Carmen Moore is a Canadian actress who can most recently be seen in season 4 of the Starz hit show Outlander, in the role of Wahkatiiosta. With a career spanning well over two decades Carmen has had many prominent roles in shows and films, both Canadian and US. We talked about her childhood and schooldays, acting, Sir Ben Kingsley, all things Outlander (cast, costume, speaking Mohawk etc.), her passions and much, much more.
DB: Can you tell me a little bit about where you were born and your early life in Canada?
CM: I was born in a suburb of Vancouver called Burnaby, B.C. We then moved out to my father’s territory in Telkwa, B.C. and then my brother was born in Smithers – a lot of my Native family is out there. We jumped around a lot when I was a kid, we lived in several different places, then I spent 11 years in a city called Coquitlam, it was just my mum, me and my brother – my dad was sort of out of the picture by that time. A bit of a tumultuous upbringing – let’s just say it was a little chaotic.
My parents did their best, let’s put it that way, they did the best they could with the tools they had, which weren’t very many tools. (Both laugh) A very, very small toolbox, real cheap. They loved us, we knew that. It was a long time ago and people didn’t know what they know now about raising children and things were different, so you do your best.
DB: Can you describe the areas where you grew up?
CM: Decent places, I guess. There were a lot of rentals, kind of whatever was available on short notice. We seemed to have to move a lot on short notice, I’m not quite sure why. Then, when we were settled in the co-operative housing complex in Coquitlam, my mother finally got the courage up to ask my father to leave. There were a lot of single mothers in this co-op, in these townhouses. That was kind of interesting… I mean they weren’t the greatest places but they were clean and decent and lots of other kids around to play with.
DB: Were they rural or semi-rural or within towns?
CM: Coquitlam at that time was not as built up as it is now. There’s full-on cities out in that area now but at that time it was quite outside of the city, there was still a lot of bush out there, so I remember running around in the bush with my friends, a lot.
DB: Apart from running around the bush with your friends what else did that entail? Did you build camps or go biking…?
CM: When we could hold onto our bikes (when they didn’t get stolen) we would ride our bikes. You know what, as kids, we kind of got into a little bit of trouble because we were bored. We spent a lot of time outside, on our own, not a lot of parental guidance. Then you know when you get older, when you get into your teen years, you start discovering all the bad things to do to entertain yourselves if you don’t have a passion to focus on. What there was to do was: hang out at the 7-11 and drink, go to the one movie theatre, or throw a bonfire party in the bush, or just wander the streets and see what trouble you could get into.
DB: Looking for mischief.
CM: Yeah, looking for mischief, anything to keep us occupied, to make things exciting. When there’s no money to do anything else you get pretty bored. I worked at McDonald’s when I was 14, 15, 16 because that’s all there was out there – there was McDonald’s, a movie theatre and a mall with half-empty stores.
DB: What about school? You must have changed schools quite a bit as well then.
CM: I went to Charles Dickens School – even though we jumped around different houses we stayed in the same school – until we moved to Coquitlam and I then had to change elementary school because we were further out, then Hastings Junior Secondary and Port Moody Senior.
DB: What were your school years like for you? Did you enjoy school and any subjects in particular?
CM: I didn’t enjoy school at all. I don’t learn in a classroom environment very well, so I grew up believing I was stupid, and I was tiny. I was so tiny, when I went to grade 8 (junior high school here) I was mistaken for someone in grade 4 or 5, quite often. I was about 4 feet tall and I stayed very tiny, so by the time I was in grade 10 I was only about 4 feet 10. Then in the summer, between grade 10 and 11 I shot up about 6 inches, so when I showed up for high school at 5’ 5” they barely recognised me.
I didn’t enjoy school very much, I got okay grades, but when drama was introduced in grade 8 I finally found something that I was actually interested in and that I did well in. I ended up being a teacher’s assistant in grade 10 for the grade 8 class and decided that was what I wanted to do. I wanted to be in musicals actually, but I had no dance training and no voice training, at all, so I had these lofty dreams of being on Broadway but no idea of how to get there, and no guidance to make that happen, not to mention there was no money anyway. At that time shows like Fame were popular, so I wanted to go to the School of Performing Arts in New York but to go to a school like that you have to have been training since you were a child, and I didn’t know any of that. I didn’t have anybody to tell me these things, or to tell me what I needed to do to get to where I wanted to be, so I just kind of floundered, for years. But I took all the drama courses in high school. I joined the choral classes and did okay, but not as well as I could have done had I had some guidance in my life.
DB: Was there one particular drama teacher that inspired you?
