Small Towns and Bigger Dreams with Tammy Gillis | Super Channel


Small Towns and Bigger Dreams with Tammy Gillis

Small Towns and Bigger Dreams with Tammy Gillis

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Desiree D


Life has a way of leading in directions that never seemed possible. Meeting a new person, exploring a new place, or being given an unexpected opportunity can change life’s direction and shape dreams in new and meaningful ways. Tammy Gillis knows this well; encouragement from others led to a switch in her life’s story, becoming a gift to the entertainment industry and her fans around the world.

A recognizable face on a number of programs, many would not know that Tammy grew up in a small town on the prairies. Her hardworking and humble beginnings, family farming roots, and her participation and understanding of community give Tammy a unique perspective when she’s portraying characters from a small town. Tammy graciously offered to share more about Riverfront Romance, and how her character, Cara Durant, followed her heart back to her hometown to fulfill her bigger dreams.

SC: Your start in the industry began in modeling. Can you share more about what drew you to commercials and acting?

TG: It was interesting because I initially went to university initially for Law. I was going pre-Law and then I realized that it’s not at all what it’s like on television. For me, it was really boring, because you spend like 17 hours a day in the library researching and I knew this was not what I wanted to do. Then I switched to Commerce and took accounting, marketing, and stuff like that. In my first year of university, I got scouted for modeling and thought I could use some extra money for university, so then I was sent on these random calls and then started auditioning for commercials in Winnipeg. I realized that I liked acting in the commercials way more than modeling, as I was never good with just sitting and posing. I started taking acting classes with some independent teachers there and then began taking theatre as electives in university. The television and acting community was really small in Winnipeg at that time. There were 5 of us that used to audition against each other at that time, one of us would get it, so inevitably you were going to work at some point. I did a lot of independent films and actually one of the very first independent short films I did was with Farpoint Films, and I ended up doing a feature film with them years later, called Menorca which went all around the world in film festivals and won a bunch of awards, a couple of years ago. I then auditioned for a movie of the week called Inside the Osmonds and I ended up playing the wife of one of the Osmonds. It was a really big deal because that was my first union acting job and I got 10 or 12 days out of it, so I was making this great money. All of a sudden, I could pay off my student loans and the work kept going from there. I then worked with Chad Lowe, Kelly Rutherford, and Sean Patrick Flanery on a movie. Kelly and Chad were really great in telling me “You can be an actor.” Being from the prairies, I’d never really met any actors, and I had never considered it as a career until they said, “you could do this.” I was like “could I? I’m a small town prairie girl.” So, it really was them that encouraged me as an actor, and that feeling of having someone believe in you enough to tell you to go for it. Shortly after that I moved to Vancouver because I made a bunch of connections when I volunteered at the Winnipeg Film Festival, and the majority of them were in Vancouver, so I chose Vancouver over Toronto.

SC: You know it’s meant to be when you happen into it, especially when people believe in you and you’re able to take that step forward when you have that type of support.

TG: Absolutely! It’s important especially in this business when we are often told no. We are constantly getting rejected, so having a healthy perspective on it is that “it’s not rejection, it’s selection.” They selected that person for whatever reason, or they selected me for whatever reason. We can’t take it personally, but it’s definitely hard, especially in the last 1.5 – 2 years now that we’re doing all this self-taping. It’s taping, taping, taping and you hear nothing. You don’t know if you were even close. Feedback would be lovely but there’s not really time because they are watching so many tapes. We have to remember that if we keep going, something’s going to come, as it always does.

SC: If you weren’t an actor, what type of profession do you think you might have pursued?

TG: Interesting question. I haven’t worked as much in the last year and a half, not a lot of people have, and I’m stuck at home with so much more time on my hands and I need to be doing things. I just can’t sit around and watch TV or play video games and I can only read so much. I need to be creating. So, since I went to school for business/commerce and all that, I’ve taken a hard look at our financial life, and I’ve started investing and learning all about the stock market. I’m really, really enjoying it so I’m wondering if maybe that could have been something that I could have done.

