North of 60 Interview: Michelle Thrush
In early 2010, Michelle Thrush sent me a note about an upcoming reairing
of "Blackstone," the pilot episode of a proposed series for APTN. I had last
spoken with her in 2002, when she dropped by the "North of 60" set to say
hello to her friends during the filming of "Another Country." I knew about some
of the projects she had been involved with since then, but wanted to find out
what else she had been up to. So we did the following interview via email.
PW: In our previous chat, we talked about your work with the Crazy Horse Theatre in Calgary. Have you been involved in any stage productions in the past few years, or do you have any productions coming up?
MT: I put Crazy Horse to sleep a few years back after seven successful years in the Calgary area! It was a great experience that I will always cherish. I was with the company from its beginning as an actor, producer, and director, as well as the artistic director for the last few years.
While I was in the company one of our many highlights was "The Alberta Scene," which was a huge festival in 2005 that brought together Alberta's finest in the arts to highlight all disciplines from the province. We were the only professional Aboriginal company representing Alberta. The play we chose was "Time Stands Still," a play written by Terry Ivins from Southern Alberta (Blood Nation). It's a two-hander [a two-character play] that I directed before--and this time with an all star cast: Glen Gould and Lorne Cardinal! It was a blast.
Last year I also did "Annie Mae's Movement" with Glen Gould in Saskatoon at Saskatchewan Native Theatre Company. I played Annie Mae Aquash and Glen played all the men in her life. It got awesome reviews!
I haven't done a lot of live theater in the last while other than my own stuff. I have been traveling with my newest character, "Majica The Aboriginal Healing Clown." She is a magical-child inspired character that I use to work with Aboriginal children across Canada. I use live theater to inspire children's imaginations. I also have an attached one-woman show with the same character for parents. It's a strong healing piece called "Right Next Door." I perform these shows all across Canada on various reserves and at urban centers, and they usually keep me busy between film projects.
PW: You were in quite a few episodes of "Moccasin Flats," the gritty rez drama produced by Jennifer Podemski. Would you say a bit about your character and what it was like to work on that show?
MT: This show was filmed in Regina right in the hood of "Moccasin Flats," which is a real place. My character on the show, Laura, was there for the first two seasons. She was an ex-alcoholic and street worker who changed her life around to work with women in the prostitution trade.
She was a strong survivor and great character, but probably best remembered by the audience as a lesbian. I felt really strong about this character because even though I am not a lesbian I thought it was important to portray this woman in a strong way to give voice to the two-spirited women in our communities. It was a bit of a risk to take, but that is how I see all my roles. They always have some controversy attached to them and that's the way I like it. I still have women giving me "the eye" at powwows thinking my character on the show was real!
PW: Gordon Tootoosis and Tantoo Cardinal were also in that series. Did you have any scenes with them?
MT: I had a few scenes with Tantoo in that show but not many. I worked with her also in a great film called "Unnatural and Accidental" which was shot in Vancouver and I recommend watching. It's a raw film about the missing and murdered women from Vancouver streets that was taken from a true story. It was bravely written by Marie Clements, who's a beautiful Metis woman and a brilliant writer.
PW: For the past couple of years, you've been in the APTN comedy "Mixed Blessings," playing Kate, the ditzy sister of the main female character. Have you enjoyed being able to let loose as a comedic character?
MT: "Mixed Blessings" has been so much fun. I've enjoyed every single scene and episode I've done on that show. We are in our third season and it has really taken off. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love doing comedy. It is my favorite expression in the arts and in my life!
I love to laugh and make a complete fool of myself, and Kate is just an extension of my many characters I have been doing for years. She is an absolute blast to do. There are so many times the director allowed us to do improv and so many crazy things come out when I am in her character. She is hilarious and I just love her. She can't go anywhere without her high heels and spandex. The crew call me "the Native Peg Bundy"--although Kate is not sexually frustrated! She is quite anti-men as in this season she chooses to get artificially inseminated to keep the man out of the picture because she thinks there is something wrong with them genetically!
I love this character and I love Prairie Dog Productions who created this great show. The thing about this show is it tears apart any stereotypes about Indians and allows us to be real humans who happen to be Indian. There is no show out there that is like this one and I am so proud to be starring in it.
PW: Wilma Pelly is also a regular on "Mixed Blessings." How has it been to work with her again?
