Interview with Anna Hopkins
A conversation with Anna Hopkins is like a breath of fresh air. I was able to connect with the talented, Montreal born actress, writer, and now director, while she had a rare week off in her busy schedule. As of late, Anna has kept a busy schedule filming hit shows Shadowhunters, and Bad Blood. Her intensive schedule has her living between Los Angeles and Toronto. This afternoon I caught her at home in Toronto, right after walking her dog.
Though she’s been acting her whole adult life, her love for the craft is anything but stale. Maybe that comes from being raised in a family of artists? “Both my parents are artists, my dad is a painter and my mom is a painter and a graphic designer. There is really no one in my family who is not in the arts. If I were to say I wanted to be a lawyer, they would be like, what!?” She says laughing, “It wasn’t a big leap to say I wanted to go into the arts, for sure.”
Anna has a personality that was made for performance; starting dance at an early age, she felt natural in front of an audience. When auditions opened up for a high school play she jumped at the opportunity and that’s where she caught the bug. From there fate seemingly had its way. “It turned out that one of the theatre teachers I had a class with had two kids with agents. She brought the agents to the play and that agent is still my agent today.”
They say good things come to those who wait, but in Anna’s case it’s more like good things come to those who go and get them. After finding her calling as an actress, Anna threw herself head first in film and acting. “In Quebec you have to do a two-year program before university, so I studied film. I was around 17, so I started to audition as well. I was doing both at the same time and studying acting outside of school with a wonderful teacher, who has since passed away.”
Anna’s success thus far is due to her relentless work ethic. While pursuing her career as an actress her parents encouraged her to go to university and get a degree. Keeping her word, she attended Montreal’s Concordia University where she graduated with a major in communications and a minor in cultural studies, all while pursuing acting. “I was still studying so much with the acting teacher outside of school that I could kind of do both. I did my first film during that period, which is Barney’s Version. That was a great project to do, but after that I took my time to finish (school).”
Whereas some people may view Anna’s decision to get her degree in communications as making sure she had something to fall back on, or perhaps stepping away from acting for a while, be assured that was not the case. Anna’s choice to go to school not only informs her performances on screen, but she also gained valuable insight that unlocked more of her creative abilities. If you were to search “Anna Hopkins” on IMDb there would be more titles than just “actress”, and one of those titles would be screenwriter. “Only in the last couple of years have I started to explore (writing) in a more serious way, but I’ve always loved to write since I was a kid.”
So would the best way to describe Anna Hopkins be as an actress that writes or a writer that acts? Or maybe the there is another option? In fact, I would say Anna Hopkins is an artist whose talents cross multiple expressions, with each expression of her unique voice informing the others. “I think there is a lot of cross over in your work as an actor and your work as a writer, if you are writing for screen. There’s a lot of technical development and you get really focused on story. As I started to learn more about acting I realized I could try and apply this.”
You can find Anna in front of the camera starring in hit shows, you can spot her with a pad and pen scripting her next story, and these days, you can also see her behind a camera where all those years of being on screen have come to serve her well. “I just recently directed my first short film and I think if I had done it before I had as much experience as an actor I would not have been as comfortable. Although the stress level behind the camera is high, I was comfortable. The challenges of acting are just so different. You have more time to yourself to do what you need to do. The challenges of acting are that it’s emotionally very difficult. Whereas with directing it was nice to kind of detach emotionally and be collaborative with people and tell a story, instead of trying to think of the saddest thing that has ever happened to you in your life,” Anna says good-naturedly.
Anna is a deep well of knowledge that only a full career in entertainment can bring. Casual sentences are often filled with thoughtful insight, such as this one, for anyone pursuing a career behind the camera. “A big part of being comfortable behind the camera is being comfortable on set and understanding the dynamics, position and how a day works.”
Anna is no stranger to pressure, whether it is behind a camera or in front. She was tasked with the job of bringing characters to life on screen that were written for novels, such as her role as Lilith on Shadowhunters and as Monica on The Expanse. And the fan consensus is that she came through. “They both felt like there was quite a bit of pressure because they are really beloved books for the people that read them, so you always want to make sure your honouring those characters. But at the same time, especially with Shadowhunters, the role itself and the character itself is so cool. So it’s not going to be too hard to please people because of they way it’s written.”
It’s clear to see that she shines in both roles. This opinion was validated with her nomination for a Teen Choice Awards for Choice: TV Villain, for her role as Lilith on Shadowhunters. I asked her if she ever thought she would be so good at being bad. “No, not at all,” she says laughing. “Everybody that knows me thinks this is the funniest thing that has ever happened. I think that you can have more fun and that there is a lot of freedom, so if you love to act you can really spread your wings.”
As an artist who has her hands in all parts of the film making process, Anna looks up to other actress who have made inroads in that direction and have gained recognition as more than an on screen talent. “What inspires me the most is seeing people who act, write and direct. It’s great to see people who are really able to have a full expression of their interest in the arts. Someone like Emma Thompson I really look up to. She’s such an incredible actress and she is also and incredible screenwriter. That’s a beautiful way to live your life, if that’s what interests you.”
Anna’s career hasn’t been without obstacle. And her obstacles are familiar to anyone who has creative endeavours. “My biggest obstacle has been something we all experience. I’m probably my biggest obstacle, sometimes, but it’s when there are periods where you seem to be throwing stuff against the wall and nothing is sticking and you’re not getting work. When you’re thinking, “What am I doing?” I had a year around the end of 2015 when we just finished Defiance, it was a period where I wasn’t working a lot and that’s when I started to take writing more seriously. It’s important to use that time to try something else and keep moving forward.”
Anna offers some sage advice that has led her to where she is today and has molded her into the one-of-a-kind actress she is. “It sounds so cheesy, but follow what’s in your heart and what actually interests you. Someone once said you’re a million times more interesting than the actor you want to be. That could be applied to writing, as well as anything. Try to really listen to what interests you and who you are. If you want to create, make sure that is your guiding star. Don’t try to fit into other boxes, and that’s easier said than done obviously, especially with acting if you don’t necessarily fit into a category. Some other advice would be really, really study as much as you can, and keep moving forward even though you might get slowed down by your internal monologue, which will always be really loud. If it’s only one hour a day, then it’s one hour a day, but keep moving forward. Staying in the race is how you get stuff done.”
Keep moving forward is more than a statement, it’s an adage that has served Anna well. From her early breakout role in Barney’s Version to playing a critically acclaimed bad-ass Villain in Shadowhunters, Anna Hopkins keeps moving forward.
You can catch Anna starring in Shadowhunters, The Expanse, and this season of Bad Blood, premiering soon. Keep an eye out for her short film, which is expected for release soon.