Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
Mary Galloway’s star is on the rise, and has been for a while. So being named a 2017 TIFF Rising Star was more a confirmation than a conferral. Still, for any actor, this is headline-making recognition, and Ms Galloway responded to it as any honouree might: “literally jumping for joy!”
She admits that the news made it impossible to wipe “my silly grin off my face” for the entire day. “But I wasn’t [initially] allowed to tell anyone the news,” she smiles, “so I’m pretty sure some people just thought I was a little bit crazy.”
Not for long. In a fame-driven industry, an award like this can catapult a career: “I think the title of a ‘TIFF Rising Star’ creates a sense of validity that I very much appreciate and will wear proudly,” she offers. “This means perhaps giving my ‘name’ the recognition that this industry so heavily relies on.”
This legitimacy is well-deserved and has been duly earned. Ms Galloway has loved movies from her childhood, with a particular fondness for (shhhh) rom-coms. However, as a member of the Cowichan tribe of the Coast Salish peoples who grew up in Qualicum, BC, she could not at first determine how to be in films herself. Thinking that it might be fun to be an extra, she moved to Vancouver, where she learned about and enrolled in New Image College of Fine Arts. As her skills grew, the realization dawned that she did not see herself reflected in the movies she watched. Moreover, “happily ever after” was not a prescription she endorsed.
Rather than sitting around waiting for someone to offer her a role, she leveraged her skills to create stories she wanted to tell: “All I really wanted to do back then was act…. so I decided that I’d create roles I wanted to play and then do whatever I could to make those roles come to fruition.” The first film that she wrote and starred in was Ariel Unraveling, the story of a girl trapped in a basement for ten years, with only Disney’s The Little Mermaid to teach her about the world above.
In bringing this story to life, she discovered two new loves: writing and directing. Following the success of Ariel Unraveling, she wrote, produced and acted in Unintentional Mother, which opened last December and marks her directorial debut. Set in the 1970s, Unintentional Mother is about an Aboriginal girl grappling with an untenable choice: to escape her abusive father or continue as a devoted nanny. The film features venerable Canadian actor Lorne Cardinal, who also co-stars with her in Never Steady, Never Still by Canadian writer-director Kathleen Hepburn, and is the film that Ms Galloway accompanied to its TIFF premiere last fall.
Since its premiere, Never Steady, Never Still has earned acclaim and honours, plus U.S. distribution with LevelFilm. Never Steady, Never Still is “one of the most astoundingly beautiful films I’ve ever been fortunate enough to work on,” she enthuses. The film examines the dynamics of Judy (Shirley Henderson), a wife and mother who has battled Parkinson’s disease nearly all her married life and is cared for by her husband Ed (Nicholas Campbell). As Judy’s condition deteriorates, Ed forces their rudderless son Jamie (played by Ms Galloway’s fellow TIFF Rising Star Théodore Pellerin) to take a job in the Alberta oil fields. Far from his rural home, Jamie struggles with his emotional and sexual identity. Ms Galloway plays Kaly, a pregnant, teenage supermarket cashier who offers an unexpected friendship to Jamie and Judy at different times in the story. She describes Kaly as a very gentle but strong young woman with a heart of gold, and an innocence and lightness that both Jamie and Judy need at the moments when Kaly enters.
The film is poignant and gut-wrenching, with a universal resonance that Ms Galloway attributes to “the honesty in it that hits you most when watching it….it doesn’t feel like a glorified story.” Instead, it feels “extremely raw and authentic to me” yielding truths that will be unique to each viewer’s personal experience. Ms Galloway related especially to “Jamie’s search for self and the inner battle of not knowing what to do with yourself as you get older, as well as having family health issues that affect the entire family. I find comfort from knowing I’m not alone in those sometimes overwhelming life challenges.”
She found her way to the Kaly role by mundane means. Not knowing anyone involved with the project, she auditioned, and director Hepburn happened to be in the room at the time. Ms Galloway recalls the audition as a “great time”… followed by a lengthy silence. In her experience, such a gap is “typical” of the process. When she does not hear anything back immediately, “like the next day”, she assumes the role has gone to someone else. “That way I’m never holding my breath waiting for the phone to ring.” This audition seemed no different…until a few months went by, and she received a call from her agent, offering her the role. “So you can imagine my shock there!” Less shocking is the notice her performance has garnered, with a Variety review singling out her performance as “a lovely turn.”
Within a short time, she has progressed from intrepid, project-creating student to a Rising Star in demand . . . so what’s next for Mary Galloway? “I think now I might just write to write. And write to direct,” she muses. “I think I’m in a place now [where] because of that early hustle, I may no longer need to write to act.” She follows this with the caveat “that won’t necessarily stop me!” She hints of a few projects brewing . . . some of which she’d like to act in and others she’d like to cast. “No matter what, though, you will continue to see me writing stories that feature female leads and that pass the Bechdel test,” she avows with a smile.
Without a doubt, the future is bright for Mary Galloway. When asked about her deeper aspirations, there is a sharp intake of breath: “That’s a hefty question! There’s so much that I hope for!” Most fundamental is her desire to tell stories “full time”: whether through acting, writing, directing, or – best of all – a combination of the three. “I’d also like to work on projects that dig deep and tell stories we aren’t used to hearing,” she elaborates. “Diversity is big for me. I want to see and be in projects that are more inclusive than what’s the norm today.” And though it is hard for her to name just one (let alone a few) ideal co-stars (“because there’s too many!”) she singles out Roseanne Supernault and Birk’s Diamond Honoree Devery Jacobs, two First Nations actors and friends with whom she would enjoy acting together. “They are both out there, just rocking it!”
She then tempers the “professional part” of her response with the personal, which she sums up as being in the “starving-artist phase.” Affable and even-keeled, she takes a glass-half-full view of this stage, which is “loads of fun and feels somewhat like a rite of passage.” At the same time, she ruefully acknowledges the financial security that would come with steady work: “I saw a meme recently that made me chuckle because it’s pretty accurate. It read ‘I work hard to give my dog a better life.’ That about sums it up for me!” she laughs.
TIFF Rising Star Mary Galloway is well on her way to becoming a household name, so this “starving-artist” phase will soon be behind her. And in the meantime? She is content with the realization that she is still learning – daily – about herself and her work. Whatever her roles and whatever her stories, she will ground each character with humanity and charm, and tell their stories with energy and passion. “One thing I know for sure is I’m not going anywhere anytime soon! There will be plenty of time for the world to get to know me yet!”
Famous Last Words: Mary Galloway poses a challenge
My mom will tell you (even as a kid) I love having the last word! I’d love to take this opportunity to put forth a challenge to any filmmakers and/or decision-makers reading this. I challenge you to consider your upcoming projects with respect to your lead roles: does race and/or gender play an integral role in getting the story told? If you answered “no”, then you have a fantastic opportunity to discover some hidden talent within this beautifully diverse country we call Canada (throw America in the mix, too!). Think about removing the little section of your character breakdowns that cement them into specific gender or race. I promise you, you will be thoroughly impressed by the gems you will discover by taking out the stats on your characters, and you’ll be grateful you did!
©2018 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya