The 18-year-old Midland actor was so good that Sarah Polley wrote a new character for her in the upcoming film Women Talking
Before Shayla Brown finished high school, she was acting alongside Jason Momoa in Apple TV Plus’s dystopian series See, about a world where humanity has lost the sense of sight. This December, Brown, who is blind, will appear in Women Talking, a feature adaptation of Miriam Toews’s acclaimed novel about a group of women debating how to deal with a series of sexual assaults in a secluded Mennonite colony. Here, director Sarah Polley recalls how Brown’s remarkable presence compelled her to write a new character into the film.
“We did a big search for the two main teenagers in Women Talking. Shayla wasn’t quite right for either part, but I loved her so much that I had to figure out how I could have her in the movie. She brought this wisdom, vulnerability and strength. She was also deeply attuned to the dynamics in the room, which is so important on set. So, for her, I wrote the part of Helena, the granddaughter of Frances McDormand’s character.
“Making Women Talking was a very collective process, and at all times, Shayla tried to be helpful to the group. She’s incredibly generous, and she’s a couple of steps ahead of most actors. A lot of actors will bring up the problems they’re facing; Shayla also offers solutions. And that’s incredibly helpful as a director. She has a pivotal moment in the film, and I remember I gave her a direction she didn’t agree with. She offered her take on what was happening, along with an idea of how she could play it that would both satisfy what I was missing and be authentic to her sense of the character.
“Everyone fell in love with Shayla, so a bunch of the cast from Women Talking went to see her in George F. Walker’s Orphans for the Czar at Crow’s Theatre. She was the most unbelievable physical force—leaping around the stage, up and down, into people’s arms. Shayla commanded that room. It was unbelievable for an 18-year-old to do that in her first professional stage production.
“I think Shayla will have an amazing career as an actor, but I’m most excited about what she’ll do as a writer and director. She’d be uncomfortable with me saying so, but it’s so obviously where she’s going. She has lots to say, more than I had to say for most of my life. It’s a real gift.”