In an exclusive interview, Flickering Myth reporter Scott J. Davis sits down with actress Camille Hollet-French to discuss her career.
SJD: Thank you for taking the time to speak to me for Flickering Myth and congratulations on winning the 2016 Monologue Slam UK LA Edition. How have your family reacted to your career choice and your successes in the industry in Canada and beyond?
CHF: I’ve got a big family. They’ve always been supportive in their own ways. My father is a “money man.” He’s been a sales manager for 40 years, so it was hard sometimes in the beginning to get us on the same page. The question was always “Yeah, but how do you make money?” And then my mom says things like “Don’t worry. It’ll all fall into place,” which would be frustrating sometimes because she’d say it with such ease when I’d be freaking out. When I finally understood what that meant, I was able to let all the fears fall away, and you know what? That’s when everything did start to fall into place. I can’t believe I’m finally admitting it, but she was right! Eventually my dad started to see how the countless hours of training and passion projects turned into triumphs over the years. And now he totally gets me.
I think every time I pick up and leave for another city or country for work or just because I need to explore a little, my siblings think, “Oh. There goes Camille again.” It’s nothing new to them.
I’m pretty sure all my aunts and uncles and cousins are just waiting for me to end up on the beach somewhere so they can come visit. No matter how many times I book a big, beautiful, nuanced, challenging role, my family just knows me as me, Milly, the goof, and they’ll always be more excited about the fact that I’ve done a McDonald’s commercial. That to them was when I “made it big”.
I did a film recently, Kingdom Come, that was in the top ten horror rentals on iTunes for a while and they don’t care at all. Because they’re my family. Most refuse to watch it because “it looks too scary!” People all over the world whom I’ve never even met seem more excited than the people I’m related to. I always know which country it’s being released in based on who I’m getting fanmail from. It doesn’t bother me at all. I actually think it’s pretty funny. I would never want them to treat me any differently anyway. My profession is untraditional to both sides of my family. My dad’s from the Maritimes, and my mom is from Trinidad. I don’t have any other actors that I know of in my family. I’m sure everyone is wondering where I even came from. Luckily they’ve all known me to always have a very clear vision of where I’m going, so I suppose they have no choice but to trust that too!
SJD: I understand you are a world-traveler. Did you ever consider working for a non-profit organization abroad or was it always your dream though to be an actor?
CHF: I’ve been telling everyone I wanted to an actor since I was child, but I don’t feel that I’d have to choose between the two. If I ever left acting and writing, I’d be miserable because I’d be turning my back on who I am. If I ever stopped traveling, I’d feel stuck in one place, like an old nubby tree. I do know there’s so little money in most non-profit organizations, especially for the people who are working them from the ground. That’s a real problem. I’m not saying anyone needs to be or should be extravagantly wealthy. I’m saying working for non-profits should be able to provide enough for you to enjoy your life. What I’d like to do is work toward fixing that system so that anyone devoting their lives to the betterment of others can live without the worry of a pay cheque. It has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the fact that we’re just tools. That’s all we are, instruments to make the world function in harmony. Some of us fight against that and become the Trumps of the world. Others find peace in the knowledge that contentment is a matter of making ourselves available to help others find their peace.
One of my dreams is to see homelessness completely eradicated. It’s not impossible. It’ll be extremely difficult, but it isn’t impossible. I’m lucky my partner feels the same way. It makes us a great team. And this isn’t about “helping the less fortunate.” It’s about checking ourselves and asking, “What have we done wrong to allow people, who are just like us in so many ways, to fall below the line?” This is about people who are capable, like you and me, and asking ourselves, “How have I failed my neighbour? And how can my actions now apologize for having failed him?” Because I know there are times when I’ve hit rock bottom in different ways and the only thing that’s gotten me through is a helping hand from someone else. It’s about taking turns lifting one another up.
