Although she has had roles in several big Hollywood movies, Covington native Ellia English's recent turn as the nurse and confidante of a family dealing with some ethically questionable medical practices in "My Sister's Keeper" was a first for her.
"It's a wonderful project, that's why I wanted to be a part of it," said English of the film, which is based on the best-selling novel by Jodi Picoult and directed by Nick Cassavetes ("The Notebook").
"My Sister's Keeper" tells the sad story of two sisters. Kate, the elder sister, was diagnosed with leukemia at 3 years old. Her younger sister, Anna, was conceived through in vitro fertilization as a perfect bone marrow match to her ailing sister.
After serving as a blood and bone marrow donor to her sister for most of her life, Anna begins to question her identity and legal rights as a teenager when she is told that she must donate a kidney to her sister.
"My Sister's Keeper" stars Cameron Diaz as the girls' mother and Alec Baldwin as the attorney Anna hires to represent her in her pursuit of medical emancipation from her parents.
Oscar-nominated actress Abigail Breslin ("Little Miss Sunshine") plays Anna and Sofia Vassilieva ("Medium") plays Kate. Conyers natives Dakota and Elle Fanning were originally attached to star as the sisters but dropped out before filming began.
English's character, Nurse Alice, has known the two sisters since they were babies and is familiar with their situation.
"She's established a relationship with the family. She's watched them grow," English said. "She and the mother have a great rapport."
English said one particular scene, in which Alice is dealing with a very emotional Diaz, is a real tear jerker.
"Even though we had a tearjerker scene, it doesn't bring down the temperament of the set," English explained of how she and the cast handled the emotion-filled script. "Once [the director] says 'cut' we come out. We ourselves can't stay there."
English had only words of praise for Cassavetes and the rest of the cast.
"Nick Cassavetes, I adore him," English said.
English said she believed filming for the movie would be finished by the middle of May.
While filming for her only just finished on "My Sister's Keeper," English is hardly sitting back and resting on her laurels. Last week she had a callback audition for a new Paramount Studios film.
English also has roles in two films coming out this year - comedy film "The Hustle" and the horror film "Cornered!"
In "The Hustle," to be released this June, English plays the mother of a pest sprayer who begins to hustle for money after suffering a series of setbacks.
"Momma has to knock him upside the head sometimes to set him on the straight and narrow," English said of her character in "The Hustle."
Her first horror film, "Cornered!" is the story of a group of lowlifes who are terrorized in a local convenience store by an unknown killer. The movie is scheduled to be released this August.
English, born the middle of nine children, said she is amazed at how much Covington's own Hollywood star has risen since when she left Newton County in 1975 after graduating from Newton County Comprehensive High School to attend Clark College. English said aspiring young Covington actors no longer have to leave the area to pursue acting in New York or Los Angeles as she did.
"They have to run no further than their own backyard," English said. "If it's something that they really want to do, it's presenting itself right there for them. It's awesome.
But English also advises aspiring actors and actresses to have their ducks in a row before pursuing the big lights.
"The thing that I would have to say is education. I am a firm believer [in that]. I would say 'get your education first young people'."
English was a series regular on The Jamie Foxx Show playing Helen King. Most recently she has had roles in "Good Luck Chuck," "Curb Your Enthusiasm" as series regular Auntie Rae and the Will Ferrell comedy "Semi-Pro." She has also performed in Broadway and off-Broadway productions including "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Down Hearted Blues: The Bessie Smith Story."
English said she was grateful to the encouragement she received from her Newton County teachers, especially T.K. Adams and his wife Louise, who she says "were very instrumental in a lot of my choices.
"Truly, I haven't forgotten where I've come from," English said. "The community really did embrace me as young girl and I felt strong enough to go out into the big world."