Love and loss fuel ris­ing star’s craft

Toronto actress Tom­mie-Am­ber Pirie shines in new film Pre­tend We’re Kiss­ing by Kristina Virro

Thornhill Post - - Arts Profile -

Ro­man­tic come­dies to­day tend to fol­low a cer­tain for­mula: cute boy meets cute girl, cute boy likes cute girl, and af­ter mak­ing it through a (some­what pre­dictable) con­flict three-quar­ters in, cute boy and cute girl end up to­gether, re­mind­ing the viewer that, yes, true love does ex­ist!

The up­com­ing indie film Pre­tend We’re Kiss­ing may de­liver a sim­i­lar mes­sage, but de­scrib­ing it as a ro­man­tic com­edy is a bit mis­lead­ing. Af­ter all, one can’t help but no­tice its com­plete de­fi­ance of the usual ro­man­tic com­edy stereo­types, start­ing with one of the lead­ing char­ac­ters played by Toronto actress Tom­mie-Am­ber Pirie.

Pirie por­trays Jor­dan, an out­go­ing, cre­ative, ev­ery­day girl — at­tributes that cer­tainly weren’t dif­fi­cult for Pirie to re­late to. Af­ter tak­ing act­ing classes for two years, the Ottawa-born actress de­cided it was time to step out of her com­fort zone.

“There was only so much Ottawa could of­fer in terms of, like, what I wanted to do as an actress, so I de­cided that my best bet was to move to Toronto,” she says. “In high school and stuff, you’re taught that you must go to a post-sec­ondary school to learn, and so in­nately, my re­sponse was, well, ob­vi­ously to ap­ply to theatre school.”

So, at 19, the as­pir­ing actress be­gan ap­ply­ing to theatre schools — and got ac­cepted. But her re­ac­tion to the ac­cep­tances proved to be quite re­veal­ing.

“It just kind of sat wrong with me,” says Pirie, on the time and money that a four-year pro­gram would take. “I was able to find an agent and start au­di­tion­ing right away, and I felt like my an­swers were kind of, like, in the world and in the peo­ple I con­nected with.”

Her out­go­ing at­ti­tude isn’t the only com­mon qual­ity be­tween Pirie and her Pre­tend We’re Kiss­ing char­ac­ter. Like Jor­dan, Pirie lost her mother to can­cer when she was just 13.

But like a true actress, the 28-year-old saw it as fuel for her craft.

“Ev­ery­thing that I en­counter — ev­ery heart­break, ev­ery high, ev­ery low — is some­thing that is in­for­ma­tion for me that I can bring to a char­ac­ter,” she says. “De­spite the fact that it’s a tragic cir­cum­stance, you know, it’s ben­e­fi­cial in sit­u­a­tions like this that I can pull on those emo­tions so eas­ily.”

Pirie’s mother is one of the peo­ple who in­spired her to be­come an actress in the first place. A “dra­matic, art-in­spired per­son” her­self, Pirie’s mother would of­ten bring out the video cam­era and give six-year-old Pirie a scene to act out.

“There was a huge part of my mother that wanted to be an actress,” says Pirie. “She never had the op­por­tu­nity, so I feel like there’s a part of me that’s kind of living out her dream, as well, be­cause it’s also some­thing that I am so pas­sion­ate about.”

Once her dream of be­com­ing an actress be­came a re­al­ity, there was no turn­ing back. Pirie has ap­peared in TV se­ries such as The Lis­tener and Lost Girl and gar­nered a Canadian Screen Award nom­i­na­tion for her work on CBC’s Michael: Tues­days & Thurs­days. She also re­cently ap­peared in The F Word (re­leased in some coun­tries as What If) along­side Daniel Rad­cliffe.

But snag­ging the role of Jor­dan in Pre­tend We’re Kiss­ing wasn’t just due to her act­ing abil­i­ties. It was also a case of be­ing in the right place at the right time.

The film’s direc­tor, Matt Sad­owski, had ac­tu­ally in­tended for an­other actress to play the role of Jor­dan, and it wasn’t un­til said actress didn’t at­tend a read through that Sad­owski met Pirie.

“A friend that was mak­ing the read through sug­gested Tom­mie.… I was des­per­ate, so I thought, ‘OK, she’ll at least do,’” says Sad­owski with a laugh. “As soon as I met her, I knew I needed to make [the movie] with her. And we started to re­write the script due to the time I spent with her.”

Sad­owski’s en­thu­si­asm to cast Pirie is cer­tainly a com­pli­ment. Af­ter all, the 36year-old direc­tor and writer had spent 10 years writ­ing and edit­ing the script for the film. And not once did Sad­owski re­gret his choice. With her open­ness to di­rec­tion and lines con­sis­tently mem­o­rized, Pirie’s ded­i­ca­tion to her craft did not go un­no­ticed on set, Sad­owski says.

But per­haps the most in­trigu­ing part of Pirie is that she has that very qual­ity that so many pro­tag­o­nists in ro­man­tic come­dies lack: She’s re­lat­able.

“I felt like a lot of ro­man­tic come­dies re­ally make the main two ac­tors who fall in love a kind of unattain­able im­age,” he says. “I wanted peo­ple to walk away that, like, love can ex­ist for every­body no mat­ter what they look like and no mat­ter what they think about love.”

Although Pirie her­self is in a re­la­tion­ship at the mo­ment (since, in her words, “what’s not to love about love?”), she has learned im­por­tant lessons about love along her dat­ing path.

“I would say just jump the f**k in,” she says. “Even if it feels like sh*t, sit in that place. And if it feels amaz­ing, sit in that place. Don’t run away if it’s not mo­ti­vated by some­thing jus­ti­fi­able.”

Pirie, whose cur­rent goal is to “al­ways be in­spired and mo­ti­vated to cre­ate,” can be found sip­ping cof­fee at Bud’s Cof­fee in the Beach neigh­bour­hood or at In­som­nia near Bloor and Bathurst.

Pre­tend We’re Kiss­ing closes the Canadian Film Fes­ti­val, April 1 and 3.

“If it feels amaz­ing, sit in that place.”

Tom­mie-Am­ber Pirie, in a scene from the new movie ‘Pre­tend We’re Kiss­ing’

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