Actor Charlie Carrick is poised for a breakout, and he’s got some pretty powerful people backing him up. Shortly before the debut of his latest project, Molly Maxwell, and it’s debut at TIFF last September, the famed organization deemed Carrick one of their Rising Stars, a designation given to up and coming talents audiences should keep an eye out for. It came just as he had finished up his residency at the Canadian Film Centre, which produced the film where he serves as one of the leads.
While one might think such an ego boost would either cause one to cave under the pressure of heightened expectations or turn them into some kind of vapid starlet, Carrick has weathered it all with the same sort of grace, charm, loveable awkwardness, good nature, and wit that his onscreen counterpart in this film has as virtues. In the film, Carrick plays a youthful looking teacher at an alternative high school where students pretty much have their run of the place. It’s an intriguing parallel to think about when it comes to his time at the CFC, but he also in the film develops an improper kind of romantic bond with the titular teenager (played by Lola Tash), bringing things to a whole different level of drama.
In a downtown boardroom he’s naturally relaxed, but clearly intellectually engaged when it comes to talking about working, and he’s nervous in an endearing way. He’s quite self effacing and honest in his answers, probably because the love he has for the creative process shines through at every turn. He seems taken aback by all the (rightfully deserved) attention, but now a few months removed from TIFF, he seems to look back on it all now and marvel at his good fortune.
Carrick sat down with us to talk about working with first time director Sara St. Onge, the enormity of the project for the CFC, his interactions with co-stars, what the Rising Star designation means in hindsight, and his plans to branch out in the future beyond acting.
Dork Shelf: This is a really big in house production for CFC unlike anything they’ve ever really attempted before, and it’s bringing in all of these different elements of their programs together on one feature length project. You had a residency there for a while, so what was that like transitioning from that to this?
Charlie Carrick: Well, I did about six months there. It was right before we shot the movie, actually. It was a strange thing because what the residency does and is take you out of the industry for that particular amount of time that you’re there. So I had been busy working on stuff there, and while you get to be a bit clearer about your work and where you’re going, you also haven’t been on set for a few months. It just came at a really good time, this one, and it was a really renewing experience, and I felt like I was really ready to go and tackle a good role. It just really lined up in one of those nice ways that life rarely does so that I could attack this kind of project right out of the gate.
DS: And you’re doing it with someone like (director) Sara St. Onge, who is making her first feature length film and finding her way, as well. What was that collaborative process between the two of you like in terms of finding that character for the film?
CC: I don’t know. It’s difficult to explain. I felt good about the character from the very first time I read it. I was in a very early table read for it, and just something about him… Usually you get these things that you have to read for and I spend my time just going “Oh, I’m a terrible actor” or “This sounds terrible” because it doesn’t fit right on you and you’re trying to shove yourself into a hole that you weren’t meant for. Sorry for the mixed metaphor, there. (laughs) But this one was one of those rare ones where it felt right and I knew I had a handle on it right away and I didn’t want to mess that up.
When it came to Sara and I working on it together it was really easy. It was just going out for coffee and just talking about it over and over again. We got inside the little bits and what was going on moment to moment that way. And as you said before, this is Sara’s first feature, and I kept saying that this was so great and easy. I kept asking myself when the point was when that was all going to end. (laughs) And that ease never ended. She had a sure hand all the way through it.
DS: You’re playing something that’s not often seen in films a lot, and that’s a young teacher. Taking the subject matter of the film out of the equation, was there any kind of hesitation or thought that you might be too young to play a teacher?
CC: I don’t know. I remember having young teachers in school, but they seemed so much older. For us watching the film, this guy is 26 and only ten years older than his students. When you’re watching it and you’re a bit older it looks like there’s no difference at all. But when you remember being a kid, it’s different. I remember the 18 year olds in high school seeming so much bigger and more grown up. I didn’t really think of it like that, but I certainly thought that he and I wouldn’t be prepared to teach a class. If I was put in front of a class right now I don’t know what the hell I would do. That’s certainly an element there. He was a little but out of his depth. Especially since he’s at that stage where he’s already been them and he’s coming into this world where he’s ready for anything and he’s learning the first real disappointment that comes with being an adult. I’m not sure if this applies to everyone, but I remember going to school and just always thinking “I gotta get out of this. I’ll be okay once I’m done.” Then the first few years you are out and you can do what you want are amazing. Then the disappointment starts setting in, and the last thing you want to be around at that stage is people who are so sure of themselves and confident and that think they can do anything. Now in a situation like this where they can do whatever they want, they’re on their phones all the time. Constantly. And that must be hard not to take that kind of thing personally when you are a teacher and trying to look out for the well being of them.
