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Gabrielle Miller

Gabrielle Miller plays a frustrated yet ultimately devoted sister to Ben Ratner in “Sisters&Brothers.”

Interview – Sisters&Brothers’ Gabrielle Miller

– by Rachel Fox

Sisters&Brothers, the third of director Carl Bessai‘s trilogy of domestic dramas, features Gabrielle Miller as Louise. She finds herself having to deal with her brother Jerry (Ben Ratner), who is in the middle of a serious mental breakdown.

The role plays against type for Miller, who is probably best known to Canadian TV audiences for her role as Lacey on the comedy Corner Gas. But that’s her job. says the actress, who at the end of this month will perform off-Broadway in Frank Strausser‘s sexy comedy Psycho Therapy.

We chatted with Miller, on the phone from the kitchen of her Toronto home a couple of weeks before Sisters&Brothers‘ March 23 opening, about her new movie, corsets, and what’s up with Vancouver.

Ratner and Miller get physical.

Rachel Fox: You play the sister, a caretaker really to a man  in the middle of a schizophrenic breakdown. Do you have experience with this in your own life?

Gabrielle Miller: Yes, I’ve had relationships and experiences in my life with people that are close to me who struggle with mental health issues and addition, although not a lot of experience with schizophrenia. I did a little bit of research and interviewed someone who has experience and drew from my own as well.

Really, it’s about the relationship, and the type of relationship that they have with each other. That’s where I was coming from. It was really such an incredible experience because Ben is amazing. He’s really gifted and he is such a wonderful actor to work with and work off of. An opportunity to work with Ben and Jay [Brazeau] and Carl…? I was delighted.

RF: I really enjoyed the physical nature of the relationship you had with your on-screen sibling. In a lot familial relationships you often don’t have the sorts of boundaries that you would with other people in your life.

GM: That came about really organically, like all of it, because of the nature of the work that Carl does and because it’s improvised. You create those relationships and the character and the storyline beforehand, and then you get on-set and just go with it.

It was very frustrating [for the character] because she was trying to get clarity and understanding from him about what was going on in his life so she could help figure out the best way to assist him. It was really difficult to get a straight answer. I think that that’s just another level of communicating and self-expression, physicality, which sometimes I think is easier.

The scene where Ben and I get back from the police station and play basketball was one of my favourites. There wasn’t a lot of talk in that scene but it really established, for me, their relationship and the depth of care that they have for each other. It’s a very complicated relationship.

Movie clip – Sisters&Brothers

RF: Even still – when their story ends, you’re left with a sense of optimism. I think that’s the crux of the film.

GM: Yeah, I think that was them. They have each other. And no matter what was going on, or how difficult their relationship was, that was their person in the world. That was the bottom line; that depth of love for somebody.

That’s really Carl, too. I really love the incredible way he has of expressing those kinds of relationships. It is optimistic – all his films are. Family relationships really affect you in a huge way, more than any other relationship in your life sometimes, and he has a way of really connecting with that and telling stories everybody watching with can connect with, too. Everybody knows what it’s like.

Gabrielle Miller loving on her son, Mthobisi. Photo courtesy of Gabrielle Miller. Mike Tabolsky photo.

RF: You’re a Vancouverite, correct?

GM: Yes.

RF: In the past little bit we’ve either seen or are anticipating the demise of The Vancouver Playhouse, Book Warehouse, The Ridge Theatre, The Empire Oakridge Cinemas and The Hollywood Theatre. What is going on here?

GM: What. The. F**k? I’d like to know! It’s incredibly disheartening and so frustrating. Our city is full of artists, it’s such a thriving, creative place. So what is it? I don’t know. Why… is this happening? Do you know? Are we not getting the audiences that we need?

RF: Here’s my take – Vancouver is an expensive city to live. Just going out for a single glass of wine can turn into a $15 affair. One thing about New York City is that at 2 a.m. if you want to go out and have a $5, greasy-spoon diner cheeseburger made by some hairy-armed guy named Nick the Greek – you can. In Vancouver, it’s a $30, organic, heritage-bred bison burger on a gluten-free bun. So spending money on a ticket to a play can get pushed to the back burner, because everything else involved in maintaining a normal social life is so expensive.

