Interview with Actress Torri HigginsonOctober 24, 2016
With a long career in television that has included sci fi series such as Stargate and Dark Matter, as well as new series Inhuman Condition and This Life, actor Torri Higginson has had a very diverse and interesting career. Recently we had a chance to talk to Torri about life as an actor, working on stage and television and what it is like to be part of a franchise with such a huge fan base.
Was acting something you always wanted to do or was it something you found later on?
Torri: I kind of found it later on. I remember as a child I was a bit of a ham, I would come up with characters and stuff but I watched my mother, she was a single mother raising two kids and she was a theater actor for a long time and I watched her go through a lot of pain, it was really hard. It was hard to have the income, it was hard to have the continuum so I remember as I young person I wanted to be an optometrist and then a lawyer, I wanted something very rational and very regulated. Then I decided to, I sort of fell in love with language and poetry and music so I decide to study voice and maybe a Shakespearean text coach. I loved language and went to Britain to observe this woman Patsy Rodenberg, she teaches voice and Shakespeare and I watched and I thought, what a great way to spend three years. So I auditioned for theater school thinking I’m not going to be an actor, I was in denial for a long time and by the time I graduated I thought I guess I’m going to be an actor.
So once you decided you were going to be an actor did you realize how difficult it would be to make a profession out of it, and did you ever think about doing something else instead?
Torri: I think my denial about wanting to be an actor for so long came from knowing how difficult it was going to be. I think that also saved me because the moment I realized oh, I guess I’m going to do this, I didn’t for a second have any false hopes of fame or riches. I basically said ok, so I’m going to struggle for my whole life, I’m not going to know where I live, I’m going to have years of deep insecurity and then little snippets of success if I’m lucky, but I’m choosing to be an artist so my life is going to be tough. That was great because that’s what my mom taught me, she ended up being a very successful producer and moved on, but growing up I watched her being an actor and really struggling so that gave me great fortitude for this industry.I came back from Britain and started making a living as an actor, I’ve never been a star which is fabulous, I never want to be, but I’m a working actor and I feel very lucky. A few years ago I hit the age of forty and I stopped working, for about four years I didn’t have a job, and I remember at the time thinking, I can’t be bitter or angry about this, I mean yes there is an unfair sexism thing that as a woman makes it harder but I’d been really lucky, I’d had a good almost twenty year run of making a living at what I chose to do, travelling the world, having such freedom, so maybe it’s somebody else’s turn and I have to re-evaluate my career, maybe think about doing something else. I took courses to teach upside down yoga, I thought about doing some directing, some writing and then all of sudden I haven’t stopped working for the last two or three years, so it switched back. But I think the attitude of not expecting it to ever give me security has really helped me deal with the moments when I haven’t had any. When I work, I work hard and I want to do a really good job and I seek out theatre scripts that I love and things that are going to challenge me but I don’t ever focus on the outcome.
When you did sci-fi shows like Stargate and Dark Matter we’re you prepared for the loyal fan base and following that they have, especially when it comes to doing conventions?
Torri: No I wasn’t prepared, that is a whole different world. The first convention I ever did, we were still shooting the first season of Stargate, and the studio, the producers, flew us all down to San Diego Comic Con. They also took us all out the night before and we’re actors, so free food and alcohol, we take as much of it as we can be we don’t know when we’ll work again, so needless to say the next morning we were all pretty hungover. That next morning we had to go in and do a Q&A and we all thought well, the show isn’t even on the air yet, no one will know us, no one will be there, it’ll be fine, we’ll get through it. They open this door and there is literally a football field packed with people, we were all terrified and we sat there completely thick tongued and nervous. So my first experience with that was I’ll never do one again, it was awful and intimidating but know I really love them. I come from theatre where you really know your audience, you have a relationship and dialogue with your audience and that’s what I do now with conventions. I still do them now when I have the opportunity, say hello, shake a hand, say thank you, it means a lot to me to be able to do that.
Did it take a while for the ensemble casts of Dark Matter and Stargate to form some sort of chemistry together or did it come right away?
Torri: It took a little bit of time, it was interesting because I was shooting the pilot of Stargate: Atlantis and at the same time, because I was re-cast as this character so they had another actor play my character in an episode or two of SG:1. So they wanted to introduce myself playing this character to the SG:1 audience so I was shooting both the pilot of SG:A and episodes of season eight or nine of SG:1 at the same time. That was so interesting because you’d go from the SG:1 set which was so irreverent, with Richard Dean Anderson, Christopher Judge, Michael Shanks, they were all fabulous and funny and I can’t even tell you some of the jokes they were so R-rated, and then I had to go to our set, we were all brand new to the show, we didn’t know each other very well and we were so serious, it was funny. I’d much rather be hanging out with the SG:1 group as they were so much more relaxed but once we found our rhythm together it was great, they were a lovely group of people.
