An Intimate Dialogue with the Inimitable Miranda MacDougall
It's a typical overcast Wednesday afternoon in downtown Vancouver and the studio is being set up in preparation for the forthcoming shoot with Miranda MacDougall. The steamer bubbles away quietly while we the talks amongst themselves.
As if the room was injected with a powerful dose of caffeine, Miranda walks in carrying an infectious bundle of energy. Instantly she has the whole studio in stitches of laughter, hanging off her every word.
Miranda's journey into the acting world began in Windsor, Ontario. Growing up in a large family she was dubbed the “performer”. She started with highland dancing and made her foray into theatre shortly after. “The very first thing I did performance-wise was highland dancing. I danced for eighteen years because my family is Scottish and I am a very nostalgic person. I was pining for the Scotland that I'd never experienced, so I channeled my nostalgia through highland dancing,” she shares.
Her first audition was for a theatre production of The Sound Of Music. Even at five years old, Miranda had meticulously planned out her audition process. “For the very first play I ever did, I auditioned with Castle On a Cloud from Les Miserables. My nana's best friend from church played the song on piano and recorded it for me on a tape cassette. I would sit in my room with my little Fisher Price tape player and sing that song over and over again,” she recalls.
Destined for the stage, Miranda went to a performing arts high school where classes began at seven in the morning. After graduating she applied for university. “Originally I got into NYU Tisch School of the Arts, but it cost something like sixty-thousand dollars a year. So I ended up at the University of Windsor and studying in my hometown – something I never expected would happen,” she shares.
MacDougall never had any doubts about pursuing acting as a career. “Because acting was associated with school and I loved academia, I saw an early marriage of the two things: school and performing arts. It never seemed like an irresponsible thing to get into. I'm so grateful that I was so supported. I never really felt like I was taking a massive risk.” Miranda explains.
Despite not going to New York to study, Miranda still got to experience the thespian world from Ontario. “New York came to me in a different way. The Siti Company, the international theatre institute, had a huge influence on me as an actor. My experience with them really empowered me to tell my own stories and take acting seriously. Every year, theatre artists would come to Windsor from New York and we would spend a month training really hard using the Suzuki Acting Method. The rest of the time was spent in small groups creating theatre based on Greek tragedies, Shakespeare or Chekhov,” she recalls.
From Windsor to Vancouver
Making the move to Vancouver was something MacDougall had always wanted to try. It was the push she had been looking for. “I already had an agent in Vancouver, and I'd always wanted to try living in the city,” she shares.
As with any big move, things didn't always go to plan. But Miranda took everything in stride, spinning hay into gold. “As a young artist, it’s going to be slow going when you first move somewhere. I didn't really let that get to me. I was working on a one woman show called Glass Jaw at the time, and decided to produce it. I performed it at Eastside boxing club,” Miranda explained.
Creating her own story is just one of the many ways Miranda has made the industry work for her. After performing Glass Jaw and in between countless auditions, she also acted and co-produced the musical, City of Angels.
As a multi-talented creative, Miranda’s heroes are not the kind you see on screen. Rather, they are the ones working diligently and passionately behind the scenes. “I kind of want to be someone who can do it all: direct, write and act. There are parts of me that I definitely feel more comfortable with, and parts that I still want to grow. I have such respect and admiration for many women in this city who are doing everything so well. They put the time in, and take on more things as they are ready,” she explains.
A passion for diversity and inclusion
Before it was even considered a movement, Miranda was a champion of women and diversity in film. Her insight and stance on the matter is one that should be admired and carried out by all. “There's no excuse for the film industry not to be a comfortable environment for women. With the #MeToo and Time's Up movement, I feel like the conversation is totally ablaze right now. I know a lot of amazing up-and-coming female filmmakers working to have other women’s voices heard, and equal representation across the board,” she shares passionately. One of Miranda’s goals as an actor is to speak out for underrepresented groups. “With influence comes responsibility. I want to give light to issues that need a voice in public and keep moving the conversation forward,” she explains.
