Although Cara Gee is someone that we have known for a while, we’d yet to have the chance to formally interview the talented Ojibwe actress, and yes, this includes when we spoke with her on the set of The Expanse in Toronto a couple of months ago, although we do remember co-star Frankie Adams beaming with joy upon mention of Gee’s name. Her latest project, Red Rover, is a charming film, and we noted to Gee that she has the innate ability to be a part of many projects for which we have interviewed and that we simply want to cover, she is that type of versatile performer, so really, speaking to Gee for Red Rover was kind of an automatic yes.
We spoke exclusively with the artist from her new home base of Los Angeles (mainly for the weather, she admitted), and the following is an edited and condensed version of our cool chat with Cara Gee of Red Rover.
Brief Take: Hi Cara! This movie brought a flood of memories of a Toronto summer for me and I was moved by it.
Cara Gee: Aww! I’m so happy to hear that. I’m glad that you found it to be that way. It’s weird to think of now the idea of taking off to Mars and some of the questions around being isolated in that journey. I’m like: “Oh! We can all do this now, we’re all doing this. This is what we’re doing”. At the time, it seemed like such an extreme state to consider. I think that any one of us could do it now, we’re weeks in. We’d all be pros at it. [laughs]
BT: This movie has been described as a labour of love between friends. Did you know any of the team coming into this experience?
CG: I had. I knew Kristian (Bruun), we had known each other for probably a couple of years at the point, just from around. But to be able to work so closely together, we had never before done that. And Shane (Belcourt) and Duane (Murray), I was familiar with their work because their film Tkaronto came out the year that I moved to Toronto. And I went to see that at the movie theatre actually before I knew them. And I thought it was such a beautiful film, and then of course, I met them over the years. Actually, Duane, who produced the film, he was in an episode of The Expanse. [laughs]
BT: You get to very memorable sing a song in this movie. I enjoyed your performance as well in the short film We Forgot to Break Up, in which you play one of the members of a band. What is it like to show that side of yourself?
CG: It’s very unexpected! It’s very unexpected because that is definitely not my area of expertise, so the fact that it has come up now (a few times). Actually for Chandler (Levack)’s film, we recorded that song with Murray (Lightburn), the singer from The Dears, who I love, like I love that band so much. To actually be in a studio and recording vocals, and then of course in this film, that’s me doing the singing in this movie, [chuckling] it’s crazy. It’s a huge challenge, actually, to be honest and it’s kind of terrifying, because as I said, I have no formal training in that respect, so I really have to dig deep into the character and remember that it’s the character doing it, and the character sings like this. I have to really set my own ego aside and my own desire to perfect or to hit all the notes perfectly. Hey, if that doesn’t happen then it’s the character, this is how the character sings. But I was pleased that it turned out….not too badly. [laughs]
BT: How do you consider this character to be a departure, especially when considering that some people are seeing you for the first time on The Expanse and are startled by your real-life transformation?
CG: I mean we shot this film right after I shot season two, which was my first season of The Expanse. So to go from the ultra realistic spacesuit and science and technology and then come to this project in which I am wearing like a Halloween space costume outfit, which was soooo funny [chuckles] to me, to be able to bounce between those extremes. And when you look at the details of the costumes and compare those between the two characters, that’s sort of what really says a lot. I think that to play a character like Phoebe, who is so fly by the seat of her pants, she’s a free spirit in a very real way. And I don’t know, at the time it felt like she was kind of close to me, actually. Because I think that I was getting to laugh and joke and be silly and fall in love in a film and I hadn’t done that ever before. I play so many very serious characters, so to play someone that was silly, that was quite a bit closer to me than I think any other character that I’ve played. [laughs]
BT: You’re in many interesting projects and now features like The Call of The Wild. What does being able to do all of these types of films mean to you?
CG: I feel very, very lucky to have played such a diverse range of characters so far throughout my career. I feel extremely fortunate for that. And certainly with Red Rover, as you said at the beginning, it was such a labour of love. We shot it…we had no time or money, although to the whole production team’s credit, it was very, very well-planned and ran very smoothly, which is part of the reason that I think that they were able to achieve so much with such a small budget. Michelle St. John is a genius, I have so much respect for her. To be able to work with people like that, I think on this particular project was an absolutely incredible experience and a real testament to what filmmakers can achieve with that much heart and that much passion and intelligence. For the whole team I have immense respect.
BT: Now that you’re based in Los Angeles, some of the Toronto locations must seem like wonderful memories. What was it like in particular shooting at the CNE?
