Great movies are born from great stories. Without the characters to tell that story it stays at the campfire. It gets lost within the marshmallows and hotdogs, the guitar playing, the choking smoke and faded memories of an alcohol induced night. At least, that’s what my friend told me. Luckily, not all stories are told around the campfire and quickly forgotten due to my friends’ hangover the next day. Some great stories arise out of those ashes and that camping trip. They find their way onto paper and with a lot of love and attention, they find their characters to tell it.
Without actors, there is nobody telling the story. A great actor will breathe life into the character so well that the director just has to call, “Action.” They can make you laugh and cry with their performances. They hold the keys to the box office. Many audiences are built around the actor starring in the film. How does an actor reach the type of star status that commands a sold out audience? I like to think the answer was revealed to me through a recent interview with an extraordinary actress, Tammy Gillis.
Tammy has been in over 50 productions and most recently finished wrapping on three major ones. She just finished her eighth episode on Siren, in which she has a recurring role. It will air two episodes on March 29 on the Freeform Network. She’s also in another series called Ghost Wars, which premieres on the US Syfy Network and on Canadian Netflix in early 2018. If that isn’t busy enough, she just completed a role in the feature film, A Dogs Way Home while starting work on a Hallmark film.
“Having been in so many productions, do you have a preference for certain roles?”
“As far as role preferences, I love comedy and would love to be in Working Moms, Shitt’s Creek or Letter Kenny. In saying that, I also like strong female roles. I loved Wonder Woman and would enjoy seeing more female driven films. I’d also be up to working in the US and love to travel for projects. I still audition for roles and am always trying to stay busy. There are times when you don’t get roles for month’s and you honestly want to bang your head against the wall… and then the phone rings and it reminds you that this is what I was meant to do.”
Tammy had grown up in a small town of 800 in northern Manitoba before catching the acting bug in high school theatre. She still remembers her first role, playing a grandpa. Since retiring from high school theatre, she has concentrated a great deal of her time working in TV. Although Vancouver is her basecamp, she’s lived in Toronto, Montreal, LA and across Canada. She prefers to travel whenever possible for filming. She has been lucky enough to travel to Menorca, an island off the coast of Spain for the film of the same name, Menorca. She says the people were so welcoming, the food was so tasty and the location was a beautiful place to film. I think she found her Zen because she won an award for her role in the film. She has also fallen in love with Victoria when she was shooting a film out there. Just some of the wonderful perks of working on location.
“How do you prepare for a role?”
“I spend a lot of time with the script. I want to know who my character interacts with. The relationship between people is very important to the story. I’ll break down the script to discover what her character wants, what’s important to her and what drives her. I want to know what obstacles stand in the way of the characters pursuit of getting what she wants. For me, it’s all about telling the story someone has written with a sprinkling of my own interpretation.”
Tammy also explained to me that the more time she spends acting, the more she realizes when a line doesn’t work and she’ll suggest a change. The majority of the time, the director is open to collaboration. On a set, if the director has gotten his shots, they’ll sometimes ask if she has any ideas to try it another way.
Tammy tells me that everyone thinks it must be fun to be an actress and how great a life it can be. What they don’t often realize is how hard you have to work to make it in the industry. It took 15 years of dedication and commitment for Tammy’s level of success. She says, “you never know when the big break is going to happen or if it ever will happen. It takes a lot of people to say yes before you get that job. You have to keep working hard.”
“Do you have a certain acting technique that you apply to getting into character?”
“As far as acting technique, I’ve cobbled a few together to form my own method. I don’t agree with an actor staying up all night to portray an insomniac. It is acting and you need to be able to function on set. For me, acting is about being honest and truthful. Being present in the moment and making choices and being prepared for them and letting it fly when it happens.”
Having been in the business as long as Tammy, she has worked with multiple directors and DP’s and has worked on multiple projects with the same directors and DP’s. She says it’s always nice working with people that she knows.
“When you’re familiar with directors and DP’s, everyone has each other’s back and there’s less surprises. It’s especially important when working 12, 14 and 16 hr. days. If you’ve formed good relationships, it makes it much easier.”
“Do you have a preference between film or TV?”
“I do prefer the pace and quickness of filming TV. You can shoot 4 – 6 pgs per day of script. In film, you will sometimes only shoot 2 pages. In film however, there are more opportunities to get creative with shots. There are more toys and equipment to work with, including cranes and lifts. There’s always a unique element to filming.”
“Have you ever had to do any of your own stunts?”
“I’m not against doing some stunt work but I do recognize my limitations. In one film I was portraying an Afghan prisoner that jumps out of a helicopter. The helicopter was a shell that was raised on a cable and I had to jump 10 feet onto boxes covered in matts. My stunt double replicated the same stunt from a 40-foot height. I knew at that point I wasn’t comfortable with doing anything to extreme. I have so much appreciation and admiration for stunt people.”
I don’t often get to talk to actors and this interview summed up a lot of the misconceptions of the show business. Tammy Gillis is the consummate actress filled with dedication to her craft. The road has not been easy and one that is less travelled. As a screenwriter, we need to know that actors are capable of giving their all to a role. They can adopt the character as a second skin and knock your socks off with their performance.
Tammy Gillis has won four awards for her acting. I foresee a time when an Oscar will be within her reach. That is my wish for this Shooting Star!