A Conversation with Ronnie Rowe Jr. on Black Cop

Every September, Torontonians eagerly wait for the arrival of TIFF and its noteworthy films and spectacular talent. This year, TIFF mounted over 336 films through a range of genres and early releases. It’s my favourite time of year. Not only are stars brought in from all over the world, the festival is special in that it is a great place for new and emerging talent to shine in. Some are right from our own backyard. Ronnie Rowe Jr. is a Toronto native who is hot on our radar. He stars in his first feature film Black Cop, which premiered at TIFF, a spectacular feat for someone new to film.

I caught Ronnie Rowe Jr. on his way to a fitting for a TV show in Toronto that he can’t quite talk about yet, but something tells me that Black Cop won’t be the last we see of this talented individual.

Photo Credit: TIFF

Kimberley Drapack: How did you first get involved in acting?

Ronnie Rowe Jr.: I was actually forced into acting funny enough, because of a grade six teacher. He was really into musical theatre so he forced all the grade sixes to audition for these plays. One of them was Oliver Twist, another one was Greece, and another one was the Sound of Music. Through this opportunity, that’s when I fell in love with acting. I got to play Danny Zuko, so I might have been the first black Danny Zucko. I got to play Mr. Bumble in Oliver Twist, I was the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz.

I thought it was amazing that I could remember the lines. It never felt like I was memorizing.

K: Did it feel like second nature to you?

RRJ: Yeah, I thought it was so much fun and the most fun I’ve had. I got to be free and do it in front of people and they enjoyed it.

The lights really helped. I got nervous at one point, and thought, “oh, I can’t even see anybody.”

Photo Credit: HO-Cylla von Tiedemann

K: What has it been like building your career in the Toronto film and theatre scene?

RRJ: I just came off a theatre tour with Soulpepper, we remounted Kim’s Convenience. We got to go Off Broadway because of it.

I started doing independent theatre about five or six years ago with Unit 102. Through that, more people in the theatre scene started to see me. I got invited to audition for Tarragon, which I booked, but funding fell through.

I did a play with Obsidian Theatre and over at Theatre Passe Muraille and from that, I got to tour Canada with Kim’s Convenience. I got to tour Halifax, Montréal, Toronto, and Off Broadway all this year. It’s been a great year so far.

K: You’ve hit all the major Toronto theatre venues.

RRJ: I love theatre so much. Every time I come off of a theatre run I become this different tool. You get to work the same material for so long and you can’t get bored with it, you have to become fascinated with it, dig deeper, find more things and keep it fresh. It’s a great teacher for me.

K: Do you feel as though it builds a different skill set as opposed to preparing for a film scene?

RRJ: I feel as though it sharpens my actor because of the repetitions. Anytime I’m doing a theatre run I’m always working that material. You discover so many things. The more you say something, the more it comes to life. I love the process of theatre because it’s pretty long.

I think film is like that as well. You get to draw out certain aspects, and you’re trying to find these within the character and the themes. Those processes feel very similar to me.

Photo Credit: @RILEYSMITHPHOTO

K: Does one feel more like home than the other?

RRJ: I feel very comfortable in both theatre and film, and I love them both for different reasons. With theatre, it’s the immediacy, and the intimacy. With film, it’s that it’s so character and story driven. It’s about those moments and that’s where the similarity lies. These moments are so key in theatre and in film.

It’s the same with TV, but I feel as though you get to flush out a bit more with those two mediums.

K: It’s nice to have that immediate connection with your audience through theatre.

RRJ: There’s nothing like it. Whenever there is that first joke in a play, to kind of catch the audience within that state of performance is amazing. Then, you just dance with it for the rest o it. 

K: So you’ve been a natural since the beginning?

RRJ: It just really makes me happy, being up there and expressive and vulnerable… I love it because it’s so scary. 

I found that within the journey of self-discovery and trying to find out who you are, I always needed art to be part of what I do, whether it’s poetry or acting, I need to be artistically expressive.

K: Do you write poetry as well? Did you start as a kid?

RRJ: I do. I’ve been doing it for awhile but it’s just now that I’ve started sharing my pieces more.

K: Do you remember the first time you showed someone a poem?

RRJ: For sure. I’m pretty sure it was a female. 

It’s always nice to get feedback and when people resonate with what you’re saying. Just like with acting or any other form of expression.

K: What is it like to have a film premiering in TIFF?

RRJ: I haven’t seen the film in its entirety yet, so the premier will be the first time I’m actually seeing it. It’s a weird thing, where I’m going to be judging myself…

I’m from Toronto and to have my first feature film premier at home. It’s pretty epic. I have such a great support base and family and friends that are so excited to see the film. I get to experience this first thing with them. It’s pretty awesome.

K: Tell us about Black Cop. How did this collaboration first begin?

RRJ: The movie is a satire/drama. It’s a man’s struggle between his duty and who he is as an individual. Through every day life, he experiences profiling, or being profiled by a police officer and it sets him over the edge to take things into his own hands and set out on a path of revenge.