MT: Wilma Pelly plays my momma brilliantly and she thinks I am insane as her daughter and it all really works out well. Wilma and I are really close friends as all the "North of 60" family are. We all work together in various forms through the years and it is such a treat to spend time with Wilma every summer. My daughters have always known her as Kookum which means "grandma" in our language, Cree.
PW: I heard that Kate and Billy Merasty's character have started paying attention to each other. Will that affect Kate's storyline in upcoming episodes?
MT: Billy came on as a guest star for three episodes, but like I said, Kate has a real problem with the male species and Billy unfortunately was one of her victims along the way. His character was my ex of 18 years down in South Dakota. I moved back to Canada when I left him and moved in with my sister and her family only to have him show up this season out of nowhere. The first time I see him at a family barbeque I walk up and beat the crap out of him with no warning!
After we get through the drama I decide I might want him back, but then when I tell him I'm pregnant (by artificial insemination), he takes one last stunned look at me and walks out of my life for good. At first I'm crushed, but this (as well as finding out soon after that I am not pregnant) makes me decide to go on a death-defying trip by canoe down the Nahanni River to recapture my youth. Oh that Kate!!
PW: Will there be another season of "Mixed Blessings"?
MT: I'm not sure. There's been no word from the producers yet.
PW: APTN recently aired a pilot episode for a series called "Blackstone." You played Gail, a reservation resident whose sister moves home to run for band chief. Without giving away too much, Gail has some heart-wrenching scenes. It's a polar opposite role from Kate in "Mixed Blessings." Do you enjoy having such variety in your acting roles?
MT: I love the choices I have in the characters I play. This particular character was really tough. She is a chronic alcoholic who is angry and has taken a lot of that anger out on her daughter and sister. I tried to make my portrayal as honest and raw as possible. Although I have never been an alcoholic, I do know Gail very well. She is many characters in my life whom I have loved and lost. She is seen on many reserves and can be quickly identified in many families.
"Blackstone" is from the same producers as "Mixed Blessings." For them to give me two extreme polar opposite characters and know that I could pull it off was such a gift. I won "Best Supporting Actress" for this role in San Francisco in November, 2009 at the 33rd Annual Native American Film Festival. I was shocked and humbled by that honor. We shot the pilot on such a small budget and it has received so much attention.
PW: So far, only that pilot episode of "Blackstone" has aired. Do you know yet whether it will become a series?
I know that we are currently discussing the possibility of going into a series with it, but won't be able to confirm that until the contracts are signed. The Prairie Dog people are a great team to work with, and we are all crossing our fingers about our show going to series.
PW: Gordon Tootoosis and Nathaniel Arcand were in the "Blackstone" pilot. Do you ever film a TV program that does not have another Nof60 actor in it?!
MT: I love Gordon with all my heart!! We have worked together a lot. He is more than just a good friend, he is a father figure to me. He is the reason I got into acting. I met Gordon when I was a teenager and he really took me under his wing and shared so much of his knowledge with me. He urged me to make the move to Vancouver when I was 19 and take acting seriously. If I hadn't met him I may have never done what I have done or taken a much longer route. He is my hero and I adore him and his wife and family with all my heart.
The crazy thing about Nathaniel is we've worked together on at least six different productions and we have never had one single scene face to face. We have never exchanged lines with each other. It's kind of a phenomenon that we laugh about! We are also great friends and have had quite a few crazy adventures through the years. I hope Blackstone goes and maybe we will actually talk to each other on screen!
PW: Where do you live these days?
MT: I'm living with my partner in BC outside a small town in the Okanagan. I have two daughters (10 and 7) and he has two sons (11-year-old twins).
We live in a five-bedroom cabin that he built, and we're off the grid--no power lines. We use solar power to operate the few things that are essential (a TV for DVDs, a coffee grinder, and soon a landline phone and Internet access!). I come into town now to use the computer at my mom's and watch cable every now and then. We pump water from the river in the back of our house for washing, and we haul water from a well for drinking. Right now we have been using candles and lanterns for lights, but by next winter we are bumping up our solar to get lights installed. I can't go through another winter in candlelight!
This is a very simple way of living and we have been doing it for a year now. I decided to get out of the city and raise my daughters this way. It's crazy because when I do fly out to work, my daughters are so appreciative of everything that comes with the luxuries of being on location! Anyways this is our way of being eco-friendly and it's working for us.
Text (c) 2010 Patricia F. Winter.
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Last updated 4/13/10