Saving elephants with Sophie star Brittany Bristow

Brittany Bristow has always been a performer. The 21-year-old Toronto native began her career in the spotlight doing television commercials as a child and went on to train with the National Ballet of Canada, performing alongside world famous dancers and artists. But for Bristow, her love for dancing is equally shared with a passion for acting. After making a few movie and television appearances, including a starring role on the Family Channel series Baxter, Bristow brings her acting chops to the big screen with the release of Sophie, directed by her father, Leif Bristow. The film tells the story of a young ballerina, Sophie, who runs off and joins the circus in an attempt to save her best friend Sheba, a five-ton elephant, who was sold by her parents to cover the rising costs of dance training. But for Sophie, the task of setting Sheba free proves to be harder than she ever could have imagined.

Tribute had the opportunity to sit down with Bristow to talk about making the film, landing her first lead role, and having dad around for it all.

Did you find that you could relate to your character Sophie?
Bristow: I’m a professionally trained modern and ballet dancer and so in that sense, I totally understand the dedication and the drive for wanting to do something. [Sophie] sort of stops at nothing to achieve what she thinks is right. And I feel like we’re both very similar in the sense that when we really love something and really want to protect someone or something, we’ll do everything we can.

Was it really as much fun as it looked on the circus set?
Bristow: I think what made it so much fun was the people that I got to work with. And getting the chance to work with Zero Gravity Circus, which is actually a circus here in Toronto. They were amazing! Jen [Georgopoulos], who does a lot of the stunts, she’s one of the top 10 trapeze artists in the world and I trained with her personally for my silks performance. And the design of the circus alone. It felt like I was literally on the grounds of a real circus everyday. When we were in Hamilton we actually had security there 24/7 because people were coming to the set asking when the circus was opening because they thought it was really there.

What was it like being directed by your dad?
Bristow: Working with my dad was great. On the last day of filming, two people from two of the largest departments on set had no idea that we were related. So I think it really shows just how professional we were able to be with each other. If I can’t vocalize exactly what I’m trying to say to him, or if he can’t completely vocalize what he’s trying to say to me in terms of what we want from each other on set, we still had the ability to understand each other because we’ve known each other for, you know, my whole life. So, it was really good!

Was it awkward having him there when you were shooting the more romantic scenes with Augustus Prew?
Bristow: So awkward! I was like, “Is there any way somebody else could direct, just the one scene? Or just close your eyes when we’re taping.” But you know what, we got through it. It worked out.

What was it like having to yell at John Rhys-Davies?
Bristow: I think that was probably one of the most intimidating moments for me on set because I grew up watching Indiana Jones. But he sat down with me and he said, “Okay look, I don’t care. Just get mad at me. Just get mad. I don’t care.” He’s such a kind person and luckily I had some time to work with him before that big scene came so I really got a chance to get to know him. And he is possibly one of the kindest, most generous actors I have ever worked with. All he wants to do is help you shine when you’re on. And we really worked together and talked about what was going through our minds in that scene. We did everything we could to make it as explosive as possible.

Do you have any previous experience working around animals?
Bristow: I did my first commercial with another elephant from the Bowmanville Zoo, Angus, when I was nine. Then I sort of kept going out there and visiting. And then when we did Blizzard, we actually had a herd of reindeer. I think it was something like 32 reindeer and they live at the Bowmanville Zoo. So I spent a lot of time going up there to work with the reindeer.

What was it like having an elephant as a co-star?
Bristow: Actually Sheba was great. Sheba never missed her mark. She was very protective of me. I worked with her for three months before we started filming. I was out at the Bowmanville Zoo two to five hours a day. Even when I go out there now, she still squeals and expects her jellybeans and gets really excited.

Did you have to do any special training with her?
Bristow: Honestly, I don’t know why but I’m so darn comfortable with them that I just sort of knew. Angus was about three feet taller than Sheba and I worked with Angus when I was a lot smaller. So for me, I had that comfort already of getting up and learning how to mount and dismount the elephant. The only thing I really had to learn was how to slide off of her head. But I did that the night of.