K: What were your first thoughts on the script?

RRJ: I’ve worked with Cory Bowles (director) before on one of his short films called Free Throw. That was four years ago, and he always told me that we were going to work together again. Last year, I get a call and he says he has a script that he wants me to look at.

I read it and thought that it was dangerous. He asked me to come in and tape and to show the producers what I could do. Then they said they wanted me to do the damn thing.

We filmed it in twelve shooting days on a micro budget. I’m really happy with the things I’ve seen based on what we had to work with. It’s pretty amazing.

It’s a dream come true. Most actors I know want to be a lead, but a lead in a feature film and one that has life, a real story behind it. For it to be premiered at home… I couldn’t have wrote it any better.

K: How does it feel to be a leading man?

RRJ: It feels fantastic. It’s something that I was always capable of being and now I’m thankful for the opportunity to showcase that and for other people to see what I already believed.

K: What can Black Cop tell its audiences, especially considering the current political climate around the world and issues around profiling?

RRJ: I feel as though it’s a very timely film. I don’t know if it’s necessarily going to tell you something, but what it does is allow you to observe a different perspective. A perspective that I’m sure that not everybody considers. Based on how things go down, you know that not everybody is considered, or else things would be different if they did.

This film will start conversations and open up conversations that you may have not started before.

Photo Credit: TIFF

K: Black Cop reveals its protagonist as “calculatingly taking control of terror rather than submitting to it.” Is that part of the revenge story you were talking about? What does this mean for your role?

RRJ: Definitely. It means that he begins to profile the profiler. We have heard or seen things through social media, and some of these things may be what you encounter with this gentleman, because he’s heard it. He’s thinking, “let’s see how it feels when you go through it.”

It may promote empathy. It’s easier to sympathize with something, when you see someone like you go through it. The film gives you this opportunity.

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A Class By Herself: A Conversation with Actor, Writer, and Producer Kelly McCormack

Kelly McCormack is not an overnight sensation.

Such a thing doesn’t even exist, not really. Not even in this age of instant fame via Instagram. For people like Kelly, it’s about a lifetime of work that gets them to a point where success is suddenly found. The actor, writer, and producer who stars in the third season of the hit sci-fi show Killjoys, is filming a feature film she penned for next year and recently travelled to Taiwan for an opera. A quick internet search has Kelly showing up everywhere, but as she told me over the September long weekend, her wild amount of on-the-go projects lends itself to years of diligent work.

If you were looking for a Cinderella story, this both is and is not it.

Natasha Grodzinski: 2017 has been and continues to be a big year for you. What do you have on the go right now?

Kelly McCormack: From my perspective, I’ve been so busy for so long working on a lots of different projects. You put irons in the fire and it just so happens that 2017 was the year they all exhibited. It’s been a bit hilarious because my acting career, my writing career and my producing career have all coalesced for this one year of bananas. I’m on the show Killjoys which is a huge deal. I went to the audition — it was the first audition of the year, I booked it, and that kind of changed my year, because I was shooting the series from January to May. The TV show I produced for the CBC, The Neddeaus of Duqesne Island came out. We found out we got to moved forward with my feature film Sugar Daddy and I went to Taiwan for this opera. It’s been a little bit absurd, but amazing. I’m a total workaholic — I get stressed out when I have time off to relax. So, it’s been a lot of fun.

NG: Being idle isn’t something you do well?

KM: Oh my god, no. Laughs. I say that so honestly. When I was seven years old, they asked me to do a project on a superpower I wanted. There were lots of powers I wanted, but when I was seven I wrote I didn’t want to have to sleep because I wanted to get more work done. When I was younger one of my uncles told me you sleep for half your life. I was so devastated by that. I don’t do holidays well. The best kind of holiday is how I went to Taiwan for this opera, where I have to perform a bunch but can explore in between. I can deal with moments of high pressure and I feel like that’s when I’m the most myself and the least stressed. You know, I was the girl who rearranged her room every month and had all these decisions about what she was going to do. All of my bucket lists were books. That’s it.

NG: I would say that’s working out well for you now.

KM: Yes, I suppose. I’ve always wanted to be an actor. I started my academic life of writing in university. Producing I just love. I love putting pieces together and making stuff happen. But those were all done in the service of telling more stories and getting busier. In my film Sugar Daddy I play a musician as I also came up through music. I didn’t mean for it to boil over like this but it’s great. Like I said, I don’t do holidays well. I like being able to turn off my phone for  a day, but then I think, “Oh god, there’s all these things I should’ve been doing.”

NG: You touched on one of those aspects of storytelling I wanted to talk about, which is starting your own production company.

