When Hannah Zirke tells people she’s an actor, they sometimes have trouble believing her, but the 12-year-old Nanaimo resident already has a number of television and short film credits to her name, and soon she will appear in her first feature-length film.
This summer, during what her mother Sarah called Hannah’s busiest year yet, Hannah completed filming for Transformers actor Josh Duhamel’s upcoming comedy The Buddy Games, while at the same time performing recurring roles for the Hallmark Channel’s When Calls the Heart and Netflix’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.
The awards and accolades are already starting to pile up for the young actress. Last month it was announced that Hannah has been nominated for three Joey Awards for young Canadian actors. Last year she received her first two nominations and took home an award for her performance in a Macy’s advertisement.
This year she’s up for Best Actress in a Short Film, Age 11-12 Years for her work in Lost, by Nanaimo filmmaker Michael Chen, Best Series Regular or Leading Actress in a TV Series, 11 Years for her role in the DirecTV Audience Network program Rogue and Best Ensemble in a TV Series for When Calls the Heart. The awards gala takes place at the Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel and Conference Centre on Nov. 18.
“I was proud and I was happy that I got nominated, so I’m just hoping that maybe I’ll win some of them,” Hannah said.
She said she isn’t surprised to be garnering award attention so soon into her acting career.
“It sounds really bad that I’m saying this, but I kind of knew it was going to happen. I kind of knew if I would do acting for a long time I’d get recognition,” she said.
“She’s very determined,” Sarah added. “Nothing really surprises me, to be honest.”
The thought that acting could be an option for Hannah came to Sarah during a vacation to Universal Studios in Los Angeles. Six-year-old Hannah was goofing off in the hotel elevator when she caught the attention of two women at the back holding clipboards. Turning to Sarah they identified themselves as “in the business” and said, “You should get her into acting.”
A few months after returning from the trip, Sarah started searching online for guides on how to introduce her daughter to acting. She sent Hannah’s headshot and a description of her personality to five agencies in Vancouver. The next morning three of them called back. The agent said, “I want you to come here tomorrow at 10 a.m. … I’d like to talk to your daughter. I have a Mattel commercial I’d like her to audition for.”
The next day Sarah brought Hannah to the interview at the agency, but she still had her reservations.
“A lot of the people that are in acting are connected. They have a mom that acts or uncle, dad or whatever and they have an in. We don’t have any connections at all and we went in completely blind not knowing what we were doing. Honestly, when I took her there that first day I thought that somebody was going to try and scam me,” Sarah said.
Hannah impressed her interviewer and after a few questions, Sarah said the agent enthusiastically rubbed her hands together and handed Sarah a piece of paper and said, “Go to this address.”
“It was pouring down rain and I’m like, ‘How?’ and she goes, ‘Just take a cab, get there right now,’ and I go, ‘How to I know which room to go into?’ and she said, ‘Just follow the noise,’ and we got there and there was a pile of little girls that looked similar to [Hannah]. It was weird,” Sarah said.
“Like a whole bunch of blonde people,” Hannah added. “It was heads and heads and heads of blonde, straight hair.”
That was where they first learned how competitive show business was going to be. Sarah said for every successful audition there are 50 or 60 rejections. Hannah’s first paid acting job was a Fisher-Price commercial. “It took all day to film but it was 30 seconds,” she said.
At the age of seven Hannah enrolled in acting lessons, the youngest student among teenagers. Despite the age difference Hannah was quick to make friends. She enjoyed the experience and knew it was something she wanted to pursue.
Hannah’s first ‘real’ acting role came in 2015 for the short film Smoke, written and directed by students from Simon Fraser University. Acting in –20 C weather in Aldergrove, B.C., Hannah was peeling frozen tears off her cheeks between takes. The struggle was worth it, though. That year the Toronto International Film Festival ranked Smoke in the Top 10 Festival Student Shorts.
Hannah’s schedule can be unpredictable. She typically gets 24-hour notice to attend auditions in Vancouver and tries to do her homework on the ferry. Hannah is currently homeschooled, which gives her some flexibility. She said her friends are becoming more understanding when she tells them about commute.
Yet despite the 50 or 60 rejections per role, the frozen tears and the two-hour commute, Hannah said acting is what she was meant to do.
“I want to be the best actor that I can be when I’m older and I want to be maybe one of the best actors,” she said. “I just want to have a really cool career … When people say, ‘What do you do?’ I want to say, ‘I’m an actor.’”