SC: Having grown up in rural Manitoba, do you feel that your prairie upbringing gave you a different perspective towards acting?

TG: It is interesting because also during this time since November I’ve been taking acting classes with one of my old teachers online, with people all around the world. It has been really fun seeing everybody’s experiences, but it also made me realize how growing up in a small town really helps me to understand certain stories and certain characters, in a way that a lot of other people don’t. A lot of the shows that I’ve been reading for lately are centered in small towns in the U.S. and there is a very different way that those towns function. You really only know what that’s like when you’re on the inside of that and I think it has helped a lot. We were taught to work hard and the first job I got was when I was like 14 years old, and I haven’t stopped working since then. My dad worked for the Canadian National Railway, and he also had a farm that he worked on “part-time.” His holidays were when it was seeding and harvesting time, so not really a holiday. He worked really, really hard, and my two sisters and I would have to pitch in on the farm at times. The thing that I really loved was the community and how everyone supported one another. I was really lucky growing up where I did, because the town had an outdoor swimming pool, so I took swimming lessons every summer and I became a lifeguard. In the winter we had a ski hill that was 20 minutes away so I could ski all the time. My family didn’t have a lot of money, but we worked hard, and I was able to do those things, which I wouldn’t have given up for anything.

SC: Ties that Bind is also airing on Heart & Home, in which you were nominated for a Leo Award for Best Guest Performance. What was it like to play Carla, who seemingly created the perfect life but had to overcome a difficult past?

TG: I loved working on that show. It was a really, really fun guest star and it was such a great group of people. That’s the very first time that I worked with Jason Priestley, and he was acting on that as my bad boyfriend. He’s a true leader and he’s so generous which made the scenes between us much more comfortable because it was terrifying. Like when his character attacked me in the car, he was just so concerned about me and making sure I was okay. Of course, the crew and everyone as well, but more so him because he was the one inflicting this on me. I loved sort of diving into that story and just to be able to show people that your past does not equal your present or your future. If you want to change and overcome that possibility exists for you. Like the love between my character and her current husband: he was probably finding out about all of this for the first time, but he still stood by her. To me that support, kindness, and love is the most important thing in a relationship.

SC: The Signed, Sealed, Delivered canon is available on Heart & Home too. Your performance as Randilynn Amidon is one that the POstables know well, airs on Remembrance Day each year, and was an emotional performance that is palpable to the audience. What were your reactions when you first read the Truth Be Told script?

TG: When I read scripts about these powerful and strong women, they are so special. Randilynn’s over there [Afghanistan] taking care of people for the love of her country. She’s also a single mother raising a child, and taking care of her dad, and she’s doing this amazing thing. I love portraying women like that, because there are so many amazing stories about women that aren’t told. As a woman and as women, we want to see those movies or series, and I think it’s evident in the big push, by especially for example, what Reese Witherspoon has done with all of her projects. I was really honoured that Randilynn was this strong, resilient woman that was doing this very unselfish thing that she unfortunately got caught in it. And still, she never gave up even when it seemed hopeless. That hope and that strength is so inspiring and makes me so proud to be able to bring that character to life. I felt that I really needed to honour that, and that’s why I did the amount of work that I did [to research], because this is an important story to be told and I really want to honour people like this.

Army in helicopter photo

SC: You have previously shared that you learned on the first day of SSD: Truth Be Told that there would be a sequel, and that it had been greenlit before Hallmark even saw the script. Did you have any idea where Martha Williamson would take your character in SSD: The Impossible Dream?

TG: Martha is a powerhouse, and she is so inspiring and so smart. Wow. Hearing her talk at times, she is such an incredible smart, powerful, kind, generous woman. What was interesting was because when I read it and I auditioned for it, I didn’t know there would be a sequel. Because Martha knocked on my trailer door, and I was like “hello” and thinking this is unusual. She was like “can I come in and have a chat?” And I was thinking “okay, don’t panic, you haven’t done anything wrong, as you’ve not even made it to set.” She was so wonderful because she mentioned that there was going to be a second one, and it’ll be the story of how you are recovered. I was really, really honoured to portray this character, and there were some scenes we shot in the first one that they didn’t end up putting in the movie, which I think they would have given too much away toward the second one.

