INTERVIEW: Michelle Alexander on Rising from a Small Town and Playing a Serial Killer on ‘Darknet’
Michelle Alexander is a Toronto based actress, known for her chilling role in the Canadian horror series, Darknet. Inspired from a young age to pursue a career in acting, Michelle has never stopped pursuing her passion since. You can see her in other shows such as Orphan Black and Shadowhunters. Get to know where she came from and what inspires her– read the interview below!
Tell us about yourself. How did you get into acting and who/what were your inspirations? When did you know you were going to pursue a creative career?
Alright, buckle up, here we go! I am a born and bred Vancouver Islander, I grew up in a small town called Mill Bay–I mean small. We have two fast food restaurants and one traffic light. I come from a family of five whose careers include: a high school principal, an elementary librarian, a rocket scientist and an entrepreneur. AKA, I’m the one and only artist. When I was in preschool we were asked to do one of those MadLib type activities where you fill in the blanks and declare your future, probably so you can chuckle at how wrong you were when you’re in your 20’s. Anyway, at four years old, under ‘When I grow up I want to be a…’ I wrote actor and never looked back.
I started acting “professionally” when I was nine years old in a children’s touring theatre troupe that performed dramatizations of novels in elementary schools. My first role was Becky Thatcher in Tom Sawyer and the moment I stepped out on stage (aka, the gymnasium floor) I knew I was hooked.
My first love was comedy and honestly my first influences were shows like Murphy Brown and reruns of Fawlty Towers. I’d watch them from behind the couch when my parents thought I was playing with my toys. Watching actors play a narrative with real heart and simultaneously wield incredible comic timing was like watching magic happen. I love acting on a whole, but in my opinion comedy is the highest form of the craft. So hard to do well, but the best thing when its good. I knew I was going to pursue a career in the arts when I was 17 and somehow convinced my parents it was a viable idea to audition for theatre schools.
I remember my Dad and my brother (bless them) driving me down from Ontario to New York to audition for Stella Adler. It was the first time any of us had been in New York and frankly, I think my father was even more excited than I was. Our first day in the city, the day of the audition, he turned to me in all my 17-year-old glory and said, ‘So, do you know where you’re going?’ I replied with a hesitant yes as thoughts of muggings and getting hit by subway cars flashed through my head. He replied ‘great’, grabbed my brother and skipped off to enjoy the city. I was left trying to figure out how the hell I was ever going to get to this audition. Two missed subway cars and an awkward coffee in a very Italian deli later I stepped into the school. There was a buzz in the air, students were reciting lines in the halls, just everyone was full of life. They led me to a room to prepare that had a view of the Empire State building. I’m not sure if it was the new found independence of navigating NY coursing through my veins, but I thought in that moment: this is the life for me. A few months later I realized there was no way in hell I could afford theatre school in the US, but the determination to make it my career didn’t go away. I ended up at the University of Windsor.
What have been the most rewarding moments as an actress for you so far? Any favorite memories on set?
Michelle’s top 3 most rewarding moments as an actress, in no particular order.
1. SPOILER ALERT! Shooting the scene in the show Darknet where I turn from innocent victim to serial killer. In a nutshell I start the scene fending off a murderer, sob in relief, then realize killing people is pretty great. We shot that scene in the middle of a heat wave in Toronto in a teeny bachelor apartment. There were about 30 crew in the room and due to a long scene with a lot of camera angles we did about 15 takes. It was super empowering to know I could embody that kind of emotion that many times in a row and “enjoy” everyone.
2. Getting to work with Kal Penn on Designated Survivor. I’m a long time fan and getting to play his assistant during season one was just a joyous time. Yes he is as funny, open hearted and charming in person.
3. I guess one of the biggest ‘I’ve arrived’ moments was being one of 10 Canadian actors chosen to walk the red carpet a few years ago at MIPCOM in Cannes, France. Being in the lineup of black town cars as you wait to step out onto the red carpet in such an iconic place was serial.
Tell us about Darknet and your character, Alison. How did you end up playing a serial killer and how did you prepare for the role? Is it fun to play someone who is so dark?
Darknet was a freaking amazing piece of Canadian-turned-International TV. Honestly if you’re into horror check it out. Alison is the lead role in the series (yep that’s my blood-splattered sweaty face on the poster) and they auditioned for it all across Canada. The audition scene was the murder scene I talked about above and I remember reading the sides going “how the hell do I audition for this when a good portion of the scene is stabbing the guy??”
‘Stab miming’ made me feel totally ridiculous so I decided to use this huge heavy chair that was in the audition room and slam it into the ground, to get that feeling of resistance and exertion that would come with thrusting a knife into something–not to get too graphic on y’all. I guess it worked because that 10-minute audition slot turned into a 45-minute session and eventually booking the role. Obviously I have never killed someone so I couldn’t relate to Alison in that way, but I have felt a tremendous sense of injustice towards something. That feeling when you want bad people to pay for terrible things they’ve done. So, I actually made Alison like a vigilante in my head and make all her victims ‘bad people’ that she was teaching a lesson… albeit a very extreme bloody lesson.
And to your other question, is it fun to play characters who are dark? I’ll answer a resounding YEEEEES it is so fun to play characters who are dark! I quite often play the ‘do gooders’ or the ‘together women’ so getting to play someone with a very disturbed alter-ego was a dream.
Some of the other fun projects I have worked on include shows like Orphan Black, The Strain and Shadowhunters. In terms of projects I can actually talk about without getting in trouble: you can catch me on the upcoming season of Private Eyes with Jason Priestley.
On that note, if you could create your own dream project, what would it be? What kind of characters would you want to play in the future?
I might just actually be in the middle of creating my dream project (stay tuned…). I’m fascinated by women who are not perfect, maybe even a little self-sabotaging, but do the best they can with what they’ve got. Funny, heart-full women who are imperfect. I think too often the media portrays (I’m gonna use the f word) feminist women as these infallible, uber strong beings who either never mess up or get their shit together by the end of the film/series/whatever and become these walking automatons of strength but void of emotion. To me a truly strong woman owns all her strengths and weaknesses rather than tries to erase them. I want to play women like that. Also, any woman with a superpower, because come on, how fun would that be?
Of course, we have to ask— what was it like working with Meghan Markle in Suits?
Absolutely and completely lovely (please imagine me saying this in a British accent). She was this open, gracious, smiley, funny, hyper-intelligent wonder woman who was a dream to act with and to get to know on set. And yes it is endlessly hilarious to me that I played her wedding planner.
Final question, this is very important: if you woke up one day with one super power, what would it be and why?
One?! Hmmmmm… last year I would have said: be fluent in all the languages in the universe– I love to travel and am always frustrated and apologetic when I can’t get to know a culture or individual better because I can’t communicate with them. But today, as I write this, I would have to say teleport. I know its an oldie, but it’s a goodie for a reason! My family is spread all over Canada and my boyfriend, who’s also an actor, is constantly here or there on contract. I love my people and the chance to see them more often is top of the tops. Oh! I would also use my fantastic teleportation skills to visit different countries for lunch because I love the crap out of food and really, why not?
Visit her website at www.MichelleAlexander.ca.