CM: Yes, grade 8, her name was Miss Collicut and she was lovely. She was very, very funny and I just fell in love with her. She took me under her wing a little bit – and then she left at grade 10. I didn’t realise that she wasn’t going to be there for my grade 10 year when I became a teacher’s assistant. She kept it secret that she was leaving because she knew we would be really upset, so she let it slip on one of our last days of school. She sat me down and said, ‘You know this new teacher coming in is really going to need your help, so that’s why I need you as an assistant for the grade 8 class.’ I was devastated! The new teacher was nice, she was young and being her assistant gave me a bit more confidence than I had before, but she didn’t have the same impact on me as Miss Collicut did.
DB: Did you find you were able to help her, given the responsibility?
CM: I had fun in that leadership role. I looked like I was the same age as the grade 8s, so they were kind of confused about who I was and what I was doing there. (Both laugh) I was just this tiny little thing and they all just believed I was in grade 8. I was happy to get out of junior high – I was happy to get out of school altogether. I finished my grade 12 year but I didn’t actually graduate, I was missing a bunch of credits because I just couldn’t stand being there one more second. I stopped going to school and joined a Native theatre company (Spirit Song Native Theatre Company) in Vancouver. It was kind of like running away to join the circus.
DB: Had you done some performances when you were at school?
CM: We did the high school musical Leader of the Pack in grade 11, and they didn’t do one when I was in grade 12 which was very disappointing for me, but I really really enjoyed the one that we did in grade 11. At that point I had ‘the bug’ and I wanted to do more, so my mum found an article in the paper about a theatre company in Vancouver to join [Spirit Song]. I worked with them for 9 months, just learning and experimenting, and we got paid to be there which was really nice. Then a theatre company in New Brunswick was looking for – I’m just turning 19 at this point – an actor that was over 19 that could pull off playing an 8-year-old. They searched across Canada and at that time they sent a fax to Spirit Song and said, ‘Do you have anyone that could pull this off?’ They sent back my picture and the picture of another girl and they picked up a phone and said, ‘Okay, send us Carmen, we’ll see what she can do.’ They just stuck me on a plane and flew me out to New Brunswick and hired me for a 5-month tour, with Theatre New Brunswick’s Young Company. I had never been out of B.C. before, I had never been away from my mother, I’d never acted professionally and they just kind of said, ‘Do it.’ So I did.
DB: Since then have you had any formal training?
CM: No, no formal training really. I just kind of did it, which is really the best way to learn. About a year after I came back from New Brunswick I did a show in Vancouver, and was just chatting with the director at one point, he was asking a little about my history and stuff like that – I said, ‘I think I should probably go to school for this,’ and he goes, ‘Don’t! Don’t do it! You have this raw talent, not a lot of people have that kind of gift, and if you go to school they will try to change that. Keep doing what you’re doing because your instincts are on.’ I trusted him (I don’t know why I trusted him) and didn’t follow my own ideas of how things “should” be at the time, because I really knew nothing. As I said, I had no guidance in my life so I just decided, ‘I’m going to do this,’ and did it. At one point I said, ‘You know what? I’m a dancer!’ (I had no dance training at all) so I got this group of people and started choreographing dances and we ended up touring New Zealand for three weeks with this dance company – none of us were dancers.
DB: How old would you have been then, when you did the ‘I’m a dancer’?
CM: I was 20. (Both laugh)
DB: That’s the bravery of youth.
CM: Right! You just kind of say, ‘I’m going to do this,’ and just do it without even thinking of, ‘I don’t have the training, ‘ or, ‘I should probably think this through.’ I wish I had held on to a little bit more of that “throw caution to the wind thinking”, getting older.
DB: How come you ended up going on tour to New Zealand?
CM: That was another thing through Spirit Song. There’s the Kahurangi Maori Dance Company out there that came to visit us, and spent time in B.C. and they were touring, so we got to know them and they were like, ‘We want to bring you guys out to tour our island and bring a little bit of your culture to us.’ So, a woman we knew got the funding to get us there and we stayed on the North Island, and toured round for 3 weeks, it was really quite amazing. I would love to go back to New Zealand at some point. It was really beautiful. I was surprised actually at how much of it reminded me of B.C. – their culture and their artwork, their eating and sleeping facilities are very much like our longhouses here, which was interesting. I felt right at home there.
DB: You had a couple of Jessie Award nominations for some of your theatre work: did you find those were helpful in your career later, when you moved into TV and film?
CM: Not really, because those are Vancouver theatre awards, and theatre isn’t huge in Vancouver. The theatre community is quite tiny, you can’t make a living, which is why I moved out of the theatre world and into TV and film. Especially after I had my son I couldn’t afford to do theatre anymore, which is really sad because I really love being on stage. No one really pays attention to your awards on the resume here in this city. If I got really, really rich at some point, I’d go back and do theatre, but I can’t. No money in it.
DB: You would also think that Vancouver, being the multicultural and cosmopolitan city that it is, there would be a more active theatre scene.
