Michelle Morgan is in the Calgary International Airport waiting for yet another flight back to her other home in Vancouver.
It’s a one-hour journey that the local actor has become quite accustomed to over the past decade, having to hop back and forth thanks to a recurring role as Lou Fleming on the Southern Alberta-shot TV series Heartland.
It was one she also made during the break this year from the globally beloved CBC drama, heading back here this April for a two-week shoot of the independent film Ice Blue, the feature length directorial debut from Sandi Somers.
In the thriller, Morgan stars as the long estranged mother of a young daughter (played by Sophia Lauchlin Hirt), who returns to the child’s life on her 16th birthday.
Family secrets are revealed, familial bonds and relationships are tested, and reality is questioned.
It’s something of a stretch for Morgan, and one that she was more than happy to embrace, adding to a filmography that includes everything from Heartland and Supernatural to The L Word, George A. Romero’s 2007 zombie film Diary of the Dead, and the new sci-fi web series Deep Six.
Prior to Ice Blue’s premiere Tuesday at the Calgary International Film Festival, Morgan spoke with theYYSCENE.
Q: How did this film come to your attention?
A: I auditioned for it, but, of course, before I accept an audition I read through the material, and in this case they did provide the full script. And so I thought it was interesting and it was really different than any part I’ve played before. So I thought it would be a challenge. And I also knew that Scott Lepp was attached (as producer), and I know Scott personally and I wanted to work on Scott’s project as well.
Q: Knowing how different a role it is for you, yes, it’s a challenge, but was it ever a concern for you, taking on a role that your fans might be too surprised by?
A: Well, it’s not that I’m concerned about surprising fans with something different — I think that that’s cool … If people follow me from Heartland I think it’s interesting that they can come and see me play a different character.
But at the same time, I was a little concerned with this script and I actually had a Skype call with Sandi Somers, the director, about it because I work with domestic violence organizations — I’m sort of the face of the campaign for a group called HomeFront in Calgary as well as the Brenda Strafford Society for Prevention of Domestic Violence, which is a shelter here in Calgary as well. So I have to be really careful politically about that, and there is some violence between a husband and wife — that’s not a spoiler alert — in this film, so I just wanted to make sure that it was being done in such a way that I was OK with. Which doesn’t mean that there was no violence and it doesn’t mean that it’s not a terrible thing that happens in this film, but I just wanted to make sure that there wasn’t a message in this film that I wasn’t OK with.
Q: Did that require some changes to be made to the script?
A: It didn’t require changes, it actually just required Sandi explaining to me how she approached it. And the thing that she said to me that really resonated was something along the lines of, “It’s about how people bury trauma and how that comes back to haunt them.” And that seems to be something that’s very, very true and I’ve seen it happen in life, and so I thought that it was interesting.
Q: How was it working with Sandi? I know it’s something that’s being discussed a great deal these days about the need for more female representation on the production side of things and on the directorial side of things, to tell those stories. Is that also something you wanted to do, work with a female director?
A: I’m always happy to work with female directors. I also have a lot of great male director friends that I would be happy to work with, too. That said, I think it’s really wonderful that there is a push for more women in the director’s chair, because really the director is the one crafting the story and guiding the story, and women would be looking at it differently than the male perspective. I think it’s great to have both of those perspectives reflected on the screen.
Sandi was awesome. She was really calm, she was really chill, she had done her prep so she knew what she was doing so the set was really peaceful actually.
Q: This leads me to asking you about Mi Madre, My Father (a short film that Morgan is currently raising funds through an Indiegogo campaign to help get made) — that will be your directorial debut. How long have you wanted to do this?
A: You know, it’s something that I’ve been playing with for years and it was about finding the right project and the right time. And that seems to be now and this seems to be the right project. I’ve been tinkering with the idea for I guess about five years now. So we’ll see how it goes. I’m really excited … It’s sort of a natural transition for me, I’ve been on sets for so long in my life, I’ve been watching and shadowing directors for so many years, and asking them questions and learning from them, that, at this point, the only thing that’s left to do is to try it.
Q: Speaking of directors you worked with, sadly we lost George A. Romero recently. Any special memories of him?
A: Of course, so many. I just remember when we were filming Diary of the Dead, we were in this big warehouse, and one of the warehouse workers had become a zombie, he had been bitten, and then he was chasing after one of the leads. But I think this actor, the guy who was playing the zombie, had seen one too many running zombie movies — you know, where the zombies become these monsters … And George finally got so frustrated with him and he just said, “You’re not a monster! You just want to take a chomp! You just want to bite her!” Because he doesn’t have the running zombies, right? And that’s a really important part of his films, that they’re not running, they’re just slowly coming to get you …
For George it was always a broader message. And similar to what Sandi’s saying about the trauma we bury, for George it was about the things we were trying to escape in society that were going to get us no matter how fast we ran.
Q: Do you want to give away anything for Heartland this season? Any teasers?
A: Well, yeah. I can say that this year because I’m working on some of my other projects, I’m actually not going to be in Heartland as much as other seasons. Lou is still very much there but I’m probably going to be in it less than fans are used to. And in the story — they’ll have to watch — but it’s a business venture that takes me away.
Ice Blue screens Tuesday, Sept 26 at the Globe Cinema (upstairs) and Saturday, Sept. 30 at Cineplex Eau Claire 2 as part of this year’s Calgary International Film Festival. For tickets go to calgaryfilm.com.