Sometimes when things go wrong it can be very right. Consider Alexandra Harris. By all accounts people who know her consider her to be very positive and upbeat. There’s no implication of a duplicitous nature in regards to Harris but, opposites can play very well in cinema. As an acclaimed actress in a wide variety of productions, she exhibits all of the acting skill of the notable peers in her industry. The filmmakers of Missed Connections wanted to use Alexandra’s inherent goodness to drive a less amiable character in this production. Missed Connections is a Zero Film Festival Award-winner and was screened at esteemed events like the Raindance Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival. The protagonist of the film is Jamie (played by Joseph Cappellazzi), a man who gets ruthlessly dumped by his girlfriend Sophie (played by Harris). The fallout and aftermath leave him incredibly heartbroken and bitter. In an attempt to get back at the world (and to satiate his friends who tell him to start dating) he begins responding to the “Missed Connections” section of the paper, showing up to dates pretending to be the desired person…with less than fantastic results. Through this process, Jamie actually meets a girl he likes, Emma (played by Rebecca Perfect), and then has to come clean about what he’s done. Even more conflict arises when Jamie must decide whether he’s going to keep trying to get back together with Sophie or move on with someone new.
As Sophie, Jamie ex-girlfriend, Harris is cold but not completely unrelatable. Jamie has some maturing to do and the inherent likability which Alexandra possesses makes the audience question whether some of the blame falls upon his shoulders. It’s precisely because of this quality that Rory O’Donnell (casting director on Missed Connections) was adamant that Alexandra would bring depth to the character of Sophie. O’Donnell professes, “I knew she’d be a great fit. Here we were in London, with all these serious Brits and this bright bubbly American (yes, yes, I know she’s Canadian) came bouncing in and just sort of blew us all away. As a casting director, that’s what you hope for. She’s just very, very good, and very easy to work with. It’s quite simple really. She doesn’t make the production about herself and is able to roll with whatever punches may come her way.”
Sophie has left Jamie bitter and heartbroken but instead of taking responsibility for his part in the failed relationship, he goes about trying to blame other people. Understanding that her portrayal could easily sway the view of Sophie in the eyes of the audience, Harris took care to present her as someone whom the audience could project their own ideas onto. She relates, “I saw Sophie as one of those girls with a five-year plan. The type of girl who knew where she wanted to be and was constantly evaluating herself and those around her to make sure she was on her way to achieving it. There’s nothing wrong with that but I think sometimes it makes people less flexible with the those who are in their lives. Sophie would describe herself as ‘career oriented’ for sure.”
While her performance is magnetic in Missed Connections, there were a few substantial hurdles for ALexandra to overcome in being cast for the film. It seemed highly unlikely that she would be Sophie in this production. Chris Presswell (writer and director of Missed Connections) confirms, “When Rory O’Donnell (our casting director) read the script, he thought Alexandra would be great for Jamie’s love interest (Emma), however, I wanted to keep the cast British as it was supposed to be a British comedy. When Alexandra came in for a read through, I knew I wanted her in the film somehow. She’s such a talented actor, and also a genuinely good and decent person; the perfect combination. Rather than Emma, I liked the idea of her for Sophie (Jamie’s ex-girlfriend) because I knew she’d bring some vulnerability and depth to her. While Sophie’s technically the bad guy of the story, it’s boring if the audience flat out hates her; casting Alexandra was the perfect solution to that. It’s pretty hard to hate her. She’s also very fun to have on set and all that positivity was needed when shooting during the British winter as it gets dark at 4pm!”
To hear Harris tell it, the audition wasn’t as much of a cinch as the director implies. It is a testament to her abilities that an early misstep during the audition did not derail Presswell’s desire to use her in the film. It’s often said that bad choices lead to great stories and this aptly applies to Alexandra’s initial choice in the audition. Ever self-effacing, she reveals, “When I was called in, it was for Jamie’s love interest, Emma. Rory had told me it was supposed to be a British dark comedy, so I thought ‘Right, I’ll be British then.’ Keep in mind, I had only been living in the UK for about 6 months and was still under the impression that all British people sounded like Hugh Grant. I’d also never performed with a British accent (I played an American in The Last Man, which Rory had cast me in pretty much as soon as I arrived in the UK). I went in and did THE WORST British accent. It was cringe worthy. Chris was so polite and kept a straight face but I remember Rory just looking horrified. He was nice enough to take me aside and say gently ‘Why don’t you try it with your American accent.’ which I then did. I immediately felt the energy in the room change. Both Chris and Rory relaxed a lot! That experience is something that the two of them still tease me about to this day. The positive result was that I started taking accent work seriously, studying with a teacher and performing as a Brit towards the end of my time living there. I remember being so proud to invite Chris to my performance of ‘The Cherry Orchard’ where I was playing a British Charlotta and afterwards I questioned him and he just looked at me and said “Well, Alex, I’ll give it to you, for a second I thought you were British, but I’ll never forget your Emma”. It’s true what they say, first impressions are real!”
Missed Connections was Alexandra’s first time shooting in London and second time filming in the UK. Her first British film, The Last Man, was shot in the woods outside of London in Essex. Filming in London proper is a much different experience than in Essex, her Canadian homeland, or even Hollywood. The Brits are some of the best actors in the world and Harris took every advantage to soak up the experience of the unique British approach. UK productions are more grass roots and unpolished compared to other film centers, on purpose. The feeling on UK shoots of “we’re all in this together” permeates all levels of production. This lack of hierarchy was something to which Harris was unaccustomed but welcomed. This however does not mean that it was any less challenging. The actress notes, “Chris [Presswell] is soooo British. When I say that, I mean that he doesn’t’t suffer fools and really doesn’t overpraise. When he offers a compliment, it’s genuine and it means a lot. We were on the same page from the beginning so we didn’t’t have to talk about the character too much. I would say ‘I’ve been that girlfriend’ and he would say ‘I’ve dated that girl’ so we knew where to go from there. We knew we didn’t want Sophie to be a bitch but rather someone who was at their ropes end.”
The short days and the brutal London winter temperature were unsuccessful in squelching Alexandra’s well-known positivity. Through her performance and a shrewd stroke of casting, she presented Sophie as an emotionally complex character. What might have originally been a secondary antagonist for this film became a stand-out character which captivated audiences. Mentioning how being different was a prominent facet of her character and her involvement in Missed Connections, Harris recalls, “It became the running joke on set that I had to be called the ‘evil American’ because Canadian’s can’t be mean; however, I think my character proved them wrong.”