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Carmen Moore dishes on Re: Uniting, acting as therapy, and choosing Indigenous roles

Carmen Moore
Left to right: Roger Cross, David James Lewis, Brownwen Smith, Carmen Moore, and Jesse L. Martin are part of an ensemble cast in Re: Uniting. Photo by @sydwonphotography.

Carmen Moore is a Canadian acting success story. She has won six Leo Awards dating back to 2005. In 2020, she was also honouored with a UBCP/ACTRA award for best lead performance by a female in Rustic Oracle, in which she played a Mohawk woman looking for her missing teenage daughter.

In addition, Moore played Loreen Cassway for three seasons on CBC’s Arctic Air and was lead character Leona Stoney in Blackstone on APTN. She also played Hannah Gruen on the American TV mystery series Nancy Drew.

The Burnaby-born Moore is of mixed heritage that includes Wet’suwet’en ancestry. She is registered with the Hagwilget Village First Nation in Hazelton. And she’s enjoyed a 25-year career playing Indigenous and non-Indigenous parts in movies, TV shows, and on-stage.

Her newest role is as Natalie in Vancouver director and writer Laura Adkin’s first feature film, Re: Uniting. It will be released in selected Canadian theatres beginning on March 15.

The cast includes Jesse L. Martin (Law & OrderThe IrrationalRENT), Michelle Harrison (The Flash), Roger Cross (War For the Planet of the Apes), David James Lewis (Child’s Play), and Bronwen Smith (Firefly Lane) as six college friends who reconnect after 25 years.

The Toronto Spark asked Moore some questions about Re: Uniting and what it’s like being an Indigenous actor. Read her responses below.

Watch the trailer for Re: Uniting.

Carmen Moore in her own words

Toronto Spark: What can you tell us about your character in Re: Uniting?

Carmen Moore: Natalie is beautifully flawed. She is very guarded and lonely because of it, and the mask she wears is pretty obvious to everyone but her. An egomaniac with an inferiority complex…which could describe many surgeons, I’m sure, brain or otherwise. But Nat has been underestimated, used, and discarded her whole life, so she had EVERYTHING to prove. And she has done it well. At a price. That self-fulfilling prophecy of “I don’t need anyone, I can do it on my own” tends to get you a life on your own.

Toronto Spark: What led you to get involved in this project?

Carmen Moore: Lol…I’ve known Laura (Adkin, writer director) for years, and she called me on a Wednesday asking if I would be willing to read her script. “By the way, we go to camera on Saturday!”. Another actor had been cast in the role, but due to scheduling conflicts had to drop out. I started reading and was only about 10 pages in when I called her back and said “I’m in.” I knew this was a role that I wouldn’t normally be offered, and jumped at the chance. The next day, our costumer Liz came to my place, raided my closet as well as her own, and we threw Natalie’s wardrobe together…and on Friday I was on a ferry to Bowen!

Toronto Spark: You’ve had a long and successful career in film and television. What advice would you have for young actors who are just beginning their careers?

Carmen Moore: If you’re in it for fame and fortune, then you’re in it for the wrong reasons. If you can’t imagine doing anything else with your life, because you’re that passionate about it, then you might be able to survive this industry. It’s also a time where you need to be creating your own work. Sitting around waiting for the phone to ring won’t do you any good. DO AS MUCH THEATRE AS YOU CAN! Theatre is where you do the deep work it takes to get GOOD.

And get therapy. My Meisner teacher (Lori Triolo) always said, “We think we’re OK and we’re not.” We ALL need therapy. Everyone. Acting itself is a therapy of sorts, but we all need someone to purge with, and if you want to access the deepest emotions to create the most well-rounded characters, then we have to do the inside work to access them ourselves. Trust the process. Sanford Meisner said, “It takes 20 years to learn how to act”. Put in your 10,000 hours and you’ll understand what he meant.

Carmen Moore
Left to right: Carmen Moore, Michelle Harrison, and Bronwen Smith. Photo by @sydwonphotography.

On Indigenous casting

Toronto Spark: What it’s been like for you as an actor with Indigenous ancestry working in this industry?

Carmen Moore: Well, I know a little something about type-casting, that’s for sure. I’m glad there’s now a small shift happening where casting is being encouraged to consider POC in roles that would have historically been Caucasian actors. It’s tricky though, because I wouldn’t ever want to book a role or be nominated for an award simply because the production is trying to fill some sort of quota. I want to know that my work is why I’ve been cast and/or nominated. I’ve been told outright by jury members for some awards shows that my nominations were for diversity. Whether that is true or not doesn’t feel good. And it’s insulting and condescending to Indigenous peoples, I think, to simply nominate someone because it hasn’t been done yet, or because of who directed the show. I’ve seen BRILLIANT performances by Indigenous actors who weren’t nominated, for shows that just didn’t get seen because the director wasn’t Martin Scorsese.

I’m all for creating more opportunities for Indigenous actors to hone their skills, and put in the aforementioned 10,000 hours, to get good enough to deserve these Hollywood-caliber roles and nominations/awards…but just handing them out because “it’s time” is, in my opinion, not right. I also believe that if someone with Hollywood status and money who is non-Indigenous is telling an Indigenous story, that they should be giving back to the community. Who are they mentoring from those communities to become the first Indigenous Scorsese? There won’t be any $20-million budgets for our Indigenous directors anytime soon.

I started working in film in the ’90s just after Dances with Wolves came out, and there were a slew of “Native” roles after that. There weren’t too many actors at the time with Indigenous ancestry, and I was one of only a few in Vancouver, so I started booking. I never wanted to be known as an “Indigenous” actor, but when you’re starting out and that’s what you’re offered, that’s what you take to build the list of credits. Once I was somewhat “established”, I made the bold move to chop off all my hair and hope to book roles not written as Indigenous. I’m fortunate that I had the acting chops to book them, and glad I didn’t get stuck in the “box” I felt I was slowly being placed into.

Back in the day, it was OK to take roles of other ethnicities because we were just actors playing parts. That has all shifted as well…and it’s understandable. There haven’t been enough roles for people of colour. The pendulum needed to swing this far for a while. We need to be strict about it until the industry is in fact EQUAL OPPORTUNITY. Maybe someday we’ll get back to that place where we can play whatever we want because it’s a challenge and not an insult. Just not yet.

So, no more Hispanic roles for me! Lol. I’ve even started limiting myself in the amount and type of Indigenous roles I’m accepting now. I didn’t grow up on Reserve, and I don’t speak my language, so if there is an actor from the territory that a character is written in—that has that background—my hope is that production has done their due diligence in finding that actor before coming to me.

Laura Adkin’s Re: Uniting will be released in select Canadian theatres on Friday (March 15). She will do a question and answer on Friday at Cineplex Yonge & Dundas in Toronto. On Saturday (March 16), Adkin will join producer Krista Rand and actors Michelle Harrison, David James Lewis, Bronwen Smith, Carmen Moore, and Roger Cross at a Q&A at Cineplex International Village in Vancouver. On Sunday (March 17), Adkin, Rand, Lewis, and Smith will do a Q&A at the Vic Theatre in Victoria.

Learn more about diverse communities from the Toronto Spark website.

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Toronto Spark editor Charlie Smith has worked as a journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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Arts for Canadians Tomorrow Society created Toronto Spark to foster greater appreciation for underrepresented artistic communities. A rising tide of understanding lifts all of us.

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Arts for Canadians Tomorrow Society is grateful to be held on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of many nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples, that is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. We acknowledge our privilege to be gathered on this land, and commit to work with and be respectful to the Indigenous peoples whose arts and stories inspire us to bring communities together.