SJD: Tell us a little about your work on Canadian productions? How different it is to working on US productions shot in Canada versus homegrown ones? Do you have to prepare differently?
CHF: This is such a cliché, but most people on the Canadian productions I’ve worked on are super nice. Sometimes in a sugary sweet kind of way. A little too sweet, like “It’s not THAT sunny out. We’ve been up since 4 am. Calm down.” but I get it. That’s part of our charm! I’m a total introvert, so it’s hard for me to be around a lot of people at once. I’m very one-on-one.
In terms of quality, we’ve got such an incredible pool of talent here in Canada. We create some amazing work. I don’t consider our industry inferior to the American industry. It’s different in many mays, sure, but not everyone cares to live in the US, and some of those people are my very talented countrymen and women, so they stay here and make work that’s unparalleled.
In terms of prepping differently? No. Look, acting is acting is acting. People will argue with me on this one. I feel the same way when it comes to film and TV vs the stage. It’s the same thing. Some elements of execution may change slightly, but we’re still game pieces for writers and directors to tell a story. We have to come prepped knowing the same things whether we’re on a studio lot, an indie theater, in the US, Canada or on a boat in undesignated waters—We have to know who we are, what’s happening at that point in our “lives,” and what our purpose in the story is. If you know those three things beyond a doubt, everything else falls into place.
SJD: You worked on Reign – what was that experience like? What was it like to work on such a big award-winning TV show? And did you have to use a British accent?
CHF: British accent yes. Super cool wardrobe yes. Gracious actors and crew, yes yes. I mean, huge studio shoots are so empowering. It reminds you of the magic that happens when masses of people come together for one cause. It’s incredible to see.
Interesting little fact: in the audition, I blew the first take, stumbled on my words. Then I stood there and just stared at the casting director like a deer in the head lights, which is funny because I’ve been auditioning for her for years and she knows me well, but still, I got in my own way and fell right out of my element. But she’s so cool and relaxed, she didn’t make a big deal of it. I did it again, then I ended up booking the job.
It’s a reminder for actors to not be so hard on ourselves in the room. If we mess up, keep going, start over, whatever. They don’t hold it against us. Casting directors know how odd the audition process is. Everyone’s aware it’s strange and totally not conducive to the craft–you know, a tiny room, some dude reading across from you who’s supposed to be your lover. If we can find ways to trust ourselves and trust casting directors, we can accept then ignore the pressure and get back to the work at hand, which is obviously the most important part.
SJD: I understand you have trained with some notable acting instructors. How important is training for you as an actor?
CHF: It’s essential. It’s an artist’s nourishment and it’s a business investment. It’s also a great opportunity to take the focus off yourself and put it entirely onto the partners you’re working with, which can be a great relief since it’s an industry of many pressures. It’s nice to take a moment to care about another person, which informs the work that much more.
It’s also important for actors to know though, that if you feel you ever need to take a break from training to clear your head and to redefine your space, that’s totally ok. It can be hard to find instructors that are right for you too.
That’s part of the reason a friend and I started a venture lovingly and respectfully called the Dead Actors Society. We invite different coaches and directors to facilitate a class however they’d like. We work with them for a couple weeks at a time. The purpose isn’t to learn one instructor’s technique. The purpose is to get ourselves out of what we think we know and to work at getting from point A to point B, regardless of who we’re working with and what “methods” we’re using. It’s also a great way to get in contact with other industry professionals across the city. It’s a drop-in style class and I’ll be sad to leave it, but I’ll still be organizing it from wherever I am and I hope to start something like it one day in LA.
SJD: You’ve just won the first Monologue Slam UK’s LA edition. Congratulations! What was that whole experience like? Did you find it harder to be live on stage rather than in front of a camera?
CHF: The monologue slam was such a trip. It’s a crazy story. The day of the auditions, I was being human and making excuses, like saying I didn’t have enough time and that I had so much to do, but a good friend of mine Abanoub Andreas, who’s a great actor here, was texting me saying, “Have you done it yet? Get online!”
