TIFF 2018 Interview: Gabrielle Rose and Camille Sullivan

“Also telling our stories is really important for young people in Canada. To hear the story of Canadians. All of the diversity, all of the multiculturalism, all those stories need to be told so that we have, we feel our identity. We need that more than ever right now. We feel really proud of our identity, so let’s have it reflected in our art.”

KINGSWAY is a dramedy, set in Vancouver, British Columbia, that explores mental health, relationships and family dynamics.

The film begins when Matt (Jeff Gladstone), a professor with mental health issues, spots his wife’s motorcycle outside a hotel room on the Kingsway. When she leaves him, it forces the whole family to reevaluate their romantic encounters and lifestyles as they deal with his crippling depression.

The synopsis sounds dark, but the film is lighthearted with Gabrielle Rose, who plays the mother Mary, and Camille Sullivan, the sister Jess, play off each other to try and ‘fix’ the situation between Matt and his wife Lori.

Kingsway shows a family that is struggling with the effects of mental illness and helplessness and balances that with the romanic comedy genre to create a sweet and fun film about a family trying to keep their heads above water.

I sat down with two of the lead actresses Gabrielle Rose and Camille Sullivan just before the World Premiere of Kingsway to discuss Canadian film, feminism and their role in the movie.

You can see Kingsway at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, screening as part of Contemporary World Cinema on September 13th at 5:45PM and September 15th at 9:00AM. GET YOUR TICKETS HERE.

Can you start by introducing yourselves and your role in the film?

Gabrielle Rose: My name is Gabrielle Rose and I play Mariam in Kingsway film. I am an actress and I just turned 66, so I say I am two thirds the devil this year. I don’t think I’m going to reach the full devil, I hope I don’t [laughs], I’ve digressed. I do film, television, theatre, I’ve got a theatre project right away after this.

Camille Sullivan: I’m Camille Sullivan and I play Jessica in the movie Kingsway. I’m an actor and I have a show coming out this January, on CBC in Canada and Sundance TV in the States, called Unspeakable about the tainted blood crisis in the 1980s in Canada that is very interesting

GR: I have a part in that.

CS: We’re both in it!

Tell me a little bit about Kingsway.

CS: It’s a disaster film.

GR: It’s a disaster film, there’s lots of car chases and a few explosions. They are all in our bodies as opposed to actually on the screen.

CS: All the explosions are in our minds.

GR: It’s funny and it’s sad and it’s family dynamics, the functionality of family dynamics. I am not allowed to use the word dysfunction because the director’s sitting over there and he said ‘I hate that word,’ so we’re not using it. But its that whole thing of you can be at your worst and your family, they still can’t divorce you.

CS: They can but they usually don’t.

GR: Yeah, they usually don’t. They find a way to come back and embrace you, hopefully. There’s a lot of love in the film, a lot of wit, there’s some sadness, there’s some anguish.

How did you get involved in Kingsway?

CS: You were involved earlier than me.

GR: I worked with Bruce [Sweeney, director] about, this is my fourth film, I think so. We’ve worked together a lot so he approached me a couple of years ago, he had an idea. Camille and I have worked together on a couple of films. We worked very closely on one in particular so when I heard she was coming aboard I was, yayyyy.

CS: Yeah, Bruce called, emailed me I guess and just asked if I’d be interested. I’d seen his movies before and I thought they were great and I knew Gabrielle was going to be in it so I was like yeah, I’m down let’s do that. I went for a read through bit, sort of like a table read, and started there. It changed a billion times after that.

GR: Yes. Bruce has a unique process which I love. You are included early on in the process and you can give feedback. We do improvisation which is sort of just fun, read through.

What was it like improving on such a dark subject matter like mental health and suicide?

CS: I guess there were times where you are sort of like worried about ‘is this going to be correct?’

GR: Yeah.

CS: But overall it’s still funny [the film]. Even the saddest things in life, most of them, if you’re not laughing at them, you’re just, you’re done.

GR: I think all comedy is based on tragedy, when you think about that sort of, that first classic joke about a man walking along a street and he slips on a banana peel. Now, I don’t know if personally I necessarily find that funny.

CS: I do.

GR: But people watch those sorts of shows all the time. Those candid camera kind of shows where somebody falls down or hurts themselves and there’s one that’s going around where the girl goes down the slide perfectly and the boy comes down the slide and hits his head. Well, that’s actually a bit of a disaster, right? If that kid actually hurt his head, we would be [makes shocked and sad noise].

