There’s a quote that goes, ‘Kill your heroes, then take their place’. Many of my heroes are already dead but for the younger generation, there are still many heroes for them to look up to. I had so many heroes when I was younger that I wanted to emulate. I certainly didn’t want to kill them but I wanted to share a spot at the table with them, sleep in the same room, eat the same food, style my hair the same way and wear the clothes… okay, it got a little weird but I was 8 and they were the Jackson 5. My mom enjoyed giving me the perms, she saw me as a trend setter but eventually I moved onto other heroes, we all do. Killing them has evolved to shattering the ceiling and standing heads and shoulders above the rest… and nobody has done that better than Tammy Gillis.
Tammy has the starring role as Cara Durant in the upcoming film, Riverfront Romance, premiering on the Superchannel on Oct. 2. – Oct. 18.
The film follows Cara (Tammy) who has always dreamed of buying the Ridgecrest estate, an old turn of the century home nestled on the riverbank of her hometown. After years of hard work as a successful novelist she’s finally saved enough money to buy it all on her own, complete with an office overlooking the river where she can write her next novel. It’s a dream come true…until she discovers that Riley (Morgan David Jones), the project manager of a hydro corporation, is set to begin construction on a dam right in front her house, ruining its peaceful atmosphere, flooding the local swimming hole, and permanently altering the landscape of the town. Cara has 30 days to change Riley’s mind before they begin construction on the dam.
Tammy grew up in rural Manitoba, showing an early interest in acting and school plays that led to theatre classes at the University of Winnipeg. Shortly after, she found herself on the set of Canadian legend Guy Maddin’s Heart of the World. Her talent was undeniable and she’s been raising the bar ever since. You might recognize Tammy in her current role as Deputy Marissa on Freeform’s hit TV series Siren, now airing on Disney Plus. Tammy has become a Hallmark Channel favourite and has appeared in many Hallmark projects including the her most recent role was in the Hallmark Movies & Mystery series Martha’s Vineyard Mysteries – Poisoned in Paradise.
Tammy is an award-winning actor with credits that include starring with James Tupper (Big Little Lies) in a special two-part episode in season three of The Detectives. She’s guest starred in recurring roles on Van Helsing, Motive, Supernatural, Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce, Once Upon A Time, Less Than Kind, The Arrangement, Ghost Wars, and many more. Her feature film credits include No Men Beyond This Point, White Noise 2, A Dog’s Way Home, and Torn Dark Bullets, to name a few.
A spirited force in the industry, Tammy’s work has been celebrated with a number of accolades, including four Best Actress awards for her work on Menorca (the UBCP/ACTRA Award, the Black Sea Film Festival in Romania, the Noida International Film Festival in India, and the Solaris Film Festival in Nice, France), and a Leo Award nomination for Best Lead Performance by a Female in a Motion Picture for the film, as well as a Leo Award nomination for Best Guest Performance by a Female in a Dramatic Series for her work on UPTV’s Ties That Bind.
Tammy resides in Vancouver and is a mentor for Women in Film and Television. She had me at hello… and I couldn’t wait to talk to this mega star, uber vibrant talent and hero to many. Roll the tape!
HNMAG “Congratulations on the film, Riverfront Romance. It’s airing on the Superchannel from Oct. 2 – Oct. 18. When was the film shot and where was the location?”
TAMMY “We filmed it almost exactly a year ago. It was from mid Sept – the first week of Oct, 2020.”
HNMAG “In this film, you play a novelist/writer that moves into an old character home by the river. As you get into your character, what would be a trait that a writer/novelist might have that sets them apart?”
TAMMY “Definitely… being self-motivated. I find it being one of the hardest things to do. You can clean your house, run errands to avoid it… but the hardest part is sitting down and doing it. Once I do, it’s easier from there. I was taking an online writing class for about 2 months and it was great. It was a Zoom class filled with other writers and we’d have to present our work every week. In comparison to Cara, who is on a deadline – she has to get it finished. Fortunately, her mom (Allison Hossack) is around to help motivate her into getting it done. Allison is originally from Manitoba, as am I, so it feels like it’s come full circle. We shot it in Ontario, but at one time Allison lived in Vancouver and we worked on a film together. I was so happy that she was cast to play my mom because I felt like I’d gotten to know her a little and with a Manitoba background, it allowed us to connect very easily.”
