Molly Sullivan is one of the numerous roles portrayed by seasoned actress Johannah Newmarch. A familiar face on Hallmark projects, Johannah’s range as an actor is exemplified in the dramatic or sweet characters like Molly, to the intense or epically evil villains. Johannah joyfully shared more about her journey as an actor, her time on When Calls the Heart and the little gems she has learned along the way.
SC: Having worked on a number of Hallmark series and movies, what is the draw in portraying characters in this family-friendly genre?
JN: The simple fact that Hallmark is, as you state, "family friendly", is a draw. While I'm a fan of many types of genres, I enjoy knowing that I'm playing a part in making shows that all ages of viewers can enjoy alone or together. Also, the pressures of real life can sometimes be quite stressful, overwhelming, and depressing for people. For our audience, these gentle, kind, and heartwarming shows are a welcome respite from the complexity, challenges, and even pain, of their real lives. I've heard them refer to these sweet shows as "their happy place", which I completely understand. They're a much-needed antidote to what can sometimes feel like the grit, weight, and negativity of reality. Several people have reached out to tell me that Hallmark shows have been essential in helping them endure the deep grief of losing a loved one. I was obviously very touched by hearing that, and it just served to add further meaning to the work for me. Just knowing that you're contributing to making someone's day a bit brighter, and maybe easing their burdens a little, is so rewarding.
SC: What do you most enjoy about being able to tell a story through your work as an actor?
JN: On one level there's the simple enjoyment of providing quality entertainment, which we humans so need in our lives. But on a deeper level, I find it meaningful that storytelling is essentially the act of mirroring our humanity, and the human condition, back to ourselves in ways that hopefully allow for reflection and growth.
SC: Can you give us insight into what the process is, from the time you receive an audition call from your agent to arriving on set?
JN: Well, it's a pretty chaotic process really. We actors don't usually get a lot of warning or lead-time... I'd say around 50% of auditions you find out about the day before. So, you just do your best to prepare which, depending on the length and difficulty of the role, often involves staying up half the night trying to memorize your dialogue and leaning on the good graces of an actor friend or family member to run it with you. You then grab what sleep you can, get up and groom/dress appropriate to the role, drive across town, audition (against anywhere from 10 to 50 other actors) then wait... Depending on the nature of the role/show, this wait time can range anywhere from 24 hours, to occasionally months. Sometimes you can "book" a role from one audition that is just 'taped' and sent to decision makers, and sometimes it involves one or more "call-backs", where you are brought back to read for the role again, often in front of the producers and director. Once the casting director is informed by the production team that you've been chosen for the role, your agent is then emailed what is called the "offer", which is the number of days and payment they are offering you. You then either agree to the offer or, if you are not happy with it, your agent tries to negotiate another deal. Once all that is nailed down, your agent is sent the official 'contract' to review and sign. Only then is the booking considered 'official'. You are then contacted by the wardrobe department to come in for a 'fitting' which, depending of the size of the role and number of outfits required, can be a 20-minute affair or a 4-hour affair, and occasionally require another session. Again, depending on the size of the role and the budget of the show, you may then get called in to do what's called a "table read", which is basically an all cast read-through of the script. Then once shooting begins, you are contacted the day before by an assistant director with your "call-time" (when you need to be on set for hair and make-up) and emailed maps and a "call-sheet", which contains a detailed breakdown of what scenes will be shot the following day.
SC: You have worked on a number of shows with actors from When Calls the Heart. What does that familiarity on set mean to you? How would you describe working with the same actors on new projects?
JN: Well, the long hours and intense environment of a film set breeds closeness even on relatively short shoots, and that only deepens when you work with a cast over the course of 6 seasons. So, it's great to bring the pre-existing connection and chemistry you have with your fellow cast-mates into whatever other projects you're on together. The existing trust and familiarity can really add to your ability to be relaxed in front of the camera, which is a big bonus for an actor, as it typically leads to a better performance.
SC: You have shared on a few occasions how much you enjoy stepping away from the sweet characters, like Molly Sullivan, into roles that are more of a contrast to your personality. What makes you light up at the thought of portraying the villain?
JN: Ha! Well, I find that the villain can often be the more interesting/complicated role. And in the cases where they're written as a two-dimensional character, then it's a good actor challenge to try and give them more texture and depth. And honestly, they're just so much fun to play! (Cue evil laugh!) And I think that's probably because it's outside of our usual experience. I mean in our real lives, we at least strive to not be completely self-serving, greedy narcissistic, power-hungry, cruel jerks, right?! (Clearly, some of us fail... Lol!) Whereas as the villain, you're given permission to play at behaving badly, but in a completely safe circumstance where there's no ramifications, or damage because it's completely pretend. (Hey, it's free therapy, right?! ;)) To put it in psychological terms, it's kind of like getting to take your 'Id' (the primitive, impulsive, instinctual aspect of our personality) out for some structured play time. I mean if we're being honest, we've all looked at that 3-year-old throwing a tantrum in the mall, and thought... "Yeah, I feel you kid... that's a big mood. I'd like to stomp my feet and lay on the ground kicking and screaming too!"