TriForce who hosted the event, was auditioning people internationally through this super cool website werehearse.com, a site that connects actors from all over the world to coach or run lines or whatever you need through video chat. At the time, I was also talking to a casting director here in Toronto and she said, “Go big or go home baby!” kind of in passing and in reference to something else, but her words snapped me back into reality and I stopped making excuses and got online. Auditions closed at 4pm and at 3:50pm I connected with Jimmy Akingbola (Arrow) who runs Triforce and Monologue Slam UK. He’s such a gracious soul and super down to earth. I auditioned with the same piece I competed with, from Sam Shepard’s Cowboy Mouth, and the next day I got an email saying I won one of 20 spots to compete. Apparently I was the only one who auditioned online to get a spot and the only Canadian. It was all very last minute, but I moved some stuff around and figured it out to be able to be in LA for the competition, and I’m so glad I did!
I was able to meet some of the industry’s leaders, which was very humbling, and some great things have come from that already. Like, in Toronto a couple days later the slam at an audition that I thought was completely unrelated, the casting director and some producers from LA said that they heard about the competition. Apparently they called me in because one of their colleagues was in the audience that night and she said they had to see me for this role. It’s crazy stuff! I’m so amazed and grateful to see just how interconnected everything is.
I’m also really thankful because I met so many incredible actors during the whole process, ones who are insanely talented, and smart, and funny, and most importantly really kind. Everyone has an idea of what “the industry” is like, and that everyone is mean and gross and black-hearted, but it just isn’t true! At the end of the day, we’re all just people trying to figure our lives out with the least arguments and the least amount parking tickets as possible. It’s pretty simple really. And the people I met during the slam process reminded me of that. They also opened my eyes to the truly amazing and incredibly unique LA hustle. I’m totally in awe of it. I’ve now got a great template to work from.
At that point I hadn’t been on stage for a few years, so I did wonder how it would turn out. Luckily it was ok. The strange thing about being an actor who’s an introvert, is that people assume I’d be terrified of performing, but I’m not. Interestingly, I find being on stage a very intimate experience. A crowd of people is involved but that crowd has committed to being there with, so the whole process begins with an unspoken agreement of being there for one another. It’s comforting.
SJD: Do you have a particular genre of movie you prefer? If so can you explain.
CHF: Anything zombies. Anything post-apocalyptic. I like sci-fi concepts in non-traditionally sci-fi setting. Wow, I guess that’s a very specific genre! One of my favorite movies is the film Another Earth starring and co-written by Brit Marling. It’s really funny reading the arguments online between sci-fi geeks (myself included) as to whether it’s actually science fiction or not. Of course it is. It’s about an identical planet coming into earth’s orbit and parallel universes. Duh.
SJD: Are there any actors or directors you would love to work with in the future? Any actor you’d like to play alongside?
CHF: Ok, I’m about to be very honest, but everyone needs to understand that this has nothing to do with his being a complete heartthrob: Ryan Gosling. I don’t think there’s anything that man can’t do. And I’m not saying that just because you could wash your undies on his abs in Crazy, Stupid, Love (I’m totally more into dadbods anyway), but because he carries such honesty through every film. He seems like he would make other actors’ jobs so easy by just being the force that he is, with such truth in his eyes. Blue Valentine and Half Nelson.
It took me a really long time to re-watch Blue Valentine. The first time I saw it, I was wrecked. It wasn’t until I forced myself to see it again that I realized I wasn’t avoiding it because it was so heartbreaking, which it is, but because I know that story so intimately in so many ways and I didn’t want to admit it. I wasn’t ready to discuss the ugly things with myself, the things that make us evaluate who we are as people. It’s amazing that movies can have that effect. And Ryan Gosling’s performance is what made it so hard for me to confront myself. His heart was so honest and so true, he turned that film into a big mirror for anyone watching, and that can be scary, but it’s so amazing once you come out on the other side and see how much you’ve grown. Actors like him are the ones who make me feel like, I want to see what I’m capable of. I want to see if I could pull off a fraction of that to help other people confront themselves.