SC: There were 3 months between filming of these two movies. Can you share more about the research you did to prepare you for this role?

TG: What was great is that Martha asked me to research people that have been taken captive and gone for a while, and what that has done to them physically, mentally, that kind of thing. I did a lot of research for that role on the effects of that, what would that be like going through that, and it helped so much. I’m grateful that she gave me that inside information and I was able then to really craft out that second movie, which turned into something really special. Also, I was doing all this type of action stuff: I was falling out of helicopters and shooting guns, and I was just like this is amazing for a Hallmark movie.

SC: You did some of your own stunts?

TG: There was definitely a stunt double that was wonderful, and I can’t believe what she did. In the scene where I fell out of the helicopter, I did fall out, but I didn’t fall that far, and it still hurt. I fell on to mats with cardboard boxes underneath, so they take the brunt of it. Then they took the helicopter way, way up, and the stunt girl fell out of it, and I was just like “what? That is crazy.” When I was climbing up the hill and fell, we did it in 3 chunks. The first chunk I started to roll down and the stunt coordinator caught me, so that part was me and the very bottom was me. In the middle was the stunt double and she started from the top and came tumbling down. I was just in shock. When you actually see what stunt people do for real, it’s always crazy to me. I saw the rehearsal with the mats and everything, which didn’t look that bad, and then when they take everything away, I’m like “oh my gosh, you’re doing it without anything?!” and “I’m not doing that. Nope, definitely not doing that.” I probably do more than I should at times, but it’s so fun for me.

SC: There is one scene with the Amidons that everyone will remember and be affected by; Randilynn reuniting with her family and especially the hug with her daughter Phoebe. How did you prepare for that scene, or were you able to feed off of the other actors and emotions in that scene?

TG: I knew that scene was going to be challenging. I don’t have a child, but I am the child of a mother, and I had lost my mom not long before that, so I kind of transferred a little bit of that into that scene. Honestly, the way that it was on the set, the airplane and them driving up, was a lot. I started crying in the airplane, and the director was like “you don’t need to cry on this” and I was like “I can’t stop crying, that’s the problem.” In all of the rehearsals, in all of the takes, we were all crying. And the director was like, “we can’t have everyone crying in every take.” Especially the other girls were like “we can’t stop” and I was like “you guys need to stop, because I can’t stop.” So, it was actually easy to feel that emotion and the actress that played my daughter I’ve worked with her a couple of times, so we have a little bit of a bond. Just seeing her, feeling all of that, being in the plane, wearing the uniform, seeing them drive up, and seeing her run to me with my dad, it was a lot. This especially after all the work that I had done researching, such as watching those types of reunions. The hard part was trying to actually keep telling the story and not let the emotion get in the way.

SC: You have played a range of characters over a number of years, some involving animals. What is like working with animals on set? If you had the chance to work with any animal, which would you choose and why?

TG: It’s difficult working with animals because you never know what they’re going to do, but it’s also really fun working with animals because you never know what they’re going to do. I’ve worked with quite a few dogs and puppies, especially on the Darcy movies. One of the biggest concerns with the puppies was when I was holding them if they were going to pee on me and then it would ruin my costume. I worked on a short film that a friend of mine directed and the girl playing my daughter was holding a bunny, and I could barely act because I was more worried about her and the bunny. So that stuff is a challenge. I would love to do a movie with a horse. I grew up with horses, because my grandpa used to race Quarter Horses and we weren’t allowed to ride them because they’re racehorses and you can’t just casually jaunt around. Once they were retired, we could ride them and groom them, and they’d have foals so we could groom the foals. I love being around horses because they’re just so beautiful and so gentle. I’ve seen a whole bunch of my friends doing things with horses and I’m like “I want in on that. Come on, hook me up Heartland.”

