North of 60 Interview: Michelle Thrush
We first see Sylvie LeBret--at that point, played by Annette Loe--in Season 1 of "North
of 60," when her husband angrily charges that she has slept with Peter Kenidi. After a
later episode in which Michelle Thrush takes over the role, Sylvie leaves the area for
a few years, returning in Season 5 to visit the now-separated Peter.
Although Sylvie hasn't appeared in any movies since "Trial by Fire," Michelle Thrush
stopped by the set to visit with the cast during the filming of "Another Country," and
graciously agreed to an interview. Accompanying her was her two-year-old daughter
Imajyn. Also with us was Nof60 publicist Fran Humphreys.
PW: Yes, sweetie, this is a tape recorder. I'm going to talk to your mommy, okay? Maybe you'll be in television some day, too!
MT: She was in...not the last movie, but the movie before. In my tummy. [all laugh]
FH: "Trial by Fire."
MT: Yeah, I was six months pregnant.
PW: When we last saw Peter and Sylvie, there was no direct mention of another child. Have you gotten any updates from the show's producers about their status? I assume they're still together?
MT: I assume they're still together. But I think the problem they're having with the characters is that Sylvie's got, what, two kids, three now? And Peter's got four, I think, altogether. So that makes seven kids. And then she's pregnant again in "Trial by Fire."
People keep asking, "Where are Sylvie's and Peter's children?" Ellen's got their kids. There's a long history with Peter and children. But anyway, the problem is that you never see our kids, and that's something that keeps coming up: where are all the kids between Sylvie and Peter?
PW: And what answer have you gotten to that question?
MT: In the basement! [all laugh] That's what they told me, is the kids are in the basement. But the latest rumor about that pregnancy in "Trial by Fire" is that Sylvie was pregnant by Albert Golo. [all laugh]
PW: Oh goodness! Whose rumor was that?
MT: One of the grips, I think.
PW: He's spreading that rumor just for kicks?
Sylvie LeBret comes to Lynx River
PW: When we first meet Sylvie LeBret, we find out that Sylvie and Peter had an affair while they were both in the south for a conference. Her husband finds out about it, later takes Peter hostage over that and some other things, and ends up dead. Then Sylvie disappears for a while. When she comes back, there's some tension in the town over her reappearance. I think Ellen had already separated from Peter by that point, hadn't she?
MT: Yeah, there'd been problems between them for a while. There's a lingering thing underneath there that Ellen always knew in the back of her mind that Sylvie and Peter had this affair, and she couldn't ever quite get over it.
PW: Among other problems between them.
MT: Yes, among all the other garbage in their relationship.
PW: So when Sylvie comes back, there is a lot of tension because there's a feeling among some of the townspeople that she has played a part in breaking up Peter's marriage. She's kind of swooping in and immediately wants to be part of the community and accepted as Peter's de facto wife. What did the directors tell you about how to handle that? What attitude was Sylvie supposed to have in the face of this resistance?
MT: They left it up to me, I think. Well, whatever I could find in the writing. They didn't really give me a lot of guidance. It was, just as it seemed on film, walking onto a set of people that you don't have close relationships with. You know them--I knew Tina and everybody--but I wasn't part of the family. It wasn't that anybody was mean or anything. It was getting used to everything.
PW: So your experience was somewhat parallel to what Sylvie was going through, coming in from the outside.
MT: Yeah, and trying to fit into the groove. But there wasn't the meanness, like Elsie. Of course, Wilma was very nice!
PW: I was just going to say that some of the strongest resistance came from Elsie, when Sylvie wanted to become the teacher. Her attitude was, "Who are you to come in here and expect us to give you such an important job?"
MT: There was also the fact that Peter had not divorced Ellen yet, and she thought it was sinful.
PW: Actually, did they ever officially get divorced?
MT: There wasn't an emphasis on it, but there was an episode where I was going to leave him, and then he said, "I've applied for a divorce." Because I wasn't going to stay with him [otherwise].
PW: Okay, so presumably that went through. I guess Peter and Sylvie haven't gotten married, but they're still together, right?
MT: Yeah, they are still together as far as I know.
PW: I know the writers and producers are just in the very preliminary stages of the fifth movie, but have they said anything to you about whether Sylvie might be back for it?
