Interview: Madeleine Bisson
June graduate Madeleine Bisson has been a theatre actor since she was a child and is now trying her talents on the silver screen. Madeleine landed one of the lead roles Foxfire an adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ novel of the same title. Foxfire is about a group of teenage girls who form a gang in the 1950’s to rebel against the feminine stereotype. Foxfire is expected to be released in September 2012, just in time for TIFF. Madeleine has taken a number of Cinema Studies courses through the Cinema Studies Institute.
How long have you been acting? Is Foxfire your first film?
Madeleine: I have actually been acting in the theatre world (both professionally and non-professionally) since I was ten years old. I was the drama junkie in high school, participating in every school play I could get my hands on, took several acting classes, and even took a leading role at Young Peoples Theatre in a play called "After Juliet". At U of T, I participated in musicals such as the beauty school dropout, "Frenchie" in "Grease", and was accepted into the UC Drama Program where I specialized in Drama. The program is very small (less than 30 students accepted each year), where we train in performance, voice, and movement. The program changed my life, and it is definitely a hidden gem at U of T, as is the Cinema Studies program at Innis College.
Until this film, I had never acted in front of a camera. Film acting always seemed like an unattainable dream to me. When I was a child I couldn't believe that the actors in movies were actually getting paid for it! It seemed so much fun that I always assumed the actors paid the director. It looked too good to be true! And as I have learned over the past year working on a film set for several months, it really is as wonderful as I dreamt it to be.
What difficulties did you face balancing acting with your studies?
Madeleine: It can be very difficult to manage both acting professionally and being a student at U of T. When I get a call from my agent telling me that I have an audition, I immediately feel two emotions. One -YAYYYY! Pure excitement for getting an opportunity to meet with casting directors and giving it my best shot. Two- terror, because I know, as with almost all film auditions, that I have one or two days to prepare for the audition. That means I could have five pages of script to memorize, a character to develop, and school to manage all at the same time.
I will never forget the time when I was given an eight page script to memorize in less than twenty-four hours, with a midterm in Astronomy on the same day, only an hour after the audition. And trust me, I am not the strongest in Astronomy. So there are definitely times when it can be very hard to manage both acting and being successful academically, but my education is as important to me as my career, so I just bite the bullet and make it work. If it means writing an essay on my laptop while waiting to be called in for my audition, so be it.
What has been the highlight of your career (so far)?
Madeleine: The highlight is undoubtedly, Foxfire. I went to an open call audition in September 2010 to audition for a movie that I didn't know much about. I was sent into a large hall to wait for my five minute audition, where hundreds of other girls were waiting as well. I waited for over three hours until my number was finally called. It's funny because minutes before my number was announced, I was seriously thinking of leaving the audition altogether because I thought it was probably just a waste of time. How glad I am that I stayed. I got into the audition with a group of five girls, and we were asked to do an improv. Immediately it became a huge competition between the girls on ‘who can say the most words in this audition’ and I barely got anything in. After the audition, I told my mom that I just want to forget about it because there is no way that anything would come from this. Shockingly, a week later, I got a call back. And another. And another. I had about ten call backs between September and February. Finally the group of girls was cast, and I was one of the leads! Filming Foxfire last summer was a life changing experience. It is not only a highlight of my acting career, but a highlight of my life to date.
Tell us about Foxfire. What is your role in the film?
Madeleine: Foxfire is an adaptation on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates. It is about a teenage girl gang in the 1950's. The film covers themes of feminism, sexism, and racism. The girls come together to form a gang and rebel against the stereotypical housewife image, and revenge on the misogynistic men. It is a pretty badass film if I do say so myself! The role that I play is named Rita. She is essentially the reason why the gang Foxfire is created. If you want to know more about the story, I definitely recommend reading the novel, or hold out for the film’s release in September! It is aiming to be ready for TIFF this coming fall. Laurent Cantet is the director, and what an honour it is to have worked with him. Laurent is a Palme D'Or winner and was an Oscar nominee for his 2008 film, "The Class". He is from France, and while all of his previous films have been in French, Foxfire is his first English project. The film was entirely made up of Canadian English speaking actors, and the production is a France/Canadian film. Laurent is not only a gifted and talented man, but is sweet, humble, and quite funny. The girls and I had the most fun goofing around with Laurent.
What has been the highlight of working on this film?
Madeleine: The people that I got to work with! Everyone is so talented in their own way, from the makeup artist to the producers. We had the best team working on the film. They are so hard working, friendly and welcoming. I had never been on a film set before, and it can be pretty overwhelming. Especially because we filmed all the way in Sault St. Marie, as I didn't really know many people on the set, it could have been a very nerve racking experience. However, these lovely people took me under their wing and made me feel so comfortable. They taught me everything I know about being a part of a film. I also felt like I was among celebrities because they were so successful! In my film class last term we watched a movie, and as I stayed to read the credits, I found several members of the Foxfire Production team on that list! I will always look up to them and feel so honoured that I had the opportunity to create something wonderful with them.
Why did you choose to take Cinema Studies courses at U of T?
Madeleine: I have always loved film. I have been mesmerized by it my entire life. I still get butterflies of excitement as I walk into a movie theatre. As young as three I had begun my taste for film. My grandfather introduced me to old films such as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Irma La Douce, and Singin' in the Rain. My aunt on the other hand showed me films like Rocky Horror Picture Show, Edward Scissorhands, and Hair. Watching movies has always been a hobby of mine, so I was very excited to take CSI’s Introduction to Film Study mostly because I got to watch so many movies I hadn't seen before! I also wanted to know more about types of film, film genres, and how films are made, with the intention that this would help further my education in my career. The course truly helped with that and I plan to keep all of my notes in a safe place in case of reference.
Do you intend to continue your career as an actor or do you aspire to work in another area of cinema?
Madeleine: Yes I definitely plan to continue my career as an actor in cinema. I love to act, and when I started acting at ten years old, I have never stopped. My goal isn't to be a famous movie star, it is simply to continue acting, to work with amazing people, and together create an art that will hopefully impact the audience. I absolutely love working in film, there is something so magical yet realistic about it. It is different from stage acting where there is often a fourth wall, and the acting is bigger than life. Film acting is much more organic and raw. Even the subtlest move can be thought provoking and even the most memorable moment in a film. It is a very true statement when they say that the camera knows when you're lying. Although I have made it seem like being on a film set is glamorous and wonderful, do not get me wrong because it is also the hardest thing I have ever experienced. When you work on a film set for fifteen hours, barely sleeping, doing scenes over and over and over again but keeping the energy just as high as you started with, ending the day at 5am or waking up at 5am, you will understand that being a part of the film industry is extremely challenging but extremely rewarding. I wouldn't have it any other way!