(Photo credit: Evgeny Drobyshev)
Canadian actor Ellen Dubin and I met in 2010. While sipping over-priced-but-delicious organic coffee (me) and tea (her) at Urth Café in Santa Monica we talked about her latest role as Dora in the CBS made-for-TV movie, "When Love Is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story," about the co-founder of Al-Anon. Ellen’s co-stars were Winona Ryder and Barry Pepper. At the time I was only familiar with Ellen's hilarious turn as the Tupperware-loving mom of Napoleon's potential prom date in "Napoleon Dynamite". I'd soon learn how diverse and amazing an actor she is.
When we met, I’d been living in Southern California for six years and it was always a thrill to meet another Canadian. In addition to discussing acting, we swapped the beauty of Canadiana and Canadian-isms and discussed hyperbolic plastic surgery of SoCal. She described breast implants that were placed so high they resembled goitres. It went on like that. We sat on the outdoor patio a couple of blocks from the Pacific Ocean with the sun relentlessly beating down on us. I stared at the other too-cool-for-school Los Angelenos. Some discussed scripts. My stomach ached from laughing. I was not cool.
Ellen was – and remains – quick-witted, charming, and warm.This month, she graciously agreed to update me about her life in Tinseltown.
Her schedule has been jam-packed. In the upcoming “Sicilian Vampire”, Ellen plays Armand Assante’s mistress. “The film doesn’t only focus on vampires but is about loyalty and trust among people,” she says. The film also stars James Caan, Darryl Hannah, and Paul Sorvino.
This is her fifth project with Frank D’Angelo and his crew. “It is like being in a theater repertory company,” she says. “Love his energy, his loyalty and his fly by the seat of your pants on set methods. He hires the best people and magic takes place.”
Ellen also recently shot two indie science fiction pilots, "Starfall" as well as “Nobility” with Walter Koenig, the actor from the original “Star Trek”.
(Ellen as Colonel Theia with actor Walter Koenig from "Nobility")
In a recent interview Matt Weiner said it took 7 years for "Mad Men" to be made. He was often disheartened. What is your Hollywood experience like?
I think most of us go through this disheartened phase. It is inspiring to see that someone as successful and accomplished as Matt Weiner has gone through this and created such an impactful series. It gives all of us hope.
Most successful people, hell, most people, go through an up and down journey in their lives. It is certainly rare for it to happen over night. We usually all pay our dues and we can have success with one project and then not with another. It is a constant battle.
Hollywood is a special place. It is a tempting, wonderful world for actors full of lots of potential but it also delivers some punches and major rejections.
But that is the nature of the acting world. You spend more time being told NO then working. It is part-and-parcel of what this business is about and because Hollywood is the centre of the entertainment world, you feel it more because so much more is at stake. Is this the one that will catapult my career? Will this job give me more security?
I would say that I have had my share of ups and downs in Hollywood. But I have learned a tremendous amount about the business part of show, which is vital. I learned that it is very rarely about your talent. All you have control over is to prepare for the role, go into the room and do your best. Dive in and leave. There are so many factors out of our control in booking jobs. This has been a valuable learning experience for me and I am still learning and growing from it. I feel there is a lot still to tap into as my work gets deeper and more layered. So I continue to try and push myself. But it is definitely not an easy process for me. I am always striving to do better. As an actor, there is no such thing is perfect. And I have to learn to let that go and realize I am enough.
You've worked non-stop in film, theatre, voice over and online. How do you characterize your overall journey?
My journey has not been easy. I have always been a late developer in everything I do; the working actor who has taken longer then most. I have never quite fit into a slot that is easy to cast, so that can take longer when people don’t know what to do with you.
Remember we are a product and if they can’t tell whether you are an apple or an orange right away, then you won’t be working as much. I am more of a chameleon type of actor – I can change with a role, which is wonderful for audiences to enjoy and a great challenge to myself but not always the best for getting jobs especially in an industry that sometimes wants quick and easy solutions. The journey for me is constant. I believe that if you aren’t always striving for more in your life, then it isn’t worth it. It’s the journey of life not just about me being an actor. A sense of humor is vital in this world!
What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken in your career? What happened?
The move to L.A., leaving my home, my loved ones, and starting a new life is certainly one huge risk. But I would say in my work, I love to dive in emotionally and go for broke. I don’t like playing it safe. I always like to keep myself on my toes and do things I am frightened of. It’s good to go for broke. Have nothing to lose.
When you feel down what words lift your spirits?
“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” —Confucius
“All you need is love, love is all you need” —The Beatles.
“Try to be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.” — Maya Angelou
Music also helps pull me out of the doldrums. I will put on some of my favorite pieces of music and it will immediately help me feel better. I will listen to it, sing with it or dance in my room. Music transcends words and soothes my soul! And a great piece of chocolate! OK, two big pieces! Yummy!
(As Lt. Shingh-Ah in "Starfall")
Who has influenced you most in you life?
My family has instilled me with a great sense of purpose and work ethic, and to put a billion percent into my work and into everything I do in life. They helped keep that fire in my belly. They have always worked so hard to be who they are and to raise me and support me with a strong commitment to work and to help others. I love what I do but I wouldn’t throw anyone under a bus for achieving the next step. They taught me to appreciate everyone and everything. To this day, I always acknowledge the people who have helped me.
What is your greatest struggle right now?
The struggle of looking after a sick, aging parent is my biggest challenge in life right now and my primary focus. I want to give back to my parents what they did for me as a child. I am struggling watching a parent aging and being more vulnerable. It is devastating! There really is a life cycle once you experience this. Sadly, the child now becomes the parent. I am mustering all my strength and then some to deal with this. It’s not fun growing up sometimes!
Is there someone you want me to interview? Do you want to share your story? Drop me a line here.... And please share your favourite quotes from phenomenal women on the dedicated Conversations With Awesome Women Facebook page.
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