5 Questions with Meghan Greeley

By Andrya Duff

Meghan Greeley is a prolific actor, playwright and author in the Canadian scene, currently living in Montreal. 10 years ago she was completely unknown in the film industry and was about to make her mark as the gritty but charming heroine in Sherry White’s award-winning debut feature Crackie; a film that critics revered as ‘…gorgeously made…’ and ‘…harsh but not hopeless’ . I contacted Meghan prior to our National Canadian Film Day 10th-anniversary screening to talk about how Crackie had helped to shape her career and the insights she’s gained on the film’s complex and delicate themes 10 years later. She was delight! and I look forward to hearing more of her observations during the post screening Q+A, Wednesday, April 17th, 7pm at Rocket Bakery Upstairs. This is a free event is presented by the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival and REEL CANADA

Crackie was considered your breakthrough role. Was film something you had experience in prior to Crackie and how did the role of Mitsy shape or inform you as a creator?

I didn't have any filming experience prior to Crackie. At all. Sherry White took a huge chance on me and I'll be forever grateful for that. Playing Mitsy was a gift; there are so few roles like that out there, and even fewer leading roles featuring those kinds of characters. The size of a role doesn't matter, necessarily, but I do think it's worth noting that these rough, flawed characters that society would unjustly deem unremarkable or average aren't often front and centre –– particularly if they're women –– and therefore their perspectives generally aren't our windows into a world. I quickly discovered how special Crackie was once I started auditioning for other projects. If anything, in a strange way, Crackie provided a breakthrough for me not as an actor but as a writer. I still act, but it made me want to shift my focus towards creating more of those nuanced, complex roles for women. 

You've described yourself as 'an outspoken feminist' and Mitsy has been described as '...a compelling new Canadian heroine', 10 years ago were you as conscious of your politics and did that play into your choice to accept the role of Mitsy?

Ha! I can't remember describing myself as an outspoken feminist and it strikes me as funny now because while I'm definitely a feminist, I'm pretty shy, so 'outspoken' is probably not the best word for me. I try to be outspoken in my writing, I guess! 10 years ago I was definitely not as conscious of my politics as I am now. I was barely even conscious of who I was as a person. (It took me until the age of 30 to finally come out, for instance –– I wasn't exactly highly in tune with myself.) It's been 10 years of growth and change and examining the world around me, and trying to figure out how to channel questions and beliefs into artistic practice. I think Mitsy spoke to me because she was a little lost. I was, too. 

The women in Crackie seem to be living in survival mode which can translate into reactionary choice making, did this feel like a relatable reflection of the female experience you were observing at the time? How can geography vs family conditioning play into this dynamic?

I think when we come of age, part of that process is learning what to shed and what to keep –– it's hard to know which parts of family conditioning or sense of place become ingrained in the psyche in a positive way vs. a negative way. That elusive idea of home can provide comfort as much as it can trap us. And women are traditionally conditioned to be the makers and caretakers of the home. I think the three generations of women in Crackie are caught in a cyclical struggle of defying the homes they come from in order to create different ones, without necessarily changing the definition of 'home' because they don't have the luxury to do so. Choice is luxury that comes with class –– hence the survival mode.

The setting and atmosphere of Crackie was a character in itself. How much influence did this component play into the storytelling and the evolution of Mitsy?

I read a critic say somewhere that Sherry's depiction of Newfoundland is one we don't see often –– a lot of farmland, very little water. There was something about the locations that felt claustrophobic for that reason, for me. It's a film about interior lives and we were physically confined to the interior, away from the island's more photogenic coasts. The house we filmed in was also such a brilliant choice and the art department did a fantastic job transforming it. Coming from a theatre background, I wasn't used to having to sit in one emotion for such a long time. If you have to tackle heavy emotional material in a play –– say, for instance, a scene requires you to cry –– you do it and then you move on to the next scene. But with filming, a scene can take hours. It can take all day. The body goes into a mode of self preservation, at least in my experience, and wants to reject all that sadness when there's no real world trauma to assign it to. In the house there were all these darker sections of the wallpaper where a former resident had hung greeting cards. There was something about the little sections untouched by the sun and by time, all because someone had once hung loving words that had since been carried away to some other life or discarded, that helped me get to where I needed to go, emotionally, and stay there. I remember sitting on a bed in that house between takes or scenes, and the brilliance of the script and the authenticity of the world made it easy to sit in that character's skin. 

After 10 years, has your interpretation of the characters Mitsy, Bride and Gwenny as well as their relationships to each other and their circumstances shifted? What wisdom would you share with Mitsy now?

It's been a long time since I revisited the film so I'm excited to view it with fresh eyes. I'm not sure if I'm in a position to offer Mitsy much wisdom –– I'm still growing up! Though I would possibly warn her about the trappings of wanting to be loved as opposed to doing the work of loving. I would also tell her to have never parted her hair in the middle, ever. 

Katie Thomspon