That’s how people cope, I think, with serious subject matter, is to see the funny and I think the film doesn’t treat it funnily. It’s very serious when that happens. We’ve all got fed up when the person is lying in bed all the time. That’s also true, you get fed up with them, which isn’t nice for them.

I’ve laid in bed, I’ve been that person who couldn’t get up and brush their teeth. I’ve had a boyfriend go, ‘you have to brush your teeth. [laughs] See, we’re laughing now.

CS: Exactly, it’s a tragedy then and now it’s a funny story.

Kingsway also deals with the family’s side of dealing with mental illness. How did you get into those kinds of emotions?

CS: I think that everyone’s families are complicated so it wasn’t too hard for me to draw on something from my own family. You know it’s very frustrating to feel helpless, to help someone else that you want to that you really love. That’s where that came from for me.

GR: I have two boys so that was really easy for me, it’s heartbreaking at times.

What was filming like, how long was the shoot?

GR: It was about three weeks, 15 days, something like that, 15, 17 days, I’m not sure. It was intense, really intense.

CS: Yeah. We moved quick.

GR: Yeah. We were doing fast shooting but we were still doing multiple takes. It wasn’t like, sometimes you’ll do a movie of the week and they only give you two takes. Well, Bruce will give you lots of takes. If you don’t feel right or if he doesn’t think it’s right, we just keep on going. There’s a real creativity about it as well, that you’re involved in, so it was intense.

CS: Yeah, it was very much a collaboration, everyone involved on the crew and in the cast and everything, was just so excited about making it and having such a good time, like a little band of brothers and sisters.

GR: Yeah, the focus was right there, it was perfect, it was exactly how you want to make films.

Can you speak about cast dynamic, I mean obviously you guys get along well.

CS: I’m always delighted to be with Gabrielle.

GR: We do get along. We have a sort of double act in the film and we didn’t have that before, it was just something that we developed through the whole process. Then when we decided to come here [For TIFF] we started texting each other and we ended up sharing an Air Bnb and we get along really well.

CS: It’s only got one bathroom and we’re still doing great. It’s pretty amazing. [laughs]

GR: We’ve only got one set of keys, it’s really weird. [laughs]

It’s nice to see actors who actually want to spend time together.

GR: Yeah, and we’re not even doing research anymore.

CS: No we’ve mostly just been hanging out, getting lost on the same four streets. And I grew up in Toronto so I don’t know how that’s happening. [laughs] We start gabbing.

GR: We start gabbing and I’ve sort of relinquished by brain cells because I’ve got a younger, brighter woman with me.

CS: So she thinks [laughs] I’ve been leading her astray the whole time.

GR: Leading me in the wrong direction. But we don’t mind, we just pop into a bar and go ‘I wonder where we are.’ [laughs] ‘Well, I guess we missed that movie.’ Toronto has some very nice restaurants and bars to pop in to.

Can you speak about the other women that worked on this film?

GR: Colleen Rennison, who plays the daughter-in-law, the wife of my son and her brother. She’s fantastic and she does all the rock and roll singing and she wrote the songs. She’s incredible, beautiful voice, and a real character, a real out there character of a person as well. Jillian Fargey, who plays her mom. She’s in town right now and she is a tremendous actress with a huge resume behind her. She’s dynamic.

CS: She’s hilarious, she makes me laugh so hard.

GR: She looks like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth and then she can be…

CS: She can be so vulgar [laughs].

GR: The coarsest things come out of her mouth and you go ‘I can’t believe you are saying that.’ And then you just start crying with laughter.

CS: We spent an entire red carpet at a party just saying cunt back and forth and laughing and laughing. I probably shouldn’t tell that story [laughs] but that’s what we do.

GR: I told you to watch your mouth on the Muff Society, I’m not sure they want you to say that word.

I mean our name is Muff, so…

CS: Yeah, we’re reclaiming that one [laughs].

GR: We were on one interview, where they asked us ‘what does it take to be a woman in this industry?’ And you said ‘you’ve got to have a lot of balls’ and then she stopped herself and said ‘why do we use a male part of the anatomy to describe courage? We should use another word’ and I said ‘labia.’ [laughs]

CS: We ran with it.

GR: Yeah, you’ve got to have a big labia to get through this world.

I like it. So are you feminists?