KM: Well, it kind of came out of nowhere. About three years ago I was supposed to be in this play, but it fell through. I did have this sweet part-time job at Seneca College. You know I always say artists live or die by their part-time jobs. People are always trading advice and secrets.This one was sweet, it was the holy grail of part-time jobs, but I got laid off there and a bunch of things just fell though. I had a super busy summer, then my slate was wiped completely clean. I was so stressed because it wasn’t where I saw things going. Then Ingrid Veninger, a very well-known DIY filmmaker in Canada, was doing this challenge for filmmakers to make a movie for only $1000. I was hanging with my friend Kristian Bruun, we were just talking about it and I thought, okay, screw it, I’ll write a feature film, the two of us will produce it and we’l put our friends in it. It was this really sweaty, insane summer exercise. I wrote it in two weeks, we shot it in two weeks and we produced the whole thing for $1000.

NG: Holy god.

KM: Yeah, it was crazy. The way that we cast it, with a budget like that, the more creatively involved you have to keep people. Everyone thinks you have to call in all these favours — don’t get favours, get people who are so hungry to make something happen. The way we assembled this cast and crew was like this: I asked Kristian, “Who would you not make a movie without?” He said, this person. Then we asked that person the same question and so on. We assembled this ride or die clan of people. Kristian and I didn’t sleep for two weeks, I sublet my apartment to pay the $1000, because even with a low budget like that it’s a lot of money. We produced this film called Play the Film. It’s a comedy, it’s really weird. It’s about these actors who aren’t booking work so they put on this play. Very meta about our lives, you know. It goes horribly wrong and they end up improvisation stage and making the most offensive play every to be put before an audience. It ended up doing really well and went to festivals around the world. It happened that I needed to put a company name on this film. I have this super righteous dog named Floyd and for some reason we call him Floyder. I wanted to immortalize him so I called the company Floyder Films.

Of course as the acting, writing and producing are going well, I’m thinking, what else can I do? I’ve started thinking about how I can grow the company and about better ways to monetize my ability to bring people together who love to tell stories and hopefully bring in some business-minded people, and hopefully, you know, just be a really powerful CEO one day. Laughs.

NG: One step closer to world domination.

KM: Yeah! I can say these things in interviews, like over the phone you know I’m not saying it in a different way, but I’ll see myself on paper saying, “I want to change the world!” I think, “Yeah, I sound really full of myself.” I’m sure lots of men say stuff like that and don’t worry about it.

At the same time, I am an outspoken feminist. I care about the representation issue in the industry. I care about telling stories that represent women and casting and hiring people of colour. The impetus from wanting to be successful with my production company is because I want to invigorate and hire people who may not normally get that opportunity, I want be a change in the industry. I’ve started trying to option books, which is a really fun thing. You get to read your favourite books and stalk the author and publishing company to try and convince them to give you the rights. Doing that is fun. I’m a big sci-fi reader and am always thinking of how I can make this story into a movie.

NG: Science fiction is a really fantastic space for progression.

KM: For sure! And you have all these people watching Star Trek or Star Wars where there are futures where race and gender don’t mean a thing. Mothers are realized to be at the centre of societies. I was finishing Dune over the weekend and mothers who reproduce and populate civilization are gods. There’s this future that we could be heading towards but it’s like, come on people! Sci-fi’s already there! That’s what great bout being on a show like Killjoys. I get scripts for my character and you don’t get the same ick factor as you do reading other scripts, when you’re thinking, “Ugh this is so gendered and so mildly racist.” It’s a wonderful space.

NG: Is that a direction you want your company to go in?

KM: I do talk about this a lot, about making movies without gender pain, without the ideas of the expectations we put on masculinity and femininity. I have a documentary I’m working on, and another series, and they centre around that topic.

NG: In your own writing, you have the film Sugar Daddy, which had a very familiar concept to me, having heard about it at school, but I wanted to talk about writing the stories you want to see.

KM: Well, Sugar Daddy is, first and foremost, about this up-and-coming musician. And she’s trying to make it. She’s broke and has yet to cross that threshold where she’s making money or getting noticed. Even without the sugar daddy, that’s not a story we see often. There are so many movies about artists trying to make it, and they’re all men! There’s this obsession with the male artist and the tortured, struggling musician. We’ve seen so many movies like that.

[Sugar daddies, at the basest definition, are rich men, usually older, who pay younger women to date them.]

She learns to package herself for all these other men in different ways. Then she learns how to package herself for the already sexualized music industry. It’s about the commodity of art and self-worth. It’s about sex as a commodity and generally the sexual politics that every single woman has to negotiate on a daily basis. You know, “Oh, this guy bought me a drink, do I need to talk to him now,” or, “This guy bought me dinner on a date, do I have the sleep with him now?” The things that half the population has to think about on an hourly basis is really what the film is about. It’s told through the eyes of this artist who is then regurgitating it into her music.

When I was in New York and had a million part-time jobs and all my friends were trying to make it on Broadway, a bunch of my friends did this. This was years ago, before it became the cultural phenomenon. My first reaction was disgust, but it took five or six years of being a producer in the industry and going to these parties to see how you don’t really have a choice in being commodified.You have to go through that stuff anyway.

NG: When you’re looking at roles you haven’t written, what are you looking for?

