The name Tara Spencer-Nairn may not be familiar to many Canadians, but chances are her face is. Tara has appeared in a number of Canadian feature films as well as in guest-starring roles on TV shows Blue Murder, The Outer Limits, and Cold Squad. She's probably best known for her role as Lou in Alan Moyle's New Waterford Girl or as one of the three sexy masseuses in Soo Lyu's Rub and Tug. Tara has been making audiences laugh and cry for the better part of the last decade. Now she can be seen each and every week as part of the ensemble on the hit CTV series Corner Gas, which shoots in the prairie province of Saskatchewan. Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Tara on the phone during a break in shooting and after a brief disagreement on what constitutes a cold temperature, we got down to the business at hand. This is what happened.
Mark McLeod: Let's start off with the difficult question. Describe yourself in one word?
Tara Spencer-Nairn: Hmmm. Interesting...that's not the word. Describe myself in one word. Hmm. That's a tough one.
MM: I said it was the tough question.
TSN: Huh. (laughing) I've got to think of a good word. I need a little book or something. Ummm... energenic.
MM: And why did you pick that word?
TSN: I picked it because I'm usually kind of ummm... I can't think of the word... I'm really feeling like a blonde airhead today. People should always expect the unexpected from me. If that makes sense.
MM: Looking at your filmography you've done a fair bit of both television and movies. Are there any differences in how you tackle a role for television versus how you'd prepare for a role in a movie?
TSN: I think the only difference that I'm really finding is that especially with television and doing a series is that the character really has time to grow on you and develop in a different way thsn a film. To sort of make that more obvious, I mean if you look at the first episode of Friends and compare it to the last season of Friends, the characters are totally different and have evolved and taken on sort of different quirks. I find that just sort of naturally happens in series because you stay with the character for so long, and the reality with Canadian filmmaking is that it's very rarely that a movie has four months to film. I think that's also just the difference between film and television. With a film it's just two hours and it's "here's the character and go", but how I approach the work is not any different.
MM: Do you prefer working in television or movies or does it not really matter to you?
TSN: It's really hard. Personally I just love to work and love to be on set. I love the challenge. I'm really finding that they are so different. With this obviously being the first series that I've worked on and it being the third season now, there is something that I do love about television. There's the wonderful comfort of coming back to a family and a character that's familiar to you and that I'm more comfortable with. I know the people that I'm working with and you know I really love that. There is something about a film and I sort of love how you just sort of go in and meet all these people and everyone is in sort of the same position and then it's done. You never revisit that character and you let that character sort of seep into your world and your life and when it's done it kind of lingers with you and you grow a little bit from it, but you move on. I do like the idea of that about film.
MM: Now Corner Gas is one of those rare hit Canadian sitcoms. What's it like being on a successful Canadian TV series?
TSN: Well you know, we're a bunch of divas. No. Just kidding. You know, it's really not any different. I think we're all aware of how special this is and how lucky we are. You can't let that stuff go to your head or it's going to get in the way of the work. For the show to remain successful, let's just keep doing what we've already been doing and that's really just having such a blast on set. It's not as though we're making pots of money or millions of dollars or driving around in our Porsches, we're still all struggling actors at the end of the day.
MM: The show shoots in Regina. What's the film industry like out there and how does it differ say to Vancouver and Toronto?
TSN: It's hopping out here. It's really busy, we've got a big film out here, just with this sound stage. It's been really busy and non-stop. They did Just Friends with Ryan Reynolds which was filming here in the winter. I think there's little things that don't really get to us because we're sort of settled in the show, but I think big American producers find when they come here that they are very accustomed to being like, "Oh we need this prop or that prop. Can you just go out to the store and get it and even makeup." But being in Regina, a lot of the stuff you do needs a couple days because you have to order it and fly it in. The city doesn't have everything down the street like Vancouver would. We're working with Regina crews that are used to being here and we're doing just fine. I'm loving it.
MM: So the industry is really taking off there then?
TSN: Oh yeah. They've got amazing crews here. Just because you think of the weather alone and what the people go through, they go through working in minus-50 to plus-40 with the humidex in the summer.
MM: And you were complaining earlier that it was 13 degrees now, and it goes down to minus 50?
TSN: I'm not here in the winter, sweetie. I've got no need to be here when it's that cold. They are like, "it's a dry cold" and I'm like, "that's nice". But since the crews work through such crazy conditions they work so well together. I have to hand it to the crews out here, they are really good.
MM: A lot of actors make the jump from in front of to behind the camera. Is this something you're interested in doing in the future?
TSN: I could see myself producing if anything, just because I'm sort of the Capricorn personality. I like being in control. I'm very interested and intrigued by what goes on. I'm more interested in that, but as a director, I don't know if I could do that. I don't think I'm creative enough.
MM: What do you look for when choosing a project?
