Congratulations on your role in Nellie Bly! Can you tell us a little bit about the part? Also, how did you prepare for this and other auditions and for being on set?
In Nellie Bly I played Nurse Grupe, a sadistic nurse in a women’s lunatic asylum in the 1800s. Grupe is part of a group of three nurses that carry out the orders of the head of the hospital, Matron Grady. Grupe is the meanest of the lot and does everything that her boss tells her to do, no matter how depraved. I initially auditioned for Matron Grady, which I prepped for days, and I was called back for Grupe with only a day’s notice. I felt underprepared for the callback because I had less time, but when I walked in the room the director Karen Moncrieff was so fantastic and just let me play. As a theatre performer, I’ve often felt restricted by the camera and having to stand on a tape line on the floor and only one actor to read with. Much of the time I feel like I’m in a straitjacket at film auditions. Karen Moncrieff was the first director who said “don’t worry about where the camera is or the reader or the tape line – you just do your thing and we will follow you”. This totally released me and I think I did the most fun audition of my life. I left the room not even caring if I got the part or not because I felt like I was given permission to be free and do what I wanted. It was very empowering. I took that spirit of freedom to the set and just stayed open to my fellow actors, the creativity of the director and stayed true to my instincts.
What has been your favourite or most memorable role thus far?
Nurse Grupe is my favourite role I’ve played in film so far. Karen and I spent some time discussing why this nurse has become the way she is, and I think we developed a character that on paper may come off as pretty archetypical, giving her some dimension and nuance. I say this not having seen the film yet, so I just hope that the layers come across. I loved working with all the amazing women on set and there was a great camaraderie that developed between everyone. The fact that the story was based on a true story was not lost on anyone and I’ve always connected with these kinds of suffering, slightly mad characters. Some people might find this disturbing or depressing but I have always found these types of characters fascinating.
When did you become an ACTRA member, and what was your first union gig?
I think I became an ACTRA member in 1991. My first role was a clerk in a corner store who is tormented by some young punks that mess with her Slurpee machine. This was John Kozak’s film Hell Bent.
How has being a member of ACTRA benefited you?
I belong to three associations: CAEA, ACTRA and PGC. While all of these associations have wonderful protections in place, ACTRA is by far the most comprehensive. I have always been proud to belong to this association. I appreciate how well we are paid and, if you take the time to learn about all of the benefits of being a member – such as our RRSP and Insurance policy – you will be amazed at how well we are covered for our health and for our future. ACTRA has your back!
How do you stay sharp? Do you have any training suggestions?
I have always been the most afraid of losing my memory, so I am constantly trying to find ways of keeping my memory sharp and challenging my brain with new ways of learning. I did a one woman play this year with over 6000 words playing 30 different characters which was a great brain workout. I am also learning how to play the violin – they say music re-connects pathways as you age. I have a language program on my phone so I am trying to increase my vocabulary in French and Spanish. I feel like my greatest asset as an actor is my imagination – everything we do is generated from our mind, so keeping it stimulated and fed is essential! Training is great – the Actor’s gym is fantastic and there are some great teachers in the community. If you can’t afford workshops, practise in front of a camera – record yourself and watch it back – that is the best teacher.
Do you have any advice for other actors out there?
Advice for other actors…this is a tough business and it will never appreciate you and it doesn’t owe you anything. It’s only good to you when it needs something from you. Money and attention and awards are great but I’ve seen lots of people go down the road of feeling like they deserve more. This will make you miserable. It’s good to want things and work hard to realize your dreams, but always have something real in your life that can fulfill you. For me this is my family and community. They will always come first.