Young Toronto based actor, Eponine Lee is one we all should keep an eye on. Born and raised in Toronto, the grade 7 student is already gaining the attention of arts and film lovers in our city…and soon to be country. She’s dabbled in a few projects already but given her family’s proven success in the entertainment world (her parents, director Nina Lee Aquino and actor Richard Lee, are both well respected in the industry), you can safely bet that she’s got rising star status. Her most recent role as Mona, the young daughter of a sex worker, played by Tina Jung, in the film Queen of the Morning Calm proves that she’s a talented force to be reckoned with in her own right.
Queen of the Morning Calm is a film that’s been in the works for the past 11 years. Filmmaker Gloria Ui Young Kim is a survivor herself. The story follows a 29-year-old immigrant sex worker Debra, and her 10-year-old daughter Mona, as they embark on a journey of emancipation. Debra attempts to escape the cycles of abuse and poverty while learning to become a more nurturing mother and discovering her own self-worth.
“Women are for sale,” Kim explains in the press notes. “This is just a fact. The strength of the #MeToo movement comes from our collective female consciousness finally rising up in outrage at being told to shut up and be pretty. We won’t. I want to change the prevailing notion that we are a commodity and that we need a man to survive. We don’t have to keep taking it. Instead, I say we are the heroes of our own journey. We can tell our own stories, and that a mother and daughter can band together and be each other’s true love. Queen of the Morning Calm is a story for our own time. It’s a story of redemption. It’s a story of love. It’s a story of hope. And its a story of advocacy. It’s a very personal story for me, and it’s soemting I am compelled to do out of my own history of violence and my own journey of healing and self-acceptance.”
While the main storyline is about how the mother struggles for survival and scraping out a living for her and her daughter, the other important storyline shifts to the children of sex workers. Often forgotten about is this invisible and vulnerable population. Eponine’s character Mona is a child that is still innocent in many ways yet reveals a thicker skin in the making. She’s forced to grow up faster and fend for herself at times. With being teased at school and considered an outcast she’s learned to not let anyone push her around. It was clear that the filmmaker wanted to show this child not as a victim. “It was important to me that I showed her trajectory as a real person, as someone who really knows what she wants and who she is, who has decided opinions of how her life is going, rather than scripting her as a victim or statistic. She is the author of her own destiny, and I think that’s such an important message for everyone, and particularly for youn women,” said Kim.
We had a chance to check in with Eponine Lee as the film gets ready for its Toronto Premiere at Cineplex (Yonge and Dundas) on September 25…
Your family is very involved in the acting and entertainment world. What made you decide you’d also like to get into acting?
EL: I think I was always kind of curious about acting to begin with, especially because I grew up in theatre. When I was 6 years old, I performed in a show called “Carried Away On a Crest of a Wave” by David Yee and I’ve really enjoyed acting since then. I love the fact that I get to meet new people, stride towards new challenges, and share a story with the audience every night.
You’ve recently worked on a project with SummerWorks that sounded like a lot of fun. Can you tell us about that and what you liked about that experience?
EL: My piece was called “We Will Be: Rising as a Community” and it was part of the We Were, We Are, We Will Be anthology. It was about what it means to be part of a community and how we can reconnect again to become stronger. For me, it was super fun, exciting, and a great opportunity to challenge my artistic side throughout the summer! I got to work with such incredible collaborators, both from Canadian Stage and SummerWorks. And on top of that, I learned very important skills and lessons, both in the arts and in life.
What’s more fun — acting in front of a live audience or to see yourself on-screen in a movie?
EL: To be honest, I find acting in front of a live audience more fun (but both are super close). The reason I say this is because I really love that each performance is different, unpredictable, and exciting. Every performance is a chance to express myself and be in the moment. I also really love that feeling of liveliness that you can only get when you perform live.
You play Mona in Queen of the Morning Calm – what did you enjoy most about playing this role?
EL: I really enjoyed being naughty. In Queen of the Morning Calm, as Mona I got to steal stuff, push someone, flood the toilet, and do all kinds of adventurous things that I would never do in real life. It’s kind of fun to explore being mischievous but not have to suffer the consequences in the same way. (^-^)
What do you wish people would know about Mona?
EL: I wish people would know how brave Mona is. In the film, she makes some really big sacrifices (like leaving her father because she realizes it’s the right thing to do) and I think she has a really big heart deep down.
What is the funniest thing someone has asked you about acting?
EL: I’ve been asked numerous times: “Are you famous???”
Are you working on anything else now that you can tell us about?
EL: At the moment, I’m in a workshop with Unspun Theatre called “Little Wonder”. It’s a wonderful piece by Chris Hanratty and Shira Leuchter that explores believing through the eyes of childhood.
You’re a Torontonian! Where are some of your favourite places to visit for fun?
EL: I really like visiting the Distillery District (especially near Christmas) because it’s such a marvellous and fascinating place to explore. I love going there with my parents and grandparents!
Here is the film’s official trailer…