- Created on Wednesday, 22 January 2014 14:29
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By MICHAEL SORGE
It’s a word that shouldn’t be surprising coming from any young, successful actor asked to describe their entire career in just one word.
“So much of this business is luck – the right place, the right time. … It takes a lot of work [in order] to be lucky.”
Alex Paxton-Beesley, a relatively new actor in her mid-20s from Toronto, visited the college on last Friday to hold a television-show screening and a two-hour Q-and-A session with students from the Acting for Film and Television program.
Martin Doyle, the program co-ordinator, says, “Alex is certainly very successful in the business for someone her age. Her luck is based on her personal work ethic, to be sure.”
First, an episode of the period-drama series Copper was played, a show she considers her favourite project to date.
Copper takes place during the American Civil War, and includes Paxton-Beesley playing as Ellen Corcoran, the mentally unstable wife of the show’s main protagonist, an Irish immigrant police detective named Kevin.
“Copper was an absolute joy to work on,” she says. “Clark Johnson [who directed at least three episodes] was phenomenal.”
In the beginning, long before her role in Copper, Paxton-Beesley says she “tried really hard not to be an actor,” but ended up performing in a play and loving it – the beginning steps of her career in theatre, film and television.
“I’m lucky. My parents are artists, so they were very supportive.”
Reflecting on the beginning of her career, she says, “[Acting seemed to be a] really hard job [but] something that I loved. [It contributed] to my confidence.
Paxton-Beesley graduated from George Brown Theatre School in 2008, a drama school and department of Toronto’s George Brown College. To her, it seemed like the “most interesting” school, with a “great reputation.”
She says, “Acting school provides you with a foundation. [It] taught me to ask questions.”
Before she became better at acting, she says she was “probably scared, and scared [about] doing the right thing. … That was something that I really struggled with at school. I’m a bit of a control freak. I like getting things right.
“When I started to realize that questions are more important than answers, it made a really big difference.”
In her final year of theatre school, Paxton-Beesley worked with a director named Jason Byrne on Toronto’s production of the play Festen, a stage adaptation of a Danish film of the same name.
She says Byrne’s methods of allowing actors to remember their lines was unique and very helpful, and urged a more-creative flow of expression.
“His method of working is astounding. … Sometimes, [directors] don’t say anything, and that is terrifying.”
Soon after graduating, Paxton-Beesley got an agent, started auditioning and getting film interviews.
“My agent [Alicia Jeffrey] is amazing,” she says. “She made it very clear from the very beginning [that] I should and could talk with her about everything.
“You want to have an agent that you’re not afraid to call. … They work for you and with you; you work with them and for them.”
Paxton-Beesley says the transition into film and television was tough and “very strange” at first because of having no technical film or television training.
“I had a mentor [Dixie Seatle],” she says. “I needed an outside eye [and] she was a supportive guide, someone that really boosted my confidence.”
From 2010-11, she went to the CFC Actors Conservatory at Toronto’s Canadian Film Centre.
“It was a professional development program. … It’s like an incubator of Canadian film.
“[While there] I could stop worrying about all the [various technical stuff] and focus on my craft. … They’re phenomenal. I can’t say enough good things about them.
“I think that being in an incubator where the only thing you have to focus on is your craft is the most glorious, beautiful gift. … To be surrounded by people with the same focus as you is [also a fantastic] gift.”
While starting to find her own method of audition preparation, she says she began by “literally writing pages and pages of questions. Sometimes I can answer them, and sometimes I can’t, but I think the process of allowing my mind to consider all the possibilities makes it more real for me. It gets my imagination going.
“I’m a very intuitive [and curious] actor. I like to feel things out. … I have the ability to draw from within myself and my history of education.
“That’s what I love about this gig: figuring stuff out.”
Paxton-Beesley says one important thing she learned was that it’s tough doing a scene by yourself.
“Paying as much attention to the other [actor(s) you’re performing with] helps because, for me, if I’m nervous, [you know] the other person’s a professional. They’re the only one [on the set] doing the same thing that you are.”
When discussing the positives about playing recurring characters versus non-recurring characters, she says it’s “so much better. … The fun thing about being a recurring character is that you don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know where they’re going [with the show].