MT: I haven't heard, but I've heard that it's supposed to be some kind of reunion, and I'm sure that if it might be the last movie, then Sylvie and Peter will be together.
PW: Jordy Randall told me that Tom Jackson couldn't be here this time because of other commitments, but that they were going to be sure to work around his schedule next time. So with Peter back next time, it would make sense to see Sylvie again, too.
MT: Me and Tom have actually done a lot of work together. We've toured the country three or four times together with him singing and myself doing theater. I had a one-woman show that I wrote, and we toured from ocean to ocean.
PW: Was this by chance his Dreamcatcher tour? Or maybe the Huron Carole?
MT: Dreamcatcher, right. I was in Huron Carole, too. I was in the very first two Dreamcatchers. Then I got pregnant, and I told him, "Tom, I'm only four months." And he's like, "Nope, nope, you're not coming on that bus!"
PW: Was your one-woman show related to the Dreamcatcher tour's main topic of aboriginal teen suicide?
MT: It was written way before the tour, and I toured Canada with it before, and it's been a huge success. It's called "Reclaim." It's a show that I believe came through me really quick, 'cuz I just sat down and wrote it. I wrote it in '94, I think, a long time ago. And then it just took on a life of its own. And as the '90s ended, I just sort of put it away because I thought, it's such a beautiful, powerful piece that has a life of its own, and when the '90s ended, it kind of ended. It dealt with all the issues that concern us, and especially aboriginal women. It was mostly about aboriginal women and the different roles that we have played in order to survive oppression. But it's also comedy, huge comedy. It's like a roller coaster.
For the first tour that we did from Vancouver to Prince Edward Island, I did it as a one-woman show, as it normally is. But for the second tour, when we did the northern part of Canada, Tom asked if he could be in it. So I rewrote it and I created these characters of this old woman and this old man who come to watch "Reclaim." And it was so funny! We play this old man and this old woman, and then he has to go pee before the show starts. And I'm, "Yeah, yeah, get going then, you always do this!" Then Tom takes off, and I go behind this thing, and the show starts, and I come out and I do "Reclaim." But all through at different critical points, this old man wanders through the scene. And he's looking for the bathroom! And it's so funny. And then by the end, he shows up back, and I'm waiting as the old lady, and he shows up back there.
We just had so much fun with this. At one point we were up in Cold Lake [Alberta], which is where Jimmy Herman is from, and Jimmy's in the front row. We improv'd, me and Tom, we had so much fun playing. And at one point, we said, "Ah, you see that old man there? That's that guy from North of 60!" [all laugh] And Tom's like, "Oh, that's him, isn't it?" "You know, I heard he's the sexiest man on that show!" [more laughing] We had so much fun doing the tours. And then I did the Huron Carole tour with him. So we've had so much fun together.
[ Click here to hear Michelle relating that story. ]
PW: I've caught a couple of your other projects down in the States. I think the last North of 60 movie you were in was the one before last, or was it number three?
FH: "Trial by Fire."
MT: "Trial by Fire," yep. Since then, I won an award for "Ebenezer" with Jack Palance.
PW: Ah, yes, the Old West version of "A Christmas Carol." That was shot here in the Calgary area, right? At Heritage Park?
MT: Heritage and out at "Lonesome Dove". I was still working on this show, so I was going back and forth.
PW: They have their own set for the "Lonesome Dove" series?
MT: Yeah, a western set.
FH: Not far from here.
MT: Yeah, it's beautiful.
PW: In "Ebenezer," you play the ghost of Christmas past, right? A very ethereal one, as I recall.
MT: "The Indian Maiden," as they had on my trailer door.
PW: And what award did you win for that?
MT: First Americans in the Arts, for best supporting actress.
PW: Was that an MOW [movie of the week] or a feature release?
MT: That was an MOW, a Christmas movie.
PW: And after that?
MT: Recently, I've been doing a lot of theater , because we have a company in Calgary called Crazy Horse Theatre. It was started up by Robin Melting Tallow, who used to work out here. She did all the extras casting and the cultural liaison from the conception of "North of 60." She was here the first four or five seasons, and then she moved on.
She's a really dear friend of mine that I've known since I was about 16, and she started a company. I've been in the company, but now I'm on the board and been directing plays and writing. We're establishing ourselves in the professional theater companies of Calgary really well. So that's what I've been really focusing on, is working with Crazy Horse, working with aboriginal writers and directors.