SC: With credits as an actor, director, and producer, do you have a preference of these roles? If you could create your dream role, what type of show would that be, and which role would you choose?

TG: Immediately, acting because that’s the easiest and most fun job, at least for me, because I’ve been doing it for so long. When you’re a director or a producer, you don’t really have any down time. I feel like being a director or producer, you over prepare and then all you do all day long is put out fires. It’s constantly people asking you questions, so even when you’re not setting up a shot as a director, or you’re not in the middle of a shot, you are involved 24/7 on that set. Then when you go home, you’re obviously prepping everything for the next day. I love being a director; it’s the perfectionist type-A part of me that kind of holds me back, because I want to pursue more directing, but I also feel that I should know more before I do that. I do enjoy producing and I’ve learned that it is mainly a business decision or a money decision, which is a very good lesson for actors and for myself, to stop taking things so personally. I’ve learned so much about the business side of it, and how so many decisions are made that have nothing to do with you. I love doing it all, but I would love, love, love to do more leads. I would love to have a series regular role on a really great show with great people that runs for 10-15 years, that would be great. I really love doing comedy and I also really love doing action stuff, so I would love to do more in that vein. That being said, I also really love the gritty, dark stuff. A lot of the shows that I’ve read for are set in these really weird small towns, where these really bad crazy things happen, and that would be so fun, just being a little crazy. There’s no one real genre for me, I just love being an actor, and I love working on projects, I love the collaborative nature of it, and being with all of those people.

SC: What do you enjoy most about being on set?

Tammy smiling on camera

TG: I enjoy the people and the creating and the magic that comes out of it. And there’s so many special things about being on set, not only the magic that they’re creating to be seen and shared with the world, but also the relationships that get created behind the scenes. Like being on Siren for three years was such a blessing and we all miss each other so much. It was such a special little family and we hung out with each other a lot behind the scenes. It’s great to make lifelong friendships like that.

SC: Would you consider writing?

TG: I’ve been doing some writing and I have a couple of rom-com type MOWs that I’ve been working on. There are production companies that are interested in reading them once I’m ready to have eyes on them. It’s funny because the conversation is like, “so what do you want to do with it?” That’s a good question. Am I so close to it that I want to be the lead or am I removed enough that I think I could maybe direct it? I don’t know yet, we’ll see what happens.

SC: In Riverfront Romance, you play a writer named Cara Durant. Can you share more about the situation happening in her hometown?

TG: Cara was a travel blogger, and she finally got this book deal to write a book. There’s a house in her hometown that her mom, her sister, and her lived in at one point. They lived in a bunch of different houses in the town, but this house was really special to them. Cara and her mom would canoe up and down the river or go for walks and they would see this house. Since she was a child, she was like “that’s our house. We’re going to live in that house.” So, she’s kind of worked her whole life and secretly been saving money to buy this house for her and for her mom. She finally gets this book deal and a big chunk of money, and she finally has enough to go and buy the house. She goes to buy the house; her dream is happening and then she wakes up to construction because they’re building this dam that will block the entire view of the river and will ultimately ruin the livelihood of the town. Her childhood dream of sitting in this house looking down at the river and typing her famous novel, is going to be destroyed by the dam and a certain handsome project manager.

SC: Morgan David Jones (Riley) discussed how this story was less about the tension between the leads, which often happens in romcoms, and brings the focus more on the community. How would you describe that community involvement?

TG: I think once it was brought to light of the impact that it was going to have on the community that everyone pulled together because they didn’t want their special community to be destroyed. So it wasn’t just about Cara, it was about everybody in the town. I think with small towns people come together to overcome whatever it is that’s going to affect that community. I grew up in a town of 800 people and there’s about 450 people there now. That’s a small town and everybody knows everybody. If I did something wrong, my mom got a phone call and before I even got home, she knew. Whenever anything happened in our small town, like say someone passed and they had the funeral or memorial, everybody in the town pitched in and made some sort of food, so they had a giant banquet meal that cost nothing. They all came together to support the family in whatever the circumstance was. There were a lot of those elements in the movie with different characters that Cara and her mom would reach out to and be like, “Hey, I need you to show up at x o’clock, bring this, do this.” There are a lot of really cute characters like that and everyone that played those parts were all so lovely. It was nice that we could fall into a familiarity with each other even though we met five minutes earlier.

