INTERVIEW: Abigail Winter on Her Role in ‘Mary Kills People’ and Falling In-Love with Performing

In Mary Kills People, Abigail Winter’s character, Jess, deals with her relationship with her mother who may be hiding a deep, dark secret from her. Outside of this dramatic role, Winter lives a fully creative life not just as an actor, but also as a writer and musician/singer. Find out more about her in our interview below!

Hi Abigail, thank you for chatting with Defective Geeks! First off, tell us about Mary Kills People and your character, Jess.

It’s my pleasure! Mary Kills People is a unique, trail blazing drama about a doctor named Mary Harris who also moonlights as someone who helps the terminally ill with assisted suicide. In the world which the show in set, doctor assisted suicide is not yet legal, so Mary must hide this part of her life to her family. I play Jess Geller, Mary’s sensitive, intuitive teenage daughter. She can sense that her mother is hiding something, and as Mary grows more and more absent, Jess is not only confused but also feels she’s taking a back seat to her mom’s “double life”. This results in a very rocky relationship with her mother. Additionally, Jess finds herself in a tumultuous relationship with her bad-influence best friend, Naomi. Naomi plays with Jess’ romantic feelings, who is in the middle of coming to terms with her sexuality.

The show deals beautifully with various types of terminal illnesses and poses an end of life debate that has no clear right or wrong answer. Although the show does deal with the subject of death, it’s important to note that there are also many moments of humour and moments where life is celebrated.

What has been the best and most challenging parts for you when it comes to playing Jess? How do you feel the audience relates to a character like her?

I’d say the best part of playing Jess is having the chance to depict a young woman who is so intelligent and observant. Jess picks up on everything around her, and even though she doesn’t always speak up about it, you can see her thoughts right below the surface. As an actor it’s a treat to be able to play a character with that kind of depth; allows for lots of room for exploration. The most challenging part about playing Jess is to find the right balance between a tough exterior and the vulnerability underneath that. Although Jess holds a lot of anger towards Mary, underneath all that is a lot of hurt and confusion as to why she is seemingly no longer important to her mom. Finding the right combination was very important to me.

I think audiences relate to a character like Jess because, for one thing, we can see how all she wants is to be loved and to be seen. I think we’ve all had moments in our lives where we feel invisible and lied to by the people closest to us; it’s an awful feeling that only grows over time. I think she’s also a very relatable character because we see her going through the confusing journey of having her first few romantic relationships. There’s confusion, excitement and vulnerability in figuring out love and your sexuality. And I think people will instantly be able to remember and connect to those feelings.

If you could give Jess advice on how to deal with the challenges she is facing, what would it be?

My advice to Jess would be to stop keeping everything bottled up inside. With everything going on, Jess has a tendency to shut down and shut people out. But that only makes it a much more lonely and confusing journey for her to go through. Also, I’d tell her to know that just because she’s being lied to by her mom, doesn’t mean that everyone else in her life is going to do so too. She needs to find her trust in people again.

How did you get started in acting and performing? Did you always know you wanted to be an actress?

When I was six years old and still living in Vancouver, BC, someone off handedly mentioned upcoming auditions for The Sound of Music. My mom (who has a long-time love for musical theatre) suggested that I audition, and somehow, I landed the role of Gretl. From there one role lead to the next and slowly over the years, I realized that acting wasn’t just an activity that I did; it was my passion. All that is to say I never had a big dream to become an actor. In fact, I’m pretty shy by nature so the thought of performing was never something I naturally gravitated towards. But the more projects I got the opportunity to work on (particularly when I switched from theatre to film/TV) I fell deeply in love with the privilege of storytelling. Among many other things, acting is a way to explore the human experience in an honest and non-judgmental way. How cool that I get to call that my job!

I know you have written short films as well. Are you looking forward to getting to write more and doing more behind the camera? Would you ever want to write your own show or movie?

Yes, I’m so looking forward to doing more writing and behind the camera work! I started writing by accident when a friend spontaneously asked me if I would write the screenplay for a story she had in mind. I immediately noticed that when I sat down to write, the incessant chatter in my head would quiet down and I would lose myself in the world I was creating. Writing for me is a chance to explore the messiness of human nature that often gets ignored in our day to day life. It’s freeing.

I actually currently have my own feature film in development. It’s called “Every Seventh Wave”, (a title that is full of many themes, but also refers to the myth that every seventh wave in the ocean is slightly bigger than all the rest), and I already have a great team of people on board to help bring it to life. It’s been a challenging, fulfilling journey and I can’t wait for this story to be shared with the world.

Who would you want to work with in the future? What would your dream collaboration look like?

I have been a long-time fan of Ellen Page and have always dreamed of working with her. She is not only a huge role model for me professionally, but also someone who’s values as a person I deeply respect. The dream collaboration would be for me to write a film with the end goal of us both being in it. Sisters perhaps?? Who knows.

I was just listening to your single, Electricity, as well! Wow, you’re all around talented! Tell us about your music and what inspired it.

I’m so glad you enjoyed the song! It’s a fun one. I have played and written music for quite a while but always considered it a hobby until I asked one of my musician friends if he would help me record a demo of one of my songs. I got so much enjoyment from it that I wanted to continue sharing more of my music with the world. I love hearing how my music impacts people in different ways.

“Electricity” specifically was inspired by wanting to capture that rush of a feeling when we first meet someone. Those magical nights that happen at the most unexpected times and briefly allow us to forget our fears and worries.

Now, if you woke up one day with one super power— what would it be and why?

What a great question. I think if I could have any super power it would be to be able to make every kind of illness disappear. I feel like so many people are held back from living fully due to not having their health. I’d want to give everyone perfect health so they can go live out their dreams! :)

Follow Abigail on Instagram @imabigailwinter and Twitter @imabigailwinter.

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