by Jen McNeely
During an interview, I often expect actors to either be total dicks or act like divas. Sometimes I catch them shooting a gaze that reads, “I’d rather be cutting my toe nails than talking to you,” but I could tell that Erin Karpluk, who stars as catastrophe prone Erica in CBC’s win of the decade Being Erica, would be different. She was exactly like I predicted her to be; sincere, down to earth and endearing.
I’ve been a fan of the show since its pilot last year. Unlike every other TV Series that clogs the channel with unattainable perfection (Gossip Girl, The Hills, The City) Karpluk’s character Erica Strange has relatable flaws, embarrassing moments, psychotic anxiety attacks and real life problems. This, and I like to whimsically dance to the opening song and enjoy traveling back in time with Erica to either gawk or laugh at my more awkward stages in life. (e.g, when I buzzed my hair off and declared that I was gay and then retracted the bold statement a month later, when I threw up pizza in a cab after binge drinking, or maybe the time I tried to get a guy’s attention in Grade 10 by licking his arm, to which he responded “Did you just lick me?”)
We’ve all had stumbling blocks as we try to find out who we really are, and even if you haven’t had the “OH FUCK I’M TURNING 30” meltdown – as a young woman today, you will identify with Karpluk’s character in some fashion – be it disastrous dates, asshole bosses, a nagging mother, friendship meltdowns or confessions to a shrink. Something will click and you will laugh at her flaws as you consider yours.
Being Erica is a smart show that offers up comedic relief and drama, and even sci-fi geeks can get off with all the time traveling. It’s no surprise that beyond Canada, Being Erica is now gaining mass audiences in Australia, Holland, the US, Japan and just began airing Season 1 on BBC this past week. Could this be bigger than Degrassi? IS THAT POSSIBLE?
We sat down with Erin Karpluk to hash it all out.
OMG – you are airing all over the place! Premiering in the UK tonight? How does that feel?
KARPLUK: I just found that out too! It’s crazy. It’s really exciting.
How are you similar to Erica Strange? Is your life a list of humiliating disasters?
It’s funny because somedays I’ll be like ‘Omg, I’m not even acting right now – this is me’ and other days I feel like I couldn’t be farther away from this character. We are roughly the same age, she’s in a relationship, I’m not. As far as our careers go, I’ve always made my career a priority in my life. Ever since high school I’ve been go-go-go, work-work-work, so I didn’t have that set back that she had of not going after what she wanted. Family life for both of us is quite similar. Whether you are Jewish or not the family dynamics are the same. I hung out with a Jewish couple in Vancouver to try and get a better understanding – that was the one thing that was foreign to me, but after listening to them talk and hanging out with them I thought ‘you know what? It’s not different from any other family – the guilt, the love, the loyalty, the taking people for granted.’ I really enjoy the family scenes. Some of the regrets, I read them and I’m like ‘oh – as if I have to do that.’ It can hit home, but that’s why I also enjoy doing it. I feel like that’s what I would want to watch on TV. Storytelling of imperfect people trying to be their best.
As Erica time travels all over the place, is it difficult to act in modern time and then fly back to 1999?
It’s the easiest for me because I’m always the 30 year old women but just in a younger body, whereas Judith or Ethan, when they go back they have to mentally go back. Erica has the foresight and experience of a 32 year old.
How fun is it to dance around to Pump up the Jam with a weirdo nineties outfit on?
As far as the nineties go – it’s probably one of the funner parts of the show. I have no problem being humiliated or making an ass of myself – I really enjoy it.
What helps you transform back into a teenager?
Did you ever read YM or Sassy Magazine? We have those all over the hair and makeup trailer, to reference what Kate Moss was wearing or a lot of 90210. I’ll be channeling Shannen Doherty for a lot of the looks. The music…that’s the one thing that really gets me back-like if you hear Right Said Fred ‘I’m Too Sexy’ or ‘November Rain’ from Guns n’ Roses I’m like – oh, Grade nine.
A lot of us relate to your character and her fears of entering the dirty thirties. Why is this stage so difficult for women?
My mom always says that when she was nineteen she was already teaching, she was married and they were going to have two kids and a white picket fence – and you were either a nurse or a teacher. Now there is more freedom, people are getting married later – getting into relationships later. Hitting thirty – is like twenty back then. I’m 31 and I’m single and it’s never really bothered me up until the last six months – I’m the last of my girlfriends who is single, and a lot of them are getting married, a lot are having kids. That was the wake up call-when I was changing diapers. Mind you, I have Being Erica and that’s my family right now.
