FYIG recently had the chance to chat with actress Abigail Winter about her role as Jess on the breakout series Mary Kills People as well as her budding music career. Read on to find out more about this multi-talented performer!
Where did your love for acting originate?
My love of acting grew over time. There was never one moment when I was younger where I declared “I want to be an actor”. But the more projects I worked on, and the more stories I got to tell (specifically when I started in film/TV) I realized without a doubt that this is what I wanted to do. As an actor, I believe it is a privilege to get to connect with so many artists, sometimes on a deeper level than how we connect with people in our day to day life; you’re creating a moment with this other person that feels real enough to be the reality, but it’s not. We call that film. And to me, that’s the magic of the job that I fell in love with.
You started acting at the age of 6 as Gretl in The Sound of Music. What was it like to be a part of a stage production at such a young age?
It was so much fun! Sure, the hours were long, and there was a responsibility that came with it, but I truly loved every minute. The adults that I was working with all treated me with the respect of a peer, and not just an inexperienced kid. I really appreciated that.
You joined the Stratford Festival in 2007 for 6 seasons. How did that experience shape you as an actress?
For six years at the Stratford Festival, I was surrounded by some of the most brilliant, creative minds I’ve ever encountered. And I had the privilege of being able to observe everyone’s unique process and methods as actors. And so, I think the biggest thing that I took away from those six seasons was the understanding of what it takes to be an artist; the dedication, the curiosity, the thick skin, to name a few. The experience helped give me integrity as an artist, and from there, I started finding my own unique path as an actor.
In 2008, you were the recipient of the Mary Savidge Award for the Most Promising Young Artist at the Tyrone Guthrie Awards. What did that honour mean to you?
It was such a surreal and special experience. I was surrounded by a room full of people, all of whom I deeply respected. And then to be acknowledged by these same people was overwhelmingly gratifying.
What was your favourite production as part of the Stratford Festival?!
To Kill A Mockingbird was definitely my favourite production. I mean, for one thing, I got to run around in overalls and climb the fake “trees”, so it kind of felt like the best summer camp ever. But also, even at a young age, I was deeply impacted by the story. It made me think and empathize in ways I hadn’t before. I was lucky enough to work with Peter Donaldson, who has since passed away. He was one of the most important mentors in my life.
Talk to us about your role as Jess Gellar in the television series Mary Kills People.
Jess Geller is the sensitive, intuitive teenage daughter of Mary. She can sense that her mother is hiding something, and as Mary grows more and more absent, Jess is not only confused but also feels she’s taking a back seat to her mom’s “double life”. This results in a very rocky relationship with her mother. Additionally, Jess finds herself in a tumultuous relationship with her bad-influence best friend, Naomi. Naomi plays with Jess’ romantic feelings, who is in the middle of coming to terms with her sexuality.
Tell us a little bit about Mary Kills People and what we can expect from Season 2.
Mary Kills People is a unique, trail-blazing drama about a doctor named Mary Harris who also moonlights as someone who helps the terminally ill with assisted suicide. In the world which the show is set, doctor-assisted suicide is not yet legal. This means that Mary must hide this part of her life to her family, as well be on constant alert to the police, who have become suspicious of Mary’s activities.
From season 2 you can expect more extreme morally grey areas of assisted suicide to be explored. You’ll also see Mary get drawn in even further to more of a criminal side of her work, and because of this, there is a greater chance that her secret will bleed into her family life.
What drew you to this role? What stood out about this character and the show in general?
I loved that Jess’ character was written with an equal amount of vulnerability and strength. It is very rare to get the chance to play a teenager who isn’t just fixated on boys (which is fine too!). But there was a depth to this character that excited me. Yes, she is at times moody and upset with her mom (for good reason), but we also get to see how big her heart is. I also felt very lucky to portray a character who is in the process of coming to terms with her sexuality. And what’s even better is that the writers didn’t treat Jess’ experiences any differently than they would for a heterosexual character. It was refreshing.
As for the show, when I read the first episode, I couldn’t put the script down. The show was pushing so many boundaries of what is normally seen on television. The characters were complex, the subject matter was important, and it made me question a lot of my own opinions (which is what I think good entertainment should do). I loved how beautifully and sensitively the show dealt with terminal illnesses. And despite the heavy subject matter, the writers still weaved in just the right amount of humour and lightness.
You’ve written four short films that have been produced and screened. Do you have aspirations of doing more work behind the scenes?
Yes! I’m fascinated by all sides of this industry and, in particular, have fallen in love with writing. I have also had experience directing one of my short films, which I really enjoyed (particularly the aspect of deciding what kind of camera angles/ movements we were going to use in order to tell a specific story). In my opinion, becoming more familiar with behind the scenes work is also really beneficial to actors because it gives you a more well-rounded sense of why things on a film set are being done the way they are. This helps to create an atmosphere of good collaboration.
What advice do you have for aspiring actors?
Don’t worry about trying to “stand out” or be unique—you’re already unique just by being you, and now it’s your job to share yourself in an honest way. Figure out how to be vulnerable in a way that feels safe to you. As actors, it’s our job to share honest parts of ourselves in every role we take on. Showing something so intimate is a scary thing, but it’s essential. So instead of having vulnerability be a fearful place, try and be curious, or excited by it, which will allow you to keep exploring whatever scene or character you’re working on with an open mind.
In addition to acting, you’re also branching out into the music industry. What spawned this decision?
I have played and written music for quite a while but always considered it a hobby until I asked one of my musician friends if he would help me record a demo of one of my songs. I got so much enjoyment from it that I wanted to continue sharing more of my music with the world. I love hearing how my music impacts people in different ways.
You’ve released your first single Electricity. Tell us a little bit about that song.
When I wrote Electricity, I wanted to capture the feeling of the rush that we’ve all felt the first time we meet someone special. These kinds of spontaneous nights can shake us into the unknown – that place where you feel completely alive. And no matter how awkward, or uncomfortable you normally feel, you get the chance to disappear with someone else into a totally different kind of story. I love blending genres in my music, so for Electricity, I took a classic syncopated tango rhythm and combined it with driving drum beats and a familiar bright pop vibe that is easy to sing along to.
What projects do you have coming up?
You can catch me as a guest star in an episode of the new series “The Detail” airing in the spring. I got to do a really fun fight scene while shooting it! I’m also in the midst of developing my first feature film and am very excited to see that story come to life.
I’ve read that you have a passion for cooking. What’s the go-to meal for an evening at Abigail’s?
That’s such a hard question! Too many choices. But I’d say one of my favourite meals that is also relatively easy to make is a coconut curry dal. You can throw whatever you want in there, dump some spices in and it always seems to turn out pretty well 🙂
I’ve also read that you enjoy surfing and skiing. Do you have any desire to try your hand at other extreme sports?
I think I’ll leave the sky-diving to other people! This isn’t an extreme sport, but I used to be a dancer. Specifically, ballet. I still enjoy taking drop-in classes at a great Toronto studio called Metro Movement.
Who are your favourite stand-up comedians?
Love, love, love Jenny Slate. She’s completely unfiltered and picks up on all the weird things we do in our private lives that are actually just downright funny and weird. I also adore Tig Notaro for her extremely dry humour and great story-telling.
Let the readers know where they can find you online.
You can find me on both Instagram and Twitter as: @imabigailwinter
And my website is www.abigailwinter.ca