Miranda thinks outside the box and is tearing down barriers along with many of her ilk in the film industry. “Equality in the film industry needs to be reflected in both pay and representation. I love how Frances McDormand shed light on the ‘inclusion rider’ concept during her Oscar's acceptance speech. She mic-dropped it in a way that forced people to pay attention,” says Miranda. An inclusion rider is a diversity clause that actors can request in their contract requiring a diverse cast and crew.
On accents and auditions
If you're not a theatre buff, then you might be more familiar with Miranda's work on CW’s, The Flash. Her debut on the series as fiddle-playing, Izzy Bowin had many people – including her co-stars – fooled into thinking she was really from the South. “Many people were asking, Where are you staying, is it your first time in Canada? They assumed I wasn't local,” she laughs.
Her love of learning accents stemmed from a classic. “I was obsessed with The Sound Of Music. I think because Maria had a slight accent, it's the only reason I learned to sing. I would just listen to her voice and try to imitate her,” she recalls. Miranda also is one of the rare people that can do an Australian accent without sounding like Crocodile Dundee, or offending every Australian in her immediate radius (I should know, I'm Australian).
Auditioning for The Flash leveraged her love of singing. “I sang Traveller, by Chris Stapleton. The material spoke to me right away because it chronicles this monologue about training hard night after night, and still having to work a stupid bar job. I felt like that was my life, so it was very easy to harness the emotion from the song,” Miranda explains.
Lessons on acting
Her approach to acting is a beautiful mix of technical and emotional aspects. Her spirit in talking about the process shows just how much passion she has in bringing out the best in every character. “Usually I really like the roles that are further away from my reality, because I find I have a really broad imagination. I find it easier sometimes to imagine, rather than going into my own life experiences,” she shares.
Miranda wasn't always as impassioned about the technical side of acting. “I don't know if I was the best acting student. In my earlier years, I was a little more flippant. I didn’t see the value in writing down my objective, and thought that I could get away with not reading my script,” she recalls. “I had so much energy and a lot of natural intuition that I could trust. But that only works for a short amount of time."
Learning to trust her instructors, she began to absorb their advice and make it work for her. “I eventually realized that embracing technique does not mean you’re robotic. Because you have something to rely on if the emotion isn't there. You always have to deliver because ultimately it's your job. If your job is to get to a certain place, you can't just rely on emotion to get you through if you’re not ‘feeling it' that day. As an actor, you will have days when you’re in a super giggly mood but you're supposed to be mourning the loss of your grandmother. So, there are certain things you do need to do to get through that,” she explains.
Her advice for green actors is some of the most forthcoming and truthful advice that's needed. “Don't doubt yourself, put in the work. Work hard. Find a teacher, a coach, a community of people that you can talk to about art and acting with. Read lots of plays. Read books about acting. Read Stella Adler or Meisner,” she urges.
She also encourages young actors to create their own content. “Make your own work. Don't wait for the phone to ring. Instead, if you have an idea for a story, do it. Chances are there are ten other people who are dying to collaborate on something whose skill sets align like a magic puzzle with yours. Then the next thing you know, you've been nominated for the best indie short at the Leo awards,” she quips.
Though Miranda seems absolutely fearless in her approach, there are times she's had hesitations. “There are definitely still days when I feel like I can’t. Or I don't feel like my story is good enough. I'm such a perfectionist that I've had to learn there will never be a perfect time to show your work,” she muses.
MacDougall loves to dig deep for her roles, fascinated by even the smallest details in a character's life. She truly believes every person has a story worth telling and showing on screen. “I love the digging work that's involved in acting. I think every single person has a story worthy of a feature film. I'm excited to tell those stories."
It's these unacknowledged stories that spark particular interest in Miranda. “I love playing real people, and especially real women. People I can look at and say, I know you. I know what you look like because I've seen you on a daily basis. Unsung heroes, doing things that are sometimes really unglamorous,” she says.
Although it seems that she lives, breathes and eats the acting life, Miranda informs me that the most important part of acting is having a life outside of it. “Find lots of things outside of acting that make you happy. Acting can't be every single thing that feeds your soul. I love getting out in nature and hiking for ten days and getting off the grid. Those are the things where I feel the most alive in a different way.”
Catch Miranda MacDougall in season 4 of CW’s, The Flash.