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Manitoba actress relates to role of restless, risk-loving mom

Manitoba actress relates to role of restless, risk-loving mom

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/4/2017 (603 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

By just about any unit of measurement, the feature film Menorca, opening Thursday, April 20, at Cinematheque, is a provocative, challenging piece of work.

Especially if you happen to be playing the lead role.

The film’s heroine — for lack of a better word — is Claire. Notwithstanding her extramarital adventures, she’s a wife and mother, but the term “soccer mom” might be inappropriate, since watching her young son play a match is, for her, a torment on par with the seventh circle of hell.

In the film’s opening minutes, Claire bails on the game, steals another mom’s van and embarks on a boozy/erotic journey of self-discovery in Manitoba’s Interlake, an area that gets an overlay of quiet, David Lynchian depravity courtesy of a rural strip club with a clientele of unsettlingly passive old men.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/4/2017 (603 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

By just about any unit of measurement, the feature film Menorca, opening Thursday, April 20, at Cinematheque, is a provocative, challenging piece of work.

Especially if you happen to be playing the lead role.

The film’s heroine — for lack of a better word — is Claire. Notwithstanding her extramarital adventures, she’s a wife and mother, but the term "soccer mom" might be inappropriate, since watching her young son play a match is, for her, a torment on par with the seventh circle of hell.

"I knew I wanted to do it, because it scared me," says Tammy Gillis. (Supplied)</p>

"I knew I wanted to do it, because it scared me," says Tammy Gillis. (Supplied)

In the film’s opening minutes, Claire bails on the game, steals another mom’s van and embarks on a boozy/erotic journey of self-discovery in Manitoba’s Interlake, an area that gets an overlay of quiet, David Lynchian depravity courtesy of a rural strip club with a clientele of unsettlingly passive old men. 

If taking the role of Claire required a sense of adventure, actress Tammy Gillis rose to the occasion. The Dauphin-born, McCreary-raised Gillis, currently a resident of Vancouver, came to the role with experience working with Winnipeg writer-director John Barnard on his 2002 short film, Cemetery Love Story

By chance, on a visit to Winnipeg a couple of years ago, Gillis ran into Barnard in a Shoppers Drug Mart. In the course of catching up, she told him she’d written a couple of scripts and he shared that he was in the middle of writing a screenplay himself.

"I said, ‘That’s awesome, let’s stay in touch.’ Then maybe five months later, I heard about Menorca so I reached out to him. ‘Is there something for me? Can I read for it?’"

Barnard said yes to both questions and soon Gillis had snippets of script in her hands; Barnard wouldn’t release the full work to the actors.

"The scenes that were in the audition didn’t really give a sense of what the movie would be about," Gillis recalls. She asked for more to go on. Barnard sent her the first 10 pages of the script, which include a scene in which Claire is basking in the alcohol-soaked afterglow of a sexual encounter with two men.

"The first 10 minutes are a little racy," Gillis laughs. "I’m reading it and, to be honest, it scared the crap out of me. I thought: Oh my God. Can I handle doing this?

"So I knew I wanted to do it, because it scared me," she says. "It was outside of my comfort zone, for sure."

Manitoba-born actress Tammy Gillis plays restless soccer mom Claire. (Supplied)</p>

Manitoba-born actress Tammy Gillis plays restless soccer mom Claire. (Supplied)

For the past few years, Gillis has maintained a solid acting career in film, TV movies and series work (Motive, Continuum, Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce). The role of Claire presented a tantalizing change of pace, she says. 

"I was really excited that John wrote this woman, who was just so honest and so flawed and so unapologetic," she says. "I just thought, ‘Women want to see stories like this. I want to see stories like this.’

"So I was excited. And scared. But I trust John, which is a big, big part of it," she says, noting that the scary first scene in the script was the first scene they shot.

Tammy Gillis stars in Winnipeg director John Barnard's <em>Menorca</em>, which runs at Cinematheque to April 30. (Supplied photo)</p>

Tammy Gillis stars in Winnipeg director John Barnard's Menorca, which runs at Cinematheque to April 30. (Supplied photo)

"It was being thrown right into the fire, which I appreciated because I didn’t have time to get worked up or stressed out about it," Gillis says. "I was like: You’ve got to focus and do your job and tell this story. So he made the set very comfortable and it was a closed set and everyone was very respectful, which was great."

It helped, she says, that Barnard was willing to compromise with Gillis on some issues, including the fact that the movie originally contained a lot more nudity. The director was eventually swayed by Gillis’s arguments.

"We had a big, tough conversation about that," Gillis says. "I felt that she was naked all the time and if I was watching that, I’d be like: Enough! Put on the clothes. It takes away from the story.

"I was happy I fought him about that. On any project, when you have two creative people, they just want the best way to tell the story."

Gillis is married but doesn’t have children, but she didn’t need to be a parent to find common ground with the troubled character — though she’s quick to point out that there are a lot of things Claire does that Tammy would not. However, the actress says she shares a sense of adventure with the restless Claire.

"I get bored really easy. When I’m not working, I go crazy," she says. "My brain is in overdrive all the time. I need stimulation. I need something to do or I will self-destruct."

"So I related — that could have been me."

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca    

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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