How long have you been dancing and why the switch to acting?
Bristow: I started studying at the National Ballet School when I was 12 and I graduated from there in 2008 when I was 18. When I graduated I knew that I didn’t want to pursue a professional ballet or modern career. I knew that what I wanted was to act. But I felt like with being at the ballet school, I had learned so much and there was such a passion inside of me. And so much of ballet is telling a story but without using words so it’s almost more difficult and you learn how to express yourself in such a beautiful way. I think it’s only fuelled me to be better at what I do as an actor.

How long did you train with Zero Gravity before you were actually ready to begin filming?
Bristow: I trained for about 3 weeks with the circus. I think because of my dance training though, I had sort of that technique. It was just a matter of getting comfortable in the silks themselves.

What kind of message do you hope people will take away from this film?
Bristow: For me, a lot of what Sophie tells you is that when you have a passion for something, a determination, you’re sort of able to make your dreams reality. And I think learning and constantly being open to understanding how other people are seeing things is a very valuable thing to know. I know my dad would say something different but for me, a lot of it is that if you truly believe in something, and you have the drive, there’s really nothing that can stop you.

What’s in store for you next?
Bristow: I’m keeping myself as busy as humanly possible. I have a part-time job, I’m going to school part-time, I’m auditioning, I’m learning how to produce with my dad. Acting is what I want to do for the rest of my life and I have the drive to do it. So much of this business is luck. So I’m hoping that I get lucky. ~Soriyya Bawa

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Comments & Discussion

  1. Ericha • October 27, 2011 @ 1:16 PM

    What a delightful young lady. I wish her every success!

  2. April Hall • November 19, 2011 @ 9:13 PM

    It was a nicely done movie.

    However, when we check out the official movie site (www.sophie-themovie.com) there is no information under the “Help Sophie” tab. We’re told this section is “coming soon”.

    This makes me wonder if the movie makers have any real intentions of helping the subject of their movie, the cause of captive elephants. As far as I can tell, the elephant who played Sheba in the movie is still incarcerated in the Bowmanville Zoo. So shame on those involved from not putting their money where their mouth is and at least including information for viewers on where or what they can do for captive elephants.

    At least I did hear on the CBC yesterday that the three remaining elephants in the Toronto Zoo will soon be relocated to a facility in California with a much larger enclosure and herd and perhaps more importantly a more appropriate climate.

    Still, I wish we were hearing about improved climate and conditions for “Sheba”…. among others.

  3. Adrian Sandoval • January 14, 2012 @ 3:59 PM

    I absolutely agree with April Hall. The least they can do, is to support the cause which is the main subject of the film: Free the Elephants in Captivity. And if by the time I went into the website (january 2012): http://www.sophie-themovie.com, under the tab Help Sheeba, the message still appears: “coming soon”, they do not mean it.

    Shame on them!

  4. Erika • February 3, 2012 @ 4:43 PM

    Im from st-catherine QC canada and you know mindless or somthing how can she have her hair like that and sheba is she still alive

  5. Francesca • February 15, 2012 @ 8:55 PM

    Sadly from the research I have done I believe that Sheba has been euthanized. However, this information has not been made public (and no one knows where she is) and when enquiries have been made at the zoo and CAZA – no honest answers have been forthcoming – only that Sheba is no longer around. I believe she is yet another victim of exploitation by humans.

  6. Jade savoie • March 24, 2012 @ 7:58 PM

    hi, i love elephants how can we save them??? wathing for your anser
    Jade

  7. Georgina • May 5, 2012 @ 10:11 AM

    There is no link to help anybody let alone the elephants. The zoo is a great of seeing wild animals that are so far away from us however, the conditions they live in is just poor. They should have loads of space to roam, with water holes and even interact with other animals just like in the wild and least they’d feel and even look happier. And this goes for all animals. I wish I was a millionaire at least cause I’d have a rescue place with a huge amount of space and a little less human interaction for these beautiful animals and that way you’d have to go in a jeep with experts to search for the animals instead of going cage to cage.

  8. Madison • May 18, 2012 @ 11:23 PM

    The movie was sad at first. Ecspecially when they killed the jaguar. But at the end, I’m happy that Sophia sent Sheba to Africa.

  9. Jeremy Holmes • August 11, 2012 @ 8:46 PM

    The sport hunting of exotic wildlife has no place in our society. Please join me to send a message that this type of behavior is unacceptable.
    twitter @godaddyboycott

  10. Kailey bizza • August 25, 2012 @ 9:28 AM

    Hi I’m from sudbury ON I’m am 9. I Really enjoyed the movie
    My favorite part was when Sophie and the elephant were dancing.