KM: In general, the type of roles that inspire me, whether I get offered them or not, are depictions of women we don’t see a lot. I like playing characters that have endgames, motivations and locations that are not not involved with them falling in love with a man, though I’m not saying I wouldn’t do a romantic comedy. Laughs. Like Zeph, for example, the character I play on Killjoys, she’s a science nerd. That’s her passion, her focus, her drive. In Sugary Daddy, she’s an artist, that’s her drive.

In terms of types of characters, I want to play the most opposite of the one I just played. I would love to have a career where someone calls me a character actor. I don’t really have an interest in defining this “Kelly brand” and delivering this ongoing character of myself. I became an actor because I love pretending to be other people. I’ve had some opportunities to play bizarre characters and I hope when I get to put them together, people don’t recognize me part to part.

NG: One of the weird characters I had to ask you about, and I watched the whole thing last week, is on The Neddeus of Duqesne Island.

KM: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. That show is probably one of the most proud things I’ve been a part of in my life. I produced that series and it’s written by Aaron Schroeder who came to me a couple of years ago with this crazy idea of making a faux NFB documentary. We shot it in the fall, and I also had the opportunity to be in the series as Eloida, the demonic twin. It was so much fun to be in. The whole point of the series was to mimic that ultra-naturalism from the documentaries, so it’s not about what you’re saying, it’s about the action and what you’re doing with your hands in the moment. The director Sam [Zvibleman] was really good at making sure the actors were not performing. I had this badass 70s costume that made the twins looks like the twins from The Shining. We went up into the woods in the fall and made this weird-ass show. The director would have us do the scene over and over again and improvise and by the end of the day, it didn’t feel like we were performing.

But yes, she was weird character. The dialect was weird and the way she stood was weird. She’s another interesting character where her motivation is actually world domination. That is Pinky and the Brain right there. Her interests are simple: she wants to rule the island and kill her brother. And going back to the roles I want to play, I don’t want to recognizable. I don’t want them to say, “Oh that’s Kelly McCormack.” I want them to say, “Who’s that weirdo? Oh, it’s Kelly!” Laughs. “Who’s that weirdo?” Those are the roles I want to play.

NG: If there were to be a brand, that would be it.

KM: Yeah!

NG: So with all the excitement this year, and with everything happening, where do you see these projects going?

KM: Oh my gosh good question. You know, as busy as it is, I have a constant fear that it will just end. As great as all this is, the upkeep is something that will require all of my energy. Killjoys got picked up for two more seasons, which is incredible. I don’t know what the means for me, but I didn’t die at the end of season three, so…

NG: That’s always a good thing in sci-fi. I didn’t die!

KM: Exactly, so who knows? Sugar Daddy is in the works and I have a couple of other TV shows I’m writing and pitching. I’m always upping the bar for myself. My standard and bucket list is growing. In terms of what’s next… I really want to focus on my production company and the types of films I’m developing. Because for me, I always say, I wanted to be an actor when I was seven and having this life of art was a dream. Then it became my life. It suddenly happens where you work hard and don’t have to do any more part-time jobs, you’re just supporting yourself off of your art. To me, that’s making it. That’s it.

Interview has been condensed for print. You can follow Kelly on Twitter here and Instagram hereContinue following our fashion and lifestyle coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

A Conversation with Tazito Garcia

In life, and often from a young age, we are often taken with the idea that we must map out our life. We are expected to know what career path we want to follow and wholeheartedly put everything we have into achieving our goals. When was the last time you reflected on your personal dreams and hopes for your future? Can you remember? We lose sight of what we first intend to do with our lives, pushing it aside for a more realistic career paths.

Actor, director, and pro-athlete, Tazito Garcia knows exactly what he wants in his life, and he does everything possible to achieve his dreams. Since he was very young, Tazito has been involved in many different high level sports, while maintaining an urge to perform at any given moment. He was born for the spotlight.

We had the opportunity to get to know Tazito and discover where he comes from, what he’s up to now, and where he plans to be.

Kimberley Drapack: Can you tell us a bit about your early years?

Taz Garcia: Where do I start? I travelled around the world, thanks to my parents. I have a big mix in my family, so it was inevitable that I would go and visit my cousins and then visit my other cousins. They were on two completely different continents, not even countries.

It was fantastic. I got to see the different cultures, different food, different religions, and different architecture. It was such a great experience.

K: It’s fun being on the road, but did you ever feel like you wanted to settle down at certain points?

TG: I did. I did my pro-sports, that was one of the reasons that I had to travel around a lot when I was young, and it was a little tough when I was in junior school. You make friends in your early years, and then you have to say goodbye, and then you go and meet brand new people.

It came to a point where in 2002, I landed in Toronto and I decided to start University here, and I’m going to settle here for at least the next ten years. I’ve seen enough of the world, for now.

I had a little breather to sit and settle and when I get bored of the snow, I guess I’m going to fly out again.

K: I’m sure the first winter here in Canada was a shock for you?

TG: It was really interesting when I got to Toronto. It had the taste of Europe, and it had a mix of the U.S., and some of the other cultures all meshed into one, so it was really cool.

Weather-wise, I don’t know if I’m really fond of having six or seven months of winter… I like my sun. Other than that, it’s been really kind to me.

