I’ve been familiar with Tammy Gillis’ work for a number of years now and have become even more of a fan after seeing her as Deputy Marissa Staub in Freeform’s TV series, Siren (nominated in 2018 by the Teen Choice Awards for Choice TV Breakout Show). She has over 50 major acting credits including CW‘s Supernatural, E! Network’s The Arrangement, ABC‘s Once Upon A Time, Spike‘s Blue Mountain State and the SYFY series Ghost Wars.
Tammy is an actress who is not only a veteran of the industry, but also someone who embodies the Ms. In The Biz mantra of living a “purpose-filled, passionate life”, so I jumped at the chance to feature her on the site.
Hey Tammy! So excited to talk to you about your career and life in this business. I know you go back and forth between here and LA, where are you currently based?
Thank you so much for the interview. I’ve been keeping up with your Ms. In The Biz site and am honoured to be featured. I’m currently in Vancouver.
Being originally from Manitoba, how did you get started in the industry and when did you make the move to Vancouver?
I got started in the industry when I was in university in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I was scouted for modelling and after booking some commercials, realized that acting was my thing. I started taking acting classes in university and with some independent teachers in Winnipeg and started booking union jobs. I moved to Vancouver over 15 years ago and since then have lived in LA and Toronto and Vancouver, wherever the work takes me!
What was it like when you got the call that you booked Siren? And was it always a multi-season recurring role, or did that evolve over time?
It all happened pretty quickly. When I found out I booked it, I was beyond excited! They had shot the pilot the year before and the trailer for season one was amazing.
My role was originally being cast as a male deputy and they changed their minds at the last minute to be female. I auditioned for it and booked it the next day and a day or two after that was on set! I was initially only booked for a couple of episodes in season one so I am very grateful that Marissa’s story continues!
Are there any types of roles you are really excited about playing that you haven’t had the chance to explore yet?
Absolutely. I love to play different and challenging characters. If it scares me, I probably want to do it. I really love being an actor and being able to explore different characters, figuring out what makes them do the things they do. I would love to play a superhero or villain. I recently got to play a very, very different type of character for me on a stunt heavy show. It was so challenging, but I had an incredible time doing it.
Since relocating back to Vancouver, I’ve heard a lot of Vancouver actors frustrated about the “Canadian ceiling”, meaning that there is only so far that a Canadian actor can get in this industry due to the lack of a true Canadian star system, and also because the majority of lead roles in the US productions shot in Canada are cast with American actors. Do you have any thoughts on this?
This is an interesting question. I do find it frustrating that we don’t have a Canadian star system. We need to support Canadian talent IN Canada more and celebrate them!
I want to believe that the best actor for the job gets the part. However, I do think that being in the room in LA is definitely an advantage. But being in the room with the decision makers at any time is always an advantage. Instead of being frustrated or complaining about the way things are, I work my butt off at being as competitive with my work as possible, so they cast me. Like Steve Martin said “Be so good, they can’t say no.” For example, the role I booked on “Blue Mountain State” had 5000 auditions submitted for it and I booked it because my taping stood out. They were searching all over the world for that part. The casting director from Montreal told me that one of the assistants watched it and was laughing so hard that the other assistants came out of their offices to see what was going on and then they all watched it over and over again. That made my year!
I also think that Canadian actors can be “polite” in their work. The bigger roles that I’ve gotten have come from me taking big risks and not worrying about offending anyone in the room, of course, while still being professional. And more and more, I’m seeing Canadian actors book bigger and bigger roles on the American shows, which is amazing! The casting directors in Canada really do support and push for Canadian talent, which I don’t think a lot of Canadian actors realize.
Longevity in the business is something that a lot of actors struggle with. How have you dealt with the ups and downs of the industry over the course of your career so far?
I’ll be honest, it’s really hard. It’s definitely something I struggle with and I think almost every actor struggles with. The hardest part is that we have no control when that next job will come. I try to keep myself creatively engaged in a variety of areas or I will go into a very dark place. Don’t focus on what you don’t have. Don’t compare yourself to other actors. Create your own projects. Be collaborative. Keep learning. I have also been writing and developing some projects to star in or direct. And incredibly over the past year, I’ve had a number of directors and writers reach out with scripts through social media. People want to make things. At the end of the day, I know I will work again as long as I continue to push myself and do the work. If you want to continue to have a career, you have to continue to work hard at it. What’s that saying, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”. Clearly I love motivational quotes :))
What are the things that you do to make sure that you are living a full life outside of the business?
Someone asked me recently what my hobbies are, and I was a bit at a loss for words. I really love what I do and so I spend a lot of time doing that. If I’m not acting, I’m learning about voiceovers, or editing programs, or camera stuff for directing, or educating myself about the business. I work on my mindset. I like to workout. I love music. I take at least one vacation a year. I try to keep weekly business hours – Monday to Friday 7am to 6pm. Do not put your life on hold. Things will always find a way to work themselves out. Spend time with your family and friends. Drink wine. You only have one life so make sure you are happy!
Now rapid fire!
I love Jazz. Diana Krall is one of my favorite artists.
If you could only watch one movie for the rest of eternity what movie would it be?
If acting wasn’t a profession that existed, what job would you love to do?
Undercover spy – there’s action, mystery, excitement. You get to travel the world!
And…any last-minute words of advice for someone thinking about pursuing an acting career, or for an actor who is hitting a rough patch and unsure of whether they should keep going?
Believe in yourself. It’s going to take a while. Don’t be in a rush. It’s going to take hard work, so do the work, it will pay off later. Enjoy the journey. Enjoy the learning of it all. Be brave enough to fail but learn from those failures. Do it because you love it. Don’t measure your success against others or other’s definition of success. “Don’t let the highs get to your head and the lows get to your heart.”
Be you, your brilliant talented unapologetic self!
Tammy can currently be seen on Freeform’s hit series Siren, the August 4th, 2019 premiere of Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Aurora Teagarden Mysteries: A Game of Cat and Mouse and the feature film Torn which will be seen in theatres later this year. She is currently working on a soon to be announced project she can’t wait to share with you all!
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