Medical drama puts local actor in perilous position
New series SkyMed follows high-flying first responders in the North
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Befitting the star of the new made-in-Manitoba drama series SkyMed, Winnipeg-born actress Morgan Holmstrom is taking flight.
Literally. Our phone interview precedes a trip to Glasgow where she is taking on her latest gig.
But we’re here to talk SkyMed, a medical drama set mostly in northern Manitoba, and which was shot mostly in southern Manitoba through much of 2021-22. The series premières Sunday evening on CBC at 9 p.m. and streams on CBC Gem.
“Our show’s creator, Julie (Puckrin), says it’s Top Gun meets Grey’s Anatomy,” Holmstrom says by way of describing the series, which follows a group of young nurses and pilots flying air ambulances in the remote North, where help is thousands of kilometres away.
The show brought Holmstrom back to her hometown from her current base in Vancouver. It’s an old familiar story for Winnipeg actors: The best way to score gigs here is to move elsewhere.
That’s precisely what Holmstrom did. She moved from modelling to acting right here in Winnipeg, where her first roles were in the mysteriously obscure 2018 Keanu Reeves movie Siberia and a handful of Hallmark TV movies.
Encouraged by local drama teachers, including Tamara Gorski and Darcy Fehr, Holmstrom eventually took flight to Vancouver, where her career ironically blossomed under the oppression of the pandemic.
“It was definitely a bit of a grind at the beginning,” she says. “But it all started (gaining traction) during COVID and that’s when I started getting bigger roles.”
That’s an understatement. She took a series lead role on SyFy’s Day of the Dead, and won another lead on the supernatural APTN miniseries Shadow of the Rougarou. She was also a guest star in the highly acclaimed series Outlander, a role that required her to learn to speak Mohawk in the spirit of actorly due diligence.
For SkyMed, she took on different challenges for the role of nurse Crystal Highway, a serious professional juggling everything from bear-attack wounds to treating patients in heavy turbulence, not to mention the romantic turbulence she endures with ex-lover Jeremy (Braeden Clarke).
Her character, who is Cree/Métis, skews close to Holstrom’s own background as a member of the Manitoba Métis Federation with Cree and Ojibwe descent on her paternal side. (She boasts direct lineage to prominent Métis leader Cuthbert Grant through her grandfather, and cousin status to the Riel family through her grandmother.)
Raised in East Kildonan, Holstrom was herself set on a medical career when she first enrolled in a science program at the University of Winnipeg, but left after two years to pursue acting. She retains a healthy respect for the work nurses do, especially during the extraordinary stresses on the pandemic.
“My dad worked in health care for 30 years (as a health-care aide, among other positions) and he was kind of in the midst of it during COVID,” she says. “I would hear the stories and it was quite crazy for him.”
She recalls watching medical dramas with him, such as House and Grey’s Anatomy, and even if she went into the acting profession, and not the medical one, she is happy to pay homage to the work in her own way.
“People love medical dramas,” she says. “So if you enjoy that sort of thing, tune in on July 10. It should be a fun time.”
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.