We had the opportunity to speak with Canadian actor Laura Vandervoort about how she got started in the industry and her new pilot, “Unspeakable” screening at SXSW 2018. Check it out.
Can you talk about what drew you to the role of Kelsi and how you got involved with the project?
Laura: I had read David Cornue’s work previously who is our amazing writer and I was a fan of his. When they decided to do this short film I wanted to jump on board. And when I found out Milena was directing I was even more excited for two reasons; one being that she’s a talented actress and I knew would be a great director because she knows how to talk to actors and knows how to get into our head space. I always find it more appealing when the director has been an actor previously. They understand our process and the other reason was because I’d only worked with one female director in the 20 years that I’ve been an actor, she was number two. Especially in the climate today I was more than eager to work with a female because I think you know we need to have our voices out there as well.
Do you now actively look for female directors.Can you just talk about the experience you’ve had with the two directors that you’ve mentioned.
Laura: I would say in the past I didn’t go out looking for a female director it was really just you know lucky to have a job. But the fact that most of those jobs were male directors. It was always in the back of my mind that it was odd but once I finally worked with my first female director which was that her name was Lee Rose. I realized how much of an asset it was to have a female leading the charge just because they tell the story differently especially with female actresses. I can’t really explain how but it’s not that they are easier to talk to but they just have a different way of going about projects. And I loved working with her and after that I thought I need to have more of a female presence in terms of directors in my life because that was a great experience and she was so strong and opinionated and also took her time to talk to the actors. Years went by and it just never happened. And you know I started acting at 12 years old. So Milena came along I was so excited for the reasons that I mentioned.
Kelsi’s a character who we shouldn’t probably like because she’s telling this huge lie. What was it kind of like playing that character. And how did you get into her head space.
Laura: She’s an interesting character to try to jump into the shoes of. Obviously Kelsi is telling a lie and it was hard to try to see it from her perspective. But I guess in a way that she’d never had a real family life she’d never had a true warm home or parents that were loving. I mean I tried to make up a bit of her backstory myself just to try and relate to her. But I guess I just thought what if someone was really in need and a good person deep down and they were in need of like love and protection. I guess it’s that fine line of what’s truly a bad lie, what’s a white lie. And I felt for her I wanted to see her get what she needed which was safety and security. She’s not necessarily a bad person. But she had to do something bad to protect herself. But at the same time she’s also sort of in a way helping this family out bringing their daughter back who is no longer with them and they’re not aware of where their real daughter is. Kelsi knows that she’s dead so she’s sort of filling in the shoes for this missing girl and bringing some joy to the family but now she this responsibility not to tarnish that, not to break their hearts and try to keep up the facade of who she is. Yeah that was like a weird head space to be in. You just try to see her from her perspective that she’s not really doing any harm, I guess. She’s helping everyone all around in a way.
Can you talk a little bit more about working with Milena on and her directing style.
Laura: Yeah. So Milena is fantastic obviously. She’s very open to your interpretation of the character. She’s very mythodical. She’s thought things through she has answers to every question that you have. And she takes her time with the actor, she makes sure that you have the amount of time you need to prepare before rolling on a scene. She’s creative. She got shots that we weren’t planning on getting because mother nature intervened and something magical happened and she got the shot. And she’s great with the crew she rolls with the punches. It was great and we were laughing a lot which I also don’t get much to do with directors. We were goofing around. She’s very loving and playful at the same time when her director hat goes on it’s completely different focused woman. So when the cameras would stop we’d have a good laugh and take selfies. It was just a great experience for both of us I think. I mean I’m so proud of what she’s doing. And with South by Southwest as well. And I can expect to see lots of incredible things for her as a director and hopefully I’ll get a chance to get part of that with her and maybe one day do the same thing myself.
How does it feel bringing “Unspeakable” to SXSW? Have you been to Austin? Are you excited to see other films?
