TIFF 2021: Q&A With Actress Suzanne Cyr From “Night Raiders”

Kat Harlton

Danis Goulet’s thriller set in the near future, Night Raiders digs deep into Canada’s painful past to craft a compelling, propulsive piece of genre cinema.

After a destructive war across North America, a military occupation seizes control of society. One of their core tactics: taking children from their families and putting them into State Academies, or forced-education camps. Niska (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) is a Cree mother desperate to protect her daughter Waseese (Brooklyn Letexier-Hart). But events force mother and daughter to separate, leading Niska to join a group of Cree vigilantes to get her daughter back.

Night Raiders is an Official Selection and part of the Gala Presentations series.

I had the opportunity to chat with actress Suzanne Cyr about her role as The Headmaster of Davin Academy, her research process, what she hopes the audience connects with, and what’s next.

Kat: You portray The Headmaster who runs the Davin Academy, what kind of research did you do for this role?

Suzanne: The role of Headmaster required that I understand how this kind of person who is cruel and cold and shut down from any empathy toward children would think…they consider themselves superior and children/others inferior. The children wouldn’t be people to them, just objects to be controlled and powered over. Everything to this kind of person is about power and control. Once I knew and understood that I had the basis for the character and what motivates them and how they behave. 

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

Suzanne: The most challenging aspect didn’t have to do with the playing of the character, it had to do with the location where I shot. All of my scenes were shot in the former St. Thomas psychiatric hospital that closed in 2013. I’d had occasion to visit this hospital when I was a teenager as my father suffered from severe mental illness and was a patient there. When I found out where I was going to be shooting, I wasn’t sure how I’d react on the day, the week prior I kept telling my brothers, “I’ll be ok, I’ll be ok.” On the first day of shooting, when the driver was driving me up the very long driveway to the hospital, I just had an overwhelming feeling that I was going to cry and that there was no way I could stop myself. I was set to film the opening scene that morning and I was supposed to establish myself as a power figure with the children, cold and in control, crying and feeling vulnerable was definitely not the state I could be in to film this scene. I went to one of the producers, Tara and told her what was going on with me. She brought me right away to Danis, the writer/director and after hearing my story she said immediately, “Do you want the elder to smudge you?” and told Tara to bring me to the elder to smudge me, which he did. Having the space to be able to tell them what was happening to me and why and then having Danis be so accepting and inclusive right away and doing the smudging ceremony with the elder removed all the feelings from the past and put me right there in the present with them as part of the group and ready to play my part. 

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

Suzanne: My favorite scene to shoot unfortunately ended up on the cutting room floor. For that scene, I worked with a stunt coordinator and stunt woman and I had a fight with Elle-Maija Tailfeathers who plays Niska, the mom in the film. 

Suzanne Cyr

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

Suzanne: I think that people will find this film incredibly moving. Just hearing Cree spoken in the film touched a very deep emotional cord in me and brought me to tears. I hope that people’s awareness will be raised and they’ll feel moved to take action, Danis posted on her Instagram page things that each person can do to help the healing for Indigenous people. I hope that the film will bring focus back onto all of the issues facing Indigenous communities and in particular the uncovering of the children’s graves who were victims of the residential schools in Canada. 

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

Suzanne: I worked with a much loved and very experienced coach privately for the last two years, Lewis Beaumander. He had a great impact on my work and me as a person. What I took away from Lewis is that I am enough. 

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

Suzanne: Yes, number one, study. Whether you go to an acting school or take classes, study the art and craft of acting. Seek out great teachers and connect with like-minded people. Don’t give up, develop yourself as a person, stay healthy and active, create a full life for yourself with friends and activities that you love. Get in nature, observe people, observe yourself, bring everything you learn from life and what happens to you back to your work as an actor. Go deep in life and in yourself. Develop wisdom and grace. 

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

Suzanne: More time with my senior 14 year old sheepdog, Billie. Lots of auditions, time with my friends and family and surprises that I know the Universe has in store for me, they’re always better than anything I could imagine.

For screening times and more information visit: https://tiff.net/events/night-raiders

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