Interview – Ali Liebert
– by Shawn Conner
Vancouver might be a great place for movies about guys with adamantium claws and TV shows about demon hunters, but it hasn’t been that great for comedies.
For that reason, Duncan-raised Ali Liebert, who has worked on Harper’s Island along with other B.C.-shot series, figures she might move to L.A. this summer. An actress who’d rather be “the funny chick” than the hot one, Liebert has been accepted into summer training by the Groundlings improv comedy troupe, a position she’ll take if a Toronto-shot movie prospect falls through.
Liebert does however occasionally get to cut her comedic teeth in Canada. She played the sexy, confident blond foil in Sook-Yin Lee‘s Year of the Carnivore, and a naive yoga teacher in the series Health Nutz. She recently wrapped filming Afghan Luke, directed by Trailer Park Boys director/writer Mike Clattenburg.
We talked to the actress at a West Side Vancouver coffee shop in May, before a long weekend Liebert would spend rehearsing for a role in the monthly live musical series The True Heroines. She had recently returned from Los Angeles, where she’d seen a rough cut of The Discarded Boys. For the self-admitted “control freak”, seeing an early version of a movie she’s in is preferable to the situation she faced at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, when she saw two of her movies, Year of the Carnivore and Blaine Thurier‘s A Gun to the Head, for the first time with a packed house.
Shawn Conner: What is The Discarded Boys about?
Ali Liebert: It’s based on a true story about a charter school in North Carolina called The Hive. Loretta Devine plays the woman who started the school, which is for boys who get kicked out of the regular school system. It’s got a really strong message. I hope a lot of people get to see it. It’s got a strong message of hope, but it’s not cheesy.
SC: I think I read you’re “the only Canadian” in the cast. Are you also the only white person?
AL: Pretty much. Robert [Townsend, director] told me, “They don’t come much whiter than you.” They had a lot of trouble finding someone to play this character, Parker Whitmore. Adam Levine, my U.S. manager, told me “You should come down and meet Robert.” It’s a low-budget indie, there was no money to fly me down, but I knew I wanted a crack at it. Every time I read it [the script] I found it to be really touching. I just wanted to be part of it.
I had my hair up like Amy Winehouse for the audition. The character’s from New York, she’s kind of punky, but Robert was very distracted by my hair. He spent so much time looking at me, trying to see if I was Parker. I Tweeted that I had a very strange and good audition. [Liebert’s actual tweet: “finally had one of those golden acting days…had a bizarre & fantastic callback in LA and then booked a job back home!!! thank you sweet baby Jesus, thank you.”]
A month later, after I’d been signed and I was on set, he said. “I read your tweet.” Well, I never had anyone take my hair apart before! He said it was my spirit, which I put down to my upbringing in Duncan. I’m a very spirited person, and it’s nice when someone notices that.
Sometimes people are scared of my personality. I wouldn’t get out of bed if I worried about what people thought of me.
I’m definitely the one people are going to be laughing at. I’m definitely more comfortable doing comedy. I’d rather be the funny chick than the hot chick.
I just finished playing a stalker in this movie-of-the-week. She’s so high-strung, I felt sorry for her. So it will be nice to do this live show [The True Heroines].
SC: Did you make it through the 30-day yoga challenge that you were doing to prepare for your role as a yoga instructor in Health Nutz?
AL: I tried to. I teach acting too, and I try to practice what I teach. I’m not hardcore method, but if I’m supposed to be teaching someone something, I should know it. Even if it was just one little thing I saw – I’m a random yoga-goer, but now I was watching the teachers a lot more.
I had an audition for a pregnant chick. She smokes and drinks. So I stuffed myself with a pillow and walked around the block smoking, and people just glared at me.
If you always want people to choose you, you’ll burn yourself out trying to please them. So I try to do things I like to do. That was a real break-through for me, realizing that five years after moving to Vancouver.
I still feel that insecurity of wanting to please the director until I ask myself, what can I bring to the story? Although I still go through periods where I’m like, I need a job. What do you want me to do?
I’m a ham, though. If someone will let me be a ham, I’ll do it. I’m a Leo.
SC: What’s your karaoke song?
AL:I usually like to pull up a guy friend and do Aqua’s “Barbie Girl”. I do like to do “Cabaret”, and I do like doing that Lisa Loeb song, what’s it called? [Starts to sing] Oh yeah, “Stay”. My God I love karaoke! I did this production of West Side Story in Edmonton at the Citadel Theatre, and there was a karaoke bar nearby, it was the most karaoke I ever did. I also like, what’s that Bette Midler song, “The Rose”? I like all the broads- Liza, Barbra Streisand…
SC: Shirley MacLaine?
AL: Yeah. She’s a nut-job! I have gay uncles. They’re both hairdressers and they’re so amazing. They introduced me to all those broads, these very strong women. I went to see Liza when she was here, performing at the River Rock. And she was so amazing, there was so much showmanship! When she got tired she just said, “Phew, I’m tired,” and sat down.
I’d gone with my gay boys because no one else would go with me. And after, I was posing next to the sing, having a picture taken, and her dancers came out and posed with me. It was a perfect moment.
SC: Is there anyone like that now, with that potential?
AL: The people I look up to now are Tina Fey, Sarah Silverman, women who get their way in showbiz by being funny.
I feel myself leaning towards a permanent position in the U.S. Because of the comedy. And the sunshine.
SC: Did growing up in Duncan help prepare you for the role of Nikki in Harper’s Island?
AL: All those characters on the island have that sassy toughness, yeah. They gave me the coolest pair of boots to wear and that was that character. I played Nancy in the musical Oliver! in high school, and she was like a real broad – I love that word – the hostess of the party. And there’s a sprinkling of her in Nikki. I loved that character.
SC: Is it still shooting?
AL: No, it ended after one season, but I wouldn’t have been in it again anyway, they killed off nearly all the cast. But they wouldn’t tell us when our character would get killed, so every week when I’d get the script I’d flip through it to see if Nikki lived or died. She lasted eleven episodes. I’d be like “Hah! Nikki lives!” But then I got an 818 call, the L.A. area code, and I knew – it was one of the executive producers calling to let me know she was being killed off. He was like the grim reaper.
Vancouver’s a great place to build your resume, and have all these amazing experiences, both in big-budget mainstream series and indie roles.
I haven’t seen Afghan Luke and the Carl Bessai film Sisters & Brothers yet. I think they’ll both be premiering at TIFF in the fall. My dad is super stoked to see Afghan Luke, he loves Trailer Park Boys.
It also stars Nick Stahl, and Lewis Black makes a cameo. I play a real simple-minded, performing-for-the-troops kind of USO girl. I do my Mick Jagger impression and sing “Going to a Go-Go”.
I haven’t seen it, or Sisters & Brothers, yet. I think they’ll both be premiering at TIFF in the fall. So it’ll be a repeat of 2009, seeing the two films for the first time with a packed audience. But you can’t control everything.