The Tara-rific Ms Samuel
It was a sunny but cold day about a year before the dawning of the 21st Century, and in the quiet gallery space of a Toronto video artists’ centre my world suddenly collided with Tara Samuel. To be honest, I can’t actually recall how she and I ever hooked up – professionally speaking that is. All I remember is that there was this insane blonde woman peering keenly at me over the other end of a table, obviously waiting for me to say something brilliantly esoteric about the sides she had in front of her. But really I was rather speechless and that wasn’t because I didn’t have much to say. It was because I had just spent much of that day interviewing and auditioning prospective cast members for the video pilot of “The Flashback” and quite frankly, I was beyond exhausted. My brain was buzzing from all the “personalities” I had forced myself to absorb; because quite frankly, most young actors are large… larger than life that is, and they often want you, the director or producer, to know exactly how “large” they can be. I suspect that “largeness” mellows with age and for really good actors it turns into what is better known as “depth”, but for young actors, fresh from drama school and itching to make a mark on the theatre scene, sometimes “large” is all you get.
So there I was, having just spent nearly eight hours in a shared room with actors who, for some reason believed that shouting out lines was actually a good idea to get across the nuances of subtle comedy. And then there were the actors who looked like they had better places to be and one actually told me so. There were actors who mentioned their agents so many instances between breaths that we hardly had any time to look at the dialogue in front of them. And then there was a rather entrancing young actress who possessed more than a passing resemblance to X-Files star Gillian Anderson – a physical trait that could either make her a lot of money or ruin her acting career – I never did find out. Regardless, it had been a long day and out of all the women I had seen, there still wasn’t the right candidate to take on the bizarrely sweet, innocent and yet totally mad role of B-Girl Barroqa.
So when we got to Tara Samuel who, I believe had been running a bit late, I was sort of tongue-tied and mind-numbed and I sat there half expecting her to break into song or whip out a bushy moustache and play the lines as though she were a cigar smoking Groucho Marx. But she didn’t. Oh – don’t get me wrong – it isn’t that she WOULDN’T have done that, (as indeed I later found out), but at that particular moment she just sat there and told me in dulcet yet enthusiastic tones how much she loved what little bits of the script she had read and how it would be an amazing experience and pleasure to act the part. I hedged the one-sided conversation towards what I know is a touchy question for all young actresses… “Ummm… Would you mind dying your hair red for the video?” I asked.
“Sure, absolutely!” came her wholehearted response through a broad smile of white teeth. “Why the hell not! I’m up for it!”
I think had I not laughed at that point Tara would have added, “Do you want it cut or shaved off or anything too?” And so at the end of that long day, under peculiar circumstances and by the sheer grace of fate, the character of Barroqa was born.
Barroqa was always meant to be a red-hed, just as Belinda was blonde and Bellissima was brunette. It was meant to be a statement on the characters and their differences as much as their similarities. And in true Michael fashion, each B-Girl wore a costume made from the finest toilet mats money could buy at the Dollar Store… naturally of the appropriate and associated hair colour. “The Flashback” was just as bizarre then as it is now, and our “B-Girls” got to wear fantastic earrings!
If someone had asked me my opinion of Tara from just that first meeting, I’d have said she has the ability to often come across as a real ingénue. But if you were to meet her at a party you’d be treated to a lot of chat, a lot of laughter, probably an impromptu jitterbug amongst the crowd and then a toast with nothing but the finest champagne – there really is a saucy demon behind that Mary Pickford-esque exterior. And it is because Tara is so alive, so interested in everything people are doing and devoted to doing creative stuff with as many of those people as she possibly can. So, what is not to like about an artist who not only immerses herself so completely into her work, but who also has the ability to immerse outsiders in it as well?
At the taping of the pilot I recall a certain amount of awe that we all had for the B-Girls – JoAnne, Tara and Elfriede. They were seen as “actrices” and after each day wrapped, they’d go off to their changing rooms to leave the rest of us poor suckers to pull apart the sets and clean up the craft table… yeah, even me! I remember one of the crew saying something about the girls being “haughty” and not “mucking in’ with the rest of us. Both Michael and I had to remind this person that essentially our actors were working for very little money and that their work was in front of the camera, during which time, said crew member stood or sat around reading the newspaper! I guess there will always be some disgruntled person out there and sometimes I truly dislike the social division that falls between those considered “artistes” and those considered “crafts people”. But we learn to deal with it and when I look back at the project, it is the actors that have to carry it forward, and not that unseen guy helping us shift scenery around. As we grow older and hopefully more mature, those lines start to blur so that “artistes” become more laid back and “crafts people” start creating more of their own projects or start feeling more a part of what is going on around them. The funny thing about it all though is that we weren’t major celebrities in those days. We were simply people who wanted to do something fun and unusual and we each had our role to play in making it happen.
