Actress Brings To Life Silken’s Pain,Triumph
by Rick Forchuk
Times Colonist (Victoria,British Columbia,Canada)
June 26, 1996
Next month, Silken Laumann will put her oars in the water at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, in pursuit of the gold medal that eluded her so painfully in Barcelona in 1992.
Tonight on BCTV, thanks to a masterful performance by Nancy Anne Sakovich, we get to feel some of that pain as Golden Will: The Silken Laumann Story, plays out with realism and frankness far beyond that of many TV movies.
Although the agonizing leg injury suffered by Silken just 10 weeks before the last Olympics happened half a world away, for us it was a local story. When Silken moved here to train, she became part of the local landscape, and tonight’s film does a fine job of filling in all the blanks in her life prior to her arrival in the area.
Certainly for any performer, one of the most intimidating things that can be done is to play someone who is both famous and alive. Silken Laumann is both of those things, and Sakovich had her work cut out for her.
“I wanted to make my performance as much a tribute to Silken as possible,” Sakovich explained in a telephone interview from her home in the Toronto area.
“I hoped that I was able to capture her character … her essence. She was very open with me … . Often all I wanted to know was how she felt about a given situation.”
Some of those “given situations” may come as a surprise to fans of Silken Laumann. The film explores Silken’s home life in Mis-sissauga a life in which her East German-born mother Romi periodically disappeared from the family home for months on end, a life in which her parents’ relationship was unusual to say the least, and a life in which Silken’s intense competitive spirit jangled nerves and set off alarm bells in friends and associates.
“I wanted to be respectful of her privacy,” Sakovich said, “but I believe she couldn’t tell her story without showing these things what is in the movie about her relationships is very forthright.”
It’s a tribute both to Sakovich’s acting and Joy Fielding’s tight script that we very quickly get past the fact that Nancy is not Silken. Sakovich is in almost every scene in the movie, and 85 per cent of the time she did her own rowing “I had a rowing machine in my living room and practised three to four hours a day,” she said. She actually experienced firsthand some of what Silken faced cold, fatigue, aching muscles.
Carol Reynolds, the executive producer, confirms that Silken’s story will air in the U.S. on The Disney Channel, and that it has so far been sold to 45 countries around the world.
Of the casting of Sakovich, who most recently starred in Destiny Ridge, she said, “we wanted someone in whom people could suspend their disbelief. It’s a tough role for any actress, but she was fabulous. I’m totally impressed with her integrity on the screen.”
Silken’s accident is pivotal in the movie’s second half, and the realistic operating room scenes remind one of the The Operation on The Learning Channel. We flinch in pain as slivers the size of Popsicle sticks are pulled from Silken’s exposed muscle’ and bone, and we shrink away in fear as graft after graft is applied.
How Silken could exhibit such strength and courage is what drew Carol Reynolds to the story in the first place.
When approached by Silken’s manager about the story, Reynolds said, “I really needed to know her background and her motivation, so he set up a meeting, and Silken started to reveal her childhood and her childhood is difficult. I wanted to impart to a girl or boy in a similar situation that, like Silken, you can find something that’s yours focus on that, focus on your dreams, and you can achieve great things.”
Just getting the $2.2-million film made was a feat of Olympian proportions for Carol Reynolds. Rather than CBC or CTV as a major player, her chief partner in this venture was Ontario’s Baton Broadcasting in a rare foray into the risky movie business.Because of the relatively small Canadian marketplace, raising that kind of money isn’t easy, and it takes many partners to make a project come together. Money and resources for this one came from Baton, from the Cable Production Fund, Ontario Film Investment Program, Telefilm Canada, Rogers Telefilm and Alliance Communications.
All of this though doesn’t mean the movie is perfect. As Canadians across this country and in the U.S. watch, they may choose to marvel at the beautiful sunrises on Canada’s west coast as Silken plies the waters in and around Victoria. But we aren’t fooled. We can tell Elk Lake from Ontario.
Over all, this is a tale of dedication and courage. And it’s a perfect sendoff for Silken who has been training in Atlanta for some time.