A Noble Calling
In conversation with Eleanor Noble, President of ACTRA National
Eleanor Noble’s list of acting credits is long and varied, from the ’90s Nickelodeon series Are You Afraid of the Dark? to the Assassin’s Creed video games to the long-running children’s series Arthur (she voiced third-grader George Lundgren). But the Montreal actor is particularly proud of landing her latest gig: president of ACTRA National, for which she was elected in June 2021. She’s been on the union’s Montreal Council since 2006 and its National Council since 2020, serving as VP of ACTRA Montreal and as chair of ACTRA National’s Women’s Committee, so she’s eminently qualified for the role — and raring to go. We spoke to Noble about the knock-on effect of updating broadcasting legislation, how creating safe sets benefits the final product, and why Canada is due for its own star system.
What’s your favourite part of the role so far?
The opportunity to work on change. It’s such an interesting time in our screen industry, as there’s so much momentum for us to keep building upon. This is our time to create a safer, fairer, more diverse and equitable screen industry for all of us right across Canada. Creative excellence is at the heart of Canada’s vibrant entertainment industry.
It’s a pivotal time for Canadian content, and the industry as a whole seems determined to pave a positive path forward for Canadian creators and artists. Thinking of Bill C-10 or other legislation that may spring from it down the road, what would be an ideal legislative solution for ACTRA members?
The obvious: that Bill C-10 is passed! It’s time to amend our Broadcasting Act. We are thrilled that the CMPA is with ACTRA in lobbying for Bill C-10 to be passed. This type of legislation will generate much-needed financing and stability for our Canadian writers and producers to create more Canadian stories. Our members will then benefit from that.
When we see the CMPA’s Profile report showing the increase in service production and a decline in Canadian production, we get concerned. We want to turn it around, and I believe right now is the opportunity to do that. When we were all in lockdown, what was the one thing everybody needed? Arts and culture. So I believe the pandemic has provided an amazing opportunity for Canadian stories to reach a global audience on all the different platforms now available.
How can we keep actors and performers in Canada and make sure there are quality roles for them?
Look, it’s fantastic that American production comes to Canada. We get the opportunity to work with megastars and be on that kind of a set. At the same time, Canadian performers don’t want to spend our entire livelihood just doing service production — we also need to tell our diverse stories. What inevitably happens is we get cast in the smaller roles, and once we have enough of those on our resumé, or if we pinch a really nice role, we hop on a plane and head down to LA. And once we get established there, we can work again up in Canada. How do we turn that narrative around?
The key is to continue to create Canadian content and put our actors in there — because we’re really good! There’s an opportunity to create a star system here in Canada. When you look at shows like Kim’s Convenience, Transplant, Schitt’s Creek, Workin’ Moms, et cetera, they feature actors within Canadian stories written by Canadian writers and produced by Canadian producers, and then those actors become stars, and they can stay in Canada — as long as we continue to create these types of productions. Together, we’re laying the foundation for many more successful years to come. We’re counting on the CMPA!
What’s ACTRA’s vision for ensuring there are adequate opportunities for individuals from equity-seeking groups?
We are about to launch our very first national members’ census. This will give us an inside look at the demographic of our membership, so that we can see what barriers prevent our members from working. We don’t know enough about the minute details of all the barriers facing our members, because while our industry is data obsessed, we don’t have enough of it. It’s a big deal to get, and it takes money to get. So this is a fantastic initiative on behalf of ACTRA, and we really look forward to sharing our information with the CMPA.
Speaking of safe and respectful sets, you contributed to the adaptation of ACTRA’s Guide for Best Practices for Scenes Involving Nudity, Simulated Sex and Sexual Violence. How much has the landscape changed for actors in this respect?
In the “olden days,” the director would talk through the intimate scenes and then say, “Action!” and you were expected to improvise intimacy with somebody you may not know that well or at all. It’s ludicrous when you think about how we worked for so many years — decades — in our industry without any safety measures, especially scenes that involve any kind of violence. We’re in a much, much better place. We are fortunate in Canada to have some of the top intimacy coordinators in the world, and now these scenes are way more efficient and way safer, because everybody knows their place on set. We would often talk about closed sets, but once everybody heard “Cut!” they’d be running into the room before an actor could cover up or regain their composure.
We often have conversations with producers who say, “My set is not like that,” but actually, as a producer — and this is not to point the finger — it’s impossible to be in every corner of the set at the same time. The most important thing is we want to have safe, respectful sets where people are treated with dignity, so that we’re all in a position to bring our best game.
Now, with the best practices in place, the director is happier, the actors are comfortable, and it’s hotter! You don’t see any awkwardness. Looking back, we would have never thought to put a stunt person in any kind of situation without a stunt coordinator. And now the same thing goes for intimacy coordinators and intimate scenes.
What is your current favourite international show — that is, a show without any ACTRA members in it?
We had the opportunity to watch lots of stuff during the pandemic, and I have to say the Spanish series Money Heist grabbed me. It became this huge sensation, and these actors who were not superstars were suddenly superstars in Spain. And to me, that’s a very Canadian story. It goes to show how international shows can reach audiences around the world, and there’s no reason why Canadian content can’t do the same thing. We need to believe in ourselves and get out there!