Vancouver actor Ali Skovbye gives a stunning performance as young Tully Hart (the older Tully played by Katherine Heigl) in Firefly Lane, an endearing 10-part series based on Kristin Hannah’s bestselling novel that launched on Netflix yesterday.
We’re first introduced to Ali, or 14-year-old Tully, in 1974, when she arrives at Firefly Lane in a VW van, with her hippie mom “Cloud”, who had Tully when she herself was just a teenager.
Her mom’s ongoing battle with alcohol and drug addiction means that Tully never feels at ease or secure in her home, which is what drives her to befriend Kate (played remarkably by Roan Curtis) in the neighbouring farmhouse. While very different, the girls form a quick bond, and Tully spends significant time at Kate’s house, adopting her family as her own.
Beyond the ongoing childhood trauma she endures from living with a family member suffering with addiction, Tully also experiences another trauma when (in Episode 2) she’s raped by a senior high school boy at a bonfire party. The violent attack lives with her, always.
Flashing from scenes of fourteen-year-old Tully to forty-something Tully helps audiences recognize how every event that she experienced as a child and teen shape Katherine Heigl’s character as adult Tully: a feisty talk show host who has a tough and glamorous exterior but struggles with intimacy and vulnerability in her personal life. Younger Tully is a complicated character that can make or break the entire series, and Ali’s riveting performance does it justice.
Firefly Lane also demonstrates how one strong friendship can help someone survive the most painful things, and that even in the hardest moments, there is space for laughter. The joy of this show is getting to see Tully and Kate evolve as friends over three decades. We understand the history between them, and how it configures into all aspects of their lives. “Oftentimes, in film and TV, female friendships can be portrayed as dramatic or caddy, but we don’t often see really strong, healthy female friendships,” says Ali. “In my life, my friends have got me through everything, and I don’t know where I’d be without them. It shows that wonderful, vulnerable, loving friendship.”
Firefly Lane will have audiences recalling other impactful coming-of-age shows or films. Thirteen, Ghostworld, Almost Famous, Ladybird are all titles that came to mind. For Ali, the show reminded her of 2019 gem Booksmart, “I absolutely loved it and I thought that it was kind of similar, with a female friendship that’s really strong…and they get into mischief and do some wild things!” That they do.
Familiarizing themselves with the era was a real trip for both young actors, who would often blare their 70s playlist to get into the mood on set. From the fashion to the soft focus and colourful set decoration, it’s an enchanting rewind that makes for great pandemic escapism. Ali admits that Firefly Lane’s costume design has forever influenced her own style:”I have a very newfound love for the 70s, and the style. I’m now wearing bell bottoms and wide-leg pants all the time.” We get it—the wardrobe for all the decades in Firefly Lane is like a dreamy wander through your favourite vintage stores.
It was a rewarding challenge to capture all sides of Tully—the gutsy and free spirited wild child, the young girl lacking security and parental support, the survivor. Ali worked closely with Katherine Heigl to ensure that the character aged authentically, including matching mannerisms, from the way she commands attention when she walks into a room to the look she gives when she’s on the verge of exploding. The two actors were well cast to play the same person, and the constant comparisons between them, makes for enthralling and delightful TV.
On all fronts, being part of Firefly Lane was a major career triumph for Ali. But what made it truly memorable was the friendship she formed with Roan. “We were getting to know each other and becoming best friends at the same time that Kate and Tully were,” she tells me, with a wide smile. “I loved everything about it! It’s a story about two badass strong women, and I think it’s really cool to be a part of that. And I made a lifelong best friend!”
For a film about enduring friendships, there’s no better ending.