So, why have I gone off on such a tangent? Well, I think it is because I wanted to point out that while Tara has gone on to act and become a recognisable face in films and television work, she has just as equally “mucked in” by being a writer, a director and a producer of many projects. And by producer, I mean of the indie variety – the ones who DON’T sit in offices having executive meetings with heads of departments but are in fact, off in the bargain shops purchasing meals to feed her staff. It takes a lot of heart, passion and commitment to be that sort of producer. And of course everything you do is about “mucking in”, isn’t it?
When I emailed Tara in the summer of 2010 to see if she would be interested in reprising the character of Barroqa for audio, I completely thought she’d say no, be too busy and basically brush me off in a sweet, polite, “ingénue” way – as if! I hadn’t banked on her unflappable work ethic nor her determination to be part of an existing collaboration, no matter what the inconvenience. By now Tara was living in Los Angeles and me, in Wales – we couldn’t be any further apart in terms of geography. So there was talk that perhaps she’d be able to record her parts in a studio in L.A. and then email them to me to put together with the others. Barroqa was after all, HER role – she had breathed life into the original – and I felt it only fair to offer her first refusal.
As time passed though it was becoming apparent that we would be able to meet up in Toronto in November/December as she could make the trip back under the auspices of a family reunion at Christmas. I think I shed a little tear when I read her email. My hopes to reunite the B-Girls once again looked more solid than ever. Of course it didn’t work out completely perfectly but I did manage to get them all in one room together for at least 50% of their scenes!
I was crossing the street to the café where I had arranged to meet Tara that first recording day and I spied her moving steadily along the pavement, head down and focused – it was a bit overcast and there were whispers of snowflakes in the air. She hadn’t seen me but I decided to run across the street and basically rush at her with a growl. Hah! My plan to startle her was completely turned on its head as, at the last moment she looked up, clocked me and then rushed at me, arms akimbo and yelling like some toque-wearing Amazonian. She nearly knocked me off my feet and there we were, spinning around like two escaped chimpanzees on a quiet and respectable Toronto street. I think the café owners thought we were quite, quite mad.
The rest is history. Recordings were made and edits are currently being done. But I thought I’d like to get more of a perspective of things with Tara, so I emailed her a bunch of questions and then waited for her response… okay so that was six months ago but none-the-less… nah, just kidding!
Her life is a busy one, that’s for sure and along with her talented musician husband, Mark, she’s been completely immersed in films, both shorts and features as well as plans for more projects. I was lucky to poke my head around the corner and yell, “Hey, remember me?”
Gracious as ever, in that ingénue manner of hers, Tara sent me a collection of her thoughts and musings over Flashback, life, the universe (literally as she’s a self-confessed amateur quantum physicist… um, can you actually be an “amateur” quantum physicist?), and what the future has in store for her.
Ed: So, Tara… What’s a nice girl like you doing in a whacked out science fiction comedy audio series like this?
Tara: I am honoured to be a part of this whole ride! Although we began this Flashback adventure so very long ago, it still feels like yesterday. And that is particularly because of the friendships we all forged right from the start. You know what they say about a best friend: “Ten years can go by, and when you see each other, you pick up right where you left off.” It was a complete and utter joy to be stepping back into Barroqa’s shoes again.
Ed: That Barroqa is a funny sort of character isn’t she? She’s knowledgeable, quirky and charming but is sometimes unaware of other people passing judgement on her. What do you think of the contrast with the other B-Girls?
Tara: Just as Belinda and Bellisima contribute essential ingredients to the Flashback stew, so too does Barroqa, with her unique and distinctly odd – and sometimes uncomfortable participation in each scene. We definitely need Barroqa in this spicy ragout. All told, each of the three women provides a refreshing contrast to the other two. Belinda and Bellissima give a much-needed balance for Barroqa’s own particular brand of neurotic lunacy. Offensiveness and awkwardness come in all shapes and sizes – and with the B-Girls we get to enjoy all of those shapes and sizes, packed wonderfully into three women!
Ed: I like to think of them as an even more dysfunctional “Sex in the City” group of gals. What was it like to revisit a character that you hadn’t played for such a long time and for so briefly a period?