HNMAG “Is this story based on a novel?”
TAMMY “No it wasn’t, the writer is Kate Pragnell and is married to an actor that I’ve worked with in previous films. Cindy Busby, who is a good friend and someone I’ve worked with on the Unleashing/Marrying Mr. Darcy series, is good friends with Kate. It became this Kevin Bacon and 6 degrees of separation. I had met the director at the Whistler film festival; he was premiering his film and I was premiering Menorca. The leading man, Morgan David Jones – is very good friends with one of my best friends that I met on the set of Siren (laughing), so there’s this criss-cross of connections that’s happened. It is an original screenplay that Kate had written.”
HNMAG “You grew up in a small town in northern Manitoba and you’ve come a long way since then. Is it the perseverance or is it the passion that keeps your career moving forward?”
TAMMY “I think you definitely need both. This industry is not an easy one, especially as an actor – there are no guarantees. To book a job, you need a lot of people to say yes. You have to love what you do, you need to believe in yourself and you need to continue to move forward in pursuing it, even if it feels like you’re not getting anywhere. It’s very easy to give up after working so hard and not finding that success… however, you can look at other successful people that didn’t find success till a later age – such as their 50’s or 60’s. I think I heard that Morgan Freeman didn’t book his first film until he was into his 50’s.”
HNMAG “You’ve started writing your own screenplays. Did that come as a result of wanting to keep challenging yourself?”
TAMMY “Absolutely, I’ve always wanted to own a production company to create content. As a woman in the industry, I sometimes feel like there’s no real reason for my character to exist, other than being there in support of the male character. As an actor, I would love to be challenged more. I’ve been quite fortunate because I’ve really tried hard to not put myself into a box, where – that’s all I can do. I’m constantly changing my appearance, I’ve cut my hair off. I can go from Riverfront, which is a romcom, to something like Van Helsing, which is stunt fighting and running around with a machete or chasing mermaids in a small town. In Ghost Wars, I was able to jump out of helicopters and shoot guns – it was so much fun!”
Tammy expanded on her experience of jumping in and out of helicopters, shooting big guns and going for broke, until the director has got his shot. Dedication to your craft doesn’t quite say it all. Tammy has true grit! On the film Menorca, she had to take 5 flights to reach the small cozy island but she said it was totally worth it. She said the food and restaurants were pretty amazing too.
HNMAG “Having been in so many extraordinary productions, Van Helsing, Motive, Supernatural, Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce, Once Upon A Time, the award-winning HBO comedy series Less Than Kind, The Arrangement, Ghost Wars, and many more. Is there a role that you are still hoping to play?”
TAMMY “It’s funny because people ask that a lot… what’s your dream role? Literally, the next role is my dream role. I just love to act (laughing). I’ve been very lucky to have been in a diverse range of productions. I really love doing comedy and being crazy and ridiculous. I also love playing a killer, where it’s so intense and I’m crazy mean, as well as the action stuff… which is beyond fun because it’s so much like playing. You’re shooting fake guns, you’re jumping into the back of trucks and taking off, its so much fun (laughing).”
HNMAG “You had the great opportunity to work with James Tupper (Big Little Lies) in a special two-part episode in season three of the hit CBC true crime series The Detectives. When did you shoot that and where?”
TAMMY “We shot that last summer, but I want to say the summer before. It’s so confusing with covid. We shot it in Montreal and I really love working in Montreal; I’ve been fortunate to work there a couple of times now. They have great comedy shows there and I just missed seeing Kevin Hart in something. We had wrapped too late and I missed his show. ”
HNMAG “Having been on the hit Disney Plus series, Siren for 3 seasons, does it become harder to shut off the character after you leave the set?”
TAMMY “Not at all. What I found that really helped me was the costume. Portraying police officer, Deputy Merissa – I wore the same uniform every single time, with the exception of different pants 1 time. I wore the exact same uniform for every episode, you never see me in anything else. Sometimes the shirt is short sleeved, long sleeved or the jacket is on, but everything is the same… until the third season, which is when the pants changed. The uniform itself is heavy. The belt with the gun holster and everything on it, the polyester pants that resist and repel water – it all really helped to ground me when I was playing her. It also helped to give me authority, so it was easier to jump back into the character. I really loved my relationship with Gil Birmingham (sheriff Dale Bishop). He’s such an incredible actor and currently on season 3 or 4 of Yellowstone with Kevin Costner. He was also in the Award-winning film, Hell or High Water. It’s funny because his character in Hell or High Water is the same character that I play in Siren. We used to joke about that and we developed a really good friendship right from the first day, which helped me to shuffle into the series. It really helped to provide conflict – he was constantly trying to protect his secret and was always pushing me back and, in my place – even though we had a true friendship.