GR: I have to say, I think every woman is a feminist in this century. I mean, even women who think they’re not, if you’re born in the last 40 years you’re a feminist because you have no idea what it was like 70 years ago for women. I was born 66 years ago and I’ve seen this huge, huge change and now there’s a seismic shift again, but that change has been building and building and building.

15 years ago, I remember a young woman saying to me ‘Well, I’m not a feminist’ and I’m going ‘Yes you are.’ Because you’re born in this era where you’re born to a freedom that women 100 years ago never even thought was possible. We weren’t even allowed to vote in 1920. It’s an extraordinary movement. So of course I’m a feminist, without a doubt.

CS: Yeah, me too, without a doubt. It shocks me when I hear people say they’re not a feminist, like a woman. I find it quite shocking because if you’re okay here in North America and you feel happy with, I mean we can still do a lot better here in North America, if you are happy with that fine. But there are women all over the world who don’t enjoy the freedoms that we do, like not even close, so be a feminist for them.

GR: Yes absolutely. Education, having equal rights, being able to be out in the workforce.

CS: Having control over your body, to be safe outdoors.

GR: I mean what’s great about the movement right now is to say, no. Fuck off. To have the ba- Labia, to say that.

How do you use feminism in this industry?

CS: It’d be a lie if I said I get to choose my own parts because I work when there is work. Some of them I choose, this one I chose. If there’s work I usually take it, unless there is something horrifying but I try to give the characters agency and a lot of times they are not written with it. So I try to shove it in there so my character has a point of view and is going after an objective and is still a strong character. Has some strength and complexity even if it’s not in there.

GR: What she said. [laughs] Just choose your projects if you can, if you have that luxury which none of us do in Canada because we don’t make that much money. I think you have to turn down the things that you really, really morally object to.

CS: Yeah. The ones that give you a sick feeling, you got to go ‘okay, I’m gonna pass.’

Can you speak about the Canadian film industry?

GR: Well I’ve seen it go through many phases and certainly when I was very young, there wasn’t one or there was very little of one. It’s gotten bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger, which is great. There seems to be less funding for it which is sad.

On the other hand, maybe 30 years ago there seemed to be a little more generosity and I’m hoping with the government change, and it’s only two years, but that will start to shift back. But certainly under the Harper government, funding just seemed to dry up. So things were going micro-budget.

When my kids were, I think, eight and three, at one point one of the children was running around the house going ‘scale minus 30 percent, scale minus 30 percent!’ Because he’d heard it so often. [laughs] I was working for scale minus 30 percent, I don’t even know what that means, how can they have 30 percent less than scale? And that’s just the money, right, so financially we could do with a little more support and a little less bureaucracy underneath that support. I understand that there has to be bureaucracy but sometimes it’s exhausting and antithetical to art.

Art just wants to happen. I have people approach me sometimes and they go ‘I don’t want to have to go through your union’ and I understand that but I have to otherwise I’ll be brought up and I’ll be kicked out. It’s a really tricky negotiation, art and Canada. But I love the films that Canada’s producing and I so appreciate all the auteurs' independent filmmakers and the effort that they go through. The lifeblood that they sweat. And I think we should be kind to them and I think we should support them and I think that we should go see their films.

CS: I agree and I think it’s fantastic that some of the most interesting parts that I get to play are in Canadian films. There are just people who are willing to give me something to do, take a chance on me to do something that they maybe haven’t seen and that’s super exciting. It’s a really fun way to work.

I would like to see though when a director, a Canadian director, comes out and they have a movie and it’s great and it gets a lot of buzz and it does really well, the process of getting the funding for their next movie to happen a lot more quickly. Because then you go down the road and you’re trying to get money and your movie comes out and it’s five years from now, people have already forgotten about you.

So I think we need to speed that up so that when someone’s got juice, we help amplify it. When a movie’s doing well there’s money also in the budget for promotion because otherwise, people don’t see it. And I’d like to see the government support us more in terms of venues for Canadian films. There’s one venue in Vancouver that shows Canadian film, the Rio, and that’s shocking to me.

And we almost lost it.

CS: Yeah!

GR: I love the gesture that Camille made there when she was talking about how to deal with Canadian film, she kept going like this [gestures]. What she’s doing with her hands is starting wide and then scooping under and holding it up and I think that is something that all Canadian’s need to do. To scoop wide and hold their artists up. Not push them down but hold them up and be constructive in your criticism not destructive in your criticism. Understand that we are working with much lower budgets than the films that you see from the States etcetera. We’re working with pennies, which have been abolished. [laughs] So take your arms and hold us up.