    From kailey

  11. Joleen Poe • August 30, 2012 @ 3:23 PM

    Pay sophie to see Sheba there ! Don’t you ?

  12. R. Salwin • September 2, 2012 @ 8:37 PM

    Check out SOPHIE-THEMOVIE.COM to find Sheba was another Circus act whose whereabouts nobody knows….. I get it?! …WE are all helping the elephants!

  13. Maggie • September 3, 2012 @ 5:07 PM

    I LOVE ELEPHANTS!That movie was so inspiring.Sophie and Sheba are so talented.

  14. angela • September 4, 2012 @ 8:48 AM

    my husband and i watched the movie last nite and it was really good then when i seen you can go to a link to help all it says is coming soon how sad is this there is all kinda ppl wanting to help and they cant even tell us where or how or they put up a fake site very sad. if anyone knows a site or two i could go to to help plz email them to me angie_jones0@yahoo.com

  15. Dave Morrison • September 17, 2012 @ 4:13 PM

    Just watched this with my 8 year old son. So poorly written and acted that he kept asking me why it was so slow and why the plot wasn’t going anywhere. Really seems like this poorly written screenplay which was almost as poorly acted was simply created as a promotional vehicle by a father looking to get acting work for his daughter. The fact that a cute zoo animal was used as the hook (reason my 8 year-old talked me into renting it) and the “Save Sheba” tag line was use to get people interested make this movie the worst animal exploitations I have seen recently. Seems Sheba didn’t survive this dribble either. I want my $1 back from Redbox!!

  16. Anna Opas • September 23, 2012 @ 2:17 PM

    such a good movie. Love it ;D

  17. Anna Opas • September 23, 2012 @ 2:19 PM

    such a good movie. Love it ;D Love Elephents

  18. Vasquez • September 26, 2012 @ 10:16 PM

    Jen Georgeopolous – “one of the top 10 trapeze artists in the world ” BAHAHAHAHAHAHA ! Now that is funny

  19. Candice jarreau • November 26, 2012 @ 4:53 PM

    I think the movie was very inspiring and the young girl was very brave. She stood for something important to her and caught for it against all odds. Dave Morrison maybe she didn’t survive this movie i dont really know but on the flip side it seems a lot of ppl are inspired to help elephants from this movie. :). Right?

  20. Amanda • April 14, 2013 @ 12:19 PM

    I loved the movie Sophie And Sheba! It was great! I think it was a great way to inspire people. I was wondering if it was based on a true story?? When I get old enough I’m not only going to help elephants I’m going to help other animals too.

  21. natalie • May 25, 2013 @ 3:33 AM

    When i watch that movie it took me heart that elephanit is so magical a
    nd is a good friend ill doante,all the money i have to keep that elephant safe

  22. Isabella • July 10, 2014 @ 8:42 PM

    I love animals I even gave up meat for animals and I really hate people how hurt animals big and small.

  23. Isabella • July 10, 2014 @ 8:45 PM

    I dedicate my life to animals I thought the movie was really good and I love how Sophie never gave up on Sheba no madder what stood in her way.

  24. abigail • October 27, 2014 @ 11:53 PM

    i use to have an elephant and she was my best friend but it was not mine it was my friends i was very very sad when my friend sold it to an animal killer like sophie but the animal killer first had a bear cub to train but it ate a deer so they had to kill it was sad beacause they sold susy for a car i cried then on day i decided to follow her to were ever she whent but she came to me we had her at my granpas zoo we grow up toghether when i was born my mom and dad put me on her becuse she was little when i got her but one day she was so old 109 years old and she died from that day im still heart broken

  25. abigail • October 27, 2014 @ 11:55 PM

    i love animals now i have a boston terrier sorry that was my young sis i have a twin she 9 years old she like to lie alot but i really loved youre movie sheba is so butifull and so are u sophie

  26. Hailey XD • March 1, 2015 @ 12:04 PM

    In one of the pictures that is the same thing that is playing right now lol!!

  27. Fifi • April 21, 2015 @ 8:45 AM

    I want to help the elephantes and other animals,
    i loved the movie was amazing!!

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