Shailene Garnett – Breaking Through the Screens
Words + Interview By Lucky Smith
Actress Shailene Garnett has been building a nice resume over the years, having appeared in “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan”, “Shadowhunters”, “Teenagers” and more. She and I discussed walk-on roles, misconceptions about the entertainment industry, “Breaking Through the Screens” and why it is important to listen and learn. Shailene currently stars as Iris Beals in “Diggstown”, which is now it its 4th season.
What was life like growing up in Canada and how does it differ from the U.S.?
I had a wonderful childhood surrounded by a huge extended family and a lot of friends. I moved around quite a bit. I went to 6 elementary schools in 3 cities, in two provinces, so high school was fun because I knew everyone from everywhere. Before I moved, I was traveling frequently between the US and Canada and I started to settle down in LA in 2018. The culture is different, no question. For starters, we eat warm maple syrup drizzled onto a trough of snow, rolled onto a popsicle stick and enjoy it, Lol!
Generally speaking, people in the US are more outspoken and they don’t apologize for taking up space. We Canadians (in general) apologize for everything and we tend to shy away from confrontation. Overall, what I love about being here is that, for the most part, everyone is just as friendly and willing to welcome you as they do in Canada, especially in the East Coast.
What were you doing prior to acting?
Just before I started acting, I was working as a teacher’s assistant in Quebec, Canada and had just been given my own classes to teach. When I was scouted by my first agent, I decided to venture down this new path, so I chose not to renew my teaching contract, moved to Toronto and started from there.
You began your career by appearing in “Best Man Holiday”. Can you break down the significance of landing that role?
I say this with love: These questions make me laugh because that same year I was in a feature film that won The Slamdance Grand Jury award and had a lot of buzz within the film festival circuit. Yet, what stood the test of time has been Best Man Holiday. It’s an iconic film that gets replayed every single Christmas and I’m incredibly grateful to be associated with it. It’s a happy memory for me for sure and I love that I have even the tiniest sliver of presence in something that is so special to so many people.
How difficult is it to get a walk-on role and do you recommend attempting it to others?
If we’re talking about a co-star role, the one-liner, I don’t think it’s necessarily challenging. In my opinion, it’s a right of passage for most of us. The key is specificity. I created an entire workshop specifically for one-liner roles to take away the misconception that these are one of the hardest auditions to do, which is what I was told when I first started.
Let’s talk “Diggstown” and your role as Iris Beals.
Bring it on!
Being that this is the series’ final season, how has your character evolved?
Iris found closure to multiple relationships throughout the series. I think Iris finally confronting her mom back in season two was the catalyst for growth and allowed her to open her heart up to love. When that didn’t work out, and when friendship dynamics started to change, she turned inward and found the confidence to speak up for herself. Now, she accepts changes as they came without letting anything hold her back from having peace.
What has been the most memorable moment on set?
We shot a hootenanny scene in season two or three. I’m sure it was a nightmare for the producers and directors because we were just having the greatest time and wrangling all of us was a challenge. I still have video of the band jamming and everyone dancing after we wrapped. The best days were when we had a whole bunch of us in at the same time.
Being that you’re someone who has worked with several different networks, how are they similar/different?
Incredibly different, in my opinion. We’re talking about a difference in budget which influences filming locations, salary, length of shoot, luxuries on set, marketing and exposure. This all makes a difference.
What was your reason for starting “Breaking Through the Screens”?
Breaking Through the Screens is a multi-disciplinary program helping Black Canadians in Nova Scotia break into the film industry. I created the acting workshop which is a part of the overall program. What’s been happening out there is that a lot of the black actors have been working as background and they were not getting many opportunities to audition for roles. Simultaneously, production was having a hard time finding local black actors to fill these roles.
Given that most of the productions that are filming in the East Coast in Canada bring their own main and recurring cast, realistically, the only roles that local actors can book are guest stars (maybe, but definitely co-star roles), the 5-lines or less. It just made the most sense to teach a method that worked for me, along with correcting the destructive information that I was taught when I first started, in efforts to replenish the local talent pool of diverse actors.
Is show business everything that average Joes think it is?
Yes and no. It’s true that there’s a lot of glitz and glam in this industry. There’s also a lot of waiting around, emotional roller coasters, uncertainty. I think with any glamorized career, the average person just sees the final result and not all of the work that it takes to get there.
I’m going to throw a few names out there. Say whatever comes to mind.
A. The Olsen Twins – The reason I started acting!
B. Teenagers – A great web series that I would’ve loved to see become a series on a major network.
C. Carmen – I traveled a lot. I was always somewhere. It was never, “Hey Shailene, how are you?”, it was, “…where are you??”
Outside of acting, what are some of your hobbies?
I enjoy watching documentaries and I love being out in nature which is anywhere where the land is seemingly untouched, bright stars, water. I also love a good spa day, though I don’t go frequently enough to call it a hobby yet!
There is quite a bit of controversy going on in the media right now with a little bit of everything, it seems. What concerns you the most and why?
I’m concerned by how divided we’ve become due to a lack of willingness to accept differences of opinions. The force in which we’re being told what to think is jarring. We’re no longer rooted in reality and it seems to be progressively moving down an obscure path, without the option for healthy, logical, intellectual debates where we actually LISTEN and LEARN from each other.
What do you have in store for 2023?
I don’t know yet! I’m excited to see what comes my way.
Any words of advice for our readers?
I’m learning this myself: Macro vs. Micro. Stop; Take a deep breath; Unclench your jaw and drop your shoulders. Then have a look at what’s going on and ask yourself if it’s really worth the stress. Chances are, it’s not.
Lastly, how can people continue to follow your career?
Photography: Dae Howerton Photography
Hair/Makeup: Dee Daly
Stylist: Deborah Ferguson