By Monica Ng
I’ve known Rachael for quite a number of years, but only more recently discovered that she was into acting. If I were to describe Rachael in three words, they would be: super-positive, passionate and energetic. She’s down-to-earth and one of those people who puts 110% into everything she does.
Twitter: Rachael Ancheril
Rachael is a gorgeous multi-talented actress born and living in Toronto. A few of her television credits include Kate in the upcoming season 2 of Nurses, Star Trek: Discovery (Commander D. Nhan), Mary Kills People (Lucy Oliviera), Rookie Blue (Marlo Cruz), Killjoys (Warden Rennika), The Art of More (Alesha Foley) and twins, Mattie (the Blacksmith) and (Iron Witch) Gretta on Wynonna Earp.
Me: Rachael, thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this interview. It brings me great joy to be able to highlight and celebrate Canadian talent like you. I never even asked you what led you to an acting career. I read somewhere that literally breaking your leg – was the catalyst that changed both your career and life. How and when did you decide to go into acting?
Rachael: Thank you for having me!
I went to an arts high school. I auditioned for drama (twice!) and visual arts and was admitted into the visual arts first round. During high school I decided I wanted to be a police officer, so I went to post secondary for that. The year I finished, I was in the middle of a multi-car accident and broke my leg a month before my admittance testing. This shifted my perspective in a very big way. So while spending almost five (restless) months in a cast, I decided to go back to school and went into fashion design to try my hand at a career in illustration. After graduating I ended up working as a Brand Manager for a fashion retail company, but found that I wasn’t a great fit for the corporate world. To get out of it and make some money I thought I could do commercial print, but the agent I signed on with said “let’s give acting a try” (to which I scoffed seeing as I didn’t get into the arts program TWICE!) and that was the beginning!
Me: So, it sounds like acting was meant to be! I’m most familiar with your role as Officer Marlo Cruz in Rookie Blue. You were “out of context”, so I didn’t even know it was you until you mentioned it. What’s the first role that you played, and in your career, which role would you say challenged you the most and why?
Rachael: After a few years of student films and non union productions, I booked my first guest spot on a tv show called “King”. The director Rob Lieberman was wonderful (as was the cast), and I always credit him with giving me my “first shot” as that was the role that gave me my first union credit. Then two weeks later he hired me for a quick little spot on The Listener. I got to work with him again almost ten years later on The Art of More with Kate Bosworth and Dennis Quaid. My first “big shot” was on Rookie Blue and that was both a nerve wracking yet an incredible opportunity because it was my first “series regular” role on a show that had a large and dedicated fan base. Coming into that as a character who not only was the “other woman” but also struggling with a bipolar disorder was intense, but what an immense opportunity! Probably the most fulfilling so far as it educated me on what it means to live with a mental illness, societal perception and personal struggles that can come with that. The most challenging role was that of Lucy in Mary Kills People, and for the reason of going to work every day, prepping while you’re in a mind state of dying. It scared me, the thought of living with that every day. The roles that make me question or get philosophical are the toughest because they breakdown something within myself, it’s not just dress up, it becomes more personal. I crave “lightness” after these kind of roles, a craving for comedy, something that brings laughter, but I would never trade those roles for anything.
Me: I really admire people such as yourself, who can get into a role. I can’t act for beans and can appreciate the difficulty of getting into Lucy’s mind and making her character believable. You play the role of Commander D. Nhan in Star Trek: Discovery. What’s the exciting story behind how you got that role and out of curiosity, how long was the makeup process?!
Rachael: Yes, Nhan, bless her, I think she’s a badass but in a very reserved way, she’s not trying to be tough or making a show of it, she just is, quietly waiting for instruction, ready to do what she needs to – I love that character. This may be lacklustre, but I had auditioned for that show a few times and grateful to have booked the role of Nhan. For makeup, it takes about three hours give or take. An hour with prosthetics, an hour in beauty make up, an hour in hair and then my lenses and breathers go on when I get to set, and it’s about an hour to remove everything (if I don’t try to do it myself haha!).
Me: That’s a brutal process, but tells me that you have a lot of patience! I hate listening to my own voice on a voice-recording and seeing myself in pictures/video. Here’s an odd question for you – do you enjoy watching yourself after your shows are aired/films are released?