K: What was the first sport that you played? When did you realize you were such a gifted athlete?

TG: Since I was a kid. I can almost envision myself coming out with a jumping kick out of my Mom. Or rolling out, or some kind of stunt.

Fortunately, I’ve had very athletic parents and they always believed that having two boys, if they could channel that energy into something productive, they found a certain outlet for us, which was sports, we would do well for ourselves. We wouldn’t use that energy for something bad.

I got enrolled into tennis and soccer. I always had something for martial arts, which they declined for a big portion of my life and kept saying, “no, you’re hyperactive the way you are, so if you learn to kick and punch, we don’t want you doing that in school and then getting suspended.”

I was committed, and in a way, stuck doing tennis and soccer but it turned out to be really amazing for me. I ended up playing with a lot of the tennis pros. Nick Bollettieri, who was the trainer of Andre Agassi, and Pete Sampras. He took me under his wing and I went to his academy which was very militant, but very awesome.

When I was thirteen, I ended up playing for Manchester United, and it was really fun. I grew up with my “older brothers”: Kasper Schmeichel, Dwight Yorke, and David Beckham. Not just myself, but all the juniors, really hated the first team. It’s the older brother syndrome, where they say, “no, no, no, we’ll do it ourselves, and when we’re tired, and we feel like it, you can sub for us.” It’s 88 minutes, and in the last two minutes they would let us on. I was like, “shut up!” (laughs).

Funny story: I saw David Beckham get famous in front of my eyes, which was really cool. Before that, he was just known as “Becks.” He was sitting on the bench, and it was just like acting, sometimes you have to be at the right place at the right time, and you get that one opportunity, that one shot. It worked out for him, he ended up becoming a starter after scoring a very long-range goal. It was really inspirational in a way, sometimes if it feels like the right thing to do, and you just do it. I’ve taken that and translated it into my acting or directing. In this industry, it’s really hard at times and you get people asking why I don’t just go and get a normal job, something routine, something safe. But that little voice inside you tells you to keep going.

K: With all of your successes, I’m sure it just pushes you to keep going and to get rid of that little voice and say, Look at what I’ve done and look at what I’m about to do. 

TG: You’re absolutely right. I get this all the time. They’ll see a certain award that I’ve won and ask why I don’t just chill, or relax. I’m up here right now and if I don’t keep going, you’re going to have someone that’s going to pass you because they’re just as hungry and where you were a few days or a few weeks ago. If you go into cruise control, someone is going to pass you.

K: What transitioned you from sports to acting? Was it a big change?

TG: I was born a performer. I strongly believe that some people were born to perform or entertain, whether they’re mimicking actors or cartoons, or something they’ve seen in a commercial. That was me. I told a lot of my family that it was eventually something I wanted to do. I was probably seven at the time.

It wasn’t hard at all because as an athlete at a very elite level, you have to perform. It’s the same mechanics. You have to have your fans and you have to be a good performer in order to maintain your fans or gain new ones. You have to push, or you become old news, and someone who is better, faster, and stronger than you will out perform you.

K: So, you have to keep a lot of energy up.

TG: On point, you have to be. You’re on your toes all the time.

K: The Briefcase (2011) was your big-screen debut in Hollywood, as the director and star of the film. It earned you several nominations and awards, notably the “Breakout Male Action Star” (2013) at the AOF International Film Festival in Los Angeles. Can you tell us a little about this experience?

TG: The Briefcase is a homage. You go back and you want to relive some moments from a certain time. That’s exactly what I did with The Briefcase. There are people that sit back with their hands tied back and wait for the phone to ring, and there’s people that get up and make things happen. I didn’t go to film school for it, it was my second production as a director and said: “let’s make this happen.”

I wrote the story, directed it, cast the actors, and starred in it. It’s sometimes hard to star in it, because to direct yourself, you have to break out of character, but it turned out really well and was well received by the audience. All the funds that we made for our screenings I donated to Sick Kids Hospital.

K: Do you prefer one role more than the other in terms of either directing or performing?

TG: I’ve worn many hats, but at the end of the day, I think everyone would call one hat their favourite, and I call acting my favourite.

I can’t deny that being behind the camera has made me become a better actor. You have an idea and a vision and know why you’re standing this way, and you know why it may take a little longer for someone to set up the lights, because you have been on the other side. You know how to get that perfect picture that sometimes takes a little bit of a set-up.

As an actor, you can sometimes get a little impatient, and ask, “what’s taking so long? You just move the camera from the left to the right. Just hit that rolling button.” But when you’re behind the camera, you see. Just two degrees can make that massive difference between lighting and how it’s hitting your face, whether you have your marks, the depth of field. You learn a lot and you get to appreciate everyone’s role from behind the camera to in front of the camera. Everything makes that complete picture in the end.

K: Did you feel as though you had a team behind you that could help you spot those little things, or was it a little hard to get into at the beginning?

