Carmen Moore as Susan in Rustic Oracle | Image source: Jeff Weddall
For Indigenous audiences, and specifically anybody that has gone through something that my character has gone through, I hope that they feel heard. I hope they feel understood. I hope they feel supported and not dismissed. Sonia (the director) has said on numerous occasions that the epidemic of MMIWG [Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls] has become very political. We’ve lost sight of the fact that these families are experiencing this. ~ Carmen Moore
Carmen Moore (Wet’suwet’en First Nation) has been a working, established, and acclaimed actor for 29 years appearing and starring in numerous television series in the US and Canada. Credits include Blackstone, Vikings, Cardinal, Nancy Drew, Supernatural, Outlander, and Arctic Air just to name a few. In her most recent work, Rustic Oracle, Carmen gives an empathetic performance playing the character of Susan, a mother of two young girls- when one goes missing. The film is written and directed by Sonia Bonspille Boileau (Mohawk) and is set in the ‘90s on Kanesatake Mohawk Territory (Quebec, Canada). The writing is superb as all the characters are complex and nuanced.
The story is told through Ivy (Lake Delisle)-an innocent yet feisty and strong eight-year-old. The older daughter, Heather (Mckenzie Deer Robinson) is a young and curious teen in the rebellious stage of her life; and Susan is a loving mother who worries about her daughters who at times can be, “stubborn, smart ass teens”. These characters bring this tragic story to life revealing their vulnerability, resilience, and ability to heal. Close sisters, Ivy and Heather are introduced as they play after school, setting a sweet and innocent tone just before tragedy strikes and Susan must find out what happened to her daughter Heather. Rustic Oracle puts a lens on systemic racism and the dismissal, stereotyping, and indifference from the police and media to an Indigenous family’s experience. Susan’s search is not taken seriously, “She ran away and will return…They are probably hiding to get back at you.” Soon after, Ivy and Susan take matters into their own hands.
Carmen Moore’s portrayal of Susan in Rustic Oracle has garnered a 2020 Leo Award for Best Lead Performance, a 2020 UBCP/ACTRA Award for Best Lead Performance, Female, a 2020 Okotoks Film Festival Award for Best Performance, and a 2019 American Indian Film Festival Award for Best Supporting Actress. In this feature interview, Moore speaks with Erica Commanda at MUSKRAT Magazine about how she prepared for her role and her insights on working in the ever-evolving film and television industry.
EC: In Rustic Oracle you play a mother looking for her daughter who has gone missing. Can you tell me how you prepare to film such tough subject matter?
CM: I just try to imagine what it would be like to be in those shoes. Being a mother myself, it’s a terrifying prospect that anything could happen to my child. While I don’t know what it’s like for any parent or family member to go through what my character has gone through, I can try to sympathize with what that must feel like. I don’t want to minimize that experience in any sort of way or pretend that I can understand it, but I’m hoping in playing Susan that I did that justice.
EC: What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
CM: For Indigenous audiences, and specifically anybody that has gone through something that my character has gone through, I hope that they feel heard. I hope they feel understood. I hope they feel supported and not dismissed. Sonia (the director) has said on numerous occasions that the epidemic of MMIWG [Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls] has become very political. We’ve lost sight of the fact that these families are experiencing this. I hope that family members of MMIWG don’t feel like they are alone in this. For non-Indigenous audiences, I hope it sparks some conversation. I hope it sparks action. I hope it sparks a desire in them to educate themselves of systemic racism, and the history of Canada regarding Indigenous people.
EC: You have successfully worked in TV and film for a long time. During that time the industry has been slowly changing by making space for Indigenous people to tell their stories. What changes have you witnessed and what has it been like to work through?
CM: At the beginning of my career, with Indigenous content, there weren’t all that many that were spearheaded by Indigenous people, if any at all. I’ve been very fortunate that most of the projects I worked on have had cultural advisers, which is fantastic. I’m one of the very few “Indigenous actors” if you can even call me that- my dad was native, my mom is white, (I generally call myself an actor, not an “Indigenous actor”) that believes that it’s ok for brilliant storytellers to want to tell our stories as long as they have cultural advisers on set and that it’s a pure collaboration. I also think it’s an amazing thing, and long overdue, that more Indigenous people are stepping up and learning the different crafts and trades and taking the reins on telling Indigenous stories. So, while many feel that Indigenous stories should only be told by Indigenous people; and believe me, I understand where that’s coming from. Indigenous peoples have been so underrepresented and misrepresented in Hollywood for far too long, I think that that is too black and white. I think we need to be open to collaboration because some brilliant things can come about through that.
As actors, our jobs are literally to embody that which we are not, or to connect with something that is already inside of us that needs to be released, and we are limiting ourselves if we start believing that if we’re Indigenous we should only play Indigenous characters. Right now, there is so much pain around these issues and so many opinions being thrown about that not many can see the bigger picture, but I do believe we’ll get there eventually.
EC: A lot of industry professionals think that the film and television industry has permanently changed because of the pandemic. What are your thoughts on that?
CM: From an industry perspective we’ve been doing a lot of auditions at home and we’re not going into our agencies a whole lot. The social aspect has shifted for sure. I think people are so exhausted by not being able to see other people. We have also gotten used to staying home on our couches to watch a lot of content, but when the restrictions lift don’t you think people will want to get out of the house and do what they normally did? I’m desperate to go to the theatre and watch a movie! I think we’ll get back to some sort of normal. Maybe things have changed a little bit, but I think people are going to want a big part of their old lives back.
EC: You also dabbled in a bit of directing and producing; do you see yourself doing more of that?
CM: As an actor, I think it is beneficial in the sense that I got an idea of what our directors and producers go through. I came onto a couple of projects as a producer to learn, and what I found in these particular projects was that everyone was too scattered and busy to pass on information to me, so I didn’t learn as much as I wanted to. There’s still a lot for me to learn in that regard. Directing was an interesting experience. I liked it a lot more than I thought I was going to, but what I also learned is that it’s probably not for me. I don’t know if I will ever be in a place where I would want to try that again, but you never know.
Carmen Moore Bio:
Well-known Vancouver actress Carmen Moore is registered with the Hagwilget Village Band in Hazelton, (Wet’suwet’en First Nation). She has appeared in numerous television series in the US and Canada, including Vikings, Cardinal, Nancy Drew, Supernatural, Outlander, Blackstone, Arctic Air, Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, Arrow, Godiva’s, and the feature films Rustic Oracle and Unnatural & Accidental. Moore is the recipient of three additional Leo Awards (2016, 2014, 2011) for her role in Blackstone. She was also nominated for a 2017 Canadian Screen Award and the 2011 Gemini Award for Blackstone.