This week’s person to know is actor Cara Gee,
a 2013 ‘TIFF Rising Star’ and star of the film Empire of Dirt.
How did you get started in acting?
I think my real training began when I was growing up in Bobcaygeon and I participated in the Royal Canadian Legion’s annual public speaking competition. I would write my own speeches and my Mom would help me memorize them. I remember a comedic speech I wrote in Grade 5 about having the worst day ever—late for the school bus, forgot my homework, things like that— and the morning before I presented it my Mom said, “I don’t believe you’re having the worst day ever, you have to make me believe it”. In hindsight, that was my first acting note.
Your major career influence?
My high school drama teacher, Michael Halfin, was the first person I met who took acting very seriously. He showed me that acting could be a career option. He is one of the most inspiring teachers I have ever had and he is constantly encouraging the next generation of artists.
Best advice you’ve received?
My mother always told me not to be tolerant of people, but rather accepting. I think that distinguishing between those two words is an important step towards being able to walk in someone else’s shoes. I highly value the pursuit of empathy.
If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?
Something only your closest friends know about you…
How much I LOVE Jersey Shore. I love it. There, now everyone knows.
You’ve been named a ‘TIFF Rising Star’ – how did you first hear?
My agent called me and I ran around my apartment squealing. And then I had to keep it secret for a month until the press conference! It was the hardest secret I’ve ever had to keep.
You’re staring in Empire of Dirt – tell me a bit about your role in the film..
I play Lena, a young mom who is returning to the home she ran away from for the first time in 13 years. She is figuring out how to be a mother and a daughter at the same time.
What was it like working with Peter Stebbings?
He is a truly kind soul. I can’t say enough about how kind and gentle and caring he is as a human. It’s that love and compassion that comes through in the film.
What are you most looking forward to about the festival?
I am thrilled that I will have the chance to meet so many different directors, producers, and writers. It’s funny because in theatre you can go to a show and then hang out and meet the actors afterwards. Or email the director and go for coffee. It’s a very accessible community. Film is different— probably mostly because the actors aren’t actually there— ha! But I look forward to immersing myself in the community and seeing what other people are working on.
What actor, director would you most like to bump into at a party?
I am going to have to do my very best to not cry tears when I meet Norman Jewison. Jesus Christ Superstar is one of my favourite films of all time. I’m going to lose it when I meet him, I just know it. I keep playing the scenario over in my mind and I try to visualize myself keeping it together, but I’m probably going to lose it.
A place in Toronto you’d be proud to take people to?
Buddies in Bad Times theatre. We’d see a show in the main space and then hit the cabaret to drink some drinks and take in a drag show.
What’s your favourite restaurant?
There are so many incredible restaurants in this city. The Guild— where my fiancé and I were engaged and he threw a huge surprise party. Pizzeria Libretto—I used to live across the street so I’d eat there all the time. And I can’t get enough of Sneaky Dee’s veggies nachos—with the guacamole baked in. So good.
Your favourite Toronto neighbourhood and why?
I’m loving Parkdale. Probably mostly because all of my best friends live here too, so we get to hang out all the time.
Least favourite thing about Toronto?
Rob Ford as mayor.
A Toronto resident, other than yourself, who’s making a positive impact on the city?
Brendan Healy as the Artistic Director of Buddies in Bad Times theatre. He is one of the most intellectually and artistically rigorous directors I have worked with and I am full of respect and admiration for the work he does. Brendan works with such integrity to uphold a mandate based on inclusion AND artistic excellence.
I love this so much—from Buddies’ mission statement: With our art, we simultaneously celebrate difference and question the mechanisms through which differences are constructed and maintained. With our space, we create an accessible, non-judgmental, and inclusive environment for everyone regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, economic position, race, creed, age, national origin, physical ability, or mental ability. With our daily interactions, we foster respect and dignity among all people.