TSN: I look for an interesting character and for me it's usually a quirkier character. Yeah, something that jumps out at me. If I'm afraid of the role and it scares me to death, then I want to do it because I find it's a challenge. If I'm afraid of it, then there's a reason I'm afraid, and it's something I need to conquer. For this show and the character of Karen, it was actually really interesting how it came about because originally the writers had it the other way around, that Karen was the goofier one and Davis was more sort of "yeah, whatever". And when we got here and started playing around, it just completely flip-flopped. So it's kind of neat how things like that can happen, how two people together can completely alter a writer's perspective of how they saw characters.
MM: What would your dream project be?
TSN: Oooh, man. There's a part of me -- there's one director I've worked with that I would love to work with again and who was awesome, Lynne Stopkevich. As far as Canada's concerned, I just get her and think she's brilliant brilliant brilliant. There is kind of a part of me that would love to do an action movie. Is that so silly? I know it doesn't resolve highly around acting ability, but I would love to do an action film.
MM: Can you run pretty fast?
TSN: I'm pretty good.
MM: Well, if you have that down then you've pretty much got an action movie down pat.
TSN: I'm ready. What else. Hmm... who are they? The Coen Brothers. That would be fun, too. That would be a lot of fun. I'm one of those actors too that's never really been character-typed. I'm sort of across the board and done everything. In the hiatus from Corner Gas I did a drama and so I really like to play around. When you're doing comedy, you crave a drama, and when you're doing drama then you crave a comedy. I think it's finding a happy balance between those two.
MM: In Rub and Tug you played a masseuse. What sort of preparation did you go through for that role?
TSN: We did get to meet a couple of the girls. They didn't want to meet us because it's a very private thing for them. We got one lesson from one of them and she came in with the three of us and showed us the technique. She said, "first you ask if they need powder and then you go like this," and she showed us the thing with the hands and then you ask if they want hand jobs. Then she sort of looked at us and we're like, "nooo, we're good thank you." It was pretty funny. Sooo Lyu had done a lot of research and so she shared that with us, and had gone in with video cameras and spoken to some of the girls individually. It's really a private protective life that these women live and I totally respect that.
MM: What was it like working with Don McKellar, because I've met him a couple times and he seemed to me at least to be a great guy.
TSN: He's a pretty cool guy and a lot of fun. Half the time I was thinking to myself, "oh my God, I can't believe I'm working with Don McKellar." There's so much to learn from that man. You kind of just have to sit back and listen and be a sponge. He's super cool, a generous actor, and just a really good person.
MM: Have you seen Childstar yet?
TSN: I actually haven't. I actually auditioned for it and it must have been one of those tragic and embarrassing auditions, but I haven't had a chance to see it yet. I always feel kind of weird watching movies that I auditioned for and didn't get. I'm like, "whatever, screw you!" (laughing)
MM: Which role were you reading for in Childstar?
TSN: Uhhh, the girl that Kristin Adams played. She's quite a lot younger than me.
MM: What else is coming up for you?
TSN: Well over the hiatus I did the Walter Gretzky story. That is coming out in the fall or winter. I'm not quite sure when, but it'll be on CBC. It's a movie about Walter Gretzky and starts in the early 90s and follows his recovery from his aneurysm. It's actually really interesting because I didn't realize how bad it was and how badly he's still affected by it. He has no memory of Wayne playing in the NHL. It's a really great story.
MM: Lastly, why don't you think people go out and support the Canadian film industry as much as they should? Is it a lack of publicity?
TSN: I think the big key is that there is no publicity. I think in Canada, we need a star system. That's what I really admire about CTV and they really go out there and they promote their Canadian shows. They understand that they need to put the money into them. We need to create awareness and how you create awareness is through publicity. It's so sad that we have a bunch of Canadian fashion magazines and all these things and very rarely do you see Canadians in there, and if you do see a Canadian it's one that's become successful in the States. I think that as a country that we all need to start supporting our own.
MM: Most of the Canadian films I end up seeing don't even have a trailer or a television commercial, and if they don't have those, how is anyone going to know about it?
TSN: That's the reality. If there's a Canadian movie out, we very rarely even hear about it. I think we just need to get together. I mean, look at Quebec, they've done a great job and they are super successful. Why can't we do it? I just think it's a matter of being a little more creative and really understanding how important publicity is, especially in the day and age we are now, when we are bombarded by American publicity. So like hey, what are about our own?
MM: Excellent. I totally agree. Well that's about all I've got for you, so I'll let you go. Thanks for spending the time to talk with me today.
TSN: Nice chatting with you. Thanks a lot.
MM: Have a good day.
TSN: Take care.
Catch Tara Spencer-Nairn in the role of Karen on CTV's Corner Gas airing Mondays at 8pm as well as on the Comedy Network.
Special thanks to Esther Garrick at Rock-It Promotions, Mark Sommer, and of course Tara Spencer-Nairn.
Mark McLeod has always loved film. In addition to his roles with ShowbizMonkeys.com, Mark also works on many film promotion projects in Vancouver, BC, through his company, Mark McLeod PR.