TG: One of the toughest things is when you are directing yourself, but once you have a solid team behind you and have a good Director of Photography, or a good First Assistant Director, that’s there when the actual director is not available for whatever reason, it’s one of the easiest things. It’s smooth sailing and you trust their opinion and their vision and you share it. You don’t want someone to come up with their own version of what you want.

K: You starred in Lost in the Pacific (2016), one of the largest Hollywood/Chinese co-productions where you were the sole Canadian actor selected to join the international cast alongside Brandon Routh (Superman Returns), Russell Wong (Romeo Must Die), and Vincent Ward (Walking Dead). Tell us about this experience.

TG: It was amazing. They called me up and said they had a mercenary role for me. I wasn’t sure because I’ve done way too many army/mercenary/police roles, and I asked if they had anything else. They called me back and they had a prince role, and I thought, “sure, I’ll play Prince Charming.”

It was a really fun cast and crew to work with. We shot it in Malaysia at Pinewood Studios. I’ve never been to Malaysia, so it was another experience of culture and food and everything that makes Malaysia beautiful.

K: Working in film, you’re often on set in various locations around the world. Is it ever too much? Do you ever feel like just being at home?

TG: I’m not going to lie, if you’re in this industry, it is expected that you’re going to live out of a suitcase some of the time. I always say that I live at 22 Suitcase Avenue. My friends understand why, they will call me up and ask if I can come out, and I’ll reply with, “sorry, I’m in Vegas.” It’s really cool and a blessing. It’s something positive.

I’ve spoken to a lot of people who have said they’ve never been out of town except to go to Niagra, or Montréal. I’m not going to bash it.

K: You are known for performing your own action scenes and stunts. What are the challenges of this, or do you see it as just another part of your character?

TG:  It’s always part of my character. I love it and I always look forward to the action.

I never see it as a bad challenge, but as a positive challenge and an opportunity for me to grow. If in every movie I do something that I’ve done before, it’s boring for myself and for the audience. You always have to create something. They’ve seen you jump out of a car, and then they say, “ok, let’s get this car moving.” Or, let’s jump out of a helicopter. You always want to push yourself that much more and not only is it a challenge for yourself, but it’s that much more pleasing for your audience and your fans.

If you keep doing the same thing, it becomes like a bad joke that you keep repeating, or, it was really good back then, but now it’s not funny anymore. It’s the same thing with the action, you always want to reinvent some of the older stuff; put it in a blender and come up with a new mix.

You have to listen to the fans. They are your compass.

K: What is the best way that you get input from your fans?

TG: Social media right now is huge. It’s one of the easiest ways for us to connect way across the oceans and borders. I can just hop on social media and check their feedback to see what they like and what they want less of. You’ve got to deliver it because that’s what they look forward to.

K: What can we expect from you in the near future?

TG: I’m at the Action on Film Festival right now in Vegas and I’m returning as the youngest recipient of Dr. Goldman’s Icon Award from last year. This year it’s huge for me and a for a lot of the stunts in the action community because they are commemorating all of the action stunt heroes and performers. It means a lot to me to be here. You may have recently read what happened on set of Deadpool and Mad Max. You hear about all the accidents and these performers and talented people who put their skill, sweat, bones, and sometimes even life on the line and then they just get a pat on the back. This is one of the few times that someone actually stood up and wanted to give them a proper thank you.

K: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

TG: In five years from now I see myself as the next top, or highest paid action star. I’ll make Canada proud, because I don’t remember the last time the highest paid action star was a Canadian. I would use that to inspire the younger generations and help the younger generations.

K: Do you have any family members that come with you on big trips?

TG: I travel with friends and family and a crew. If I can have fun, why can’t I share the fun? There’s no point in success if you keep it all to yourself. There’s no true happiness unless you can share it with people. It’s that family feel that I love.

K: That must be really exciting.

TG: It is. This is why I always tell people, and I tell them all the time, to remember that you are going to hear that people find this industry unorthodox. It’s not your typical doctor, engineer, sales position. It’s tough. You have to listen to the little voice inside and give it a thousand percent. Not one-hundred percent. You have to go all in, have that thick skin, and show them that it can be done.

K: Do you feel as though you often have to fight to prove to people why your dreams are valid and prove to them why this is what you are supposed to be doing?

TG: It’s kind of like a hiccup. If I run into someone and they say they’re a doctor, or in sales, and I reply that I’m an actor, they don’t know how to follow up with it. To them, it’s unorthodox and usually hits them in the head.

I always felt that you should listen to your voice. If you can give up the typical path, the nine to five, if you stop for one little second and go back to when you were a little younger and remember your dreams, what would have happened if you pursued that? Maybe you would have been phenomenal or one of the top ten people in the world within that field.

K: Of course. You don’t want to be ten years down the line and feel as though you haven’t pursued what you wanted most.

TG: I strongly believe you never want to look back and wished you had spoken to someone, or played more of a certain sport, or spent more time with family. Do it right now, just do it now.

K: Do you have any films in the works at the moment?