“It’s a lot more responsibility [but it’s] so much more fun. Well, most of the time.”
Paxton-Beesley says her role as Sarah Holt from The Firm, a Canadian-American television series from 2012, was her favourite role.
“Ellen Corcoran [from Copper] was fun and tough, but Sarah was super intense. She was the first recurring character I [played] to really sink my teeth into. She was crafty, strong, vulnerable and scary. She was fascinating, a real challenge.”
In describing how to go about playing character roles, she says she thinks it’s “really easy to interpret every character as ourselves, but finding the differences [between a character and yourself] is more useful. … The way I prepared for [my first film role] was figuring out how [the character] was different than me. … It unlocks the imaginative [process].”
Doyle says, “When Alex talks about being ‘lucky,’ she stands in a long line of actors who, the harder they worked, the luckier they got. She described herself as ‘curious’ and that the results of her work on bringing a character to life improved exponentially the more curious she became about what made her characters ‘tick’ and how much she applied herself to answering questions about her characters.”
On various topics of what every actor needs to have and do in the acting industry, Paxton-Beesley says a support system is very important, “whether it be people around you or simply a method of developing [and] taking care of yourself. … Your body is your instrument.
“It is impossible to separate our physical being from the work that we do [so] invest in your physical being.”
She stresses that it’s very important to “[learn and] know your lines. I can’t say it enough. … Know them better than you think you know them. … Know them by heart; know them like they’re on your skin.
“You never really know what [the directors are] going to ask of you, so be prepared [mentally, physically and emotionally] as you possibly can.”
About rejection, Paxton-Beesley says she’s been lucky because she’s never experienced cruelty in the profession.
“I’ve probably [had] 400 auditions and booked maybe 10 per cent of that [or less],” she says. “If I carried each individual rejection with me, I’d probably never get off the floor. … It hurts, but it’s so much of what this job is.
“Figure out a very specific methodology of dealing with [rejection]. … If you show up and you haven’t done your work, and you deserve to not get that part, you’re going to feel a whole heck of a lot worse.”
Like many actors, she says she finds it “really difficult to watch my own work … but you have to. … We are our own worst critics.
On the brighter side of the acting industry and her profession, Paxton-Beesley says, “I love this job. It’s really easy to forget that, sometimes. … It’s a joy.
“We live in a heyday of television. [The material that’s out now] is phenomenal, and I consider it research. If you watch something, even if it’s crap … identify what works for you, what doesn’t, and why.
“The really cool thing about doing this job is that I think it’s impossible to work in this profession and not be continually expanding your craft. … I learn stuff every single day, which is humbling, frustrating and fun. … [I’m going to] rely on my craft, maintain my confidence and have fun.
“I have worked to maintain a level of self-awareness and realism. … I’m still figuring this out.
“The best piece of advice I got [was from actress] Rosemary Dunsmore: be kind to yourself.”
Inside the college acting studio in Voyageur 10, three questions are written on the wall: 1. What do you want? 2. What’s keeping you from getting it? and 3. What do you need to do to overcome what’s in your way so that you can get what you want?
“I thought it was great that Alex commented on ‘The Three Questions,’” Doyle says. “She said she wished that she’d had those three questions to see every time she entered an acting class at George Brown College. She thought it was a cool reminder of what the actor was coming to class to do.”
Throughout her career, Paxton-Beesley has travelled to various cities. Besides Toronto, she’s worked in Hamilton, Ottawa, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Halifax and St. John’s, N.L.
Other productions she’s been in are films The Colony (2013), Malody (2012) and The Good Shepherd (2004), as well as episodes on television shows Lost Girl and Warehouse 13.
Paxton-Beesley has a tattoo that says “maybe” on her wrist – “a reminder of possibility.”
She says she really hopes to continue working in television and film.
“Ideally, I want to balance that with a play every couple of months, or once a year. I love and miss theatre.”
Premiering in July, Paxton-Beesley will be in an upcoming vampire-horror series called The Strain, a Toronto television production from filmmaker Guillermo del Toro and writer/executive producer Chuck Hogan.
“It’s awesome,” she says. “I’m excited for people to see it.”