SC: What is the most challenging aspect of being an actor?
JN: The job insecurity. Not knowing when your next job/paycheque is going to be. As soon as the last job wraps up, you're often back to being unemployed.
SC: Why do you feel When Calls the Heart resonates with the viewers across the world?
JN: Connected to my first answer, but I think people are compelled by the vision of a simpler time, where community and family are the focus.
SC: If you could write Molly’s story for season 7++++, what would you envision for your character?
JN: Molly needs a job worthy of her considerable skills and talents, some fun hobbies, a few new friendships, and a little romance!
SC: What would be your dream vacation?
JN: I'd really like to visit Iceland. It just looks so wild, unique, and beautiful.
SC: If you had the opportunity to choose a filming destination anywhere in the world, where would you choose and why?
JN: New Zealand, because the sheer variety and beauty of the country is just staggering. And the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy, which I adore, was filmed there, and its locations are absolutely glorious!
SC: If you hadn’t returned to acting after taking a break, what type of field do you believe that you would have pursued?
JN: I think I'd be a therapist. I have a certificate in 'Peer Counselling' from the University of British Columbia, but that's as far as I got with my training.
SC: You have previously shared that your love of dance and performance lead you to pursue acting. Has dance remained part of your life or do you miss being a dancer?
JN: It did! And yes, I really miss it. It's actually funny that you should ask that because I've just recently decided that it's something that I really need to take up again, as it brings me such joy.
SC: Do you have a favourite quote or motto?
JN: Treat others as you would like to be treated.
SC: What is the best advice that you have been given as an actor?
JN: Relax, listen, be present.
SC: What is your favourite advice to give?
JN: ONLY pursue acting as a career if you can't possibly be happy doing anything else. It's just too hard.
SC: If you had to spend a week in Hope Valley in the early 1900s, what three items would you want to take with you? If you could bring one person with you, who would it be?
JN: Mascara, dry shampoo and gumboots. My daughter.
SC: Who is someone that you would like to work with or have more time with together on-screen?
JN: Actors I'd love to work with… It's a long list:
Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet, Meryl Streep, Hellen Mirren, Judy Dench, Helen McCrory, Michael Fassbender, Olivia Coleman, Cillian Murphy, Jessica Chastain, Gillian Anderson, Dominic West, Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Ian Mckellan, Marc Ruffalo, Paul Bettany, Vera Farmiga, Hugh Jackman, Julianne Moore, Sigourney Weaver, Brad Pitt.
In addition to Directors: Denis Villeneuve, Christopher Nolan, Ang Lee, David Fincher.
SC: What does it mean to have support for Team FloMo?
JN: It means the world. Florence and Molly have such a great connection and friendship, it's wonderful to have it so recognized and enjoyed by the fans! Working with Loretta is a genuine joy, as not only is she a wonderful actress, she's just a delightful human being. So, it's really lovely that we get to bring our natural chemistry to the screen. No acting required!
SC: Who are some of the people that have inspired you throughout your life?
JN: Oh, far too many people!! But, off the top of my head, the following people come to mind:
- Marcy Toms (My grade 11 Anthropology teacher)
- Buddha, The Dalai Lama (Spiritual leader of the Tibetan People), Dzongzar Khyentse Rinpoche (Tibetan/Bhutanese Buddhist Teacher), Thich Nhat Hanh (Buddhist monk/ activist)
- Actors: Meryl Streep, Audrey Hepburn, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Daniel Day Lewis, Cate Blanchett, Nolan brothers (Writer/Directors)
- Poets: ee cummings, Rainer Maria Rilke, Rumi
- Authors: William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, JRR Tolkien, Thomas Merton, Frederick Douglass
- Singers/Musicians: Leonard Cohen, Beyonce Knowles, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Johann Sebastian Bach, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, David Bowie, Radiohead
- Dancers: Martha Graham, Fred Astaire
- Designers: Alexander McQueen, Charles, and Ray Eames
- Painters: Franz Kline, Jean-Michel Basquiat
- Architects: Richard Neutra, Le Corbusier
- In addition to Martin Luther King (activist/minister), Jane Goodall (Primatologist/Anthropologist), Albert Schweitzer (Polymath), Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan (Cosmologist) and without question, my friends and family.
SC: What drew you to instructing young or up and coming actors in Vancouver?
JN: Teaching is one of the things that renew my passion for acting by consistently reconnecting me with the transformative power (both personal and public) of storytelling. The desire to collaborate with fellow creatives in telling stories that matter was what drew me to acting in the first place. Acting class is also a very rich environment in which to learn more deeply about one's self, and by extension, the human condition. In my experience, training to become an actor is, at its heart, a journey towards 'self', which, in a beautifully circular way, actually ends up being a profound journey towards 'other'. So, really, it's all about deepening our connection to each other, which inevitably fosters empathy, compassion, tolerance, equality, and wisdom. Things our world desperately needs if we are going to continue to survive together on this small planet. It's very rewarding and meaningful work.
