INTERVIEW: Kate Drummond of ‘Splinter Cell: Blacklist’

Kate DrummondRecently I was lucky enough to conduct an interview with charming female Canadian actor Kate Drummond. Kate plays Technical Operations Manager Anna ‘Grim’ Grímsdóttir in the video game Splinter Cell: Blacklist. We conducted most of the interview over Skype and before the interview officially began she showed me her Splinter Cell mug that displayed the image of Sam Fisher when hot coffee is poured into it. Pretty cool, right? In this interview Kate talks about Grim, what it was like to act for a video game, her online cooking show, the incredible story of what inspired her to pursue an acting career, and her passion for working with children. She also shows her geeky side by talking about why Iron Man is her favorite superhero.

It was such a pleasure chatting with her and it’s one of the few times I felt like I was having a conversation with an old friend. She also totally channeled Grim during our interview and handled a situation when we were starting to have technical difficulties. Frankly, Kate’s pretty awesome.

Tell me about your character Grim in Splinter Cell.

Well, she’s the Technical Operations Manager of Fourth Echelon. She does all the analyzing, all the data, getting all the information to Sam while he’s on the field. She’s a really skilled hacker and super smart and super by the book. She’s a woman in a man’s world and so she’s one of the guys in a way which I love about her. I grew up with an older brother and all his friends and I was five years younger. I was always so excited to be a part of their group and hang out with them and play road hockey. I grew up as a tomboy, so I feel that Grim has that sort of strength and a sort of presence that she’s able to command in the Fourth Echelon because she has those skills and a strong opinion on those sorts of things.

I love playing Anna. I love the relationship she has with the Fourth Echelon and I love the relationship she has with Sam. They’re sort of like rams, always fighting and bucking their horns, but they both want the same thing. That’s the thing I love, they both want the same thing but they go at it from totally different way. There are times when they have to compromise and times when they each stand their ground. There’s a sort of dance between Sam and Grim, especially with the history of Conviction and they both have their trust issues with each other (laughs).

That’s Grim. She’s stubborn, smart, competitive, sassy, and feisty.

What is it like to act for a video game?

It’s unbelievably liberating and enthralling. I had no idea what I was getting into when I was cast because when I auditioned I prepared for it like I would for any film or television role. You figure out who your character is, you figure out what’s going on, and the writing is right there for you and in this case it’s very technical. Until you step into what is called the Volume, which is where you do your work in your motion capture suit and the helmet with the camera, until you step into that playground I don’t think you really understand what’s about to happen or what you’re in store for.

The reason why it’s so liberating is because you have nothing to rely on except the words that you’ve been given, the reality that you’ve created in your imagination, and your fellow cast mates. In one of these performance capture studios there’s nothing there, so when I first walked in I just walked to this one spot and said, “Can I stand here?”

There I am picturing her, Grim, standing there and then I hear this voice coming from the beyond that says, “You’re in the cupboard!” (laughs). So I guess I can’t stand there! Then you’ve got this two by four sort of homemade chicken wire table that’s my SMI (Strategic Mission Interface), so it’s sort of figuring out what you’re looking at when you’re looking down at this thing that clearly doesn’t have any graphics on it or anything. What I love about it is that it brings you back to being a kid where you’re just creating. The amazing thing about the artistic team is that they are so talented and precise in their details in that they can show you what you’re supposed to be looking at and it gets so imprinted. Over the year of acting and doing work for Splinter Cell I don’t see the chicken wire of the blank room anymore, I see the screens and buttons and everything in the game. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I got used to wearing the motion capture suit and the heels (laughs).

1000px-Grímsdóttir_BlacklistThat must have been a fun outfit!