Of course he’s not the only one. The list is HUGE. It’s in my notes on my phone and I add to it almost every day. Ok directors quickly: Danny Boyle who directed maybe my favorite film, 28 Days Later, Gareth Edwards who wrote and directed another favorite, Monsters, and Guillermo Del Toro, not much of an explanation needed, but Pan’s Labyrinth? Come on.
SJD: Do you get to go to the cinema much? Any films you have enjoyed lately?
CHF: I’ve always loved going to the movies. Nothing beats “the cinematic experience.”
Two years ago, I psyched myself up and I said, “That’s it! I’m going to movies by myself.” I had never done it. I always felt so bad for people sitting there, alone. I wore a hoodie. I bought a bottle of water and scurried in. I got there around noon. Then my boyfriend at the time called me around 11pm at night, all “Where are you! Are you ok?!” Yeah, I was on my fourth movie. I had chicken wings around me and frozen yogurt and coffee, maybe some popcorn. Probably peanut M&Ms—totally disgusting. But I learnt my lesson: never feel bad for people alone at the movies. We LOVE it. There’s something very cathartic about ugly, snotty crying then laughing till you cry again, all by yourself. So yes, I go to the movies all the time. Especially when I’m having a bad day. I just go and sit in the dark and reset. It makes me very happy. It makes me feel closer to the people I’ll work with, before I’ve had the opportunity to meet them.
There are very few movies I don’t like. Movies were my first love, so I’m able to compartmentalize and see each film for what it is, its purpose, its strengths and weaknesses. I don’t watch films to turn off my brain and veg out, which is fine if people do that. A lot do. I watch movies to feel less lonely, to feel like we don’t just co-exist, but that we’re in this together. Julianne Moore said it best: “The audience doesn’t come to see you. They come to see themselves.” So accurate and perfectly eloquent.
SJD: I understand you are represented by Play Management in Vancouver, who represent some of the entertainment industry’s biggest names. What does this mean for your future endeavors?
Well, great things I hope! My manager is awesome. Totally ballsy and just sassy enough. A few years back, I had it in my head that I wanted a Vancouver agent. Everyone asked me why, I said, “I don’t know, I don’t care. I want one.” So on my way to Vancouver, while driving cross Canada, I internet-stalked about five reps who I really wanted to meet with and emailed them all. They all got back to me, which was a relief, and I set up meetings for the two days I’d be in Vancouver before flying back home. Play was always my first choice and we kind of just hit it off. Now I’m glad I followed my gut, across the country, because their industry relationships, across Canada and the United States, have been able to propelon e forward in different ways. And things that started then are coming back full circle now. The stories are crazy. My life has been creeping me out a little to be honest.
SJD: Finally, any advice you would give to actors looking to make a career move?
Don’t let people tell you “you’re not ready”, but do your research. It’s important to learn how the industry works in different places. Don’t let the fear of “not getting an answer” stop you from approaching people. Being with my significant other has taught me that. He’s made me more fearless than I ever could imagine. Ask questions as often as possible. A friend recently said to me, “You know, you’re the only actor who’s been willing to share any information with me.” I was shocked. I would like to say to those actors, the ones who are so controlled by their own fear that they think others’ success can somehow infringe upon their own, “You’re a jerk! Shame on you! There’s room for all of us. PS you suck.”
SJD: How can people follow your career? Instagram…. Facebook etc.
People can visit my website www.camillehollette-french.com – Instagram @thiscity0fmine and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/thiscity0fmine are great. I’ve got Twitter but I’m still learning how to use it. I’m not completely sold on it…
Thanks to Camille Hollett-French and Liz Rodriguez and EMR Media for arranging the interview.