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Interview: Tommie-Amber Pirie talks Don’t Get Killed in Alaska

We spoke with award-winning Canadian actress Tommie-Amber Pirie (Bitten, The F Word) about her new film, Don’t Get Killed in Alaska premiering at the Carlton Cinema this Friday.

How did you get involved with the film? What drew you to the character Liney?

I was driving in my car and my agent texted me the breakdown for the movie and I started to go through it when I got home. I hadn’t felt that way in a really long time. I was thrilled to be auditioning.

I felt so connected to this character. Her story and the story that Bill Taylor was telling I just identified with so greatly. Just in terms of her family life and her upbringing and where she was at. That experience of finding your autonomy in the world.

I actually pushed for it. After my audition I had found Bill’s email and I emailed him and I said, “I must, must play this role”. I’d never done that before but I felt so inclined, it was like my artist was speaking for me or something to tell her story.

Bad stuff happens to Liney and most of it is out of her control but you know that ultimately she is going to be OK because she is a strong woman. Is that partly why you felt so strongly about taking this role?

It’s rare that you come across roles like this for women especially since she is a tomboy.

She’s a tomboy and she’s found her way kind of by herself and you know she went away backpacking and having held the responsibility for her family growing up you know I think there’s definitely strength in that.

I felt like I was reading my life on a page. Having these individual relationships. Making amends with each of her individual family members. I’ve got that. My mother passed when I was younger. So being able to go back almost in time you know and mend and kind of work with that relationship with the mother it all felt familiar to me.

Have you ever done anything similar to what Liney does in the film, like the tree-planting in New Brunswick?

Yeah, I moved to Toronto and became an actor! (Laughs)

I guess that’s true, that is kind of the same.

It’s crazy and weird, most people don’t understand why. When I was 19 I moved to Toronto by myself to pursue my acting passion.

How did you start as an actor?

I originally grew up in Ottawa and I was figure skating full-time. It was basically my career since I was 3 years old. I had a passion for the arts and for acting and I grew up around a mother who was very much the same way and we watched interesting films so acting and movies and films were always in the house. I suppose it was always there since I was a young girl but because of my skating career it was shadowed. So when I became about 17-18 finding my autonomy in the world I kind of heard my voice for the first time and I started to get interested and intrigued and I signed up for acting classes. My dad would drive me to acting classes in Ottawa.

There wasn’t a hell of a lot happening in Ottawa. So I moved here when I was 19. I packed my car and I just booked it to Toronto by myself, I didn’t know anybody, I had no idea what I was doing, I didn’t know where to start, I didn’t know anything, I didn’t know how I was going to make friends.

It was just like I was driving into a dark void.

I grew-up in a family that encouraged whatever it is you want to do and where your heart is at you follow that. So I did.

I put my focus on being a great actor and not on booking jobs. For me being a good actor is the first thing that’s the most fulfilling for me. I could give a shit about a career that’s you know just jobs, jobs, jobs. It can feel really empty after a while. You have to love what you do and I do so I’m grateful.

You’ve done a lot of television work as well. When you’re preparing for a film role versus a television role is there any real difference on how you prep yourself as an actor?

It’s funny that you mention it because I was thinking about this last night. I actually start a film today and I been working on Bitten for the last few months. I had this thought, you definitely put as much work but with film, I almost prefer it because you have it laid out for you what you’re going to do , there’s a beginning, middle and an end. You know your character, you know their story, you know their arc. But by the same token there is also kind of a liberation in not knowing. TV, you get your script the week before. You never know from the beginning of the season to the end of the season, you don’t know what’s happening to the character you find out literally a week before you shoot it.

I like them both for their individual qualities.

What are your thoughts on Canadian independent film? What do you feel that we do that is unique?

I don’t know. I guess it brings Canada. I should hope. I mean that’s what’s so beautiful about Don’t Get Killed in Alaska, Canada and its landscape is another character in this film. Which I think is really beautiful.

Do you feel like with Canadian television and film that we’re more concerned with making art as opposed to just making tons of money?

Yeah sometimes. I also feel that we’re really polite. There’s a portion of the films that come out of Canada – not all of it don’t get me wrong – that are making headway for the next generation of indie directors and filmmakers but there’s still a lot of it that’s very stuck in this box of trying to get it right.

Can you tell us a bit about the film you are currently working on, How to Start an Orgy in a Small Town?

It’s an ensemble comedy about a bunch of people in a small town called Beaver’s Bridge. It’s the kind of small town where everybody knows everybody’s business from a very young age. This one girl named Cassie who’s left town and written a sex column, comes back because her mother’s passed away. One thing leads to another and we want to know what Cassie’s been up to in the city because she has this rivalry with this girl named Heather. Basically Cassie says something along of the lines of “Well you know I bet you’ve never had an orgy” and this whole town thinks “Well we’re cool enough, we can have an orgy”.