Yeah! I’m a Converse girl, like jeans, Converse, and a tee shirt is my daily wardrobe, so I get in the cat suit and think, “Oh god, I shouldn’t have eaten pasta last night.” (laughs) And then they stick all these little balls over you and there are LOTS of those kinds of jokes, you know those motion capture balls, and you can imagine being a girl where the conversation goes! It was just like hanging out with my brothers which is hilarious. Then I slip these heels on and everyone else is running around in regular shoes and I’m having to run around in heels and I’m not the most elegant heel walker. And then they put a helmet on my head which had a camera shining into my face which is just how they filmed Avatar, and that in itself takes some getting used to. You have to get used to this weird contraption and connect to your cast and tell the story as truthfully as you can.

There’s was so much excitement in every corner of doing this game that the bar is set pretty high for me right now.

That sounds like so much fun. What was it like the first time you saw Grim, yourself, in video game form?

I remember I had seen sort of a still shot of her and I thought, “Wow, she is way hotter in animation than she is in real life!” I have such love for the animators, I was like, “You made me look like that and I love you!” That was really exciting and I kind had one of those moments when I looked at my own figure and decided there were a few embellishments with the character that we just won’t talk about.

No one needs to know, that’s okay.

No one needs to know, it will just be a little secret that we have. I saw some of the footage and I remember Eric Johnson (Sam Fisher) was in the room, and Dave Footman, the director, and we were upstairs in the Ubisoft office. You do your work as an actor, you make your connections to the story, and at the end of the day you go home. When I saw the footage I don’t even know if I reacted. I just remember I had this blank stare as I watched myself in animation. I heard myself, I saw my gestures, I saw how I held my body, and I saw all of that, but I was in animation. Eric was freaking out and I was just stunned. Then I got really excited and said, “Oh my god, that’s me!” Then, I’m telling you as soon as I saw some of the story, the scripted events and the narrative, it was like goosebumps because it doesn’t feel like you’re watching animation, it feels like you’re watching cinema.

That’s the coolest part to know that your work as an actor, trying to bring as much truth and reality to this heightened reality setting, has translated to your character in animation form. That’s thanks to the actors and also the team behind the scenes and doing all of that stuff as well.

So tell me about some of the things that you like to geek over?

Oh my gosh, I am such a geek. I geek over my dog, if you can geek over your dog.

Oh, you can totally geek over your pets.

You have cats, right?

I do.

Yeah, cats don’t like me. They do the hissing and the spitting.

Oh most of my cats do that to me too. They let me feed them, so I don’t think they respect me, but they tolerate me.

That seems like an interesting relationship (laughs). Jackson, my dog, is my best guy. I rescued him from a puppy mill, sadly, almost nine years ago. For the first four years I nursed him back to health. I really believe we saved each other because I was in a really dark area of my own life and when you have a pet like that you have no other option except to put all of your focus on someone else. I think that’s the great thing about having a dog or a cat, or any sort of animal because it forces you out of your own.

I geek over cooking, but I’m not a great cook. I have an online cooking show, A Jock’s Guide.

Yes, I saw that! I watched the Beaver Tails episode.

Yes! It’s so nerdy because I don’t really know how to cook, but I love the show and I love editing it. I’m a real nerd for editing and figuring out how songs fit with words and adding certain punches to the videos. I’m kind of nerdy about that.

I was a school teacher for twelve years and so I’m also nerdy for anything with kids. I partner with a charity called KidsSport Ontario that helps kids who can’t afford to play sports. It helps to pay for the registration fees and stuff like that. Anytime I do events with them and volunteer with them it is so high on my priority list.

Another one is superheroes. I love superheroes!

Preaching to the choir, girl!

What is it about them? I read this quote that said, “Superheroes are created by people who are in desperate need of rescuing themselves.” I thought about that quote and it’s interesting because the iconic superheroes always have these things they need to overcome, like their own kryptonite, and I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately.

The questions has been asked a lot about being a strong female a video game and in some of the other roles that I have played on television and what not, and it’s been in the forefront of my mind of how awesome women are.

Pfft, yeah!

