7 Canadian Actresses Rising To The Top
Remember these names.
by : Patricia Karounos- Mar 13th, 2020
Tiera SkovbyeJenna Berman
If you’re a young up-and-coming actor, who do you turn to for guidance when you’re about to become a lead on a TV show for the first time? Well, if you’re Tiera Skovbye (a.k.a. Riverdale’s Polly Cooper), you ask co-star Chad Michael Murray. “We were on the set of Riverdale together, and I had the biggest crush on him growing up, so my brain couldn’t really handle what was happening,” says the 24-year-old Vancouverite. Skovbye applied Murray’s wisdom (which included always being the first on set) to her role on Nurses, Global’s new medical drama about a group of young, well, nurses at the beginning of their careers. Skovbye’s own career started when she was an energetic seven-year-old; she was scouted by an acting agent while out with her family. She’s been at it ever since, but her big break came when she joined the edgy Archie Comics adaptation – which films in her hometown – in its first season, just as it was exploding into a huge phenomenon. “None of us expected it,” she says. “It was a bit of a whirlwind when [Riverdale] blew up, but I’m so grateful for the opportunity. It gave me my footing to start moving up in this crazy industry.” Now she’s focused on prep for season two of Nurses and waiting for fans to see her in the upcoming second season of the hit true-crime drama Dirty John, expected later this year. Pretty soon, Skovbye will be the one doling out advice
Sofia BanzhafEmily Coutts
If you, like Toronto-based actress/filmmaker Sofia Banzhaf, pay attention to the Canadian film scene, you’ve probably noticed a very frustrating phenomenon. “There’s this strange assumption that if you go to the United States and get a couple of jobs, people in Canada will really want you,” she says, her exasperation palpable as she notes that it can feel harder to “make it” here. “I’m proud to live in Canada. and we have so much incredible talent and opportunity here. But there’s a feeling of needing to hustle [more], whereas it seems my friends in the States don’t feel as unsure about where their next paycheque is coming from.” That feeling hasn’t stopped Banzhaf though. Born in Germany, she moved around a lot with her academic parents. They eventually landed in Newfoundland, where she attended high school before heading to Toronto to pursue acting. “I wanted to have a holistic approach to health, and I realized that a huge part of that comes from your happiness and fulfillment,” she says. “Acting is something I need to do as part of that.” Almost immediately upon moving to the city, she got a role in Closet Monster, which won Best Canadian Feature at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival. She’s been working pretty much non-stop ever since. This past fall, she starred in another TIFF film, Black Conflux, and a short film she directed debuted at the fest. Later this year, she’ll star in The Communist’s Daughter, a laugh-out-loud comedy set in the ’80s that will stream on CBC Gem. And it all began in the city she now calls home. “In Toronto, I found this group of people and we were all in the same period of our lives and just wanted to help each other,” says Banzhaf. “There’s this hunger for making work and experimenting.”
Andrea BangKristine Cofsky
The Netflix effect is real – just ask Kim’s Convenience star Andrea Bang. The Vancouver-based actress, who stars as Janet in the CBC sitcom about a Canadian-Korean family who run a variety store, says she noticed an uptick in the show’s popularity once it started streaming on the platform. “I can see the change in how people react to me,” she says. “During the first season, people would come up to me and say, ‘Oh, you’re from that store show.’ Now they know my name.” Born in Burnaby, B.C., Bang didn’t feel acting was something she could pursue as a career—her parents didn’t particularly want it for her, and, besides, how does one go about becoming a professional actor anyway? It wasn’t until after she’d graduated with a psychology degree that she decided to try it full-time. Her breakout role as Janet also happens to be one of her first. Since Kim’s came onto the scene in 2016, a lot has changed (albeit slowly) in the industry in terms of representation. We’ve seen projects like Crazy Rich Asians and The Farewell, and Simu Liu, who plays Bang’s onscreen brother, will star in Marvel’s upcoming first-ever Asian-led superhero film. “I can [see] the difference in the type of auditions I get,” she says. “It’s not, like, Asian Girl #1.” As for whether her parents ever came around to having a professional actor in the family? “I can watch the show with my mom, and I really appreciate that,” says Bang. “Every time I see her, she’s talking about it non-stop. Now she’s able to see what I do.”
Madeleine ArthurShane McCauley
Something 22-year-old Madeleine Arthur never could have imagined when she first fell in love with acting as a kid? Attending her first-ever Golden Globes party. “My friends and I walk into this quiet area over- looking the dance floor and we see Robert De Niro,” the Vancouver-born actress says, laughing in disbelief. “Then Leonardo DiCaprio shows up, which is when we thought to ourselves, ‘Oh, maybe we shouldn’t be here?’ We left without our drinks and saw Brad Pitt on the way out.” But Arthur isn’t exactly a stranger to mingling with the A-list – one of her earliest roles was as Amy Adams’ onscreen daughter in Tim Burton’s 2014 drama, Big Eyes. And then came Netflix’s surprise romcom hit To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, in which she stars as Christine, BFF to Lana Condor’s Lara Jean. The movie was so popular that Netflix green-lit two sequels; the second in the trilogy started streaming in February. “We thought we were only going to get to make one movie, so to explore these characters for three has been an incredible gift,” says Arthur. It helps that most of the cast are young rising stars like herself, which, she adds, is a different experience from working with older, well- established actors. “When you do something like that, you bond so much,” she says. “We became like family. To build that together has been really, really comforting and wonderful.”