GM: One thing I have to say that is frustrating sometimes, is that in Vancouver there is so much going on creatively and artistically and sometimes it feel like it’s not as supported as it should be. And I don’t know if that comes from audience interest or [ineffective] promotion, making people aware that it’s out there. But it shouldn’t look like this.

It’s very, very upsetting about The Playhouse. I know about the chalk, about the playwright writing her play [in protest, Lucia Frangione reproduced her play Diamond Willow on the sidewalk from The Playhouse to the steps of City Hall] – there’s been a lot going on. Do you know what’s going on?

Miller on the red carpet at this month’s Genie Awards in Toronto.

RF: I don’t think there’s really been a change, though people are clamoring. Did you see yesterday’s article in The Globe and Mail? It spoke to a lot of what you just said. I have no idea what’s going on here anymore; lately it just seems like the city’s focused on creating a thriving sports bar scene.

GM: It’s depressing! Because you know what, you can live in a beautiful city and have a ton of pubs you can go to go and have beer and fries at or whatever, but what do you want? Do you want to have a cultural wasteland? It won’t be good. It will not feel alive.

Culture and art is what speaks to the world about who you are, as a city and as a people. If you strip it, if you take that away – it’s bland. There’s nothing there.

RF: Theatres generally don’t open as much as they close.

GM: Already, it’s not like a city where there is a ton of theatres to begin with. We have these beautiful, incredible theatres and now one of the major players is being taken away. It is very, very upsetting and I think that it’s really not good, at all, for our city.

Vancouver really is my home. It is where the majority of my friends are and where I grew up and I love it and miss it. It really makes me bummed to hear about what’s going on.

Fun in the snow. Photo courtesy of Gabrielle Miller.

RF: You were a key player on one of the most successful Canadian television franchises ever, Corner Gas. You always hear about actors who have experienced that sort of success talking about typecasting or being pigeonholed, perhaps. Have you felt that?

GM: If I get that, it’s more with the public, which is lovely. People feel connected to you – you are there with them, in their home. That’s actually a positive thing. It’s nice to be a part of something that people enjoyed, had laughs over and shared time with their family. That’s a special thing that I have tons of respect for and I’m grateful for it.

As far as work: because I was an actor for a long time before I started Corner Gas, I had relationships with people before that knew me and had hired me on other jobs. I’m an actor. I feel supported. People know I’m an actor, and I haven’t really felt that it’s affected me too much.

Although, you know, it’s interesting… I may be working with someone who hasn’t worked with me before who may not be familiar with me and they’ll say, “Oh, this is a step outside of Lacey [Corner Gas character], is that weird for you?” And it isn’t; that’s what actors do. You play one character and you finish playing that character and then you move on to the next. That’s what your job is. I don’t feel like it’s affected me very much. It wasn’t a struggle for me, and if it was a struggle outside of myself it wasn’t something that I was necessarily very aware of. If it was going on, I’m glad I didn’t know about it! [Laughs]

Getting snapped at TIFF Bell Lightbox. Rachel Fox photo.

RF:Do you watch Downton Abbey?

GM: No, I haven’t but I’ve heard people are crazy about it!

RF:As am I. If there’s a Gibson Girl, a corset, and an English accent involved, I am there. You should be doing costume dramas.

GM: Oh my God! I want to so badly, Rachel, I can’t tell you. I would love that.

RF:This is really superficial but you have great hair. You could pull off a Gibson Girl. And you have a – how shall I put this? – a beautiful, untouched look about you.

GM: Aw, man, that makes me feel so good. That is something I would really love to do, and have wanted to do, forever. From your mouth! [Laughs]

Isn’t life an adventure? It’s so crazy; you never know what is going to be happening and what you’re going to experience. That is something that I love so much about the work that we do – all the new adventures.

Sisters&Brothers opens in Vancouver, Victoria, and Toronto on Friday, March 23.

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