CM: You would think. Not to say that there isn’t great theatre in Vancouver, I’ve seen some really, really amazing productions, it’s just that you can’t pay your rent and that’s really sad.
DB: It’s an expensive city to live in anyway isn’t it.
CM: A very expensive city and it’s getting bigger and bigger by the second, more and more people are moving into this city and it’s getting pretty crazy.
DB: Moving on to film, you have worked with some big names such as Peter Fonda and Ben Kingsley. What has it been like working with those individuals and others?
CM: You know, when you first hear that you’re going to be working with somebody with that level of stardom of course the nerves kick in a bit, but I’ve been very fortunate to work with really, really down to earth humans. Ben is such a sweet man. He’s such a ham. Ben and I stayed in touch for a number of years after we worked together. It was a long time ago because my son was only about a year-and-a-half old. I would go and pick Ben up from his hotel and I’d have my little guy with me, we’d get out of the car and Ben would just take him out of my arms and walk away with him, and leave me there. (Laughs) I would be like, ‘There goes Ben Kingsley with my child.’ He fell in love with my boy and we would write to each other because he, of course, had to move back to London after the show was done and I stayed in Vancouver – we were pen pals for a little while until he met his current wife, and he had a new step-daughter and a new family. I remember him just being really lovely.
DB: You directed a film called Ariel Unravelling.
CM: Yes, I directed the short film Ariel Unravelling. I was asked to come in to mentor on the Fulfilling Young Artists program in Vancouver, and the young girl that was paired with me – that’s veterans in the Vancouver film industry who mentor up-and-coming young artists that are just starting in the industry – Mary Galloway wrote Ariel Unravelling and asked me if I wanted to come on as director. I had never directed anything before, so that was intimidating, but I loved it. The script was a BravoFACT winner, so they got $35,000 through that to produce the film, which at the time I thought was a lot of money for a short film but turns out that money goes really fast! We shot over 3 days and it was a really interesting experience. I really did enjoy it – I liked it a lot, more than I thought I would – but you know what? It’s just not who I am. I think I do better in front of the camera. I don’t think I’ll direct again.
DB: You’ve produced a number of movies such as Two Indians Talking and White Indians Walking.
CM: Andrew Genaille (he’s a writer that I was friends with for many years) asked me to come on those. Again something I tried and was like, ‘Not for me.’ (Laughs) I probably won’t do a whole lot of producing from now on, but I guess it depends on the project. It’s a lot of work! Lots of reading and trying to understand legal jargon and crunching numbers, tracking down things that are impossible to find, it’s really, really time-consuming for absolutely no money.
DB: You have got a couple of movies that are in post-production at the moment, Rustic Oracle and Little Fish. Could you tell me a bit about those?
CM: Rustic Oracle was written, produced and directed by Sonia Bonspille Boileau; she’s Mohawk from Quebec. She was inspired by a couple of girls that went missing on her home territory. There’s the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls #MMIWG epidemic in Canada and the United States, over a thousand women have gone missing and/or have been murdered, and not enough is known about that, certainly not enough has been done about it.
Sonia wrote this film, it’s about a mother who is searching for her teenage daughter, but it’s told through the eyes of the 8-year-old little sister. It’s interesting because you’re going to get a lot of very low shots like you’re the child, trying to hear what the adults are saying. I thought this was a really interesting take on filmmaking because I don’t think we’ve really ever seen anything like that before. To play – to represent – one of the many mothers, that has gone through… I can’t even imagine what it’s like having a child go missing, it’s an absolutely horrifying thought. I thought it was very, very important to be a part of it. It’s not going to be an easy movie to watch but it will be informative and… yeah… it’s hard to talk about. Very, very important but devastating, you know, so many families are going through this right now.
DB: It’s an issue that seems to not be taken that seriously.
CM: It’s not taken that seriously. You know there’s so much history in Canada and the United States, in regards to the indigenous peoples of this land. It seems like nobody really recognises that there was an attempt at genocide, and that attempt at genocide is still happening – that indigenous peoples here are still seen as ‘lesser’ than. There’s a lot of dysfunction in many Native communities (not all of them, but many), and there’s a lot of judgment around that, because the people are seen as just lazy or stupid or just a “bunch of drunken Indians”, and so much “why can’t you just get over it?”. But when you understand the history of the peoples and understand why there’s so much dysfunction – still – there is generation after generation, after generation of trauma and those dysfunctional, those addictive, behaviours are the defence mechanisms, the ways these people are trying to deal with that trauma. It doesn’t just go away. And, you can’t get over something that is still happening.
DB: And it’s institutionalised.
