So, according to imdb.com today is Catherine Disher's birthday. Big yay! In honor of the occasion here's a posting of one of my favorite interviews with her just prior to her Gemini win in 2004 for Snakes & Ladders.
She's rather low key when it comes to the press so there aren't too many interviews are out there so this one is a real gem and it's a delightful read. Borneo? Flightless birds and creeping eruption hookworm larvae? Say what?
A brief aside, the article mentions that Cath has a sister who works as a film editor. In the first half of Forever Knight's first season a Charlotte Disher is listed as an assistant editor. It might be a coincidence but it's fun to think the sisters worked on the same show for a while.
TORONTO STAR (CANADA)
Ingenue hair and eyes
By: Rita Zekas
November 20, 2004
It's impossible to have a short conversation with actor Catherine Disher.
She is just too entertaining - you want her to be your new best friend. Forty-five minutes have elapsed and we've barely touched on the topic of our interview, her Gemini-nominated role of Audrey Flankman in Snakes & Ladders, a six-part CBC series satirizing life on Parliament Hill.
She is reluctant to talk about herself. What a concept! Actors who don't want to talk about themselves. How Canadian is that? "I don't mind being the focus of attention on a set but I'm not good at it," she says. "I'm a bit shy."
Snakes & Ladders has multiple Gemini nominations including Best Dramatic Series, Best Writing (Wayne Grigsby) and Best Performance By A Lead Actress (Disher).
Larger-than-life Minister of Government Services and Human Resources Audrey Flankman is not supposed to resemble any person living or dead.
"Audrey is a somewhat idealized MP," Disher maintains. "She's passionate, committed and honest, even if it means her job. She doesn't take herself too seriously and she is outspoken, to her detriment. She's a bit of a maverick. Audrey is a lot of little pieces of different female MPs over the years: an homage to Sheila Copps, mixed with Deborah Gray and a little Judy Lamarsh.
"Wayne wrote this thing a number of years ago. It was about a politician who backed the wrong guy - and not based on Sheila Copps. Wayne has a voluminous knowledge of Canadian politics. He took excerpts from female Canadian politicians and mushed them into one with a little bit of Clinton. Judy Lamarsh was loud, asserted herself and smoked. I thought Sheila Copps was treated badly - a woman who was the most senior member of the Liberal caucus. It was a slap in the face to women.
"Male members never make comments about the appearances or voices of their male colleagues. Our series didn't do the governing parliament any favours. Satire is never popular with the people in power."
Grigsby has described Audrey as "one of the more interesting roles in the piece: smart, competent, neurotic, vulnerable, aggressive at the same time."
"I love this character," Disher raves. "Wayne wrote the best role for a woman over 40 (she's 43) I have seen. I get to be childish, volatile, passionate and humorous. It took me until the third episode to realize I was the male lead. The female lead usually asks questions like 'Are you all right?' and says 'Help.'
"It's extremely rare to see this kind of woman on television. I get to be brash and ridiculous and yet still be passionate and inspirational to the team. I'm the old bag on the set yet the other actors are interested in what I'm saying. Most authority figures are male. It's so much fun. How lucky am I?
"A friend says, 'I can't believe you are getting good press. You're just being you.' I don't yell as much as Audrey though my son (whose father is her ex, actor Cedric Smith) thinks I do.
"It's not about how I looked or my relationship with a man. It's about my brain and personal power. It was so freeing, the licence to be funny and crass and childish. It's such a gift."
Disher was born in England, where her father, a child psychiatrist, was working in postgraduate psychoanalysis, and raised in Montreal. She has a sister who works as a film editor.
She attended Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. "It's a think tank. You think you are really smart till you get to Exeter," she cracks. "It had an amazing drama teacher. I was either going to be an actor or zoologist."
In 1985, Disher went to Borneo as a volunteer with Earth Watch, working with primatologist Birute Galdikas, who has dedicated her life to the preservation of orangutans.
"I did Night Heat, my first TV job, and I got a call to get ready and leave in three days," she recalls. "It was many many planes and we took a boat that looked like The African Queen. We spent three and a half weeks in the jungle. At base camp, we had 35 orangutans that had to be evacuated. The Dayaks (natives) were wearing Hill Street Blues T-shirts because Betty Thomas had been there a month before.
The spiders were the size of dinner plates and there were nocturnal bears, snow leopards and needle-nosed crocodiles which come out at 4 p.m."
Then there was the two-step snake. After it strikes, you take two steps and die. Not to mention the creeping eruption hookworm larvae that gets under your skin and travels, which Disher knows from first-hand experience.
"I was tempted to stay in Borneo but it is an incredibly hard environment and a heart-breaking cause," she recalls. "I don't know how the orangutans will survive. They have so little habitat left."
She has travelled to New Zealand for the miniseries Gold. Flightless birds wrecked my rental car," she laughs. "It looked like I'd left it in South Central L.A.
Disher's TV credits include three seasons on the cult classic Forever Knight and roles in Grand Larceny, War Of The Worlds and The Campbells.
"I've made my living as an actor for 20 years. After theatre school, I did summer theatre in Peterborough and I thought I'd be a martyr to Canadian theatre. I've always been a character actor who had the hair and eyes of an ingenue."
She also does voice work on CBC Radio and for animated series like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Spider-Man and Beetlejuice. She's the voice of Jean Gray in X-Men.
"I auditioned for the role of a parrot before I met you," she says. "I do a good parrot and an exemplary brontosaurus. You can't research a brontosaurus. You reach down into your inner brontosaurus. It's not about how you look, but how funny and creative you are. As opposed to, 'Sorry, you might want to do something about your moustache.
Disher is angsting about having to buy a dress to wear to the Geminis. So what would Audrey Flankman wear?
"She wouldn't care. She'd wear something red and she'd grumble and probably chew gum through the whole ceremony because she'd be bored."
Copyright (c) 2004 Toronto Star, All Rights Reserved.