Rachael: It’s really tough for me to watch back footage objectively. I tend to watch things back and on the first pass I pick at everything (to be clear – of myself!), but I also learn that way, and try to take what I’m doing/did and adjust. Sometimes I do things I have no recollection about in certain roles such as weird little quirks, physically and I have no idea where they come from! But that’s the thing, you do all this prep and then on the day you let it all go and just engage with your scene partner. So I try not to get too hung up on stuff, you can’t change what’s already done, you can only try to improve.
Me: While doing some research for this interview, I watched Sirens, a short but very intense film that was featured at the Austin Film Festival. You played a paramedic who just discovered that she was pregnant. You were so good! Did you need to research your role as a paramedic or was it instinctive for you? And generally speaking, do you find it difficult to get “into role”?
Rachael: Ha! Thank you! That was a fun shoot, a crew full of great people who incidentally helped me out tremendously when I did my first directing adventure! Alex Clark (the director) was terrific and knew exactly what he wanted, and I really like that. I was interested of course in how paramedics work, what they go through, but as usual, I look to the director to adjust me and I think he did such a great job on that film, especially being his first!
Me: I love the insider scoop. I know that there are “less glorious” parts in the music industry and I would assume that the acting/entertainment industry is similarly competitive and cut-throat. What are some of the things that you like about the industry and describe a couple of challenges that you have experienced along the way in your career.
Rachael: You know that old adage about doing something you love. When I’m on set I light up, I love being there, I love the family that builds so quickly, I think letting go of that and those people after a role is done, particularly one where you’ve spent a lot of time on set, no matter how challenging, is hard to let go of. I generally take a bit of a break in between characters to let go and reset.
Also the idea of “competition” and people having “angles”, I find very challenging. I truly believe roles are meant for people, there have been some I wanted so badly and didn’t get, or couldn’t do, and those are meant to be for the person who got them. I also find it challenging when people aren’t straight with me. I’m a very candid person and don’t see what the sense is in that, probably why I love East Coasters so much, they just say it how it is and then move on.
I think there is an impression that acting is easy or some want to get into it to be “a star” but the truth is, like anything, it takes dedication and hard work. It’s taken me 15 years to get here and I would say I am millions of miles away from being a star. I’ve had younger ones say to me they want to act and I always ask why – if it’s to be famous, in this day and age there are 50 million ways to get limelight. There’s always this reality check in the arts – it can be tough on the psyche, you’re constantly going back to the drawing board (which includes a lot of rejection) to book the next. I find it can be very taxing on your heart, your mind, and your body. Even (or maybe, particularly on) your spirit. You’ve got to develop an incredibly thick skin, very quickly, not only to deal with rejection in the room, but then sometimes on social media. Sometimes that part is the worst! People can be very brave in the anonymity of the internet and sometimes, unfortunately, very cruel.
Me: Thanks for sharing. Learning to develop thick skin is definitely a life skill. The COVID pandemic has sadly killed many people and businesses. Our world will never be the same again, but we’ve been forced to learn how to adapt. How has COVID affected your day-to-day life and career?
Rachael: We had just started to shoot Nurses, I think we may have been two episodes in when production paused for the pandemic. Of course then everything was met with uncertainty (and it still is but thankfully we’re progressing towards that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel). I am so grateful to have been on that production as we were the first ones back to work and they kept us so safe, and were attentive to concerns we had, and everyone was looking out for each other. It was a special show to be back on, and we finished just as the second wave was approaching. Auditions are self tapes or virtual sessions, as were my ADR sessions (glad I’m married to an audio engineer!). The industry adapted pretty quickly, which I think is amazing, that’s a lot of moving ducks! I may have adapted “too” well with quarantine, I love our home and all the beings within it (we’re “rescue” people) – home for me truly is where my heart is.
Me: Awww, you guys are too sweet. I rarely watch any television, but I did plan to watch Mary Kills People after I saw the ads. It’s been a few years since the show first aired, and I still haven’t watched it. You told me that it’s into its third season already! I only found out that you were in the show when you posted on Instagram about your character, Lucy Oliviera. For that reason, I’ll have to watch – but be warned, I will blame you for the hours that I lose catching up on the show! What did you learn from playing Lucy?