CS: Because the work is still great. The movies are already good enough it’s just getting people to know about them and see them get more of them made.

GR: And also telling our stories is really important for young people in Canada. To hear the story of Canadians. All of the diversity, all of the multiculturalism, all those stories need to be told so that we have, we feel our identity. We need that more than ever right now. We feel really proud of our identity, so let’s have it reflected in our art.

Alright, to get back to the film, do you have anything you want people to take from it?

CS: I think it is really beautiful the way it explores family. I think people will see a lot of their own families in it and a lot of their own dynamics and find it hilarious and horrifying and beautiful.

GR: Yeah, I think it’s about having a safe place. For me, when I became a mother, one of the best things I can do is to create a safe haven for my children. So that they always have a place they can come to, that there is a sense of the unconditional, there might be some conditions around the unconditional but it’s unconditional love. I think that’s what I take away from this film.

You touched on it a little bit but what are you working on next?

CS: My next thing is Unspeakable coming out January. I am working on a writing project of my own which I have been busy toiling away at for five or six years.

GR: It’s wonderful, we did a reading, it’s fantastic.

CS: It’s starting to happen. And then, I’m looking for my next thing.

GR: It’s a television series.

CS: About nonviolent psychopaths.

GR: And the downtown east side and marginalized people. It’s really good.

CS: Yeah.

GR: I’m working on a play, it’s a cinematic stage production called The Full Light of Day, being produced by the Electric Company Theatre. Written by Daniel Brooks and directed by Daniel and Kim Collier. We’re still in a workshop stage but we’re getting really close to producing and we’re at the Playhouse. Then we are here at the Luminato, the Canadian Stage, I think. It’s a tremendous story, Daniel’s written a brilliant piece, again about family dynamics and complicity and corruption. All of the things that come into life and death. A lot of death. [laughs] But it still has wit, a lot of soul, a lot of philosophy. I’m really honoured to be in that production.

And Unspeakable, and I too am writing something, it’s still in its outline stage, I just finished the final draft of the outline.

CS: Oh! There’s one other writing thing that I want to do that I want you to be in actually. If I ever write it but my friend and I want to write a stoner movie about women in their 40s. Kind of like a road trip ode to Cheech and Chong, for me and another woman in her 40s. I feel we’re underrepresented there. [laughs]

It’s true, you rarely see a buddy film with ‘older’ women.

CS: Yeah exactly. Being stupid and doing dumb things, like I still do all the time. I don’t know why people think you grow out of that. I haven’t experienced that.

GR: Am I the prison warden?

CS: No you’re a drug dealer.

GR: Oh! [laughs]

What’s the best advice you’ve received in the industry?

CS: I got one great piece of advice from DonnaLee Rose when I was working on Davinci's Inquest. Just before we were doing a scene, we were just chatting in the hall and he just said what he does right before a scene is he goes to a place of nothing. Instead of thinking, ‘what am I doing, what’s my objective,’ just go to a place of nothing. Now I do that and it’s really working for me.

GR: Yeah that’s a sort of centering down thing.

CS: Yeah, yeah.

GR: I remember being at a party in a bar and I was feeling really lonely and really needy and somebody came up and spoke to me. I was really grateful to them, and I told them what was going on with me. That I felt that I didn’t know anybody and I didn’t feel a part of it. And he gave me this great piece of advice, he was a young actor, and he said ‘you have to find your center. You can’t be wanting other people’s center. Make yourself busy with something that only you can do and everybody will be attracted to you at that point.’

So always have your own thing. Your own project, whether it’s painting, or writing or even just memorizing something, just always have something that’s just yours.

Finally, recommend one #MUFFApproved film for our blog readers!

GR: I’m going to tell you what I want right now. I want it rereleased. Anne Wheeler directed it, Tantoo Cardinal is in it. And it’s called Loyalties. And I know the last I saw of it was six months ago and I spoke to Anne Wheeler and she said there’s only one copy and it’s on celluloid, it’s not digitalized. I’d love to see that digitalized and rereleased. It was made 25 years ago and it is about what is going on right now. It covers all the topics.

CS: I’m going to say this one because it’s on the top of my head because I just saw Geena Davis speak not that long ago. She has a great organization about the representation of women and minorities in film and television. I’m going to harken back to Thelma and Louise because it was on TV and they shot that guy and it was awesome.