I’m such a quote junkie today for some reason. I was thinking about that phrase “there’s a special place in Hell for women who don’t support other women” and I believe that. We’ve got to empower each other and not be competitive and belittle each other. I feel like our strongest women are the ones who lift each other up and promote each other and help each other artistically and creatively. I pretty much geek out about everything, I’m just realizing that! (laughs)

I think that’s great because that means that there are so many extra things in the world that can make you happy.

It’s funny because it wasn’t always like that. I spent a lot of years thinking I was pretty happy. Teaching kids made me ecstatic and I still talk with my students and sometimes get tweets from them! They taught me so much and I wouldn’t be the person and the actor that I am today if it wasn’t for the hundreds of kids I taught over those twelve years. I taught kids in all sorts of situations, like kids who were struggling and kids who were priviledged, and all kids come with the same fears and the same need to express themselves. I felt like that was such a fulfilling time of my life. When I turned thirty is when I took my first acting class. I didn’t have a theater degree and I didn’t do drama, I’ve been a competitive athlete since I was eight. I was always traveling for sports, or practices, or training camp, but when I was little I loved shows. Oklahoma was my favorite and I wanted to be on the stage and singing although I can’t sing (laughs).

I just had this thing that was brewing inside of me and it hit me one day when I was teaching my students about Martin Luther King Jr. and the “I Have a Dream” speech. I was asking them, “What are your dreams? There is no such thing as too big, so what are your dreams?” They were telling me all of their dreams and they were beautiful dreams and hopes for these little kids.


Then one of them said, “Miss Drummond, what is your dream?” I thought about what I was doing, I was teaching and I had a house, a dog, a car, and a mortgage. I’m doing the thing.

The adult thing, totally.

Yeah, I’m doing the adult thing. What I said though was, “I want to be an actor.”

She sort of stopped and I sort of stopped and we had this moment. Then she said, “Why aren’t you doing it?”

I said, “You know what? That’s a really good question.” It prompted me to make the jump which is at thirty-five which is to leave teaching, sell all my stuff, basically everything I didn’t need I sold, and I packed up my truck, took my dog, and moved to a basement in Toronto. At thirty-five I’m pursuing this thing that I knew I loved and I knew I wanted to do, but I wasn’t exactly sure how it was going to pan out. I never really understood the notion of faith until I left the security of a teaching position and jumped into this industry which at my age I hope works out, knock on wood! (At this point Kate knocks on her own head and laughs).

I do that too! I knock on my head too when I say that. Now I’m glad I’m not the only person who does that.

Thankfully the industry has been so gracious and welcoming to me.

It is lovely to hear that and may I say you are the best interviewee ever because I was going to ask you about that story, but you beat me to it!

Haha, yes! Oh my goodness, I’m getting a little emotional just talking about it. It’s funny that everyone has this opinion of Grim that she’s so cold and she has been nicknamed “The Ice Queen”, and I definitely have that side to me, but I’m also very sensitive and quirky. I’m the girl that cries at the Tim Horton’s commercials, so it’s such a juxtaposition to play her.

It must be fun to channel that aspect of yourself for Grim.

It’s awesome because Grim has no apology for who she is or what she thinks. We’re not socially conditioned to be like that in our lives. We like to be as honest as we can, but we also have a structure, so we don’t live our life having everyone hate us. Like sometimes you want to tell more of the truth, but then you think “Oh, that’s enough for today.” (laughs). You never know, but in this particular setting, the fantasy setting, it’s great because the actors that I work with are so strong that you can throw anything at them and they would take it as strongly as their characters would. All of the characters are so deeply grounded in their personalities that it’s really fun to be that woman in there that’s like, “No, I disagree! We’re doing it this way!” Once again, like the rams sort of bucking their horns.

Author’s Note: At this point in the interview the video on Skype was giving us a bit of trouble and then the sound cut off. I’ll admit I was panicking a bit. Just like her character Grim, Kate was totally on it and we continued the interview on our cell phones. Yet again, Kate is the best interviewee ever.

It’s okay, leave it to me. Technical Operations Manager at your service.