CM: Yes, there’s that. I mean, 70% of inmates in our prisons are Native. Those people are either residential school survivors or they’re children of residential school survivors. You know these people were ripped from their homes, placed in these schools, beaten, tortured, sexually abused, many, many of them died and the families didn’t even know where they were buried – there’s unmarked graves all over this country. When that is your family’s history, how else are you going to deal with that but to try to numb those feelings? That’s where the alcoholism and drug addiction comes from, so when you’re living in environments like that there is a lot of violence, a lot of abuse, and this is how these women are going missing.
DB: What about the movie Little Fish?
CM: That was one where I just came in and out on. That is starring Olivia Cooke – who’s on Bates Motel and a couple of other shows – and Jack O’Connell. I played a doctor on that. That’s really interesting but I can’t really talk about that one too much because it will give away the whole premise of the movie.
DB: How did you get your first break on TV?
CM: It’s interesting because I was doing theatre at the time, in my early 20s, and I was in a play. An agent saw me in that play, approached me afterwards and offered to represent me. I didn’t know how any of this worked, I was just winging it, so I was like, ‘Sure, okay, that’s how it works.’ I found out later from many friends in the industry who said, ‘No, no, no, usually you have to go around and submit to agents, and audition for them, and they decide if they want to take you on as a client.’ This agent started to send me out for TV and film roles, which I had never really considered. I auditioned for an actor role which was one or two lines in a feature film – a Disney feature film – and my agent called me the next day and said, ‘They’re offering you a principal role in this film.’ I was living in a home with a bunch of actors – one of those big suites with like 5 actors living in it (laughing) – and so I told my friends and they were like, ‘That doesn’t happen either, Carmen! You don’t audition for a one-liner and get a principal role, it doesn’t work that way.’ I showed up and they had rewritten the script, and I ended up with one scene, so I had this large role but ended up with nothing. At the end of the day they had to shave a bunch of minutes off the film and I didn’t end up in the film at all. The funny thing is, I still get residual cheques for that movie because I worked on it, and I’m not even in it! (Laughs) The next thing I auditioned for was a lead in a TV movie Brothers of the Frontier to play the love interest of Joey Lawrence (who was wildly popular at the time) and I booked it! That was my break out role in Vancouver and casting directors now knew me as this young ‘Native’ girl; I was in my 20s but I could still play 17. I was pretty much the only Native actor in Vancouver at that time, that sort of looked like the Disney version of Pocahontas. I played a lot of buckskin roles in those early years, just after Dances with Wolves, when it was really ‘in’ to be Indian, so I managed to work a fair bit.
DB: I suppose one of the biggest roles you did was in Blackstone, wasn’t it, because that ran for seasons.
CM: We did 5 seasons of Blackstone. It was the first time that I was the number one on a show; I had done a few different series before but that was the first time that I was ‘The Lead’. Again though it was APTN [Aboriginal Peoples Television Network] it was low-budget and only shown on APTN (which is not a huge network in Canada) but it was really, really well-received and got many many awards and then it was on Netflix in 190 countries around the world, for a while. I came onto Blackstone because there was nothing like it on TV, it was groundbreaking, it was called ‘the Native Sopranos’. It was the first time that I had seen a show that was mostly Native cast, so that was really exciting.
DB: Was that one of the main things that appealed to you about it?
CM: That it was modern day, that every storyline that we had on the show was inspired by something the writers had either experienced or had read about in the news. We were tackling a whole bunch of issues that just sparked dialogue in communities both non-Native and Native. That was our goal. I mean it was a TV show, it was meant for entertainment, but at the same time it got people talking.
DB: You have been a guest star on a number of shows – iZombie, Arrow and Bates Hotel etc. – what’s your experience of working as a guest star?
CM: It’s kind of weird because you’re sort of walking into somebody else’s family for a week. It can be a little daunting, but I’ve been doing this for over 27 years now, you just get used to it, you go in and you do your job, you have a little bit of fun and you say ‘bye’. I’ve been really lucky that most of the people that I’ve worked with have been really down-to-earth and welcoming. It’s nice when you step onto somebody else’s show and they’re genuinely happy that you’re there. Outlander was like that, everyone on that show is so lovely, Caitriona [Balfe] is so sweet, the entire cast and crew are just lovely human beings.
DB: What was the process by which you were cast in your role as Wahkatiiosta?
CM: Like anything, the casting director will put out a request for submissions for all the roles they need to fill, and then your agent submits ‘I have a client who would do really well in this role’. The casting director looks at all of the pictures and resumes and says, ‘Okay, we’ll see these people for this role.’ Then you put yourself on tape – they give you a couple of scenes to work on and create a character. Then they came back and gave me another scene to tape and after I did that second audition they cast me.
