With his spouse behind the camera, it’s easy to assume that actor/writer Daniel Ponickly has an easy time on set. Yet, in recent collaborations with wife Zoe Quist, Ponickly quickly is put through his physical and emotional paces. “Mining for Ruby,” their latest work, even sees his character getting into a bar fight just minutes into the story.
“I write them; we come up with these ideas, and we try to make them as interesting as we can. For this one, we pulled a lot from what is happening in Alaska,” Ponickly explained when reached by phone for an exclusive interview. “People are going through this in towns all over; there’s a lot of this interesting tension between individuals and big corporations. We try to pull as much as we can from reality.”
Ponickly plays Jack, a widower who has not been able to move on after losing his wife. Changing latitudes improves his attitude, though, when he meets Ruby (Antoinette Kalaj), an environmental engineering grad student. Jack and Ruby’s relationship grows as tensions rise between mining companies and activists in the town.
“I gotta tell you: the first couple drafts of the movie, it was worse. He went through some bad, bad stuff,” the actor added. “We wanted to focus on the redemption, focus on the love, rather than the depth of the depression.”
Joining her husband on the call, Zoe Quist explained that at first, the script was more Ruby’s story than Jack’s.
“But as the film evolved, moments were captured in his performance that were really powerful,” she said. “It became more of Jack’s journey. And that was something that the cinematographer and I agreed on. Although [Ruby] has an interesting journey as well, he is this end-of-the-roader and able to learn to love again in spite of having such great loss.”
Quist also points to the B-plotline, which was ripped from the headlines: the crisis between the environmental groups and the mining industry in Alaska.
“There are very compelling arguments on both sides. The mining industry contributes a lot of money in taxes, which helps in public services, hospitals, and healthcare,” she said.
On the flip side, the means in which companies are extracting minerals are poisonous and causing other problems: “We wanted to create a film where we gave the audience all the information, but really didn’t give an opinion one way or another about it,” Quist offered. “The way that was achieved was by following Jack on the journey. He’s just learning about this as the audience is learning about it.”
“Mining for Ruby” also contains, as Quist points out, a little bit of a Pinocchio allegory. Billy Zane plays Professor Sam Goodwell, Ruby’s mentor who the director sees as Jiminy Cricket.
“Throughout the film, he’s warning the young researcher ‘Don’t go into this area,’” she explained. “Do you hide the truth? Does it hinder the cause? That brings up a lot of questions, and I thought this was an interesting little subplot that was happening in the film.”