In 2013 Roanna Cochrane chatted with us about her career, which at the time included tv, film and stage. We thought it would be great to catch up and see how her career has developed from the Guildford Shakespeare Company to Toronto!
Q: Firstly, why Toronto?
Roanna: That’s a good question. Most Brits looking to crack the North American market move to LA or New York. After Season One of Vikings aired, I teamed up with a top agent in Toronto. After all, Vikings was a Canadian-Irish co-pro and so the move made sense to me. Toronto is one of the hotspots in North America for filming but it also has a vibrant theatre scene and provides an exciting lifestyle. Plus, they don’t have Trump.
Q: As a UK actress, how difficult has it been to be ‘accepted’ into the North American acting industry? Are there any specific challenges that you have had?
Roanna: Whilst being British definitely sets me apart, it was important for me not to just be the niche actor. In fact, the majority of the castings I go in for are for North Americans. Even the Canadians need to put on a General American dialect and so in essence, everyone is doing an accent here when going up for the American stuff. But I can’t deny that my being British has also helped me get work. British drama school training goes a long way here: it is highly respected and regarded as some of the best in the world. My time at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama certainly prepared me well for the industry. I suppose one of the biggest challenges is that I didn’t start my career here in Toronto so there’s a focus on relationship building. Making a strong first impression with casting directors is vital.
Q: How does life as an actor compare in Toronto to that of London?
Roanna: The biggest difference is the Unions and we can all blame Margaret Thatcher for this. ACTRA and Equity are very strong here and everything goes through them so that means they have to audition a certain number of people locally and all the agencies get the breakdowns so there’s a much higher chance of getting in the room, therefore, more opportunities to book. The other benefit is actors get paid on time, within the month and if not, the unions get fined. So they really are on the actor’s side. Everyone laughs when I say that it feels so much cheaper living in Toronto than in London, like everything is on sale! Toronto is one of the most expensive cities in Canada but yet, in comparison to London, it feels more possible for a young actor to have a greater lifestyle.
Q: What ‘work’ have you enjoyed doing most since living in Toronto?
Roanna: One medium I never expected to work in is video games. For the last 4 years, I have been doing performance capture for AAA games for Ubisoft, namely Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, Far Cry 5 and a few others in the making. It is a wonderful combination of voice acting, using the imagination and physicality of theatre but often with the intimacy of film. Unlike with tv and film, you are never restricted by your natural voice or physicality, if you are a versatile actor, you can play many characters in one game.
Q: Does stage, film and TV differ to that of London/UK?
Roanna: Toronto is a relatively young city in comparison to London and doesn’t have quite the same number of shows in production. You see a lot of Canadian premieres of British touring shows that were hits in the West End and there are also Canadian playwrights making waves here with exciting new writing. But for me, nothing beats the London stage. In terms of tv and film, it is definitely more akin to the American market. When I guest starred in CTV’s Saving Hope, I’d say it’s a closer match to Grey’s Anatomy to that of say, BBC’s Casualty. However, the Canadians also love their period drama and long-running show, Murdoch Mysteries that I appeared in last season, is an international hit.
Q: Can you tell us about multiculturalism in the arts in Canada?
Roanna: Canada is a country that was essentially conceived as a modern nation by the European immigrants that settled here. Everybody, with the exception of course of Canada’s First Nations People, essentially arrived from somewhere else. There is a strong representation of both French and English speaking theatre, and there is even talks of a national theatre running only Indigenous plays year in and year out opening in Ottawa very soon, provided the federal government agrees to the proposal. It is a very inclusive place to live in and this is reflected largely in the arts. The industry also seems very aware of this important diversity and representation when casting.
Q: Would you recommend any UK actor to try to work in North America?
Roanna: I always say, live where you want to live and the work follows. I love both Toronto and London for their differences but I can’t deny that life in Toronto has given me some great career opportunities and a fulfilling lifestyle. Now that self-taping is such a prevalent way of auditioning, going back and forth between the 2 countries is definitely more possible. I’ll never forget my husband self-taping from our honeymoon suite in Thailand and he booked a long-running job off that! The first thing I do when I’m staying in a hotel is, find out if they have a blank wall to tape off should the need arise!
Q: Can you tell us what is happening in your career in 2018? and what new projects are you working on?
Roanna: Yes indeed. I voice a part in the new PBS Kids animated series by Joe Murray called Let’s Go Luna that comes out in the Autumn, it’s going to be great fun. I have also been working on two video games with Ubisoft that are still under wraps. Watch my Instagram and Twitter accounts for more info.
Q: What were the last shows you enjoyed in London and Toronto?
Roanna: When I was last in London I went to see Bristol Old Vic’s The Grinning Man at the Trafalgar Studios. My brother in law, Tim Phillips, co-wrote the music with Marc Teitler and it was truly sensational. I hope it has another life after the West End as it truly deserves to be seen. In Toronto, I recently saw the Canadian Premiere of Jerusalem with Kim Coates by Outside the March. Now, I must admit to being reticent to see this as I saw Mark Rylance perform it at the Royal Court but the Canadian premiere blew me away too. Kim Coates was an absolute force and both productions were wonderful and different. I guess that’s what great writing allows for.
Q: Away from the stage what do you like to do to chill out?
Roanna: Whilst it might not be very chilled to do, I’ve got really into interior design. We recently renovated our hard loft and we’ve had a great time designing it. I can’t wait to get my hands on the next project! Check out #hardloftlife to see some of the work I’ve been doing.
All in all, I love both London and Toronto as cities to live and work in and I hope to keep working in both.