Tara: The great gift of a supportive and refreshingly irreverent team such as ours was and in fact still is; is that an actor can be more free with her instincts, regardless of how much ‘prep’ has gone into the project. Despite feeling like I’m still getting to know Barroqa, I’m like a insane stunt man – I love the thrill of jumping in blindly. But I also think that most actors perpetually feel like they are ‘still’ getting to know their characters. Forever. I love to make character decisions based on my gut impulses. This audio installation of Flashback occurred under the perfect set of circumstances and in your encouraging hands I felt like somehow, I was just doing something right. That said, I would love to continue to explore the many complex and genius facets of Barroqa!
Ed: I’d love to do a Season Two, but we’ll have to see how Season One does out in the world and if I’ve still got any energy left to do all the post-production!
Tara: Audio is amazing isn’t it? I love audio. I actually feel quite free when it comes to radio plays and voice-over work. What a treat for an actor to play in the Flashback world with our voices only. There’s a saying I’m sure… what is it? “Limitations allow art to flourish…” or something like that.
Ed: I have heard it said that “oppressive” circumstances have stimulated humanity’s most profound and innovative creations, while conditions of unmitigated freedom yield lesser and shallower works. I hope that Flashback is more the former rather than the latter! But I don’t feel that working in audio is by any means a limitation. It is quite simply a different medium to video.
Tara: What I love most about the Flashback audio episodes is just how much is left up to the imagination of the listener, not only because we are in the world of audio, but also because the story demands that we stretch our brains and go beyond whatever we believe to be the ‘norm’!
Ed: Do you mean the scenarios, the techno-babble, or the crazy happenings?
Tara: Hah! The great thing about a fresh and original idea is that it is compelling from the inception right up to the finish. Throughout the development and production of the Flashback audio episodes, I have been enticed and tickled by the catty, ambitious, flirty, competitive dynamics between the characters – by their desires and pursuits – and by the wacky pacing of the episodes, lead completely by the punchiness of the dialogue.
As an amateur quantum physicist, I relish the science-based themes of Flashback. And from what I’ve heard in the rough mixes of episodes, your detailed and richly-layered sound design allow the episodes to unfold beautifully. I say, the more audio detail the better, because this is really what rounds out the story for me.
Ed: I think I wrote some good and funny dialogue but the story still needs a cast that can take that dialogue to new and even funnier levels. You are basically a funny lady in life and in art, but which do you prefer playing: comic roles or more serious roles?
Tara: I prefer both. I adore both. My great desire is to explore every nook and cranny of Tara Samuel. Great Silliness, Desperate Sadness, Embarrassing Blunders, Rage – they’re all jammed in here inside of me. You know, they’re all jammed inside of everyone! But for me, I want to express them all, every colour of humanity. Which brings us back to the script; it all comes down to the script. Show me a story that allows me to explore even a few of these elements, and I’m in. I am very lucky that Flashback landed in my lap.
Ed: Awe. I’m rather the lucky one for getting to work with such fantastic people and hopefully do so again, whether in an extension of this project or some other one. Do you feel the same way?
Tara: Are you kidding? Does a bear sh*t in the woods? Does a kid want seconds of ice cream? (Do I want seconds of ice cream?)
(Read: Yes please.)
Ed: Now that you’ve heard a bit of the episodes as they are nearly in final form, what do you think of the combination of cast – the Canadian and British? Does it feel odd that some roles were recorded, like we were perhaps going to do, an ocean apart?
Tara: Freaky yes! But I guess this is the world we live in. But better than freaky, it is completely inspiring and empowering. It reminds me that we, as artists telling stories, we can do anything. There really are no limits. I am completely honoured to a part of an international cast, because it is a dream come true for me.
Ed: Even a virtual international cast! Sarah Douglas was telling me that there will come a point when she just has to meet up with all of you because it just doesn’t seem right in a way… being a disembodied cast I suppose.
Tara: You and her, get yer butts over here! Actually all of you!
Ed: Yes, it would be nice. We could all do Flashback signings at some convention in Los Angeles or something, couldn’t we, that is, if we can get JoAnne on a plane! Or maybe you’ll have to come to the U.K.?
Tara: Um, yes please! Invite me overseas. You see, I’ve got this list of dreams-come-true and I want to start working my way through it… Dream-come-true #1: Play great parts. Dream-come-true #2: Work with artists from all over the world. Dream-come-true #3: Travel all over the world. I would be honoured to meet the sci-fi fans. So, when am I coming?
