Add at least one more vegetarian to the population of Park City, Utah, during this year’s Sundance Film Festival. A New York transplant from her native Australia, Stephanie Ellis co-stars in the independent feature The Sleepwalker, which premieres at the festival on January 20. Ellis answered my questions in anticipation of the film’s premiere.
Are you a longtime vegetarian, or is going meat-free new for you?
I’ve been vegetarian coming up on five years now. It’s something I had considered for a while, and then finally my husband and I made the jump together. It was a really natural transition for me.
The Sleepwalker has a small cast. Was that a challenge for you or a benefit, especially since the storyline is so rife with tension?
I think it was absolutely a benefit. The ability to spend as much time together as we did—we filmed for a month in Massachusetts—created an intimate working environment that I think served the film. It really enabled me to feel free in my performance. I also knew the other actors and Mona [Fastvold], the director, before the movie, so that brings trust, and especially because a lot of the film is very intense, it’s great to have people you feel safe with. That was a big bonus.
The relationship between sisters plays a part in The Sleepwalker. Do you have any siblings? How have they responded to your going veg?
I have an older sister who lives in Australia still, and beyond being a fantastic mother, she’s incredibly conscious about the food she feeds her family. I’ll never get over my nephew sitting down to his morning tea [a mini-meal between breakfast and lunch] with some of his favorite foods: avocado, sun-dried tomatoes, and mango. Not exactly what I grew up with! Needless to say, my sister embraces me being veg.
How would you describe the food culture in Australia?
Well, for me, it’s fantastic, because I love grilled vegetables. I’m only halfway joking! I come from a family that grills a ton, but, to be honest, so does every family [in Australia]. On the one hand, there’s the British sort of meat-and-potatoes approach to eating, but with time that’s changing. One interesting thing about Australia is how isolated it is, and how far food has to travel from abroad, so there’s a growing movement to eat locally and sustainably. And we have some amazing fruits and veggies: Mangoes are unbelievable in summer, and we have great avocados and pineapples. I remember growing up on plums, peaches, nectarines, cherries, and berries! Some of the more exotic fruits that I’ve always loved eating are lychees and passionfruit. In terms of veggies, the asparagus in Australia is exceptional.
You’re a certified yoga instructor. Do you see a fit with your yoga practice and vegetarian diet?
Absolutely. I think they go hand in hand. It’s no coincidence that a lot of people who practice a lot of yoga lose their desire to eat meat. Once you start to have compassion for yourself, that compassion starts to spread to everything around you. At least for me, that included animals.