while you can’t cry anymore.”
She said one scene was “so depressingly creepy” that she didn’t need help crying.
Sarah said while there are sometimes mature or creepy themes that come up in Hannah’s work, it provides an opportunity for discussion.
“I feel like you should expose children, not to bad things, but you shouldn’t shield them from it because they’re going to be exposed to it sooner or later,” Hannah said.