I also really enjoy the mentorship aspect of teaching. I think it's natural for us to want to share our wealth of knowledge with the next generation. It strikes me as a very healthy part of the life cycle. I love the idea that my life experiences might possibly help inform and guide another along their journey - people need to feel like they make a difference. Life is so challenging... but the fact that we're all in it together is everything. Being part of a supportive community is essential to one's greater well-being. SC: If Hearties were to visit Vancouver, where are some of your favourite and must-see places in or around the city?
- Granville Island Public Market.
- Grouse Mountain (You can ride a gondola to the top. STUNNING views.)
- The 'Fly over Canada' film experience at Canada Place.
- Walk (or bike - there are rentals) the Seawall. (Starting in Stanley Park.)
- Queen Elizabeth Park.
- Van Duesen Gardens.
- The Vancouver Aquarium located in beautiful Stanley Park.
- Lynn Canyon (preferred over Capilano Suspension Bridge which gets all the attention, and free.)
- Take a ferry, or sea plane, to Victoria. (BC's gorgeous and charming capital city. While there, have high tea at The Empress Hotel.)
- Visit the Museum of Anthropology on the stunning campus grounds of The University of British Columbia.
- Stroll oceanside between Jericho Beach and Spanish Banks.
- World class Skiing at Whistler/ Blackcomb. The drive to get there (via the Sea to Sky Highway) is among the most beautiful drives on earth.
- For those interested in fine dining, visit 'Hawksworth' (in the Hotel Georgia) Vancouver's most highly acclaimed restaurant.
SC: Any special skills or fun facts that Hearties might not know about you?
JN: I'm passionate about fashion, architecture, and interior design. It's been suggested hundreds of times in my life that I should pursue a career as an interior designer or stylist. Maybe I will one day!
SC: It has been announced that you will be playing Deirdra Decker, the evil stepmother, in A Cinderella Story: Christmas Wish. Can you share more about this character and any other projects that Hearties can keep on their radar?
JN: Unfortunately, I'm not at liberty to say very much about her, but suffice it to say, it's just a WONDERFUL comedic role. I mean it's not every day you get to play a character described as "venal, narrow-minded, and lazy", LOL!
The cast is SO crazy talented (and LOVELY) and I CAN NOT wait to share it with you on December 2nd when it's released on Netflix. I'm also excited about the upcoming Hailey Dean Mystery: A Prescription for Murder, which airs on May 12th (on Hallmark Channel). I play an interesting nurse role in it, that was really fun to explore as an actor. Thirdly, the all-female western short film I made last year, Last Stand To Nowhere, is just beginning its film festival circuit, and I'm so thrilled to finally be sharing that unique and wonderful project with the world. (A BIG heartfelt shout-out to the many wonderful Hearties who contributed so generously to the crowdfunding campaign that got the film made. We literally couldn't have done it without you!!!
SC: What are your future aspirations? Do you want to continue acting or would you consider pursuing writing, directing or producing?
JN: Hmmm... great question. Honestly, I'm actually not too sure at this point. Many people have encouraged me to try my hand at all three, and I may yet do that. At the moment, acting is still my focus and passion, but that could definitely change.
SC: You have been a Leo Awards nominee and award winner a number of times, including a nomination for your role as Molly Sullivan in “A Telling Silence” (WCTH, season one, episode three). What does this recognition mean to you as an actor?
JN: Well, the thing about The Leo's is that the judges are made up of industry peers. So, it was very rewarding and meaningful to be recognized by such respected colleagues.
As many creatives do, I suffer from an acute case of imposter syndrome. So, on my darker days, when I'm lacking confidence, it's good to be reminded that people you trust and respect think that maybe you know what you're doing.
SC: You have continuously expressed your gratitude for the Hearties and the support of WCTH. What does this fanbase mean to you?
JN: Well, generally speaking, while I've been on many shows over the years, this has been my first experience being a part of a devoted global fandom over an extended period, which has been so fun! But on a more personal level, I've been very touched by the positivity, loyalty, and sweetness of the Hearties. They have been unfailing in their enthusiastic support of 'Molly Sullivan', and ALL my other projects over the years. Knowing that people out there appreciate my performances, and connect with my characters, makes the grueling work of being an actor feel worth it. The incredibly kind comments Hearties have made on social media have lifted my flagging spirits immeasurably, and literally kept me going on many, many days. I'm so deeply grateful to you all.
SC: Johannah’s gratitude for the support from fans has been something that she has shared at every opportunity. Her love of storytelling, her passion for collaborating, as well as her talent in portraying an array of characters are only a few attributes that make Johannah a gem in this industry. While waiting to see more of Molly’s story unfold, connect with Johannah on social media. Her heartfelt appreciation and great sense of humour might just inspire you to find a little more joy in your day or ways to make a difference while experiencing the twists and turns of this journey we call life.