TG: I have something that is still in the preproduction stages and is something we want to be camera ready early 2018. It’s based on a short film called First Bust. It’s an action-comedy with a touch of fantasy. We’re looking to have A-listers and B-listers, but my main goal is to have it as the biggest Canadian-Chinese co-production.   

We are finalizing everything with the script, locking in producers and locations. I don’t think there has been any Canadian-Chinese co-productions, but I know that Hollywood and China have done a couple in the past year.

We’re looking at shooting in Shanghai right now. They just opened a brand new mall that is the size of ten football fields. It has an indoor beach and the entire thing is marble.

To stay updated with Taz Garcia, you can follow his many social media accounts on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook and continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

5 Women Working in Hollywood You Should Know About

If you ever watch the credits after a film, whether you’re staring at your laptop screen half-awake, waiting for a post-credit scene after a Marvel flick, or delaying having to re-enter real life after a particularly good escape, you see hundreds of names scroll by. It takes an enormous amount of effort to get a single movie onto the big screen, and these behind-the-scenes heroes never get as much press as the top-billed movie stars.

For women in these positions, that recognition is even harder to come by when working within a boys’ club. But despite the difficulties facing them, there are so many women working in Hollywood today who are creating incredible art and telling stories that need to be told.

We thought we’d tell you about a few of them.

Jane Goldman — Screenwriter & Producer

Image source.

English writer and producer Jane Goldman has left huge marks on action films so far in her career. Her writing credits include Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, and Kingsmen: The Secret Service, showing her to not only have a knack for writing over-the-top action scenes, but also for bringing much-needed campiness to the screen. Regardless of whether you liked Kingsmen or not, it was definitely memorable. She was in the news a great deal because of her marriage to British TV host Jonathan Ross, but it’s important to note her own accomplishments and presence in big-budget Hollywood. In an article in the LA Times, Goldman’s work is described as quirky and eccentric, and Tim Burton is quoted saying that Goldman is “…very creative, very intelligent…” With praises from well-known directors like Burton, and with more projects set for the coming years, including a just-announced Kingsmen 3, Goldman’s momentum shows no signs of slowing.

Jane Goldman’s IMDb.

Autumn Durald — Cinematographer

Image source.

While the directors of movies are responsible for the sequences of shots, cinematographers add their own vision and flair to the work. They are usually in charge of camera operations and lighting and make technical and artistic decisions related to each shot. They are also the ones to thank in that moment where you are overcome with the need to say, “That’s a good shot.” American-born cinematographer Autumn Durald is best known for her work on Palo Alto, Gia Coppola’s directorial debut based on the short stories written by James Franco. That isn’t the extent of Durald’s resume, however. She has also worked on music videos for Arcade Fire, Tiesto, and London Grammar, as well as on commercials for Smirnoff and Coca-Cola. Durald has also leant her talents to a number of shorts over the years, but it looks like her next few years show more feature film productions, including Max Minghella’s directorial debut Teen Spirit starring Elle Fanning.

Autumn Durald’s official website.

Hannah Beachler — Production Designer

Image source.

If you’re wondering exactly what a production designer does, they are generally responsible for the overall “look” of the production, adding to set design and decoration. If Hannah Beachler’s name sounds familiar in that category, it may be because she is the production designer behind Beyoncé’s incredible Lemonade special, a fantastic collection of shorts and music videos that was actually nominated for multiple Emmys. While I would argue Lemonade is a film in its own right, Beachler’s feature film credits include Fruitvale Station, Creed, and the Oscar-winning Moonlight. While these three movies all had production design that was more raw and real, Beachler also has a knack for the more stylized and fantastical as seen in her work on Lemonade and in the upcoming Marvel picture Black Panther. The latter, of course, hasn’t been released yet, but based on the trailer alone, it’s clear that Beachler has a strong vision and talent. I’m so excited to see more of her work.

Hannah Beachler’s official website.

Lisa Lassek — Editor

Image source.

Continuing on a slight Marvel theme, let’s talk about Lisa Lassek, an editor who has worked within the franchise. This is surprising to some, but the majority of editors in Hollywood are actually women, and their job is to cut hours and hours of footage down to a cohesive sequence that is palatable to a mainstream audience. I want you to imagine editing something like Lord of the Rings. Just picture attempting to do that for a moment. Lassek has impressive credits, having worked as an editor on The Circle, The Cabin in the Woods, Avengers, and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Lassek also has extensive experience with television, having edited episodes on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Community, and, most recently, The OA. Editing is a daunting task and is one of the main reasons post-production on films can take so long. The movie needs to have a decent run time. It needs to make sense. It needs to line up with the director’s vision. When all of these requirements come together, we are left with the movie we actually get to see, the one that’s played in cinemas. Some of what remains is put on DVDs as deleted scenes or put in a five-hour-long director’s cut.

Lisa Lassek’s IMDb.

