TIFF 2021: Q&A With Actress Kristen MacCulloch From ‘Scarborough’

Kat Harlton

Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson’s debut narrative Scarborough follows three kids in a low-income neighbourhood who find friendship and community in an unlikely place, in this adaptation of Catherine Hernandez’s award-winning book.

Scarborough is an unflinching portrait of three low-income families struggling to endure within a system that’s set them up for failure. It shows the love and perseverance communities can foster, lifting up families to overcome the obstacles placed in their way.

Scarborough is an Official Selection and also part of the RBC Emerging Artist series.

We had the opportunity to chat with actress Kristen MacCulloch about her role as Laura’s mother Jessica, her research process, what she hopes the audience connects with, and what’s next.

Kat: You play Jessica in Scarborough, an unmoored woman dealing with addiction issues and a cycle of neglect, who is unfit to adequately care for her daughter. What kind of research did you do for this role? 

Kristen: I cast a pretty broad net in terms of looking for inspiration. There’s an incredible and heartbreaking documentary called ‘Black Tar Heroin: The Dark End of the Street’ about heroin addicts and the lives they’re living and mostly not surviving. I dug up stuff about drug policies and infrastructure in different countries. Overwhelmingly the answer to helping addicts reintegrate into society is community support and initiatives to encourage hiring and caring for people in recovery- Portugal is really doing it right. I did some research into symptoms of neglectful and abusive parenting. Looking into things for doctors to watch out for, the effects of and also what was missing for both Jessica and Laura. And I have some experience with people with all of these afflictions in my own life. 

Kat: What would you say was the most challenging aspect of your role? 

Kristen: I think there’s a fine line between an honest portrayal of a real person and a caricature of someone who’s easy to hate. I didn’t want Jessica to be one dimensional, I wanted her humanity to come through. She’s a lonely victim of society’s failures as much as anyone in the film. 

Kat: What was your favourite scene to shoot, and why?  

Kristen: There were some unscripted bits that we shot in the kitchen one day. It was Jessica having a bad time at home and kind of going crazy. I’m not sure if it’ll be in the film but it felt really free, that was my favourite stuff to shoot. 

Kat: What do you hope the audience takes from the film? 

Kristen: I hope they feel like going out into their communities and connecting. I hope they feel inspired to support low-income housing initiatives and after school programmes and to donate food to community fridges. Close to my heart is the issue of clean injection sites so hopefully caring for people with addiction issues is positively impacted as well. If anyone at all is inspired to step up and help the people struggling in any community, wherever it is, then Scarborough has done its job. 

Kat: Do you have any role models or mentors that you look to for inspiration? 

Kristen: Definitely, many of them. The first person who comes to mind is Brian Cranston. If I’m ever feeling uninspired I can watch an episode of Breaking Bad and all my creative energy wakes right up. For this particular role my experience at film school on east Hastings street in Vancouver exposed me to a lot of the drug use on Vancouver’s lower east side. The community of people living there, soaked in addiction and living loud, exposed lives is something that I definitely drew Jessica’s life and backstory from. 

Kat: Do you have any advice for women who are looking to act or work in the entertainment industry? 

Kristen: Always take care of yourself, it’s tough out here and starting out you’re a core team of one. Leave anything that doesn’t feel right, and quickly. A wise actor friend once told me ‘For every project you’ve got to have at least two of three: good people, good money, good script. Two of those or you don’t do it.’ That’s rule has always done me well. 

Kat: What are you looking forward to for the rest of 2021? 

Kristen: At the moment I have another film called ‘Motherly’ that’s just beginning it’s festival run. It’s an isolation thriller and I play a grieving woman bent on revenge. I’m excited to see both of these very different films find their audiences and planning to attend as many fests as I can, virtually and in person. I’m a genre film fanatic and there are a bunch of crazy looking films doing the rounds that I’m psyched to see. Definitely lots to look forward to!

For screening times and more information visit: https://tiff.net/events/scarborough

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