CG: Ah! The CNE shoot was magical! It was a little rogue. It was a little bit of a rogue shoot that day, hence that was the day that I did the footage that I shot, which I think is very hilarious, but I got credited for it in the film. [laughs] The cell phone footage, that was on that day, so we were pretty fly that day, so, ah man! It felt like we were a pack of teenagers on that day, like sneaking around trying to get these shots, and there was this feeling of excitement and beauty. I mean the CNE is such an iconic Toronto…awww, I wonder what’s going to happen with it this year? But it was beautiful. And that scene in particular in which Kristian and I were riding the gondola, we did that in one ride, like we had one ride to get that. And it was kind of the heart of my character’s emotion where it really comes through in that scene, and the story that she tells about her father is one of the few very specific references to her First Nations background. It was really important to me to get that right and we had a very limited time to do it. But it ended up being such a beautiful experience because it was just Kristian and me sitting on the gondola and he’s such a phenomenal scene partner. He really listens and he’s kind and generous and funny, I can’t say enough good things about that guy. He is so talented and there’s a reason that he works all the time and should definitely be in the lead in a million more movies.
BT: In terms of your own journey, you’ve had a lot happen since you filmed this movie. What’s it like to be able to look back on it a little bit as a time capsule?
CG: Yeah. It is a little time capsule for me personally. I had started on The Expanse, I hadn’t moved to L.A. yet, and it was just such a dream to be able to play a leading role in a romantic comedy. I think that especially because I’m First Nations, that a lot of the scripts that I see with First Nations leads, and very rightly so, are often focused on trauma or are sort of issue-based stories. To be able to tell a story with a First Nations producer-writer-director that focuses on a woman who falls in love is such a rare and beautiful experience. I feel very, very, very grateful to have played that, so when I look back on it now, it makes my heart very warm. [laughs]
BT: How much are you driven by projects that make you feel a certain way, this one especially?
CG: Yeah! And that’s the thing, that’s why I feel so fortunate to have had an incredibly diverse career so far because I think that something like The Expanse as well reflects my taste. The fact that it is this hard science fiction, it’s got this exquisite, rich point of view in which the nature of the universe is changing before the characters’ eyes and everyone has to adjust. Getting to play a character who is a leader in times of great change and who has a complicated relationship with her position is something that fascinates me just as much. That’s why I like being an actor because I get to explore all of these different worlds.
BT: How much of a sense of growth do you feel within this project as well as within The Expanse?
CG: Mmm hmm! Well The Expanse is such a unique and bizarre project because having been cancelled and resurrected, it lends this incredible energy since we shot season four and we recently wrapped season five, we’ve all been growing together on that show. And we have this incredible source material, it’s like those are the train tracks and we’re just this massive, massive, powerful train speeding along those tracks and as we go, gaining force and power. I was so fortunate to work with David Strathairn on that project. And he is like an actual genius. [laughs] He is a brilliant actor and a kind soul. And having all of those scenes one on one with him is kind of a masterclass, you couldn’t pay to have that sort of experience, so I’ve been very lucky in that respect, that’s for sure. You know, I got to work with Jared Harris, another powerful, powerful actor. To speak of growing, you can’t help but grow when you’re paired with someone like David Strathairn, who sets the bar so high.
BT: What do you think is your role as a performer, in terms of challenging the corrupt power structures and injustices?
CG: I love that question, thank you. I have lots of feelings about that. I think that certainly the representation of Indigenous people in mainstream media is…we still battle stereotypes. To be able to carve a career now…I just shot a great big fancy Hollywood movie. And I got to be one of the lead roles in that and that means something, and especially given for The Call of the Wild, that’s a family story, there’s going to be little kids that see that and know that this is possible, it’s possible to dream big. And we’re fighting our way in there and we’ve still got a long way to go. [long pause] Yeah, we’ve still got a long way to go.
BT: This movie demonstrates how much fixing this world needs before we can look to the next one.
CG: Well that’s what I think is really interesting about the fact that this film was written, directed and produced by Native people, because that perspective is baked right into the DNA of this film and it is an Indigenous perspective. And certainly that is where I come from. And I think that it is a very worthwhile perspective to be sharing, especially right now. Especially right now. Let’s look at how we can make this world better, and it’s so idealistic and it seemed impossible and maybe if there is one silver lining to this horrible, horrible, horrible thing that’s going on right now, it’s that there might be some lasting positive change that is coming.
BT: Have you ever before come across a film like Red Rover?
CG: There aren’t many movies like this, and certainly not like a romantic comedy. Like Native rom-coms aren’t yet a thing, we haven’t had a major American network Native comedy, you know? We haven’t had that yet, and I look forward to when that happens! And I’m sure that it’s right on the horizon, I know there’s a lot of Native writers really, really crushing it in writers rooms out here right now. It’s a matter of time.
BT: Who do you think is speaking with the Indigenous voice right now, from Toronto to Los Angeles?
CG: Sooooo much! There’s so much that’s coming and it’s so exciting and I feel that obviously Taika (Waititi) is crushing it, it’s so cool. [laughs] I feel very fortunate that I get to do The Expanse with Frankie Adams, who is: look out for what she does next, she’s a powerhouse, she’s going to take over Hollywood! The woman is a movie star, I can’t wait to see what she does. We had Jeff Barnaby’s Blood Quantum just come out. And that’s so cool, again, let’s have a Native zombie movie. But yeah, there’s so much stuff right now, there’s so much good stuff to be excited about.
Red Rover is now available on Digital and On Demand