Published on September 25th, 2013 | by Biz Books0
The Biz Interview: Jennifer Spence of Down River
Many of our readers will recognize Canadian actress Jennifer Spence – not only for her roles as Betty Robertson on Continuum and Dr. Lisa Park on Stargate: Universe – but for her past association with Biz Books as one of our most beloved Bizzers.
These days, she’s busy with her newest film role in Down River, which premieres in Vancouver at the Vancouver International Film Festival. Jennifer talked to us about the film, her growing career, and her time at Biz Books.
Tell us about Down River and what audiences can look forward to.
Down River is a very special project to us. It was inspired by Ben Ratner’s close friendship with Babz Chula who passed on before her time. While the film is classified as a drama, there are many comedic moments and we think folks will identify with its universal themes. Our hope is that audiences will come away feeling inspired to create value and connection and live their lives in the best way that they can.
How did you become involved in the film and what was your creative process like throughout the production of the film?
I became involved through the very convenient situation that I’m married to the director! My creative process started out with the basic questions an actor asks themselves about their character. Then Ben, Gloria (wardrobe) and I worked together to choose what outfits felt most like “Aki”. That was hugely helpful in getting a feel for her. The glasses we ended up using belonged to Babz. We actually used a ton of Babz’s stuff for the film: much of her clothing for Helen Shaver’s character “Pearl”, items from her apartment and Gabrielle, Colleen and I each wore one of her signature bracelets. The way Ben then guided me in going deeper and telling Aki’s story was such an amazing experience for me- he’s the kind of director every actor wants to work with. I trusted him completely and not just because of our relationship. Everyone did. He’s really good at what he does. To be exceptional in one artistic discipline is admirable enough but to be exceptional in many (directing, writing, acting, teaching, painting, making music) is a very rare thing and he actually is. OK, I sound like I’m gushing but it’s all true!
What are the key similarities and differences between you and your character, Aki? How did you address those as an actor?
I think we’re similar in that we’re both pretty nerdy, introverted and weird. Maybe I’m not quite as cripplingly shy in real life so I guess I had to “turn up” that part of myself that is.
What was the biggest challenge for you in this film?
There’s a scene where I had to dance drunkenly and bizarrely and sexually in front of a crowd so yeah I’d say there was some major fear involved in that.
What were your reasons for getting involved with acting to begin with?
I wanted to do it primarily because I really wanted to affect people- make them feel something, change them in some small way. And to me, stories and art were the way to do that. That’s what’s always affected me the most and helped me to understand what it means to be human. I wanted to help other people understand that too.
You’ve had a successful mix between television and film roles. As an actor, what do you enjoy about each medium?
I love the intimacy of both. For the actors and the audience. With film, it’s almost even more intimate than TV because the screen is so huge so the audience is really getting EVERYTHING. But with TV, more can happen in a way. There are more possibilities of how characters can develop as you evolve them through episodes and often, seasons.
Who are the performers, writers, or directors that have been influential to you?
Oh man- where to start? Gary Oldman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bryan Cranston, Meryl Streep, Catherine Keener, Julianne Moore, Judd Apatow, Charlie Kaufman, John Hughes, the list goes on!
Are there any books or specific authors that have been influential to you so far in your creative journey?
Many! When I first started out I remember finding The Actor’s Survival Kit which is written specifically for Canadian actors. That helped demystify the business for me. It seems like I’m always in various stages of re-reading The Intent to Live especially when I need help deepening a character. Writing Down the Bones is an amazing book on writing and the creative process and really made me realize just how important practice is to bettering oneself as an artist. Other ones that resonated with me are: The Actor’s Audition Checklist, The War of Art and I just finished reading Judi Dench’s And Furthermore which I devoured in three sittings.
Speaking of books, you were part of the Biz Books team at our old Vancouver location. How did your experience at Biz Books influence your career?
Honestly if it weren’t for Catherine Lough Haggquist, I probably wouldn’t still be in the business. Her wisdom and insight into the industry and her belief in me made me believe I could do it. I was/am lucky to have a mentor and friend like her. It’s way too easy to go crazy in this business unless you have someone you trust who has a lot of experience in it and can help point you in the right direction. When I worked at Biz, it was like we had a built-in support system. We were all like-minded friends who ran lines with each other and covered each other’s shifts when we had an audition or gig. I was very fortunate to “find my tribe”. Not to mention being surrounded by every book and resource I could possibly need to help me on my actor’s journey!
What is the most important advice you could offer to aspiring actors in Canada?
Make sure you’re always working on your craft in some way. Work hard at it. Class is usually the best way to do that. You need to be ready for when opportunities come and it keeps you engaged and reminded of why you do it. Surround yourself with like-minded, genuine people. It can be a lonely, bewildering profession so find your tribe. Don’t be an actor unless you absolutely have to and are willing to be persistent through the ups and downs.
What can you share about any future projects that are in development?
We start shooting the third season of Continuum in November so can’t wait for that! Also I found myself really fascinated with the post-production process of making Down River so would like to learn more about editing and setting up shots- maybe get involved in the technical aspects of filmmaking as well.
Watch for Down River at the Vancouver International Film Festival and visit the official site for the film at DownRiverMovie.com.