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Role of cancer patient emotional for teen actress Sofia Vassilieva

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Sofia Vassilieva cried uncontrollably the first time she saw herself in the makeup that would transform her into a young woman dying of leukemia for "My Sister's Keeper."

"We were doing the screen test. It was just the beginning of it all. I came back to the trailer and I was hysterical. It is so hard to see yourself like that and envision people going through that," she says during an interview at the Casa del Mar Hotel, where she joined castmates Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin to talk about the film version of the best-selling book by Jodi Picoult.

Vassilieva plays Kate, a teen-ager whose long battle with cancer has left her pale and frail. The fight appears to be coming to an end when her sister takes legal action so she no longer has to be used as donor for the ailing sibling.

Playing a character fighting a losing battle with cancer was both physically and mentally challenging for the 16-year-old actress. The toughest scenes were where Kate had to admit she was going to die.

Vassilieva mustered up all her strength to show how Kate was realistically facing the inevitable. Off screen, she would be in tears.

"That was the journey for me. The ridiculous balance of letting go and being scared to my wits end," she says.

Diaz admires the bravery the young actress showed.

"She was 15 when she did it. Think back to when you were 15. The last thing you wanted to do was shave your head and then your eyebrows. That's when you are getting a real sense of who you are. So it was really brave of her," Diaz says. "Sofia's the most tender of tender. Everything is right there on the surface at all times."

Before filming, Vassilieva visited several cancer hospitals, where she found inspiration in the strength and will power of the patients and their families.

Several advisers on the film where teens battling cancer. Vassilieva shared her concern about how this movie would affect those who have gone through such a demanding fight. A teen adviser, Nicole, gave her the advice she needed.

"She told me that I would be telling the story of these people and these families. Don't shy away from hiding it or being overly kind," Vassilieva says.

The role was more than a paycheck for Vassilieva. She's become an honorary ambassador for "Stand Up to Cancer," a charitable program of the Entertainment Industry Foundation.

A gold necklace from the organization hangs around her neck. She plans to continue her support, even when she returns to work in a few months on the sixth season of the television series "Medium."

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(c) 2009, The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.).

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