HNMAG “Was it difficult to say goodbye to everyone after 3 seasons?”
TAMMY “It was… they threw a huge wrap party because they knew they were on the cusp of not being renewed but none of us knew that at the time. It would’ve been much harder if we had known. A lot of us are still in contact and we really did create our own little family. We all still keep in touch through social media. It was nice to create some life long friendships out of it.”
HNMAG “With every production you’ve been in, do you take something away from each production, as you progress forward in your career?”
TAMMY “Absolutely. The biggest thing that I love is that it’s so collaborative and you’re constantly learning new stuff from other people. As an actor, you don’t know the technical aspects of making something. I was constantly asking about the lenses and what they do. Even hearing the terminology on set, where the more experience you get, the more it can help you. I’m always asking, what is the shot, what is the setup, what kind of lens are we using, what’s my frame? If it’s a wide master shot, you can see a lot and there’s room to be a little bigger versus a close-up, where I have to bring my performance down a little because there’s not as much room to move around – it’s more intimate and you’re a little bit tighter. Those are things you learn if you ask more questions and by acquiring more experience. The ‘really’ good actors know how to manipulate the camera to enhance their performance.”
HNMAG “Since you mentioned your new writing project/screenplay you’re currently working on, have you written more scripts?”
TAMMY “I have a couple that I’ve written. There’s one in particular that I’ve written, it’s a bit of a thriller, that I could see as a low budget feature or Lifetime thriller. I have to do more rewrites on that – I tend to jump around a lot. Trying to put time into it when I’m not acting, I’ll sometimes get into something else and the passion fizzles out a little. Eventually I’m going to get around to doing it. I’m very fortunate because I have creative relationships with producers now and they’re telling me they want to read it, so please finish it (laughing).”
HNMAG “You’re an executive producer on Riverfront Romance. Why did you want to jump on board this project?”
TAMMY “I kind of got offered the role and they made it more attractive by giving me executive producer credit. I jumped at it knowing that the more experience I can get running my own company, I can use that on other projects. As one of the producers, its much more collaborative than just being one of the actors. I really enjoyed being part of the decision making when we were filming and I learned a lot from that experience. As an actor, many of the times we’re people pleasers, we want to get along, be creative and collaborate. But, sometimes as a producer – it’s a yes or no answer and you have to stand behind it. My mind thinks like a director much of the time, so I’m constantly trying to problem solve, which is basically what directors and producer’s do all day long. They have a game plan and then they deal with all the problems that come up.”
Tammy shared one of those stories with us. “This one time we were filming the Season 1 finale in Burnaby. We had just finished shooting a huge scene with cops, there’s mermaids and guns, it’s a huge scene and a lot to cover. We finished shooting half of the scene and then it started snowing… like a blizzard. We couldn’t shoot because you could see the snow and there’s no way of getting around it. The producers are freaking out because we still have 2 days of shooting left. We were all sitting inside getting warm and the producers were wondering what they’re going to do. I approached them to say, ‘I have an idea, if you’re open to hearing it’. They were cautiously ok, so I told them how they could shoot from inside the ambulance with the wounded sheriff inside and me standing at the doors looking in but covered. They were like, give us a minute. They went away and a little while later announced what they were going to do. It turned out to be my idea and I think they were very grateful. In the time that it took to shoot it, the snow had stopped and they were able to finish the rest of their shots, going into a little overtime.”
Tammy also shared another story of a time where she was involved in 3 films simultaneously. She had a hard time reconnecting with her identity at times. She was taking a float plane to Victoria on one day, then flying back to the mainland the next. She had taken 25 flights in 2 weeks. In one instance, the pilot had gotten too close to the plane in front of them and they dropped so far and so fast, she thought they were going down. The life of an actor can put you in peril but that’s what keeps life exciting… never knowing what’s coming next.
Please tune into Riverfront Romance this coming Oct.2nd and see Tammy shine on the screen. She is one of Canada’s finest jewels.