Ed: Let’s just try and get the damned thing released first, shall we? That should be hopefully in September. In the meantime, you’ve got a release of your own to plan for don’t you, in the form of a feature film!
Tara: I am prouder than punch to have “Ruby Booby” in the can, and in the final stages of post-production this very minute. We will be screening at festivals Autumn 2011. And you know, the most challenging thing about making “Ruby Booby” was to wear both a producer and an actor hat. But it was a total gift it was: a truly brilliant script written by Canadian writer-director Jon Rannells, who now resides near me in Los Angeles. He and I collaborated to make the film “no matter what” – this was our do-or-die motto. (I recommend it to all prospective filmmakers around the world!)
Ed: The motto or the film?
Tara: Hah! Both! And the real cherry on top was that Jon invited me to play the title character in the film, “Ruby”. I have to say the experience changed my life and I wouldn’t alter a thing. But for the next movie I make, there will HAVE to be an actual budget. Hah! For our next movie, I will not be purchasing meals for the crew at the Dollar Store.
Ed: You’re simply following that indie-producer lifestyle! Everyone should check out the Facebook page for the film HERE.
Tara: But now I can’t wait to make more feature films! What am I saying? I already am!
Ed: You are? What now?
Tara: Well, this summer I shoot the romantic comedy “Last Wish” which is written and directed by Andrew Pinon. I guess I’m becoming a moviemaking addict. “Ruby Booby” was and is my first foray into producing and starring in a feature film but as I’ve said already, I would do it again in a heartbeat… but my preference is to act rather than produce, by a landslide.
Ed: But you’ve not only acted and produced, you’ve also written and directed films too. And you’re no stranger to science fiction, so Barroqa was definitely in good hands!
Tara: Have I mentioned that I am an amateur quantum physicist? To me, this goes hand-in-hand with being a lover of science fiction. Well, at least that’s certainly the case for me. My first film “FIND” is about a ten-year-old girl who is a natural time traveller. When her father is killed, she uses her skill to explore other dimensions of time where he is still alive. I’d love it if everyone would check out the trailer HERE.
Ed: So, a closet quantum physicist AND a science fiction actor, eh? Doesn’t that make you a bit of a nerd?
Tara: Hah! I absolutely love the idea of having a fan-base of science fiction fans because it feels like I’ve finally been invited into the ‘cool’ club!
Ed: So, what is your idea of the “ideal” project”?
Tara: My “ideal project” would be a great and timeless film role in a story that moves and elevates the world. Truly. This is what draws me to acting in films. I want to connect to audiences through my performances, and unify the world through stories that have universal impact. So send me your scripts! I am always excited to read the next script that arrives on my doorstep… or rather email In-Box!
Ed: Any daring people out there who want to work with you can send projects to email@example.com, but I should think that we’ve also just given fans carte blanche to ask your for your autograph! After all, the Alibi television network in the U.K. still plays that little series you were in… what was it… Sue Thomas F.B.Eye or something? I know you’ve got at least oh… what? A dozen fans or something for that show!? But what else have you got in the pipeline as far as new projects? Anything we can know about?
Tara: Actually there are several projects in the works. That’s because I am a workaholic. So, other than the romantic comedy feature film I’ve already mentioned – “Last Wish”, a feature film version of “FIND” is also in the works. And I’m producing the feature film “The Good Life” by writer/director Andrew Ahn – the precursor project is called “BIGGZ” and you can find info HERE.
In 2012, I’m set to play the lead in “The Rwanda Blend”, which is a feature based on the short film of the same name. See behind-the-scenes photos and “Rwanda Blend” movie stills HERE.
Ed: And hopefully you’ll be around to record something else with me… and maybe JoAnne and Elfriede too… what do you think?
Tara: Hah! Get those two the hell away from me! (Read: Yes, please!!)
Ed: So, when Flashback is released in September, what will you be doing?
Tara: I will be yelling it loud and yelling it proud!
Ed: Why is that?
Tara: Because! The world needs Flashback!
Tara Samuel graduated in 1997 from Georges Brown Theatre School in Toronto with the John Bannerman Award for the Most Promising Career. In my humble opinion, I feel she’s taken that award seriously ever since.
Here’s a sneak peek at a scene from Episode Eight where Barroqa and Bellissima are lost, stranded in some unknown realm.
For more information about Tara, check out her website in the LINKS page or here at:
“Tara Samuel gives each role a fresh coat of comedy, attracting audience attention with her onstage warmth.” – Jon Kaplan (NOW Magazine)