DS: When actors have to act sad or angry or do comedy often have to call upon things that have happened to them in their personal lives to aid their performance, but you and Lola have to do something even harder here, which is to say that you have to act really awkwardly around each other for much of the film, and that can’t be a hard thing to do without it feeling somewhat forced. How did you guys work on that dynamic and what does it take to get that feeling just right?
CC: When you think about it some of the scenes that we have to do here are about as awkward of life experience as many people are likely to get. And a lot of that comes from being young and being a teenager. (laughs) So if you go back far enough it’s there already. And to be honest, as with acting and with life, I find it really difficult to have these conversations with people. You know, these really important kinds of conversations where people will just look each other in the eye and have these deep meaningful talks. I’ve personally never really felt that way. So then it becomes difficult when you get a character who has to be so sure of himself and so confident. So for this there was a certain element of relief that you didn’t have to be deliberately oblivious to everything that surrounds you. In fact, you have to really embrace that.
DS: And what makes that more interesting is how you are playing an authority figure who isn’t even close to having any of the answers to any of these big questions himself. Was pretty much everything there on the page to begin with or was it something you guys had to talk through?
CC: It was always scripted and it was all there very well, but Sara was always of the mind that if something didn’t seem to be working or if we didn’t think it felt real to the character we would be able to go back and do it both ways. She was all for collaboration in that respect, but it was really all about finding the rhythms of these characters. I was in most of my scenes with Lola, so when it came time to interact with the other characters it felt weird again. (laughs) The rhythms were just different. I had to get myself to a different way of communicating again, so in a way I think it was good that these two main characters got together and have this language that only they really speak. That’s the only way the audience could really have a way to feel for them and each other and the situation they find themselves in.
DS: Were you and Lola acquainted with each other prior to this?
CC: We had a pretty great rapport, but we didn’t know each other before this. I was cast before she was, so I read with a few different Molly’s, and there was some really great actors who came in to read, but something particularly about our senses of humour really aligned. Then, after that, Sara kind of kept us apart in the lead up to the film, and I think that was important even though we got on so well from the start to establish this relationship.
DS: There’s been enough time that’s passed since you were named one of TIFF’s Rising Stars last year. Was that something that has really stuck with you since then or is there a point where it just becomes a really nice novelty?
CC: (somewhat sarcastically and laughing) It’s the worst thing ever. There’s just this crushing pressure at the time and everyone is just looking at you. But it was a really nice acknowledgement and a really great experience, and I’m eternally grateful for it, but I’ve always been someone that’s been more comfortable talking about ideas than I am talking about myself, so it’s great to get into talking about that and talking about the movie again and sharing those ideas.
DS: You seem like someone who has a great appreciation for the collaborative aspect of making a film. Are there any plans to branch out creatively in the future beyond acting?
CC: Definitely! I would love to direct. I also write a lot of stuff, too, and I have a writing partner that I collaborate with a lot. I’m just trying to figure out right now with the stuff I’m writing if I’m forcing it to be feature length movies – just because that’s what I do now – or if that’s the best format for it. You know that feeling?
DS: Totally. That was kind of how I started writing, by doing screenplays because that was what I knew at first. Then I realized that wasn’t the best way to tell all of these ideas and stories that I had.
CC: Yeah, so at this point I’m not sure if I am just unconsciously writing things for myself or if that’s the best way to do it. But I’m definitely interested in writing and directing. I’m a huge film buff, and there’s definitely not enough of the kind of films that I find myself drawn to out there, and I think that I have something that I could bring towards making those kinds of films.
DS: Do you apply that to the roles that you openly go after? Because you don’t strike me as someone who would necessarily take a project on just for the betterment of your career.
CC: Yeah, and that’s a fine line always, I think. Anyone who is only doing the kind of projects that they want to do are doing that because they have done a lot of work to lead up to that point. I mean, George Clooney is really the perfect example of that, but even he’s there because there were a lot of other steps he took along the way. I think that as long as things aren’t embarrassing and people enjoy them, it’s okay to do things like that, but I think it’s important to always try to balanced a focused and macro approach to these kinds of media.