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Film Weekly (1938) - Nova Grows Up



Nova Grows Up

Four years or so ago, I directed Nova Pilbeam in The Man Who Knew Too Much. And I have recently finished working with her for a second time on Young and Innocent.

It is well known that girls change tremendously between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. Nova Pilbeam is no exception to the rule.

The girl I have just directed might be an entirely different person from the child who appeared in The Man Who Knew Too Much. She has changed tremendously, both physically and mentally.

Let me say right away that the Nova of today is altogether more charming, likeable, intelligent, and talented than the girl I first knew.

When she worked for me in The Man Who Knew Too Much, she had just completed Little Friend. To film-goers, she was still unknown. But, having just played a leading part, I sensed that she felt she was condescending to play the smaller role that she had in my picture.

Full of Confidence

I found her to be amazingly full of self-confidence, and she was inclined to tell me how scenes should be played. She had to be handled diplomatically.

I persuaded her to do several scenes which I was not certain that she really wanted to do, scenes which, as it happened, remained in audience's memories, such as at the end of the film when she was reunited with her parents. I made her so terrified by the ordeal that she had been through that she shrank from them.

Nova was undoubtedly sincere in her beliefs, and she had a surprising amount of common sense for a girl of her age. But, naturally, she lacked experience. Her ideas were not always suitable.

The greatest difference between the Nova of yesterday and today is that she now has the modesty of a true artist — and, in consequence, is more professional. She has had a great deal of stage experience besides her screen work. She has acquired more balance and camera sense.

She no longer airs her views so freely, and doesn't want to do everything her own way.

In fact, of all the people I have handled during my career as a director, I can honestly say that she is the most unassuming and willing.

I have had more understanding with her than with nine out of ten of the other stars with whom I have worked.

Unique Personality

She has grown into a entirely natural young person, and the figure she is today should have a great appeal to women.

She is not strikingly beautiful, but her features are warm and alive. She reproduces an English type which is devoid of any suggestion of artificiality.

There is no fake glamour about her — but she is not by any means dull. On the contrary, she has a bright freshness.

Her personality will make her unique on the screen. There is nobody in films in the least like her. And the greatest point of all is that she is so completely English.

The worst thing that could happen to Nova would be for her to get into the hands of Hollywood makeup men, and to have a mask fitted to her face. All I can hope is that this will never happen. It will be a tragedy if it does.

I don't think it will. Nova is a sensible young woman, tremendously ambitious, and with no particular yearning to go to Hollywood.

As an actress, there is no question that she is technically very much improved since I first worked with her. She has proved that she is not just a flash in the pan as a child actress. Hers is a difficult age. It is not easy to find suitable stories for her. But I feel that her character in Young and Innocent will help her to graduate into more matured roles than she has had before.

It affords her the opportunity for the first time to go in for naturalistic acting, as opposed to the more or less stylized acting in Tudor Rose. She has to drive an old car around; to mother four brothers, and there is a suggestion of romance.

In developing from a child into adolescence, she has to play scenes which she has never done before on the screen. Personally, I am very satisfied with the results.

She has improved tremendously from a photographic point of view since The Man Who Knew Too Much. She no longer has that childish roundness of the face. Her features have developed.

"Wimbledon" Accent

Her voice, too, has improved out of all knowledge. As one of her greatest qualities is her self-criticism, I shall not be offending her by saying that it used to have very much of a "Wimbledon" strain about it, and her lines were apt to sound as if she were memorizing them.

She herself has always been conscious of this weakness. I used to tease her by threatening her not to retake those scenes in which she hated her own voice so much. She was terrified at the idea of some of those scenes remaining in the finished picture.

Thanks mainly to her own efforts, plus her stage experience, she has now practically overcome this flaw in her technical makeup. Her voice records well and she has a very much wider range than before.

I am hoping to be able to make a third picture with her, and it is probable that it will be my next one. We have a story in preparation.

Nova's Next Picture

It is another of the type that will help her to bridge the gap between child parts and more mature roles.

Her part will be that of the head girl of a convent. Her parents are dead, and she is kept at the convent by her stepfather.

She leaves to go to him, believing him to be an impresario. Unknown to her, however, he is a crook. The two get to like each other a lot.

He gets involved in a murder, and, without telling her what for, he asks her to give an alibi for him. She does so, and roughly speaking, the rest of the story is concerned with the efforts of Scotland Yard to break down a schoolgirl's word of honour.

There are a great many dramatic scenes for her, and the age of the girl is just right — eighteen.

At the present, no title has been chosen. But I can tell you that I am looking forward to making the picture — and that is eloquent evidence of what I think of Nova.