2 guys in construction

SC: Riverfront Romance was filmed in Brantford, Ontario. Can you share a bit more about the set? Had you filmed there before?

TG: I had not filmed in Brantford, and it was really lovely. It was around mid-September to the beginning of October when we were filming there. It was unusually hot, which made it a beautiful, beautiful time to film. The house was unbelievable, and the whole property was massive and really well taken care of. We shot the majority of the film on that property, like the house is obviously her house, there was this horse stable, which was used as Riley’s house, and then where the construction was taking place was at the bottom of the hill from the house. It was a short walk down to the river and then there was an embankment where we go hiking, and that’s still on the property. We spent the majority of the time on this property where the house was, which was great especially during Covid. All of the cast and crew were kind of sequestered for 3 weeks, we stayed in these two hotels that were side-by-side, so it was a really small group of people.

SC: Any fun stories about working with Morgan David Jones (Riley)?

TG: It was such a pleasure working with Morgan. There’s a big canoe scene with us in the canoe and it’s hilarious. We have a walkie-talkie in the canoe, and they’re like “how’s your canoeing skills?” and I was like “well, I’ve canoed in another movie, so okay I guess” but then we crashed into this giant cement pillar. I thought we were going down, and Morgan was like “it’s going to be okay. I really hope they got all of that on camera” and I was like “I really hope they did not.” It was super fun and one of the best things about this movie is the relationship that I got to build in real life with Morgan and to continue that friendship.


SC: Have you had the chance to watch it yet? What was it like to have additional roles with Riverfront Romance?

TG: Not yet. It’s always a little nerve-wracking when you haven’t seen it and it goes out, but this way it will be our shared experience. I hope that it will resonate with people, and they will enjoy it as much as we did making it. It was so fun and such a special experience. There’s nothing I love more. Honestly, I worked so hard. I was prepping dialogue two days in advance, as well as the day before, and on the weekends, I was prepping for the week ahead. I had the opportunity to be an Executive Producer on it, as well, so I was involved in some decision making. I learned a lot from that, because Sean, the director, bless him, reminded me that “you’re a producer, make a decision, because nobody can move forward until you do.” Whether it’s right or wrong, you cannot gauge that, you just take a good look and try to figure out what the best outcome will be with this decision and go with that. If it’s not right, then you deal with that next problem. So, it was all of those things on top of all of everything else, and then leading the film. I did feel a responsibility as the lead to help set the tone and I wanted people to enjoy making this movie, enjoy coming to work, enjoy being a collaborative part of it, so I hoped I achieved that. That to me is really, really important.

SC: Anything else that you would like to share about this movie?

TG: I had such a fun time working on it. I really got lucky with the entire cast and crew, the production team, and the director Sean Cisterna, who I had previously met at the Whistler Film Festival. It’s just such a fun movie and I was lucky to know some actors from before. I knew Allison Hossack who plays my mom, because she lived in Vancouver a number of years ago and she is also from Manitoba! Erin Agostino who plays my sister Leanne and Jonathan Kim who plays Pete were both really fun. I loved doing it because I personally love rom-coms and I watch them all the time. I haven’t done comedy in a long time, as I’ve done a lot heavier stuff in the last 5 or 6 years. It was nice to be able to play around, be goofy and take some chances with some stuff.

Two women together

Believing in the power of community and the ability to make a difference through story, Tammy found her place as an Executive Producer and leading lady in this sweet story of new beginnings. From her pjs to a podium, Cara Durant’s advocacy was known throughout her community, and her love for others and nature was made evident in this film. Tammy intertwined her small town roots with big city filming experience, giving hope to everyone in a similar setting that bigger dreams are possible. Follow Tammy on social for some fantastic photos and stories of working on Riverfront Romance and to see where her dreams continue to take her.

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