Ava DuVernay — Director, Writer, Producer

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Ava DuVernay has truly become a household name in the last few years, gaining recognition for her work as director and producer on acclaimed films such as Selma and 13th, as well as her work as a film distributor with her own company AFFRM (the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement). Her powerful work and strong directorial point of view landed DuVernay a handsome amount of nominations and awards, including an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature for 13th. That documentary also landed her a BAFTA in the same category. While DuVernay has also directed a few shorts, TV shows and TV movies, a great deal of her time in Hollywood has so far been in miscellaneous roles in production and promotion on the Hollywood circuit. It is clear, however, that DuVernay’s talents lend her to different roles in film production, working in a diverse amount genres and subject matters. Upcoming projects for DuVernay include directing the TV movie Battle of Versailles, on the 1973 Palace of Versailles fashion show, and the fantasy flick A Wrinkle in Time, which is set to be released next year.

Ava DuVernay’s official website.

Director, Producer, Trailblazer: Ida Lupino

In the 1940s and ’50s, in what is considered by many to be the “golden age” of the film industry, few women were working behind the scenes. They could be seen on screen, usually portraying polarized female stereotypes: the virgin and the whore, the good girl and the villain, the love interest and the mother. Behind-the-scenes positions for women virtually disappeared after WWII, coinciding with the societal shift to focus on the nuclear family and feminine ideals. Any role that did exist were always given to white women — women of colour, if they appeared on screen, were generally only given roles that either cast them as servants or fetishized them. That’s an issue that’s still being addressed today. When it comes to contemporary female directors, we are finally seeing support and recognition for their works, but we are only still at the very beginning.

It was the same in the 1940s as it is now: in order to see the stories they want to see, women needed to make the movies themselves.

Ida Lupino did just this. In the 1940s, she was a big ticket actress, working alongside high-profile actors like Humphrey Bogart. She was top-billed, talented, and beautiful, but she wasn’t finished. She wanted to make movies. While on the set, she would watch the directors and the camera operators and learn from them, probably one of the best education a young filmmaker could ever get. While she was always a student of film, Lupino didn’t get a chance to direct until she sat in for director Elmer Clifton for the 1949 film Not Wanted when Clifton fell ill. Lupino was not credited, but it was her first unofficial project.

Ida Lupino. Photo via TIFF on Twitter.

In 1950 she opened her own production company with her husband, Collier Young. There, she wrote, directed, and distributed a number of films without studio backing and without famous actors. These were films with strong female characters, complicated women, women on the outside of society. Her topics were controversial for the time — sexual assault, unplanned pregnancy, and mental health to name a few —, and even now, despite more open dialogues on these topics, the stories Lupino told and the films she created are still very relevant.

“She’s a humanist,” says Anne Morra, Associate Curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. “She doesn’t pack her films with known movie stars, so the audience has a character without a story attached to them. Her films could be documentaries.”

In her official directional debut, Never Fear, the subjects are professional dancers and lovers with Carol and Guy at its center. Carol contracts polio and loses the ability to dance, causing feelings of worthlessness and inferiority. In Outrage, Lupino tackles sexual assault, depicting a violent attack on a young woman and the subsequent emotional fallout and police investigation.

A still from Outrage (1950). Source.

These are topics that big production companies would never touch since the box office payoff would have been minimal at best. Who would want to see such terrible and unromantic things? Generally, films at the time were much more formulaic, falling under romance or crime. Think of the noir thrillers from the 1940s and the romantic comedies of the 1950s. The main characters are cool, competent men and the women are seductive, soft speaking side pieces. Lupino’s realistic, female-driven narratives were hardly what audiences at the time were used to consuming.

“She’s quite avant-garde in her role,” says Morra. “She learned from other directors but it’s important not to compare her because her works are very unique.”

Despite not fitting in with her contemporaries, Lupino’s works have staying power. This month, TIFF is hosting Lupino’s first-ever retrospective, showing a restored selection of her works as a director and an actress. Morra, who has done extensive research on Lupino, introduced the screening of Never Fear last Wednesday at the Bell Lightbox. The retrospective celebrates Lupino as both a pioneer for women on screen and in independent filmmaking.

“I hope [viewers] take away the idea of Ida as a revolutionary filmmaker. She was a woman working without a blueprint,” says Morra. “I hope they’re able to rediscover her or discover her for the first time.”

As someone who wasn’t very familiar with Lupino, I discovered her for the first time through Outrage, a movie that tore me up emotionally but impressed me with how it handled a story of sexual assault, arguably better, despite some religious overtones, than some television shows aim to depict it now. I was surprised by it, shocked by it, and thrilled to have discovered such a strong point of view from a female director. We now have many more female perspectives. We have Ava DuVernay, Ana Lily Amirpour, Jennifer Kent, and Kathryn Bigelow, all talented filmmakers with distinct perspectives and styles. It doesn’t make sense to compare them with one another, just as it doesn’t make sense to compare them with Lupino, who worked in a very different time and industry. What cannot be denied is Lupino’s effect on cinema, her legacy of a phenomenal body of work and the ground she broke in her time.

As Morra put it, “She’s someone who deserves to be seen.”

Tickets to Ida Lupino’s retrospective can be found here. The retrospective runs through September 2nd. Continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.