FYIG recently had the chance to talk to actress Lee Lawson about her roles her career and her the many diverse roles she’s played thus far. Read on to learn more about this talented Canadian actress!
Lee Lawson is a Toronto-based actress and writer. She works onscreen and as a voice performer in a diverse range of roles. Most recently as a soldier dealing with PTSD in director Tamara Moos’ Kavod, a young teacher navigating the childhood crush of a gifted student in Hue’s Theatre and as Leaf Girl in Joëlle Wallinga’s conceptual collaboration with child writers; Cave Big, Cave Small. She can be seen next in György Pálfi’s forthcoming feature His Master’s Voice, as both lead actress and writer for The Dead North, and as Maggie Thompson in Aaron Huggett’s period epic The Black Donnellys.
How did you get your start in acting?
Hello! so nice to be talking to you! Acting was always something I wanted to do from a very young age. I was an art school kid; I took classes, acted in school plays, threw very dramatic tantrums. I started young but I didn’t really find my place in the industry until I was an adult. I can tell you, my sticky-fingered, mud-covered inner child is beyond thrilled we’ve finally gotten to this point.
It seems that this has been a dream of yours since you were younger. Was there ever a point that you thought it wouldn’t work out? How did you overcome those thoughts if you did?
Of course, there have been times when I’ve thought it wouldn’t work out. Checking in with yourself and being realistic is an essential part of navigating this industry. It’s easy to get carried away by your dream, especially if it’s a big part of how you define yourself. I think the key to is to really clearly understand what having this dream “work out” means to you. At the end of the day, if being able to practice your craft and having the respect of your peers is enough, you can build that. Taking acting out of the realm of dreams and seeing it as a vocation like any other; with some factors you can control and a swirling vortex of chaos and luck you can’t, keeps you sane.
The Dead North is a tightly written fresh take on the Zombie genre. The story centers around apocalypse survivors Kat and Will, following their charge into the zombie-infested Canadian wilderness in pursuit of Kat’s lost sister. The premise is austere, self-contained and character driven. Even as someone who is not generally a horror fan, I love it. I get to do incredible fight choreography and wield a baseball bat. I also got the chance to be on the writing team so I’m incredibly excited to share the series with audiences.
You’ve done a lot of short films. What would you say to convince people to watch who might initially overlook these types of films?
I’d try to sell them on the reduced time commitment. It’s funny, you’d think with the success of short form content on YouTube that people would be more open to shorts. I guess they have an association with rookie work, but when done well, short films pack a lot of punch into a very small package. They’re a fantastic way to experience a concept or visual element distilled to its most potent and essential. They also let you discover new talent and get a feel for what a director has to offer. Even big names like Gondry and Anderson have dabbled in shorts; Neil Blomkamp apparently plans to use them to gauge interest in possible feature concepts. Finding them can be tricky as they tend to show in festivals, galleries or circulate online within niche communities. But if you’re interested you can definitely tumble down a Vimeo rabbit hole and discover some amazing things. I promise you’ll sound very cool at parties.
Talk about some of the shorts you’ve been in like The Return and A Safe Space.
For sure, I’d love to! The Return is a subtle and moving adaptation of the Nabokov short story, The Return of Chorb. Written by Brooke Banning and directed by Reg Matson; it was an incredible experience to collaborate with producers who work primarily in Theatre. Jonas Widdifield’s performance as the lead character Joseph is absolutely haunting. The character I play is somewhat of a revelation, so a don’t want to give too much away, but I got to explore some very intriguing and sexy terrain.
A Safe Space is the latest film from Michael Flax; it focuses on latent racial and cultural tensions that exist in left leaning artistic spaces usually assumed open to everyone. I get to play an actress whose integrity is tested by witnessing a racist attack. It’s a film that asks you to confront uncomfortable questions about privilege.
Do you ever get burnt out working on so many projects or are you embracing the challenge?
There have definitely been times where I feel like I’m over committed, but I’m at a point in my career where I feel genuinely lucky to get to do this work. I think that sustains me; I can be exhausted, working on a micro-budget film in the middle of winter and still feel like “wow, isn’t this amazing?”. I also want to perform at a very high level consistently. I think about the kinds of rigorous work top athletes or doctors do to become hyper-specialized; everyday practice, 24-hour shifts, years of commitment. Acting is no different.
As an actor, you serve someone else’s vision. I love that. It’s a fascinating process to align yourself with a totally different way of seeing the world and creating. I also find the idea of having more agency in my work and telling stories I find meaningful really empowering. You get to share a secret silent part of yourself. You also get to provide a foundation for other artists to create and collaborate. I love hearing the insights and perspectives other people have about my writing. It becomes this malleable, living thing. Also, you can wear whatever you’d like behind the camera, so that’s a plus.
What are you acting goals for the future?
I want to play whatever character I think I can’t play and explore new cinematic terrain. It’s exciting and frightening to read a script and think; I have no idea how to do that. I don’t know what that role is at the moment, but I know the feeling when I find it.
What projects do you have coming up this year that we haven’t talked about?
I had the honour of getting to play Maggie Thompson in Aaron Huggett’s period piece, The Black Donnellys. It was the first time I’ve gotten to play a character based on a real person.
There are actually folk songs about Maggie and all sorts of conflicting stories about how she spent the rest of her life after her whirlwind romance with Will Donnelly. It was incredibly fun to be on location in Petrolia performing in historically accurate buildings. I can’t wait for its theatrical release!
Do you have any advice for aspiring actors and actresses?
Try your best. It’s all you can really do. Be vigilant and hard working and at the end of the day pursue this career because you genuinely love it. It’s too hard to be in it for any other reason. Also, there is an absurd and deep intrinsic pleasure to getting to play pretend with a bunch of grown adults while a bunch of other grown adults build pieces of an imaginary world and record everything. Never forget how fun and silly it all is.
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