I’ve been in this industry long enough to understand and recognize the people involved with the creative side of things. You have those hardworking behind-the-camera talenet trying to churn out projects to put Canadian film and TV on the map, while you have those in front of the camera trying to build a recognition like our American counterparts. One of those hardworking talents is Katie Boland.
She is a face you will see everywhere. Whether you are at a charity gig, or a film premiere, she’ll be there. From being chosen as one of TIFF’s rising stars to the many accolades she has gathered through her projects over the years, Katie has demonstrated an ability to hustle to achieve results.
With many years of acting under her belt, she now dives into the world of creation, tackling writing and directing. We see a growing trend of front-of-camera talent juggling many hats, taking over creative control, and really putting their narrative front and center.
We had an in-depth conversation about this, the weaving of her personality and personal life into her stories, and the need to make stories in general. This is a lengthy read, but an absolute must, as it gives insight into the life of a Canadian artist, and the evolution of one individuals career based on choice and drive.
When we chatted sometime back about Long Story, Short, the production was clear evidence of your interest to “create” rather than just “portray”. What sparked this drive to create stories rather than continuing your journey in bringing characters to life?
I would say my defining characteristic as a person is my curiosity. Creating, writing, directing – it all seemed like another, deeper way to get to know people. I always wanted to find ways to be a part of new conversations, whether that was with people I already knew or characters I made up in my head. Also, a bad quality that I have is that I get bored very easily. To combat this, I am always looking for new things to think about. I think being a creator suits my personality. I have been an actress since I was a child and as I grew older, I felt I had more to say. I wanted different ways to express myself.
You are very much an open book. You don’t shy away from sharing what’s on your mind, and very much champion and advocate on many issues that are dear to you. There is a very personal, dare I say private-side approach to your storytelling: from the idea of female identity in Lolz-Ita to your close friendship being developed into We’re Adults Now, a webseries. Stories are very personal, so how does and how much of your own narrative crafts the narratives of the stories you create?
I think there’s a big piece of me in anything I create. With my personal essay writing, I choose to be very personal. I’m only motivated to write them when a personal experience has had a transformative effect on me and changed how I look at the world. For my screenplays, there are always themes that resonate with me personally, whether that be a woman’s coming of age, redemption or codependency. I think I can get pretty far away from who I am with my characters and the worlds they live in. My show in development at the CBC is a cop show, and that’s very outside my reality. I also have a serial killer show in development with the Film Farm, and I’ve never killed anyone. But it is actually my fundamental belief that no human experience is alien and that no two people are so different. I think we’re all capable of pretty much anything. So, of course, my own narrative touches everything I create.
Being open truly brings out the honesty in stories, something your recent article on depression clearly shows. With that said, being open also means your sharing more than an average Jane would. Do you feel comfortable doing so? Do you set a boundary for yourself personally or does the art dictate the necessity?
I have some boundaries with that. I would never write something really personal about someone else’s life who I love. For example, I would never share anything about my brother without asking him first. Personally, as far as sharing things about myself, art dictates the necessity. When my article about depression came out, I did feel more exposed than I expected to. But then so many kind people reached out to me and shared their stories and I was happy that shared what I did. I wonder, as I get older, if I will share more or less? It’s also confusing to me because I am pretty private in real conversation but I’ll write about my secrets for strangers to read. I guess when things are written, you get to choose how it’s presented to the world.
Some will write stories for the sake of the story and the narrative that they have in their mind, while others will write with specific intentions, like roles for a particular actor or with a particular end result in mind. How do you approach writing? What inspires the words you put to paper?
I write both ways. I write roles for myself that I want to play, I write roles I want my friends to do, and I also just write stories that I want to be told. Often times, I get hired to write something for someone else and there are things that are already decided for me, so I write my version of the story someone else wants to tell. I actually don’t believe in inspiration. Or, I think of it as a luxury that I don’t have time for. Unless I’m shooting a movie and I’m physically on set, I try and write most days of the week, and when I’m on a couple writing jobs, I have no choice. When I create something completely of my own volition, it’s usually based on a conversation I had with someone that I can’t get out of my head. I get obsessed with a relationship, a set of circumstances, or what I think the story says about society in an overarching way.
What have been your biggest personal and professional challenges when writing stories for TV? Any project that you are working on that has tested you both as an artist and a person?
