Love and war are the two most prevalent themes in cinema. Perhaps that is because everyone has been touched by one of these factors, all too often by both. The later makes for great action and outrage; portraying the humanity and inspiring sympathy for those on the unpopular side of history can often be a herculean task. Linzee Barclay understands this very well. In 2015’s HOMEFRONT she plays Elisabeth; a mother, wife, and German caught in the middle of one of World War II’s worst battles. The film had many lofty goals, not the least of which was being a bi-lingual with both English and German dialogue. HOMEFRONT won Best Picture, Best Sound, and Best Production Design (as well as nominations for Best Director and People’s Choice) at the Sheridan Screen Art Awards in addition to being screened at the Oakville Film and Arts Festival and the 2015 Buffer Film Festival in Toronto.
The setting of HOMEFRONT is the Ardennes Forest and also the location of WWII’s “Battle of the Bulge.” The film is less about this pivotal confrontation between German, Russian, British, and American forces than the war’s toll on the people in the Ardennes. 1944 was several years into the war and less than a year before its recognized conclusion. All sides had been exhausted and had recognized their losses. For Linzee’s character Elizabeth, it was the realization of many things. Exhausted by a long war, she understood that the war had only brought destruction to her country and her family. Her husband was likely dead and there was danger all around her and her son. When a wounded American soldier finds his way to her home, with an SS officer on his heels; Elisabeth and her son Fritz (played by C.J. Dube) are convinced to protect him at their likely personal peril. Finding the caring and altruistic side of a likely former Nazi sympathizer is not an easy goal for any actress. HOMEFRONT writer and director Jamie Banks confirms that Linzee was an obvious choice for the role of Elizabeth stating, “She just blew me away in casting. Linzee can convey so much with just her face. In real life she is bubbly, outgoing, funny, yet when she became Elisabeth she truly was a different person. She executed the German Dialogue so flawlessly that even Germans were praising the German dialogue in the film. Linzee is extremely intelligent. This allows her to see what makes a character unique. I immediately knew that she was our Elisabeth.”
The intensity of the storyline needed to be matched in the actor’s performances. Producer Sarah Thompson was looking for something strong, convincing, and understated in Elisabeth. Although Barclay’s execution of the dialogue was impressive, Thompson was looking for an unspoken sense of depth and intensity. Sarah notes, “Linzee brought an entirely new side to Elisabeth that was not on paper. The physicality and mannerisms that she introduced played a huge part in the audience’s reaction to her. The amount of passion and emotion she gave off with just a look sold us. Her eyes said it all. Her interpretation from just the sides let us know that she would give us endless possibilities.”
HOMFRONT may be a war film but it doesn’t glorify war. Rather than an encouraging tale, the film depicts how some people lose the ability to care for others and the desperation with which others cling to it. As a mother who takes part in a ruse to protect a wounded soldier who is by definition at the time, the enemy; Elisabeth protects the American in an attempt to cling to her good side, while risking her own life. Above it all is her goal to protect her son. Barclay’s convincing portrayal brings the viewer to challenge the dichotomous relationship of what historical propaganda may tell us about someone and human nature itself. Jamie Banks attributes much of the film’s success to Linzee stating, “Linzee provided an intense emotional authenticity to the film that allowed it to succeed. In a very real way, she made the film. Any of the intense emotions a viewer feels are channeled through Linzee. She draws you into the film and makes the danger real. She makes you think, ‘God, she’s in a dangerous situation!’ In any period piece, immersion is crucial, and Linzee provided that immersion for our film.”
Barclay has been a part of many award-winning films and television presentations including The Real Inglorious Bastards which won a 2014 Canadian Screen Award & an Official Selection at the Cornwall Film Festival for Frontier. The Screen Media Award which HOMEFRONT received was particularly meaningful to her. The actress explains, “Elisabeth was very special to me. There are things about her that we can all relate to like loving your family and wanting to protect them. It was the differences that we don’t all share that are the joy of discovering and portraying a character like her. I’ve studied a lot about history of that time and women’s roles in Nazi Germany. My knowledge of the German language was obviously a major asset but, to challenge the stereotype of someone like Elisabeth can be a great discovery. I had to be very specific with her body language and the physical approach to her. The key to it is to finding the humanity. Everyone is flawed in some respect. When a character seemingly ‘wins’ in a story, they are also ultimately losing something dear to them. One just takes precedence over the other.”
Although it wasn’t “method producing” or method acting; the film’s location, in a cabin, in Canada, in the dead of winter…obviously aided the cast of Rylan Wilkie, Mike Koras, and CJ Dube in accessing the harsh message of the storyline. Linzee confesses, “On the third night around 3am actor Rylan Wilkie (who played a very convincingly intimidating SS Soldier) and I got a case of the giggles during a take and couldn’t shake them for a bit. Unfortunately for him, he was standing outside in the dead of winter waiting on an apple box to come in to the cabin and I couldn’t open the door without laughing at him. Yet, when it was time to bring the emotional gravitas of the character to the scene, Barclay was always prepared. Producer Sarah Thompson confirms, “Linzee’s portrayal of Elisabeth and the raw emotion she brought to the film is one of the main reasons the film had such a strong reaction from audiences. The way she openly wept while holding her son at the end sent chills through people’s backs and left a lasting impression that could not be shaken.”
Within days of wrapping HOMEFRONT, Linzee was cast as Sharlene in the CW series Reign. Her portrayal of this sassy, cockney harlot, in many ways the comedic relief of the series, is in sharp contrast to Elisabeth and the weight of her circumstances. Both characters are equally convincing in the hand of this adept actress. Also in Linzee’s immediate future is her appearance on the CBC TV series Murdoch Mysteries. This Canadian actress continues to cross character borders and national borders with a variety of productions, following her muse as fans follow her career.