She was originally written as a woman in her 50s and when I got cast I thought, ‘Oh gosh! This is the oldest I’ve ever played.’ When I got to Scotland, and they gave me the revised scripts, they had rewritten her in her 30s, so I thought that felt a little better. When they are auditioning people sometimes even they don’t know what they want, until they see it. Really you just go in there, you create the character, and hope that they like what they see.
DB: Before you actually started filming over in Scotland, what preparation did you do for the character?
CM: I have friends in Tyendinaga, in Ontario, and they speak Mohawk and I got them to translate the audition material so I could do the audition in Mohawk. When I got the role, I had to spend a few days out in Quebec meeting the director of Rustic Oracle and my co-stars to do a photo shoot, a couple of table reads, and rehearsals before flying to Scotland for Outlander. I spent a few days with them really trying to ‘hear’ the Mohawk accent – because I wanted to incorporate that into the character – to get those intonations. They sent us the audio clips beforehand, so I had all that material. Then there were a couple weeks of rehearsal in Scotland, with a Mohawk translator from Ahkwesahsne. We would show up every day, sit down with her and just repeat the words over, and over, and over again. I love that they gave us a couple of weeks to work on that.
Oh man, there was one day when they were like, ‘We’re giving you another line in Mohawk, can you say this?’ I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve had all the other stuff for two weeks. How am I going to throw this extra line in here, that I’d only had for a few hours? Every single time we got to that line my mind would go blank – and I’ve got like 200 people around me, watching me screw up this one line over and over again – and I was so terrified that I was going to get fired. In between takes I’m running this line over and over again, and I look up and Sam’s looking right at me, with this stupid little grin on his face, and I’m like, ‘Nooooo!’ I almost burst into tears.’ He came over and just wrapped his arms around me and he said, ‘Don’t worry about it, it’s okay. I had one word in Mohawk to say yesterday, and I couldn’t get it, so don’t worry about it, you’re fine.’ I was so, so grateful for that moment. They ended up cutting that line out of the show anyway, I think because I just couldn’t get it.
I had been practising for my own name Wahkatiiosta and then, a couple of days before we were about to shoot, the translator said it was a different pronunciation, and I was like, ‘That’s not what’s on the audio clip. Why are you changing this now?’ She explained, ‘No it is….[new pronunciation].’ When they got to that piece in the show, when I watch that moment where I say my own name, I can see that I’m not saying it properly. It hurts me every time I see it, but I don’t know if the audience can see that I’m struggling with it.
DB: Probably not, I think they’re probably more distracted by the fact that Claire’s desperately trying to say it back to you, and being that she’s lead they get dragged from you to her.
CM: Good, good, that’s perfect, take the focus off me. (Both laugh)
DB: Were any of the other actors natural Mohawk speakers?
CM: Yeah, a lot of our background actors are Mohawk, so they were helpful too. They are beautiful, lovely people.
DB: Your costume, when you first tried it on, what was the effect?
CM: I got choked up. I walked into the Wardrobe Department at the studio, and saw what they were doing. We spent at least 20 minutes just talking about it and they were showing me pictures and all the research they had done – some of the quill work and the weaving that they had done by hand! They said, ‘Well we couldn’t find records of this stuff as far back as 1753, because there are no records, so we’re having to make this up.’ But I was blown away by the amount of research that they had done, and how accurate they had tried to be. I didn’t know a whole lot about the character – yet – but when I saw what they had me in I was like, ‘Oh! She’s a warrior.’ I had no idea that she was a warrior until I saw and put on that costume, and she just kind of came alive in that room. As soon as I put the clothes on I had a better sense of how I was going to play her. Costumes are always vital, you get so much out of them, especially when you put on the shoes and you feel how that grounds you.
DB: You had one earring as well, was there a particular reasoning behind that?
CM: I didn’t ask but I know a lot of Mohawk, especially the Mohawk men, that wear the one earring, but I never asked about that, that’s interesting. I should ask some of my friends.
DB: The burning at the stake scene… What sort of experience was that for the cast and the crew? How did everyone react as they were running it through?
CM: Oh man, just over and over and over again, our jaws dropped, ‘I can’t even believe what we’re looking at right now.’ And Braeden! [Clarke] Braeden’s reaction, the pain and tears in his eyes when he’s watching it… oh that broke my heart. He did such a good job in that scene. That was really emotional for everybody but we were also all caught up with the pyrotechnics of it all, which are really exciting when you’re on set and watching it all go down. Because the scenes are broken up into pieces you don’t really have time to get totally overwhelmed by what’s going on in the scene – until you get to see it all cut together, then it’s like, ‘Wow! I can’t even believe we all experienced that.’ We were all really, really excited that there was fire and… ‘there’s going to be people in it and oh my God! The stuntwoman’s actually jumping in! What the heck!’
DB: When you are telling Otter Tooth’s story I was interested in how you felt, as your character, when you are retelling that story to these foreigners? How did you relate what she was feeling, telling a story that she knows?
