Sophia Vassilieva © Warner Bros
Sophia Vassilieva © Warner Bros

Actress Sophia Vassilieva is about to start shooting her fifth season of TV’s Medium as Ariel Dubois, a role for which she won the Young Artist Award for Best Performance in a TV Series (Drama). But nothing she does on that show, portraying a young girl handling mysterious psychic gifts, could prepare her to play Kate, who is dying of cancer…

How did you feel the first time you looked in the mirror and saw yourself in this character?

Sophia Vassilieva © Warner Bros

One day, when we were doing a screen test beforehand, we had just done one where it was the wig when the hair was falling out and it was the very beginning of it all, I remember I came into the trailer and I was hysterical. It was so hard to see yourself like that, and it was so hard to envision other people going through that, and that’s something that happens every single day. The two things that made that moment better were that Cameron and my mom were there, and they both fled in, when I was sitting in that chair crying. I think that it let me see myself in a different light, being so new and pure, and having a completely fresh start. At 15, I wasn’t conformed to any idea of myself.

What did you do in between takes to raise your spirits?

Abigail Breslin and Sophia Vassilieva © Warner Bros

Being in that condition was incredibly difficult. I don’t think there are words to describe it. I felt very isolated. Even though you’re the strength of the family and you’re telling them everything’s going to be okay, whether you’re here or not, you have to separate yourself from this world. You have to cut that off, and still be a part of it. So, in a way, I felt very alone. But, we did balance that nightmare that we were going through. There would be days when we’d be shooting the most powerful scenes of the film, and we’d cut and we’d be telling ridiculous jokes that I still can’t bring up to this day. So, the strength of the people around me, Nick [Cassavetes, the movie’s director], Abby [Breslin], Cammy, and the whole family,  was such a strong unit, outside of the film, and they gave me strength.

Can you talk about feeling a connection with people who have actually gone through this, and how difficult it will be for someone who has had a family member go through this, or has a personal experience with it?

One of my very big concerns, after having met with Nicole [a 16-year-old cancer survivor who was a technical advisor on the movie] I was worried how this movie was going to affect those who have gone through it and who’ve lived this, day in and day out. She was my guiding light. I sat down with her and said, “You’ve been through this, you know this firsthand. How can you go see it?” And, she looked at me and told me that we’d be telling the story of these people and these families. When people’s stories are told, it’s always very important to give that lesson that they’ve learned and the stories that they’ve lived. She told me, “You go do them justice. You go show these people what lives are like. Don’t shy away from hiding it, or being overly kind. Show the reality of it, because that’s what it was.”

After making this film, have you thought about becoming an advocate for the cause?

I’m an honorary ambassador for Stand Up To Cancer. And, I recently took a trip to Memphis and visited the kids in the hospital, and really learned about this incredible facility, founded by Danny Thomas, that really, surprisingly goes all the way. They don’t just care about the child. If you can’t cover your medical expenses, they’ll do it for you. They care about the family, to a point where, when you have bone marrow aspirations and you’re getting transplants and you’re in isolation for weeks on end, they create a room next door for your parents with a shower and a couch, and they really make sure that everybody’s okay.

What are you grateful for in your own life, and what makes you happy?

I guess I’m grateful for the experiences that I’ve gone through, and finding a niche that I feel comfortable in so early on; working with incredible people who become your family and become so supportive, and become a foundation. And, the people I’ve come across, the incredible stories that I’ve heard and the relationships that I’ve built.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.