Kristen MacCulloch is an award-winning actor based in Toronto, Canada– seen in movies like Corporate Prey (Amazon Prime) and Steven Kostanski’s Psycho Goreman. Her new film premiered at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival, Scarbourough, which she talks about in our interview below!
Hi Kristen! Can you tell us about your film, Scarborough, and the book it’s based on by author, Catherine Hernandez? Tell us a little bit about the character you’re playing, Jessica.
Hi, sure! The story is anchored around three kids from a low income neighborhood who are drowning in poverty, addiction and housing instability. They come together through a morning school program run by a particularly caring and inspiring teacher and together with their families they navigate the ups and downs of life and community in a system that is failing them. I play the role of Jessica, a devastatingly neglectful mother who is unable and unwilling to care for her daughter Laura, brought to life masterfully by Anna Claire Beitel. The two of them are living a hard life and in the film we watch Jessica struggle to keep going, drowning in the disease of addiction as the bills and late rent notices pile up. Although she isn’t particularly sympathetic, I tried to play her as a whole person rather than a caricature of someone who’s easy to hate. She’s a lost and lonely victim of society’s failures as much as any of the characters we meet in the film.
How do you sympathize with Jessica and the struggles she is dealing with in the movie?
Addiction is a disease I have some experience with and I think for me it was therapeutic (if emotional) to explore it so thoroughly. It’s easy to write people struggling with addiction off as any number of things, but addicts are just like everybody else. They have dreams and families and people who love them. Nobody thinks they’re going to become an addict and often they believe their situation is temporary. They’ll get through this week or this bag and when they get clean they have plans. Important plans for their healthy future lives that, heartbreakingly, without serious help from their community (and a big shift in societal infrastructure) they struggle to bring to fruition. Addiction is a disease, not a choice and not something people can be expected to choose to overcome alone. This topic is very close to my heart, I lost a brother to an overdose in 2018 and I’m determined to keep the subject of drug policy, rehabilitation and reintegration firmly at the forefront of public discourse. They say most of us are three months pay from being on the street. That’s a really short trip and a lot of good people fall through the cracks of a system that does a terrible job of caring for its sick and its poor.
What did you take away and learn personally when working on a project like Scarborough? What do you hope the audience will feel and think about after watching it?
I hope they feel like going out into their communities and connecting. I hope they feel inspired to support low-income housing initiatives and after school programs and to donate food to community fridges. There are organizations in every city that are always looking for help on the street level. Close to my heart is the issue of clean injection sites so hopefully caring for substance users is positively impacted as well. If anyone at all is inspired to step up and help the people struggling in any community, wherever it is, then Scarborough has done its job.
Tell us more about yourself– when did you know you wanted to become an actor and what inspires you most?
I’ve always wanted to tell stories, I think from the time I could speak. As a kid I would lament the great films that were already completed without me and all the roles I wouldn’t have a chance to play. As a grown up I know that at the core our stories come back around and the expressions of them are infinite but I think I’ll always be a little bummed that I didn’t get to play Claudia in Interview with the Vampire. I take a lot of inspiration from real people and genuine connections. Whether I’m involved or simply watching, I think the spark of honest, human connection pulls us all in and it’s profoundly creative and inspiring. There’s an incredible feeling too, when a scene takes off and nobody is in control of it, like flying. Those moments of freedom and trust are worth all of the work, research, auditioning, rejection, waiting tables… All of it. Working on a project with a good script and good people is better than anything.
Do you have a favorite memory or memories from working as an actor? Or maybe a favorite role that you’ve played?
My first day on the set of Psycho Goreman was insane and surreal. I was playing a robot-alien queen (Pandora) and sat down at the head of this huge table for an alien council meeting. There were all of these creatures and puppets and practical effects, it felt like we were on the set of a Jim Henson production. There was a snake woman (H.I.S.S) and an alien blob (Dr. Meganoid) and this brain guy in a tube. It was absolutely magical and crazy. The director, Steven Kostanski is superhuman, that guy can create anything and make it the most fun you’ve ever had.
What do you like to do in your own free time?
I love spending as much time as possible outdoors, regardless of the season. I’m from the Canadian Rockies so we’re big campers and snowboarders in my house. Recently I got to try out river surfing with my sister in Calgary and it was the greatest time ever. I’m on the hunt now for a used board and a wetsuit! I’ll have to see where there are some good waves around me here in Ontario and recruit some friends.
Lastly, if you could pick one super power, which one would it be and would you use it for good or evil?
No question, breathe underwater. And even though I seem to always play a villain, I’d use my real world powers for good. This big beautiful planet deserves it!