You’re just owning your character right now, like, “I got this.” It’s like we’re going into Splinter Cell right now. We’ve got a situation and you’ve got it handled.

It’s so funny because that is how I am in my life. I’m such a micromanager of things and I’m bossy. I’ll say, “Okay, that needs to go there and that needs to go there.” It’s all with love, but it’s pretty easy trait to channel (laughs).

Excellent, we need that! So tell me about some projects that you’re working on that we can look forward to.

Right now I’m on a series called Cat. 8, Cat as in category, not as in kitty cat. It’s a disaster movie about cats (laughs).

That would be amazing.

It’s like Sharknado, but with cats! I’m just kidding. See, this is when my dorkiness comes out full-fledged. It’s actually a really great mini-series about the impending end of the Earth. It’s starring Matthew Modine, and interestingly enough I had a crush on him when I was fifteen, and it was an amazing summer of shooting that happened last year, and it’s finally out. It’s on the Reelz Channel and it’s two parts. It’s really great cast and sci-fi, so if you’re into sci-fi and sort of suspending some of the laws of science then you’re going to love it.

Oh, and I think I’m on Covert Affairs today! This is so embarrassing, but I’m so proud. I’m actually on the television on Covert Affairs. I’m the CNN correspondent on a television set in this person’s room. So I’m on TV… on TV. I’m not a physical character walking around, but I’m grateful for the opportunity anyway.

It’s like the Inception of a role. You’re on a TV in a TV show.

I’m hoping that I’m vague enough so that they’ll think, “No one will remember that CNN correspondent, so let’s bring her in for a monster role because we really like her.” (laughs).

So that and then one of my favorite roles, well they’re all my favorite just like all of my students were my favorite (laughs), that I shot was for Clara’s Deadly Secret. I got to play a woman whose daughter was murdered. It sounds really grim, no pun intended, but it was such an incredible and artistic set to work on. The director, Andrew Erin, gave us the green card to just to do whatever we wanted to do and just within the perameters of the script because there are just some things you couldn’t really script. For instance, watching your daughter fall to her death because you can’t really script that. That was very exciting for me as an artist because I’ve always played these roles that are very strong and contained. This role was so raw and so vulnerable and she, the character, was so devastated. It was such a great contrast to what I’m used to playing I just thrive on those kinds of roles. They aged me twenty years, so I got to play the older version of myself. It was an exciting experience and should be released some time this year in the fall.

I’m going to Ottowa and shooting an independent disaster movie in August which is exciting. I attract sci-fi roles which is great because I love existing in that heightened state. We dance in it so much in our life, and since we usually keep ourselves so contained it’s fun for me to kind of throw myself into a situation where things are blowing up and with aliens. It’s a lot of fun.

Earlier you said that you dig superheroes. Can you tell me some of your favorite ones?

My favorite is Iron Man. I’m just so in love with Robert Downey Jr. and the humanity of his superhero character. I love the comedy, the creativity, I love it all. That character is definitely one of my favorites. I also like Wolverine, but it has nothing to do with anything artistic. I am a woman in my late thirties and I like Wolverine (laughs).

Oh, we love Wolverine too and probably for the same reasons.

Have you seen those black and white ads? Oh my God, they are so great! That movie looks like it’s going to be so good. Also, not to sound cliché, but Wonder Woman as well. She’s always been the go to superhero for me. My dream role would be to play a current day Wonder Woman, but she has more clothes on and she wouldn’t just spin around. She would have some mad skills and be less of a sex symbol and more of a strong and smart woman here to save the world. I love her because she’s feminine and powerful and she can use her femininity to sort of distract the enemy. I find most superheroes I relate to and I think everyone does.

For my last question, what is your favorite comic book movie?

Oh, Iron Man.

The first one?

Every time I see one of them I love it just as much. So I’m going to have to say, oh… I can’t choose! I’m a Libra, it’s so hard for me to make decisions. I love them all. So definitely the Iron Man series is my favorite and The Avengers because there’s a little bit of Iron Man in there too.

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