Sarah JefferyJenna Berman
As a teen, Sarah Jeffery made a career of playing the daughter. Her first onscreen mom was Thandie Newton (“Just the loveliest human—she was nurturing and caring”) in 2013 police drama Rogue. Then came Jennifer Lopez (“She’s so inspiring; she was always giving her all and has the best work ethic of anyone I’ve ever met”) on gritty procedural Shades of Blue, which ended in 2018. With The CW’s Charmed, a reboot of the ’90s series that’s currently in its second season, the Vancouverite is finally getting the chance to step out from some impressive shadows. “It had always been like I was kind of serving their story,” says Jeffery, now 23. “[Charmed] was an adjustment, but now that more of my stories are at the forefront, it just creates more opportunity.” When the series, which follows three sisters developing their magical powers, was first announced, it made headlines for casting women of colour in roles originated by white actresses, bringing a new perspective to well-known material. “All I can hope for is to use my voice for things that I think matter and to stand up for what I believe in,” she says. “Now I have people stopping me in person to say ‘Thank you for making me feel seen.’ It’s a blessing.” It’s an approach that Jeffery – who also has a role in Disney’s popular Descendants franchise – takes with her social-media feeds too. Recently, she opened up in a candid post about struggling with OCD. “My life is not, you know, all rainbows and butterflies,” says Jeffery. “If I’m going to be using social media, it has to be in a genuine way. I’m lucky enough to have a platform and people who listen to me. I feel like I’ve found my voice a bit more; I’m more confident in it.”
Humberly GonzalezStay + Pratha
If you were growing up in the mid-2000s and had hopes of being an actor, there was really only one dream role. “My last year of high school, the community theatre was doing High School Musical,” says Humberly Gonzalez, who was living in Fort McMurray, Alta., at the time. “It was pretty much my first audition. I already knew all the songs and dialogue. I was like, ‘This is me. I’m going to be Gabriella.’ I booked the lead, and ever since then, I knew I was going to be doing this forever.” Gonzalez’s creative spirit goes back to her childhood in Venezuela, where she was always surrounded by music and dance and would enter performance competitions at the mall. When she was a teen, her family moved to Alberta, which is where she started getting serious about acting, leading her to study at the National Theatre School of Canada in Montreal. During her third year, Gonzalez did a short film with acclaimed filmmaker Don McKellar in Toronto, where she now lives. “I loved how different it was from theatre,” she says. “I was like, ‘Oh, maybe I could do TV and film. Would that be crazy?’” It wasn’t. This year, Gonzalez will appear in Netflix’s superhero series Jupiter’s Legacy as well as its Gilmore Girls-esque Ginny & Georgia. Even bigger: She made her series-regular debut on Utopia Falls, a genre-twisting sci-fi hip-hop series that premiered on CBC Gem on February 14. “Utopia Falls was life changing for me,” she says. “[Before landing it], I had been offered a different role on a different show that I didn’t end up taking because it didn’t match what I was working toward. It’s scary to say no to something, but my team told me I had to bet on myself. That’s a really powerful place to be.”
Kelly McCormackJoshua Shultz
“I want to burn things down,” says Kelly McCormack of her work. The Vancouver native is laughing while she says it, but she’s not really joking. “I want the stories that I tell to change the world, to shift something like a tectonic plate.” McCormack’s fiery passion began as what she describes as “a seven-year-old’s panic attack or epiphany” during a staging of Show Boat. The next morning—with the same conviction she still has today—McCormack declared to her mother that she was going to be an actor and made an action plan that eventually took her to New York, Toronto and, now, L.A. Always in search of greater control, she started her own production company, Floyder Films, along the way. “I don’t think the industry took notice of me until I started creating roles for myself that felt authentic to me,” she says. “I had a hard time in auditions. I felt like I had to be a leading lady, which meant I was ignoring a large part of myself.” The first time she dropped the facade, she landed her breakout role on cult-favourite sci-fi series Killjoys, which wrapped its five-season run last year. She has also appeared in popular Canadian comedy Letterkenny and in 2018’s A Simple Favor opposite Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively. Currently, McCormack is “being consumed in the best possible way” by baseball training for Amazon Prime Video’s A League of Their Own pilot, which is based on the beloved movie and written by Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson. “I have a pretty simple algorithm for [my] work,” she says. “If it scares me, I’ll say yes. If it doesn’t, then I’ll say no. The thing that terrifies me the most is being comfortable.”
This article originally appeared in the April 2020 issue of ELLE Canada. Subscribe here.
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