Special Report on Canadian Talent: L.A. a necessity for Robertson

While policy and funding issues are hashed out at the bureaucratic level by the mix of broadcaster, producer, and government interests, the changing shades of the Canadian production landscape also have a direct impact on the talent that provide a crucial...

While policy and funding issues are hashed out at the bureaucratic level by the mix of broadcaster, producer, and government interests, the changing shades of the Canadian production landscape also have a direct impact on the talent that provide a crucial base for the Canadian film and tv industry.

Playback sought out burgeoning talent ­ an up-and-coming actor, screenwriter and director ­ to discuss how recent trends, funding scenarios and policy decisions are playing out on their turf: gaining insight into the challenges their talent sectors face, the forces determining quantity and quality of work, and where they are setting their sites for expanding opportunities.

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Francoise Robertson is currently in her hometown of Montreal starring in the Taurus 7 Films feature The Minion. And when the talented star of the Gemini-winning Shabbat Shalom and the popular Quebec tv series Jasmine (Bloom Films/Verseau International), finishes shooting the supernatural action-thriller costarring Dolph Lundgren, she won’t be hanging around to spend the summer in her childhood neighborhood. Robertson will be getting on a plane and going back to the place she says she has been forced to call home in order to make a decent living as an actor and be considered for the roles she says she wants and deserves. Robertson now lives in l.a.

‘I would never have left Canada, but I found that the roles of substance were not really forthcoming for me personally [in this country],’ says Robertson, enjoying a brief break on set in Montreal. ‘I had reached a ceiling: I was a regular on Urban Angel and two other Canadian series, I had done a number of films, I worked quite often but I was still not getting the opportunities to have the roles that I wanted.’

Robertson made the tough decision to go south in order keep her career on an upward path. As an actor it’s the most frustrating thing, studying and working towards your dream and not being able to realize that in your own country.’

The Canadian actress is on the verge of the big time, having recently landed guest lead roles on Sliders (Fox) and High Incident (Dreamworks/abc).

It was the move to l.a. that has led to some of the more high-profile projects for Robertson, moving her closer to the elusive breakthrough role. Ironically, once she moved to l.a., Robertson says she began getting a lot more work on productions shooting in Canada.

‘As soon as I left, all of a sudden I became a much better actor,’ she says dryly. ‘I got roles on Lonesome Dove and so I worked in Calgary. I’d come back to Canada and work repeatedly. But why? Because I had moved.’

Like many Canadian actors, Robertson was discouraged, not by the amount of production in Canada, but by the number of actors being imported from the u.s. to work on productions shooting here. ‘They would come up here and already have the leads cast, either by Americans or Canadians, but the point was they all came out of the States.’

Robertson she says the number of big u.s. productions being shot in Hollywood North d’es not mean a boom in lead roles for Canadian actors.

She thinks many American producers have the false perception that Canada has a limited pool of acting talent. ‘They think they don’t have the choice that they have in l.a., and that’s true to a point ­ obviously it’s a bigger market. But they perceive that the best and hungriest actors leave Canada to go to New York or Los Angeles. Having lived and been an actor here, that [the perception that the best Canadian talent leaves] is bullshit.’ Robertson points to many of her friends and colleagues still living and working in Canada who have ‘everything it takes’ and yet remain underworked.

Robertson has the unique perspective of having been a part of the Quebec star system while remaining basically unpromoted in English Canada. She has also had the opportunity to work closely with some big-name American actors, thus benefiting from the American star system.

‘It’s an iffy subject actually,’ says Robertson. I feel very ambivalent about the whole thing having lived in the States and worked with certain stars. What d’es star system mean? The stars are better actors? No, I don’t think so, I don’t believe that. But at the same time there seems to be some sort of need for it so we can keep our talent here.’

‘Within the French [Canadian] culture there is absolutely a star system. It basically mimics the States. Shabbat Shalom got a lot of press, Jasmine was a big show ­ so I’m recognized here. But the irony is that I’ve done about an equal amount of work in English Canada, but those things have had less of a ripple effect and that may be due to the lack of a star system.’

Canadian actors still have actra to help improve their chance of success and prospective careers. Robertson says the actors union has done ‘a good job’ and feels the alliance is a necessary arm to fight for the rights of Canadian acting talent. While she considers the actra pay scale fair, she says she feels a little guilty about drawing a higher salary simply because she is now based in l.a.

Robertson says the debate over actra not allowing its members to work on non-union productions has had little effect on her as she is at a level where the prospect of doing that type of work is unlikely. But she says she d’es have colleagues in Canada whom actra has prevented from working on non-union shoots, work that could have provided them with much needed money and experience.

‘The union has to meet the needs of all members, and I think if you make $400,000 a year then you should be held to the strict standards, but that d’esn’t work for someone who makes $4,000 a year from acting.’

Robertson says being an actor is all about the work, but actors need to be appreciated by the industry too. ‘Profiling actors and projects helps the industry. We have to be able to appreciate our talent in order to keep them here. If you’re not appreciated and you feel you can do better elsewhere then you’re a fool not to leave.’