Big Screen Debut

Kenai woman's film career begins, ends
Maliaq Kairaiuak has a role in “Big Miracle,” the movie about whales trapped in the Arctic Ocean.

What started as a joke morphed into a small acting part in the upcoming film “Big Miracle,” previously titled “Everybody Loves Whales.”


Maliaq Kairaiuak and her sister, Roxy Madison, both sent pictures with half-hearted hopes of landing the role of an Anchorage waitress in the film. To the Kenai resident’s surprise, the movie’s executives scheduled auditions for them. 

“It was an excuse to go to Anchorage for the day,” she said with a laugh. “I didn’t think I was actually going to get (the role).”

The waitress had a couple lines, and Kairaiuak shared the same dressing room as the film’s big-name stars. 

The film is based on the events surrounding three California gray whales trapped by ice in Barrow during their winter migration in 1988 and a romance that ensues between a Greenpeace International activist, played by Drew Barrymore, and small-town news reporter covering the events, played by John Krasinski. 

The movie was filmed in Anchorage with some scenes in Barrow in part because of the state’s film production incentive program, which offers up to 44 percent in transferable tax credits on qualified production expenditures. 

Kairaiuak said she was surprised to receive the call for an audition — it seemed like a prank. 

“I thought it was one of my friends calling me,” she said. 

The appointment-only auditions took place at the Dimond Center shopping mall in Anchorage. Kairaiuak recalls six other girls who were auditioning all week for the same small part. She performed three different scenes and had her picture taken, leaving the audition with little worry as to her future movie career. 

But perhaps her calm demeanor toward the audition was a factor in landing the role. 

“When I was working on the film (the director and crew) said I was actually pretty good, and I should audition for more roles,” she said. 

As quickly as movies premier and disappear, Kairaiuak was on her way to Anchorage. The production company paid for the flight, as well as a hotel room. 

Filming took three days at Mexico in Alaska, a restaurant in Anchorage.  

The scenes required a lot of repetitive steps, which was taxing on Kairaiuak. She wears glasses but was barred from donning her modern frames. She said she walked around nearly blind most days. 

However, bright markings directed her actions during the scenes. 

“You had to be precise about everything,” she said. “You had to stop, make movements in the same place every time. It was a long process.”

Waking at 6 a.m., Kairaiuak said she worked a varying shift. One day of filming lasted 13 hours. 

Her outfit consisted of little more than a t-shirt with the word “Amigos.” Being an ‘80s movie, the details were in the hair. 

“I had fanned-out bangs and a scrunchy in my hair,” she said. “I looked a little ridiculous.”

Hair and makeup was every morning. This was when Kairaiuak had a chance to strike up small talk with Barrymore, Krasinski, Ted Danson or John Michael Higgins. They were normal, nice people who shared little personal details unless asked specific questions, she said. 

“I didn’t really ask them personal questions or stuff about movies they’ve been in,” Kairaiuak said. “I didn’t want to seem star struck … I asked them if they liked Alaska and they all said they did.”

Her first encounter with actress Kristine Bell was memorable, but not for the usual reasons. Kairaiuak said she was exhausted, chatting with another actress on her first morning. The actress was Bell.

“We finished talking and I got up and walked away,” she said. “I didn’t even know it was her.”

A special screening is set for “Big Miracle” on Jan 29 in Anchorage. Kairaiuak will attend with company. She said she thinks it will be weird to see herself on the big screen, mainly because she never expected to act in a Hollywood movie. 

Her future plans don’t include acting. She recently graduated from AVTEC and began working at Cottonwood Health Center.

“It was cool and I got to meet a lot of people,” she said. “I’m not really interested in doing it again. It was a one-time thing. I did it for the experience.”

A full release of the film is scheduled for Feb. 3.


Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at


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