words. Sandra Olijade
photography. Shalan and Paul
issue 2 – welcome to the new
Hi Thomas, thank you for agreeing to do this interview.
How does one even begin to lift a character like Dezi off the page, out of the script, and bring him to life?
Funny enough, I don’t see Dezi as a “character” that I’m going to play. Personally, a character is a series of sensations that happen in the actor’s body rendered visible to an audience. When I read a script, that’s all I do, I read it. With each pass, I observe how the scenes in the script travel through my body and produce sensations. It is around those sensations that I build awareness. For example: Reading a scene with violence might create a sensation of tension in my shoulders. This sensation is information. The point is to build awareness around that tension. I don’t need to “correct” or turn it into something else. The moment I place awareness on something is the moment I become playfully creative. I accumulate awareness in preparation in order to be as playful and creative as possible during filming. This is why I don’t perceive a character. The process is more about accumulating awareness rather than “building a character” with predetermined actions/reactions.
In the film, there are a lot of tense, uncomfortable scenes… scenes of love, sex, and great vulnerability. How do you use tension and relaxation as tools in your performance?
Awareness is the crucial factor in converting tension and/or relaxation into playful creativity. Building awareness around the chemical reactions in my body is what produces an engaging performance. If there’s relaxation but no awareness, it’s not playful or creative. The same is true of tension. Awareness is key. By awareness, I don’t mean self-consciousness … that’s something else…
What’s the difference between awareness and self-consciousness?
For me, awareness is the practice of acceptance for any sensation presently occurring inside, or outside the body. Once accepted, I can begin to play with how I respond to those sensations. Awareness is felt with the whole body. It is an embodied practice. It isn’t an intellectual exercise. Conversely, self-consciousness occurs when I reject the moment. This produces a fight, fly, or freeze reaction in the body that hinders my ability to create. I would argue that self-consciousness is the product of over-intellectualizing.
Based on everything that you’ve said, do you approach every project without research, and just allow yourself to improvise, and play in the moment?
I do research, not to construct an autonomous “character”, but to expand my awareness of everything pertaining to the story, thus engaging my playful creativity for whatever may happen in the scene.
Can you give our readers a little bit of insight as to how, and what you researched for this role?
I researched Miles Davis, (and other jazz greats) later in his career. He would turn his back to the audience while performing. Seeing this footage for the first time, I merely observed it. I gently placed my awareness on sensations of incredulity and let them be. Awareness is the muscle that the actor is practicing. That’s the craft.
It seems that to master this way of working one would have to practice it in one’s everyday life just as much as in your work. Would you agree?
Yes. I’d say so.
Does that sometimes become challenging, or laboursome?
I love this practice… I love humanizing and demystifying a moment. I see something that I don’t understand and I want to label it. I try to sit with that thing a bit longer than is comfortable, and something new usually reveals itself. If I can just stay with it… I receive deeper clues into the nature of the moment. I love that. I gladly go into the world knowing that I will meet challenges because it means that I get to improve on this practice that I’m obsessed with.
That’s a beautiful way to move through life.
“Learn To Swim” has received numerous awards and nominations; Canadian Screen award nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a leading roleACTRA Award nomination for OutstandingPerformanceNAACP (Image Awards) 2023 Outstanding International Motion Picture to name just a few. You’re a graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada … Winner of the Peter Donaldson Award for Great Skill in Shakespearean Works… You’ve amassed a great, and very diverse body of work.
What’s next for you Thomas?
I am thrilled to announce that my upcoming film “Backspot” Directed by D.W. Waterson, Executive Producer is Elliot Page, will feature Devery Jacobs (Reservation Dogs, FX) and Evan Rachel Wood (WestWorld, True Blood, Disney’s ’Frozen). It is an honor to be working with such a great team.
Do you have any release dates?
The film is going to be submitted to several major film festivals before it will be released into cinemas this summer.
Thank you so much for your time Thomas, it’s been a pleasure and a revelation!
words. Sandra Olijade
photography. Shalan and Paul
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