CM: And has known for her whole life, and that has been a mystery until Claire shows up with the stone… It’s just reaffirming for her what she’s always kind of believed. There was some frustration in there, ‘You’re not hearing me, you’re not believing what I know to be true. Why aren’t you doing anything?’ Which is why she rebels, goes against what she has been told to do. Wahkatiiosta has this huge heart but she has this armour, you know, so you can’t really tell what is going on with her. She just looks like she’s grumpy all the time, but that’s her defence mechanism. She doesn’t want you to see how vulnerable she is. She is terrified for her people, and she’s going to do whatever she can to protect them – in the end it loses her everything. She is willing to put down her life for her people. So yes, there was frustration and fear, and there was a lot of love in that speech.
DB: I liked it also because it mirrors the story of Jamie and Scotland, when the English are going to destroy the Highland way of life and decimate the population.
CM: Very similar histories there.
DB: The canoe scene where you are all paddling along in the canoes in the evening, beautiful.
CM: Oh my God that was such a glorious moment! I remember it vividly. We were all just… There was a lot of silence as we were waiting for them to set up shots and we’re sitting in the canoes just looking around going, ‘I just cannot believe we’re here right now,’ it was so stunningly beautiful. I posted a picture at one point of the end of my canoe, the sun setting, the landscape – it was just serene and calm and beautiful and we all were in amazement at how lucky we felt at that moment.
DB: Straight after where you all help Roger escape: how much did you enjoy the stunts and fighting?
CM: Oh my gosh! First time I ever got to do real stuntwork. I was really, really, really excited about that. (Laughs) When we were first running away from the hut – we did a take – and then we were setting up to do it again. The director said, ‘You have to slow it down, and make sure you’re looking back to see that the people that you’re leading are behind you.’ I thought, ‘I can do that.’ So, of course, he shouts ‘Action!’ we start running away and I turn to look at Sam, hit a stump and oh my God, I bailed so hard. I went home with a number of bruises that day. (Laughs) I landed really hard but then I was up and running faster because I was in the middle of a scene and I’m like, ‘Gotta go. Gotta go.’ I think Sam almost tripped over me.
All the stunt guys had been working on these sequences for a few weeks and I kept asking, ‘Can I get in on this? I need to know what we’re doing that day because I’m doing my own stunts.’ It was only the day before we shot it that the stunt coordinator was on set and he said, ‘Okay, here’s what you’re going to do.’ We ran through it once and he said, ‘Okay, you’re good.’ I’m like, ‘What? Everybody else got to do this for weeks, every single day.’ I got like 10 minutes of instruction and just had to kind of wing it, though I managed to pull it off. I had a really good time.
DB: Overall, actually on set, how was it working with the rest of the cast?
CM: Oh gosh! They are all so great, so wonderful. Sam was really tired actually because he’d been training every day – getting ready for this movie that he was doing – and he had been shooting for months and months, so he was kind of quiet and kept to himself a lot. Caitriona is just lovely and bubbly. Richard [Rankin] is hilarious, one of the funniest people I have ever met. He’s always joking, so there’s a lot of laughter when he’s around; he just wants to have fun, all the time. He’s a blast to work with. John Bell, just the sweetest little sweetheart ever, love him. It’s going to be fun, we’re doing a convention in Vancouver in October, so John is flying out for that, so I get to see him again. All of the Mohawks and the back ground performers and the other guest stars – some of them I had worked with over the years and a few of them I had heard of, but had never met – so it was really nice to be in Scotland with 150 people from Canada!
DB: Tom Jackson as well, his voice is just so wonderful.
CM: Yeah, it was the first time I had actually worked with Tom – I had been in his show North of 60 but didn’t actually work with him. These are people that all my friends know, and I’ve heard their names for my entire career, and we end up in Scotland and meet them. Weird.
DB: Being with that very large group of First Nations actors and extras in Scotland: what were your stand out memories of that itself, outside of the filming?
CM: Oh, of course our massive pillow fight in George Square in Glasgow. I’ll never forget that, it was such a blast. There were probably 30 or 40 of us, all Native, in the middle of the square, in the middle of the night. Then there were the guys trying to put the cones on the statue, and our group got it up to double digits. That was our boys!
DB: How much of Glasgow did you actually see while you were there because obviously you were really busy filming, and tired afterwards?
CM: We walked a bunch of places. Sera-Lys (McArthur) and I did a Loch Lomond tour. I had been hearing about Loch Lomond my entire life, so I had to go and see it.
DB: I visited Loch Lomond once, as a teenager. My father drove the whole way there from near London in one hit. When we arrived my mother got out of the car – and we never let her forget this – and said, ‘There’s a lot of Scottish people here.’ (Both laugh) Did you encounter any of the dreaded midges?