Should you have it all together when you are thirty?
If you are thirty and you don’t have your career somewhat organized, then it can be a bit of a stress. That’s where Erica is at in the pilot – an early mid-life crisis. In your twenties you can play around, go traveling – but by the time you are thirty – it’s normal to feel stressed if we don’t have ourselves together.
So, is there anything good about this age?
I was so excited to turn thirty, not to be done with my twenties, but there’s no real looking back. For me personally, a lot of the insecurities and notions you have in your twenties kind of go away. I’m enjoying myself more, I’m a bit more relaxed – certainly more confident and comfortable with who I am and what I want to do in life. You kind of go through this social grooming, or gardening, in your twenties, where you explore a bunch of different types and groups of people. In my thirties I find that there are less people in my life but more quality. I’m very lucky to have the people in my life that I do. They say you are who you surround yourself with, I have amazing people in my life and that’s something that I have in my thirties.
True dat. We had a lot of loser friends in our twenties who caused way more headache than worth. They are gone now. So Erica has kind of got her act together in season two, she has a great job as an editor for a publishing house, she’s with handsome and sweet Ethan. If you could sit down and give her advice, what would you say?
I’m learning from her right now. I leave it up to the writers to create her life and I never really comment on it, I just immerse myself in it and do it.There’s a couple things I would sure like to say to her but I can’t give it away. I’m just excited that Erica is continuing her therapy; she’s continuing to take strides. I guess I would just caution her to maybe look before you jump every now and then.
Have you ever been to a shrink?
Where I’m from (Alberta) going to a therapist is a bit taboo, people still think there’s something wrong with you if you go to a therapist. When in fact – I think it’s a healthy thing for people to do and a healthy thing to do. Many of my acting teachers have said for years – every actor should go to a therapist – so you have a healthy vessel from which to work – so your mind and body is set to go. I thought ‘ugh – I don’t need a therapist, I have a great family life,’ but I ended up going to one. Of course half an hour into it I was bawling my eyes out talking about my cat from Grade 5. At the end of the day my therapy is one of my really good friends or my mother-having a nice cup of tea and talking about stuff is the best therapy I can recommend.
If you could time travel, like Erica, what would you return to?
I would be reluctant to go back to anything – like any major regret – because I’d be worried that I’d muck up my present state. I’m very happy right now. What I would do is go back and re-live an amazing time in my life. In episode 5 Erica gets a do-over day, like a groundhog day. I would do that, nothing malicious like robbing a bank or hurting anyone – just more like having fun, spending money.
You trained in theatre school in Victoria, did you ever think you’d make it this far in such a short time?
I would never have thought I would be in Toronto working on a television show but I certainly wanted to see myself here. Even though I got a degree in theatre, in my heart I always wanted to pursue film and television.
What would your advice be for young women just beginning to carve out their career in acting?
Training is pivotal and huge and I’d be very selective over who you decide to train with. Don’t just learn from anyone…it’s a craft. Also pick and choose things that work for you – don’t buy into one ideology of acting. Always rely on yourself first before other people. If Meryl Streep can still go get trained then I’m sure every other actor in the world should. Surround yourself with a strong team, find an agent who is there for the right reasons, really great friends and family and be prepared to work your $@& off! It’s not what you think it is. People get into the industry for the wrong reasons and at the end of the day it’s like every other job, it’s a lot of work, rejection, insecurity – you don’t know when the next job is going to be – it’s also the most amazing thing that ever happened to me in my life.
The CBC is constantly struggling to compete against corporate networks and there is always pending doom that funding will be pulled. What does it feel like to be on a hit show on this network?
It’s a HIP network. We did the launch last week and George Stoumbolopolous was there and Rick Mercer was right in front of me. He asked if his tie was straight and I was like awwwwww. (Ed. Note: We love how Erin is star struck by Rick Mercer.) I think they (CBC) do a fantastic job. I’m grateful for their support.
Have you enjoyed working in Toronto?
I remember flying over the CN Tower and wondering ‘are you my new home?” That was really exciting to me. I love the people in Toronto, everyone is very assertive and they say what they mean, mean what they say – they look you in the eyes – they work hard and play hard. I wish I had more time to explore.
We especially love watching the show and calling out all the local reference points.
We shoot at Casa Loma, UofT, Canada’s Wonderland – Centre Island. Toronto almost becomes its own character on the show.
Being Erica airs on CBC Tuesday nights at 9 pm.