How did you enjoy filming the indie horror film Blood Hunters, (originally called One Drop) especially since it was your first time doing a film from the horror genre?
Torri: I got to be covered in blood, it was so much fun! Yeah, I never had the desire to do a horror movie nor watch a horror movie, I’m not good with that kind of stuff but it was a great experience. Tricia was delightful to work with, very easy, very clear and knows what she wants and the whole cast and crew was lovely. I really love smaller budget stuff because there is usually a comradery that happens. The less money the more of a chance people are doing it for the same reason which is really wonderful. I don’t know if I’ll be able to see it because I don’t like horror, I really don’t. I don’t like the violence, I believe we have enough of that in real life but I believe we talked about this on the set of Blood Hunters, I also had and attitude towards horror that I felt it was usually young women that were getting killed and this violent sexualization that I also hated. However, Tricia’s film wasn’t like that, it had very strong women and everyone was a victim, both men and women and the people doing the violence were not human which made it more fantastical which made it easier for me to understand the concept of it.
So how did you get involved with Inhuman Condition because that sounds like a very different and fascinating idea for a show?
Torri: It really is one of those little gems, I’m so surprised at what they’ve done with that. I got involved with it because this women Steph, who works for Smoke Bomb Entertainment which is the digital chapter of Shatsbury Films, she asked me to do a play with her because I was doing a voice over for their State of Sin show, she asked me if I did theatre, I told her I love theatre, she asked me if I would do a one woman play, I said never but she convinced me to do it and even though it was terrifying I am so glad I did it because I learned so much as an actor. During that time she began talking about this web series that was coming up that they were hoping to do and would I be interested and it was so easy to say yes because she’s this young woman who is so focused and so smart and everything she throws at me is a challenge. So this web series was written by a man named Bob Lackey and I think he was twenty when he wrote it, which is amazing because the characters he’s created, the world he’s created is very layered, complex and there are a lot of deep and profound explorations of humanity in it and how our society ostracizes each other and it’s very smartly written. We shot thirty five episodes in five days, it was insane, we were doing about forty pages a day and I had just wrapped the series This Life, which was five months of pretty intense work and I’d come to Toronto to start rehearsing a play called Domesticated which was very dark, and they gave me five days off to go and shoot this web series so it was complete mayhem and madness. When I finally saw it I just thought I don’t how they put this together with the lack of money and time and it flowed great, the scripts really raised our performances, I’m really proud to be part of it.
Now you mentioned the series This Life, which was quite a departure from the horror and sci-fi you had done in the past. Was this a conscious decision to step away from those genres or did the part just come to you and it was too good to pass up?
Torri: Yeah, the part just came to me and it came to me at a time that couldn’t be more perfect. I read the first script and thought this is beautiful, this story and dialogue should be out there. It’s interesting living in Los Angeles and being an actress, you are so conscious of how much we love youth and how we are frightened of getting older and death and how we don’t talk about it as a culture. Then this show came up which was very human and funny and it’s about death but really more about life. That’s the one thing that ties us all together, the fact that our time here is finite and we have no control over that whatsoever, and the exploration of that and the fear and freedom of that, I think it’s a very special show.
You’ve done a lot of work in television. Was that something you were interested in all along or was it just where your career kept leading you?
Torri: It was kind of the way it went, it’s funny when you leave theatre school you say I’ll never do TV, I’m only doing theatre and then you cut to five years later an all I’ve done is television. I mean, I always made sure I did a play at least every couple of years because I knew that it grounded me. I think television has gotten very exciting and as an actor, it can be the most challenging because you have the least amount of time to fine tune what you do whereas in theatre you are allowed to rehearse and really delve in, television you have to trust your instincts and run. It’s interesting, I use to think I needed to do theatre to keep me honest and now I recognize that they actually feed each other. I’ve learned from TV to trust my instincts and I take that to theatre and that really frees me up. Also, theatre doesn’t pay very well so television really comes in hand in that respect as well.
So what projects do you have coming up next?
Torri: Well, I’m hoping that there will be some more Dark Matter next year, that character is interesting because originally I was supposed to be written out after the second or third episode so I loved that somehow I ended up in the season finale of the second season. I did make a choice this year to take October off, just to travel and visit family and friends and in November I’m going to go to New York and take a Shakespeare class because last year at the end of This Life, I immediately dove into all of these other jobs and I was shattered, I was so tired by the end of it. So I this year I decided ok, I’m going to take some time to myself and reset my acting muscles in New York with some Shakespeare.
I want to thank Torri for taking the time to talk with us.