CM: Oh I had never heard of midges before I got to Scotland and boy, did I experience them! They’re nasty. We used a lot of bug spray because those things, they attack and they don’t let up. Everyday when filming, bug spray.
DB: If you were able to travel back in time to the 18th century like Otter Tooth did: how do you think you would fare and what would you tell people, if anything?
CM: Oh God, I don’t think I’d fare very well at all. Oh no, I’d get myself killed really quick. (Both laugh) I would make mistakes in the first 5 or 10 minutes.
DB: What advice would you give anyone who’s considering acting as a career?
CM: It’s said over and over again, but it has to be your absolute number 1 passion if you’re going to be in this industry, because the industry itself is really cruel. If you can imagine doing anything else, do it. If you can’t imagine doing anything else, put everything into it. Keep going and don’t give up because there’s going to be a lot of heartbreak, a LOT of rejection, and there are times when there’s years between gigs. You always have to have another source of income.
DB: Have you done other jobs in between?
CM: Lots. I’ve been a server off and on for 26 years, I’ve worked in catering, I’ve done some driving for productions, some PA work – a number of odd jobs here and there over the years. I’ve been really lucky in the last couple of years that I haven’t had to do much of that. There have been years when I haven’t had to have a side job. You know, every once in a while work dries out, you have your good years and your bad years, so you’ve got to have other things going on, other interests.
DB: Talking about interests, outside of work, what other hobbies, interests and passions have you got?
CM: I’ve been doing a fair bit of reading in the last little while, now that I’m not a mother to a small child anymore – not a whole lot of time to read when you’re a single mum. I do a lot of hiking, I love being out in the wilderness. I meet friends a lot. I have a group of women that I see on a regular basis, we do full and new moon ceremonies. A friend of ours is a singer, so we’re going to do group singing lessons, which will be really amazing and finally my voice training, after all these years. I meditate, that’s really important for me.
DB: Do you do yoga at all?
CM: I used to, I should get back into it, I’m not as flexible as I used to be and I’m starting to feel it.
DB: How old is your son now?
CM: Jaden’s 21. We’re good friends, me and Jaden, and it’s exciting seeing him figuring stuff out. He’s just figuring out what he wants to do, what direction he wants to take, and it’s exciting. I think it’s going to have something to do with the music industry. All his friends are artists and have put out albums already, and he has suddenly hunkered down and is teaching himself music theory and how to create beats that his friends can use.
DB: Do you have a tattoo on your back? I think I spotted one in a photo.
CM: I do. (Laughs)
DB: Do you have any other tattoos?
CM: No, just the two on my spine. Those are just a couple of doodles I did and I thought, ‘Oh I might as well put those on my spine. Why not?’ Some people say it looks kind of like a sword and a shield and I thought, ‘Oh I must have wanted to protect myself from something, at that time.’
DB: And maybe stab someone with the pointy end?
CM: Yeah, a few people I think, (both laugh) and bash them with that shield. Thankfully I’ve moved on from that point in my life, I no longer wish to stab people with pointy things. I’ve found peace and serenity and a lot of forgiveness.
DB: Who would you say has been the most influential person, or people, in your life?
CM: That’s a very interesting question. You know what… everyone that I come into contact with is influential in my life, the good and the bad. I suppose what people consider to be bad experiences are always the biggest teachable moments. Everything I learned from my parents, good and bad, made me the person that I am today. Every horrible relationship I’ve ever had has taught me who I want to be. I have had so much therapy over the years, so of course my therapists and counsellors have been influential on my life. The women that I have in my life today inspire me and influence me, every single day. I have this amazing group of women in my life that are my rocks. I find myself to be very fortunate to have all the people in my life that I do. My biggest teacher in my life was probably Jaden…and now my new nephews. Children are incredible teachers.
DB: What are the good things and the bad things about living in Vancouver?
CM: The good things, the hiking and it really is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The bad things, rental prices. (Both laugh) It’s a really, really expensive city.
In regards to the film industry I feel like you get put into a box, as an actor, you need to take responsibility for your career and make people see you in a different way because otherwise they will see you as one thing and they will only cast you as that. I’m glad that, a couple of years ago, I got my Toronto Agent because that’s opening up a whole new world for me – it’s how I got Outlander and the other project (that I can’t talk about yet) that I did last year, in Ireland. (Laughs) Toronto doesn’t know me the way that Vancouver has known me for 27 years, so different things are happening now.
For my first 7 years or so of the industry I played a lot of roles in buckskin and I thought, ‘Oh jeez, this is getting very familiar. How can I shift it?’ So I chopped off all my hair. My agent kind of freaked because I now had this bob cut, I wasn’t going to be playing the Pocahontas roles any more. I don’t want to be known as a ‘Native actor’ I just want to be an actor. It worked for me, I was booking lawyer roles and cop roles, non-indigenous roles, and I’m really, really glad that I did that.
