I rip open the doors of the Spoke Club in Toronto after a light jog down the cold and dreary autumn streets of King West. Mounting the stairs to the top floor, I catch a glimpse of Erin Karpluk, star of CBC’s Being Erica (now airing Wednesday nights at 9pm) in a light-filled glass room looking cool, calm, and (although I have no comparison to her bad days) completely happy.
The Jasper, Alberta native is beaming about her upcoming trip home to visit friends and family while off Erica duty for the next little while. Born in Alberta, and living in Vancouver for the past 10 years, Erin, who lives in Toronto during filming for the show, does not harbor the popular west coast hate-on for Toronto. And besides, her Queen’s Quay digs feel just like home.
Thoughtful and articulate, Erin humours my teeny-bopperesque gushing over plot and character details of the show before getting down to the interesting part – the business of acting.
How did you get in to acting?
Growing up, I absolutely loved TV, so it was always in the back of my mind. Then when I applied to U Vic (the University of Victoria) I accidentally got accepted as a theatre major.
I would love to know how one gets ‘accidentally’ accepted to a university major!
Well, I had expressed interest in taking an acting course in my application and they were like ‘oh, you’re a theatre major’. After some resistance from my mom, I said ‘just let me try it for one year’, and four years later, after rigorous auditions, the program went down from 160 to 5 people in my final year.
After school, I moved to Vancouver and couldn’t get any work in theatre to save my life, but started in film and television right away. I waitressed for 3 years before I got my first part and (she knocks on wood) haven’t had to waitress since!
What was your very first acting job?
It was while I was still in school, and they were shooting a show called Seven Days. There was only one casting director in Victoria and she didn’t have any actors so she called the theatre department at U Vic. It was just a couple lines, and I had to have a southern accent. I ended up getting the part, and found out I was getting $600 for the day, and for me back then when I was waitressing – it was incredible!
I worked my first day, and when I was done, I remember so clearly sitting in my car and just thinking ‘I am going to do this for the rest of my life’. I had just found where I was supposed to be.
And your family was resistant at first, but is now supportive?
Yes, definitely. Although, they don’t really get a say because I have always just done whatever I wanted. When I was in grade four, I wanted a TV in my room and they were like ‘well, you’re not getting a TV, Erin’. So the next day, there were 32 papers stacked up in the hallway and I had gotten a paper route. I worked the paper route for half a year and made $420, which is exactly what I needed to get a small TV from Home Hardware. So I quit my job, marched down to the Home Hardware. I marched back home, set it up, and sat in my room for two years and watched TV.
What are the 3 skills you require most to do your job well?
Number one is to work your butt off – you have to work your butt off. There is no security in acting, you’re always out looking for the next job, and it’s highly competitive so it’s a matter of pounding the pavement. Just like Erica, you need to be able to pick yourself up and dust yourself off and keep on working.
Also, try very hard to live a balanced life – I’m now trying to remind myself of this – because I can tend to get too work-oriented. Now that we’ve wrapped, I find it odd to have a couple minutes to myself to think ‘now, what does Erin want?’ You need to keep on top of friends, family, health, work, exercise, spirituality – you need to maintain a balance.
The third thing would be to be able to laugh at yourself. Take the work seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously – in life and in acting.
Oh, and another thing! Particularly for people in the film industry; to treat everyone equally. Whether I am talking to the producer or someone in Kraft Services, I always treat everyone the same.
What do you think about the stigma of Canadian television versus US television?
I’m an interesting one to ask actually because people will always say to me ‘Oh my gosh, Being Erica totally doesn’t look Canadian!” And that’s kind of a back-handed compliment because I’ve made my whole career in Canadian television. I get what they are saying because the production value of our show is on par with any show in the States. I also love being on this show and a show like Godiva’s because yes, they are ‘Canadian’, but it’s not about Mounties, and beavers or maple syrup. This show is about a Jewish girl who is down on her luck that time travels – none of that screams ‘Canadian’, but it is!
What is a typical day in the life of Erin when you are filming the show?
When I’m filming? Really? Ok…(takes a deep breath). I’d be up at 5:30am for a 5:45am pickup. I’ll be at the studio by 6:15am, and go straight to hair and make-up until 7am. Then we’ll block the first scene, finish my makeup, then wardrobe comes to approve what I’m wearing then I will shoot from there on out for around 12 hours – it’s usually a 14 to 16 hour day. Lunch times are for read-throughs, wardrobe fittings, temporary voice tracks, or press. It’s always go, go, go. One time my dad came on set and he was bopping around from my trailer to the set and I was like ‘Move it dad! We gotta go! People are waiting!’ We joke sometimes that I’m a bit of a robot when I get on set ’cause I just get so focused on keeping up the pace. It’s a very expensive business, and I don’t like to keep people waiting.
So I get home around 9pm and I have exactly 11 hours until I’m back at the studio. In that time I have to memorize my lines for the next day, eat dinner, workout, answer a few emails, do my laundry and get my 7 hours of sleep.
What do you like about your character, Erica?
I love her resilience. I get inspired by her when I’m feeling mopey in my own life. No matter where she is in her life, she has this ability to pick up and keep moving forward.
What do you not like about her?
I find her sometimes to be bossy. It’s especially when she goes back to high school – I just have a tendency to play her as bossy, and I’m like ‘Oh, Erica!’ But maybe that’s just my judgment on her.
What do you think you would you be doing if you hadn’t stuck with acting?
Is it bad if I say I would love to be a mom? And not that I can’t do both, but I think about it a lot – not that I’m running out and wanting to be a mom exactly now – but I think it’s a very worthwhile profession. And outside of that, I could see myself running a bed & breakfast up in the mountains. That’s what my mother does so I kind of grew up in that. I love the idea of getting to meet people from all over the world. My mom still runs the B&B. I worked there growing up, and now when I am home in the summer she still makes me do all the yard work and all the laundry – she does NOT care that I’m on TV.
Do you have any hidden talents?
I can hold my breath underwater for an extremely long period of time. At one point when I was young, my record was around 2.5 minutes. That being said, don’t challenge me to do it now.
By Ali Maldoff