We had a festival last year where we brought in ten aboriginal writers from across Canada. We raised the money through Canada Council and different sources. We had eight directors and 26 actors, and we workshopped ten plays. And then for the grand finale, we had Tina Keeper and Tantoo Cardinal fly in. They did a show that Tina picked, a 45-minute piece ["Misty Lake"].
PW: So the two of them did the entire piece?
MT: There's another smaller role played by a male, but it's a two-hander basically. So we had a great week. It was a huge success. Crazy Horse is just flying now. And one of the plays that I directed ["Time Stands Still"] got picked up for an international theater festival in Calgary called the High Performance Rodeo. I was asked to do that with the same cast, so we flew the two guys in from Vancouver. Sam Bob just worked out here on the show ["Another Country"] and the other actor was Glen Gould, who's also been out here [in "The Higher Law"]. They were our actors, and we had sold-out performances in Calgary, and it was great. We had wonderful reviews.
PW: What's the season for Crazy Horse Theatre?
MT: A play that myself and Sherida Crane--who's a Blackfoot girl, who's my best friend--we co-wrote has been picked up to be workshopped. So Crazy Horse is going to workshop it in July for a week, and then we are going to try to mount that in the fall.
PW: So workshopping means the actors read through the play, but you don't schedule it for public performances?
MT: It will be. What you do is you get the actors, and they say, "Oh, I wouldn't say that," and the writers go away every night and revise it.
PW: So there's a constant feedback loop.
MT: All week. And then at the end of the week you have a staged reading, which is the actors sitting in chairs and they read it and the audience comes. There's lot of plans in the future for Crazy Horse things that we want to do.
PW: Is there any information about Crazy Horse on the web I can link to?
MT: I don't know.
PW: That's okay. I'll go looking.
MT: We have been operating out of Robin's basement. So we've applied--and I'm positive we've gotten--our infrastructure. To actually set up a little office space. I'm positive we got the money, because we are the only aboriginal theater company in western Canada that's working. So then we're going to put up a web site.
PW: Have you done any films since "Ebenezer"?
MT: I did what was supposed to be the female lead in "Skins," which is Chris Eyre's latest film. Down in South Dakota we shot that. I haven't seen it because I didn't go to [the Sundance Festival], but I talked to Chris and the direction of the film kind of went one way and it really focused on Graham's [Greene] and Eric's [Schweig] characters. So it's a real boy film now, and the female lead is just sort of this chick who...I've got like maybe six scenes.
But there was a really, really cool love scene with Eric Schweig and myself. It was something that we had a long talk about, which was trying to blow away the stereotypes that Indian people are very modest and very demure about love scenes. So we tried to figure out the position and all this crazy stuff, and we put a lot of energy into this love scene. And it ended up Chris saying that it just wasn't moving the drama, though he was quoted in American Indian magazine as saying it was his best shot in the whole film. And he had to let it go. It was a huge, huge disappointment for him, because he shot it all in one setup and it's a beautiful scene. It's shot from here up, so no nudity.
PW: But he had to cut it out.
MT: He had to. I think that it might be put in for DVD or something.
PW: He took the scene out because it interfered with the flow of the movie, not because there was a certain length he was trying to get down to?
MT: Well, my biggest fear in the whole thing, that I sat down with him and I said, is that originally my character Stella's role was huge. Then when they went into casting and stuff, they started cutting back. First it was three weeks of work, then it got cut back to 14 days. And then when I got my callback, it got cut back to like seven or eight days. And then all of a sudden when I got hired, it was five days.
I got the script and Chris emailed me and he said, "Michelle, this is the only character that I believe is underdeveloped. But there's nothing we could do. We had to bump up Graham's relationship with Eric and the woman got cut." And I'm like, well, at least I'm in the film. I can't really complain, right? And plus, we're going right into shooting, a 24-day shoot of a feature. There's no time. So I went down and I did what I was supposed to do. But I told Chris, "Look, this love scene isn't gonna work, because there's not enough establishment. And until this woman and this man are established, this is going to look like eye candy."
PW: Like somebody just decided to throw in a sex scene.
