Chatting with Michelle McLeod, star of Don’t Talk to Irene

With a cast that includes Geena Davis, Scott Thompson and Bruce Gray, relative newcomer Michelle McLeod shines as Irene in Pat Mill’s DON’T TALK TO IRENE.  KCFF’s Vishmayaa Jey chatted with Michelle to talk about the film and her starring role, starting out in Peterborough and what’s up next for this talented comedic actress.

KCFF: Tell us a little about the film you have in the festival.

Don’t Talk To Irene is a coming-of-age story. It’s about a girl whose who has a dream, she wants to be a cheerleader. There’s nothing more that she wants to do, but people keeps telling her that she can’t be a cheerleader because she doesn’t fit what that description is. She decides not to listen to those people and when she starts high school, she gets bullied and she gets into a little bit of trouble, so she gets detention at an old folks home. She connects with the guests at the old folks home because they are also told that they are too old, and they can’t do anything, and they just have to sit there and wait to die, which is a super sad thing and not true! So they formed a bond together with this mentality that you can do anything you can set your mind to, you can do anything you want to do in this life, and they help her achieve her goal by signing up for a dance competition.

It’s basically the story about never giving up on your dreams, not listening to the people who tell you that you have to be something just because of the way you look, and it’s about following your heart and doing what you want to do with your life. It’s a really positive story and Irene is really a cheerleader for anybody who has ever felt like they can’t follow their dreams.

It must have been so great to work on a film with such a positive vibe.

Pat Mills is a an amazing writer and he just has this comedic ability to ham up the truth of life and his script is just so full of wit, it’s extremely funny. But because it is true to life, it is also very heartfelt and I think that’s why a lot of people can connect with it. It can really relate to anyone who has ever felt at any point in their life like they don’t fit in. This is really a movie where Irene gets to be a cheerleader for you and it’s funny, it’s really funny.

So tell me a bit about yourself – you’ve studied acting for film and theatre, but you did quite a bit of theatre before you got into film and television, right?

I fell in love with theatre a long time ago; I used to watch musicals with my nana and I always wished I could be part of that whole world of acting on the big screen. That was just a big dream I had personally and when I was 10, I auditioned for a play with a theatre group in Peterborough called St. James Players. I had never been to an audition before, I didn’t know what it was like; I went in there, I was nervous, I was shaky, and I sang my song and I didn’t get it! And I was sad, but I was like ‘now I know what it’s like, now I know how it works, I’m going to get in next year’.

I found out next year’s play was The Music Man and I bought the record and the movie. I watched it every day for a year, and then I went into an audition room the next year, and I blew them away. I got in and I’ve been in every production with St. James Players up until I left Peterborough when I was 18; they even gave me a scholarship to pursue theater and I went straight into theater school at Guelph. From there I wanted to learn more so I went into the Acting for Film and Theatre program at Humber College which was super exciting, it taught me a lot [about] how to work on film, which is a very different from theater. From there, I did the conservatory program at Second City and I’ve been working professionally in Toronto since I was 18.

Do you have any preference between theatre and film?

My passion lies in film and television because I find that it reaches out to a wider variety of audiences and it is a medium that lasts forever. For me, as an actor, I love doing theatre, but you can have opening and closing night on the same night. I still do a lot of theatre; I do a lot of sketch comedy and improv so I’m always on stage, but professionally, I think if I’m going to be an actor, I really want to make a difference, and the only way I can do that is if I can show my work to a broader variety of audiences, so my passion really does lie in film. I always love the part of film where everything is up close and personal. You can’t hide, it’s very vulnerable – so is stage – but with close-ups and camera angles, you really can’t escape it, and I love that because it’s so truthful. It’s just raw truth and it’s there for everybody to see and it makes me feel, when I’m watching other actors, like I’m not alone in this world.

If people are going to watch me on film, I want to make sure that I’m doing good work in order to communicate in some way to people out there that they are not alone, or I’m with you, and I’m here for your entertainment. This is a connection I can build with someone even though I may never meet them ever in the world; we still have something that brings us together which I think is super awesome.

So what are you up to now that you’ve wrapped on Don’t Talk to Irene?

It’s pilot season now so I’m auditioning a bit now that Irene is out and people have a chance of see it. I’m really hoping it picks up and it gives people a taste of my work so that I can do more things in the film community, but I’m still very new and this movie is a huge opportunity for me to get out there and show people what I can do. It’s just at this point in time now where other people get to watch that so I have auditioned and I’ve done a couple of one-liners in a movie called Angry Angels. I just shot a short film called They Eat Your Teeth. It’s a funny horror short film, so that’s fun.

I’m just auditioning a lot and I hope to continue doing what I do which doesn’t have to be a lead role in a movie – it could be anything, I just love being a part of this community and doing what I love. Just being able to be an actor is a super huge accomplishment for me and I tried to fill my time with doing a lot of improv and sketches. I’m part of the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival this year and I do a show with Players Toronto which is a rock and roll sketch troupe where we sing rock and roll songs and do sketch comedy at the same time. I’m just trying to do as much as I can because whether I’m doing it as a career or not, this is what I love and as long as I’m doing something, I’m winning at life.

Interviews here have been edited for length and/or clarity.