Rachael: Haha! It’s such a great show, so smart, so beautifully written and the cast was absolutely incredible, not only to work with but as authentic, beautiful human beings. As I mentioned before, Lucy caused me to think deeply and it made me uncomfortable (which is a good thing), and even after all this time, I still crave doing comedy (for the rest of my career if I could). There is an incredible talent in those that are able to do it, which is something I really admire and strive to do. Drama is great, but I think there is a beauty in the ability to make people laugh, after all, it’s the best medicine!
Me: I totally agree about laughter being the best medicine. I occasionally laugh to myself, just for the sake of laughing. In addition to your character shots, I’ve seen some of your photographs on your Instagram posts. Your photos are beautiful and artistic – you have a great eye for detail. Are there any other interests/hobbies that you are actively engaged in or any passions that you are chasing?
Rachael: Thank you so much, that means a lot. This is where I thank all my teachers in the visual arts program! I invest a lot of myself in my artistic pursuits, being behind the camera is definitely something I love. Spending time with my camera in nature is a soothing activity for me, it grounds me and allows me the space for concentrating and settling into the role of the observer. I get uncomfortable as a human being who happens to be an actor of the idea of “playing the part” in my normal life, of always being “on”. Behind the camera, I can do my own thing. I can get very philosophical and also become very humbled in the presence of everything that is much larger than me. I don’t get that same experience with acting, for me it’s more about being true to the character than to myself, with photography, I’m 100% true to myself…if that makes sense (?)
Me: I totally get it. That’s how I feel in nature too. When we chatted recently, you made me very happy by saying that you went plant-based. It was fun and exciting talking about our love of oat milk! There’s definitely a global movement toward a plant-based diet – for health, the environment and the animals. For myself, being vegan is about ending animal cruelty and reducing the impact of animal agriculture on our planet. There’s no denying that our planet is being destroyed and something has to be done to save it. There are also tons of health benefits associated with a plant-based diet.
You mentioned that you initially participated in Veganuary (www.veganuary.com), which encourages people to try a plant-based diet in the month of January. You told me that after the challenge, you stopped eating meat altogether. Was it difficult for you to make the shift to a completely plant-based diet? And why did you do it?
Rachael: My first inkling towards being vegan was filming in the meat packing district in Toronto (which is now condos) and seeing the meat trucks in the middle of winter with sleet and snow coming down and these poor little (intelligent) souls in a metal truck (what a miserable ending to life!) for probably hours on the way to the slaughterhouse. We watched What the Health and went vegan overnight. It was 100% for the animals, with the environment being a close first. After two weeks I gutted our kitchen and bathroom and got rid of anything that had any animal by-products or was tested on animals. Four months later I wasn’t well and realized that what we were eating WAS vegan, but that didn’t necessarily make it healthy (ahem french fries and processed food seemed to negate the “salad”). So we went vegetarian as I was craving eggs. About a year after that, we watched Game Changers and realized we should give it a go again and did it far more responsibly this time round (knowing what we needed and where we had gotten it previously in our diet and how to get it through plant foods) and we’ve never looked back. Now we’re on a mission to reduce our waste even further – and through all of this, my perception has changed, I see things differently (I can tell you the grocery store was a trip after the first month vegan!), I see nature differently (much more than before). It’s been an incredible journey, and I encourage everyone to try it – and to those that try, applaud yourself! Don’t be hard on yourself, your journey is your journey. It took us four years to get to this point and every step of the way, big or little, is a step towards the inclusivity and connectedness I feel. Veganuary is SO supportive, and I use the information on their site throughout the year (and throughout ALL these years!).
Me: Hooray! I am way more aware of the world around me after I woke up. There’s no “un-seeing” the horror that animals go through to be our snacks/meals and clothing/accessories, etc.
We’re into spring already…what are your plans for this year?
Rachael: I’m heading back to work in a few weeks and working with an author right now on converting one of his novels to a script – a new adventure! I also plan to spend a lot more time in nature. This past year I have read so much on nature and the beauty of the natural rhythm and all beings connected, I can’t wait to get back to her…says the country kid in the city haha! (Books: Walden, Connecting to Nature and The Age of Union).
Me: It’s been wonderful chatting with you. I look forward to watching more of your shows and films. For all of you out there, don’t forget to follow Rachael’s career. Rachael, is there anything else that you wish to share with the world?
Rachael: No, thank you! So great to do this with you! Thank you for having me.