MT: Yeah! And that was my biggest fear. So I had a long talk with Chris about it--because we were friends even before the film, so I can do that, I can tell him exactly what my fears are--and he said, "Michelle, all you gotta do is trust me. Please trust me on this." And I did. And then he ended up taking it out because he felt that it was not needed. It's a beautiful scene, but he said it would have been just like throwing in a sex scene.
PW: It didn't move the plot forward.
MT: It didn't move the plot. Those were exactly his words. It didn't move the plot forward. And he felt really bad. The other day he emailed me and he's like, "I felt so bad, Michelle, because in the editing it just...Stella needed so much more development, and all the writers focused on was Graham and Eric." So it was a disappointment. But I'm still in there, and I've still got the female lead. And I got to hang out for two weeks on Pine Ridge.
But I read a review on the Internet which was really funny. It said, "One of my major disappointments in it was there was a major female character who came in who had this attraction to Rudy and then all of a sudden disappeared." I was like, "Wow, that's good--at least it's making people talk!"
"Dreamkeeper" and Brecht in Banff
PW: Anything coming up in films or on TV?
MT: I've got this new film "Dreamkeeper."
PW: I should have guessed! Everybody here is going to be in that!
MT: Everybody's in it!
PW: It sounds like it's going to be quite a miniseries.
MT: It's going to be really big.
PW: What's your role, do you know?
MT: Her name's Morning Horse. I haven't received the script.
PW: Do you know which of the stories she's in?
MT: She's in the Cheyenne legend. a 600-year-old legend. I just know the scene that I read. I play the mom whose young girl has been quillworking these seven shirts for seven men. [The mother] teases [the daughter] and says, "Is there a man courting you?" And she's like, "No, I had this dream about these seven brothers." And I'm like, "Well, do you know where they live?" And she says, "Yeah, if you go over this mountain, they live over there, and they're going to change the whole world." And I say, "Well, I will go with you to them." And she's like, "No, I've got to go on my own." That's the scene I read for.
Also, I'm heading up to Banff in a couple of weeks. I've been invited up as a senior artist to participate in a Brecht thing. [ An Aboriginal Journey with Brecht ]
PW: That's the one Lorne Cardinal is going to?
MT: Yes, Lorne and myself are both senior artists in it. It's going to be fun. It's one month studying with a woman from Germany who's a Brecht expert.
PW: And at the end, I think you're doing excerpts from three Brecht plays?
MT: Yeah, three plays. So that's happening.
PW: Anything else on the boards?
MT: Just workshopping my play. But I'm also taking a bit of a hiatus just because I'm pregnant right now, three months.
PW: Congratulations! Is that okay to tell the fans about? The tape recorder is still running...
MT: Sure. It's happening!
PW: And of course you have Imajyn; she's two?
MT: She's two and a half. We just moved into Calgary. We've been out in Sarcee on the reserve for the last four years. We have six horses out there.
PW: Oh, how fun! What kinds?
MT: Two paints and four mustangs.
PW: What does your husband do?
MT: He's in school right now. He's studying land petroleum administration. He's working for First Nations land petroleum, which is a big thing in Alberta with the gas and the oil.
PW: And in Lynx River, too! [laughs] So you're keeping up with your theater work, but also trying to spend time with your family.
MT: Yeah, my family's first.
PW: It's great that you've got your theater company and all these films and TV shows are filming right near Calgary so you can do them and still stay close to home.
MT: Yeah, I enjoy it. And anything that I need to do, I can just fly out for.
PW: Where are you from originally?
PW: Oh, so it hasn't been at all difficult for you to work on "North of 60" all along.
MT: No, but when I came back in the fifth and sixth seasons, I was in Toronto, so they were flying me in. And somewhere in there, I moved to Vancouver. So then they flew me in from Vancouver. Then about four years ago now, I moved home.
PW: So you're here again now?
MT: Yeah, now I'm back home.
PW: That's great. Well, thank you, Michelle, and we'll look forward to seeing you in Movie Five.
[ Click here for a greeting from Michelle to Nof60 fans. ]
Text and photos (c) 2002 Patricia F. Winter, except as noted.
All rights reserved. For personal use only. Do not distribute to other persons by electronic or non-electronic means (including posting on a web site) without prior permission from the copyright owner.
Last updated 6/19/09