Laura: [00:06:38] So this is my first time going. I have no idea what to expect everyone tells me that Austin is an incredible place to visit lots of great food, lots of fun. So I’m going to try to go to some of the conferences on Saturday with Milena hopefully. And I have a few actor friends in town but I’m going to try and take the opportunity to absorb as much as I can in terms of an actor and a producer because I’m trying to develop my own stuff that there’s a lot of great talks for female producers females in the industry. So I’m kind of seeing it as a working trip where I’m going to you know stuff as much as I can into my brain and any knowledge you want to give me and then we get to premiere the film on Sunday.
I know you mentioned producing in the future. Did you feel like it took you this long to think about producing and directing because it wasn’t really open to know female directors?
Laura: I’m not sure when I started acting I was a kid it was just fun. I enjoyed it. Male directors were just the way that it was. It didn’t cross my mind which is so sad. I mean now the younger generations will think differently but I just thought directors are male. That’s how it is. They rule the set. And I had horrible male directors as a child that like scarred me for life that all directors like yell at kids. And you know as I got older again nothing really changed. It didn’t cross my mind but then I started having when I was in my 20s writers or producers saying to me you should consider directing you’ve got a great eye, you know what’s going on set and you’re very like organized and I thought Oh yeah I could never I could never do that. Like no that’s crazy. And like I said at the time I worked my first female director Lee I was like holy shit we can do this and it’s twofold because it’s so sad that I thought that wasn’t a possibility. You know females are hair and makeup and writers, but it just it wasn’t in my mind until I actually worked with a female and she was sort of a role model for me that it was possible and that sort of opened up the world to me. And so I’ve started developing my own content especially now because well in the past there weren’t a lot of great female leading roles that were dynamic and smart. You know it was a girlfriend, the wife, the whatever. So I started developing my own stuff. I mean it’s a process for sure but I want my other female Canadians to have an opportunity to do roles they’d love to do so I’m developing stuff where I can cast Canadian actors that I know. I have two female directors that are going to be directing my next project which will talk to you about future. Yes so I actually the next project that I’m hopefully doing is directed by two women as well so I’m sort of making it a point now not that I’ll turn down work if males are directing it. I think the climate’s changed in that there’s a lot more respect on set. So hopefully it’ll continue to go in that direction.
I just find it especially now because I’m interviewing people after everything that’s happened and I just I actually just thought about that question because it’s tricky. Like do you not want to be a director just because you didn’t think you could see if you just don’t like directing.
Laura: I think it was a combination. That’s a great question and I still I’m not sure I think it was a combination of never having any female director role models to look up to knowing that that was even an option. And B. It’s also not for everybody. Now like an actor can say I’m female I’m going to direct now because we’re allowed. You have to actually want to do it. And I’m a control freak. I might scare people as a director at the same time there’s different types of directors out there with different styles so not all women are going to direct the same. They’re going to tell stories from their perspective. They’re going to act the way that they act on sets. But you know women make up the biggest 50 percent of the population. And I find that if females are directing they’re more likely to make sure they’re lead is a female. And that story’s being told. I actually know a lot of female writers who receive scripts that they have to rewrite and they actually changed the lead to a female because they say why not. Nothing else has to change other than it’s a female. She/He can act exactly the same that he was written but now it’s female. So I think we’re going to see a lot of that happening.
Yeah and it’s definitely tricky because I’m one of those people that I don’t want to say a female director I just want to say director but I think we’re not there yet.
Laura: I remember when I posted a about “Unspeakable” I #femaledirector and I saw someone comment who cares that it’s a female and I thought you know in a way they have a point. you know it shouldn’t be about the gender it should be about the fact that they’re amazing but we’re trying to make change right now so emphasizing female. I think it’s important. And then eventually we won’t ever have to It’s like when people call a female actress, actress and then eventually it was supposed to be everyone’s actor. It doesn’t matter and I actually get offended sometimes when people say actress and I say I’m an actor. We’re all equal It doesn’t matter what you call us. So maybe one day we won’t say female director. But I think it’s now OK.
What are you working on next? Can you talk about future projects?
Laura: No, I can’t. You know we just got into the first draft of the projects but I’m excited to be working with whom I’m working with and we hope to shoot in Newfoundland, Canada by next year. And I’m proud that it’s being led by women and it’s telling a true Canadian story. I’ll leave it at that and then hopefully we can talk in a year.