DB: What about women within the industry?
CM: Things are shifting in the film industry, there are a lot more roles being written for women over 35, which is great. I’ve seen some ‘older’ women – ‘older’ being, what over 35/45? (it’s ridiculous) – being cast opposite men their own age, which is incredible; it’s always been older men with 20-year-old women, which is so gross. We are starting to see a lot more women coming up behind the scenes in camerawork, writing, directing, producing which is fantastic, but we need a lot more to shift what we see on the screen. Women’s stories being told by women, for women.
DB: If you can cast your mind back, what was the first single or album that you ever bought?
CM: I remember I was really young and my dad brought me to the record store to buy a Blondie cassette, and I was so excited.
DB: Is there a song, or songs, that take you back to a special time in your life?
CM: Of course, there are many that spark that sense of nostalgia. “Sweet Child Of Mine” reminds me of junior high school. “Blinded By The Light” reminds me of being a small child. Early 20s there was the whole grunge thing – the Seattle grunge scene – so there’s lots of Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and Sound Garden.
DB: What genres of music do you like listening to and do you have any favourite artists?
CM: Everything. I love music. I love all music. My playlists are ridiculous because I will just put on my entire music library and it will jump from classical to death metal to Broadway musicals to Sarah McLachlan, and then gangster rap. It just makes no sense.
DB: Do you go to watch live music?
CM: Yes I do. The last concert that I went to was Elle King at the Commodore, which is a great bar in Vancouver where a lot of artists love to play at because it’s an intimate setting and it’s so full of energy. Before that I saw LP at the Vogue, and she is incredible, amazing! Her fiancée opened up for her (and nobody knew that it was her fiancée), Lauren Ruth Ward, that was a really great concert.
DB: What’s the best concert that you’ve ever been to? If you can choose one.
CM: I couldn’t possibly choose one. I’ve seen so many great concerts. You know what… Years ago I saw (probably 10 years ago) Platinum Blonde at the Commodore and I was like, ‘I can’t believe this is one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen!’ It was great and a lot of fun. LP was amazing. I saw The Beach Boys in a park in Vancouver in my 20s. That was cool. Too many to list.
DM: If there’s a party and there’s music playing, will you just get up and dance or do you have to be dragged onto the dance floor?
CM: Oh, no, I always dance. I dance, a lot. I dance when there’s no music! (Laughs)
DB: Is there a song that always makes you want to get up and dance?
CM: “I Got A Feeling” The Black Eyed Peas.
DB: Do you ever get up and sing? You said you’re not a trained singer but if you do what would be your songs of choice?
CM: I’m not but I do karaoke. There’s a few that I do. Lately I’ve been doing “Creep” by Radiohead, which is weird. I like doing Sarah McLachlan and I do “Cornflake Girl” by Tori Amos, that’s my go-to song.
DB: Do you play a musical instrument?
CM: Not very well. (Laughs) I picked up my guitar again about a year-and-a-half ago – I used to play a little bit as a kid but I didn’t know very much – so I’ve been plucking away at it, trying to teach myself how to do it. I’m not very good yet.
DB: Imagine it’s your final meal on planet Earth, what would you choose to eat and what would be your preferred tipple?
CM: Mango kombucha and, oh my gosh, final meal… I would probably have to have a traditional turkey dinner: roast turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and Brussels sprouts. Now my mouth is watering, see what you did? (Both laugh) I’d probably have to throw some French fries in there though – fries and gravy.
DB: Is there a certain book that you return to again and again?
CM: I could probably read the Harry Potters over and over; I love Harry Potter. I’ve been reading Conversations with God that’s been very inspirational and eye-opening for me. I can read anything by Esther and Jerry Hicks and The Teachings of Abraham. I’ve been posting a lot about things that I’m learning from Abraham.
DB: What are you reading at the moment?
CM: I’m reading the Essential Law of Attraction collection by Esther and Jerry Hicks and The Teachings of Abraham.
DB: Final question: how would you describe your perfect day?
CM: My perfect day is always on set, it’s my absolute favourite, favourite place to be. Even when they tell me that we’re wrapped and that I can go home, I usually stick around for a while because I never want to leave. I love working! I do not enjoy weekends. (I know, I’m a strange person). I don’t enjoy Saturdays and Sundays, so I try to fill up my Saturdays and Sundays to make them go quickly. I can’t wait until Monday. Monday is my favourite day! I enjoy my work so much that I just want to work all the time. Just now though I’m spending as much family time as I can before I start work again.
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This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Any opinions or views expressed within the interview are the subject’s own and publication does not imply endorsement of any such opinions or views by Absolute Music Chat or its personnel.