Just having the energy to be writing a bunch of shows at once can be a challenge. Also, I think earlier in my career, I listened to too many people instead of trusting my original vision for a show. My cop show that I have in development at the CBC, Centrepunch, has tested me as a person and an artist. It’s challenging to find an original way to tell a procedural story, but I think we’ve done it! Lolz-Ita (my short I wrote and directed that’s premiering at the Austin Film Festival) was also hard because it was a bigger challenge to direct and act than I had anticipated. Also, to edit your own face I think would test anyone. But, I really did enjoy it and I liked the creative control, so I am planning now to direct a feature that I’ll act in.
Being a woman in this industry has its problems, and I’ll be the first to admit that. There is a great debate on the portrayal of women, female characters, and women-driven stories, with arguments on both sides of the aisle. You have crafted a particular narrative with your acting. What narrative do you hope to lay down with this new foray into writing?
Ha! What is the other side of the aisle? We’re getting fucked! Clearly, I feel strongly about this. I hope to inspire other young women to write and direct and tell their stories. I also hope that I can create nuanced female characters for myself and others to play. I hope that by persevering and being by my friends who write, direct and create persevering, we can make a dent and change things.
I feel like a lot of female characters today are allowed to be two things only. They can be strong and smart, or mentally ill and funny, or vulnerable and confused, but rarely do I see a nuanced combination of many traits at once, especially on procedural network shows. I want to change that. I also feel like in films, you get to see the manic pixie dream girl, the fucked up in-her-20s girl, a lot of tropes. As a woman, and as someone with many women in my life, this is frustrating. I feel like we, even as real people, think we have to fit into a role that other people easily understand. Otherwise we’re “overwhelming”, or, and this is my favourite, “unlikable”. I want to see and create female characters that are as complicated and as many things as their male counterparts. Let us be unlikable! Let us be mentally ill and strong. Let us be vulnerable and very smart. I think it’s our job, as women who create, to push this narrative forward. Maybe then, in generations to come, someone like Hillary Clinton will be less confusing and not perceived and emotionless. I just want as much space to be a bunch of conflicting things at once as men have.
You have showcased this remarkable ability to hustle to get projects started, developed, and presented. What tools and resources, beyond money, did you lack when you started on this writing adventure, and how did you fill that gap?
I think I lacked confidence but never tenacity. I knew the one thing I had was that I could work really hard, so maybe something would be flawed at first but I would keep at it until people were happy. I’ve always been the type of person who wants to finish what I start. I think a lot of women lack confidence in their voice. That just took time and growing up. I still have no idea if anything I’ve written is good or bad until other people give me notes. I have stopped taking anything personally and I have way more of a sense of humor about everything now. That’s actually the most important thing. You have to laugh because otherwise, what’s the point? Again, I think that just takes time and experience.
There is this growing trend of front-of-camera artists taking over behind-the-camera roles. While creative control is certainly a part of it, why is this transition important to you? How do you avoid people putting this exciting evolution of your career into this generalized bucket of “oh here’s another trying to juggle many hats”?
I don’t even think about those people. This transition is important to me because it feels like an essential part of who I am? I can’t picture my life without writing and creating. I also don’t see acting, writing, directing as completely separate things. I use the same part of my brain, I ask the same kinds of questions about people and relationships and the world when I’m doing all three.
Saying your family is creative would be an understatement. What role has family played, beyond professional development, in helping you lay the foundation towards this career as a creator, a writer?
My family is full of storytellers. My mother always encouraged me to try new things and to do more, and supporting me creatively during challenging times. There have been low points creatively, and she always tells me to keep going. As an amazing story editor, she helps me with my scripts when I get stuck. My brother is a rapper, and such a wordsmith, and I am constantly inspired by him. I run things past him a lot. Like, hey, would you watch this? Does this interest you? What ABOUT this is interesting to you? He’s only two’ish years younger than me but I feel like he has his pulse on what’s cool a little bit more than I do. My father is a brilliant writer and was a best selling author as well as a very important sports journalist before he retired. He is very supportive. When I’m in Toronto we have coffee together every morning. My favourite question to ask him is, “Dad, what’s going on in the world?” A lot of seeds from our conversations end up in whatever I’m creating. Being surrounded by a family like this, it leads to a lot of thoughtful conversation, and of course support, that informs everything I’m doing. My family has always been really encouraging and I know what a gift that is.
Photos: Arden Wray. Courtesy of Katie Boland