Fast-rising actor/producer Brit MacRae didn’t initially set out on the film/TV path. However, after one chance viewing of a pivotal movie, she realized how impactful cinema can be and hasn’t looked back since. Now, Brit stars in the third season of the Archie Panjabi-led drama series Departure, which just debuted on Global. Her character, Jessica Hicks, is the emotional heartbeat of Season 3.
Recently, I had the privilege of chatting with Brit about her role in Departure, what audiences can expect, her unique origin story and why filmmaking “takes a village.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Melody McCune: We at Geek Girl Authority love a good origin story. What’s your origin story? How did you get into acting?
Brit MacRae: I grew up dancing. I was doing high-level ballet at the time and was probably 10. My dad called me downstairs and asked, “Hey, Brit, how many dance shows are in Toronto?” I was like, “I don’t know, maybe one.” He’s like, “How many musicals are in Toronto?” And I said, “I don’t know, maybe two.” He turns on the TV and goes, “Look at this. 800 channels, all paid actors. You should become an actor.”
Cut to a few years later. I was going to a regular high school. I auditioned for an arts high school in the city, and my parents said, “You’re 13 years old; you’re not taking two trains and a bus to school every day.”
When I finished 10th grade, I re-auditioned for that same arts high school. So, I got up at 5:00 am to take the 602 train to and from the city every day. I get home at 11:00 pm and still have homework. That was working fine for a while. However, after a couple of months of this, I was just like the Walking Dead.
One day, I was sitting in class, and there was a triplex directly across the street with this poster board that said “For Rent” in Sharpie with a phone number. I got a job quickly in retail and realized working one shift at a mall on the weekend would not pay city rent. I stumbled into a gym around month four of my six-month trial here, thinking, “Okay, dance, fitness, maybe there’s a loose correlation.”
I walked up to this sales manager and said, “Hey, I’d like a job.” He laughed so hard. And he was like, “Respectfully, why would I hire you?” I said, “You know what? Don’t pay me. Let me work on commission. If I make money, you make money. If I don’t, it’s no risk.”
Sure enough, he was like, “Okay, sure. Start on Monday.” Within the first six months, I was the top-grossing sales consultant across 16 branches. I did that all through high school. I went off to university to get a science degree. I pivoted for a bit.
In my third year, I was deciding whether to go down a research or med path. I had a morning and late afternoon class and a big gap in my day. I wandered in for a one o’clock showing of Inside Out at the Cineplex in Downtown Toronto. In the same row as me was this businessman.
This man laughed and cried. As the credits rolled, I was like, “Oh my gosh, this man let himself feel whatever he needed to feel in the security of this dark theater. He’s going to walk out of here and be changed.” I was like, “Movies change millions of people’s lives. This is much more powerful than any talk therapy could offer. I think I want to be an actor.”
This was 10 years later from my dad’s initial proposal, so he loves to bring that up. Shortly after that, I started figuring out green card stuff and how to get to the US to make this crazy dream happen.
MM: Let’s talk about Departure. Can you tell me what it’s about and how you got involved with the project?
BM: It’s a super action-packed procedural drama where every season, there’s a different terrible event that happens. In Season 1, we see a plane goes down. In Season 2, it’s a train wreck. So, in Season 3, a ferry sinks. It’s the highest level of stakes. It was such an amazing opportunity to shoot on the Atlantic Ocean. We shot in St. John’s, Newfoundland. I think we were not too far from where the Titanic sank. We were right there in the action.
I received a self-tape audition; I loved the show. I submitted my self-tape. Initially, I auditioned for a character named Michelle, but they booked me for Jessica Hicks. She’s a very complicated, emotional character, and it was the perfect fit.
MM: How does your character, Jessica, fit into Season 3?
BM: Jessica is on the ferry while it goes down. I’m the chief officer. So, I’m a rookie, new to the job. I’m working alongside my coworker, who is super important to me. I work with the investigators throughout the season to solve the mystery of what could have happened.
MM: Do you share any similarities with your character?
BM: Oh, absolutely. She feels things very deeply, and that is true for me. I have the internal toxic trait of thinking everything is always my fault, even when things aren’t my fault. We have that in common.
MM: What can audiences expect when they watch this season?
BM: Action, action and more action. If you think somebody’s guilty, it’s probably somebody else, and then somebody else and then somebody else. It’s an epic whodunit.
MM: Describe Season 3 using three words.
BM: Epic. Action-packed. Heart-wrenching.
MM: What’s your favorite part of the acting process?
BM: My favorite part comes down to empathy. It’s such a gift to step into any character’s shoes. Obviously, you come to the table with all the bits and pieces of you — your history and story — to use as the tools in your toolbox. I become more empathetic with every character I step in, and that beautiful compounding effect means more empathy in the world. I think it’s so cool.
MM: Let’s switch gears. Talk to me about KINO, the venture-backed film tech company you co-founded. What was the impetus behind bringing that to life?
BM: Ironically, it’s everything artists are currently fighting against within the studio system (the dual SAG-AFTRA/WGA strikes). Our mission is to make film and television more equitable. Whether you’re a PA and it’s your first day on set as a production assistant, a makeup artist, a grip or the lead A-list star, every person receives backend for that project. It takes a village.
None of us could do it without everybody else. There are so many moving pieces, and I think the greatest demonstration of it is a team sport. We treat every film like a little company, where everybody receives equity. If we create a movie that becomes the next Godfather or Star Wars, that baby PA who showed up at 18 years old continues to make money in perpetuity because of the time, energy and creativity they put into the project. That’s the driving force behind it. In many ways, Hollywood’s broken.
MM: What else is on the horizon for you, career-wise?
BM: There are lots cooking with KINO. We have a slate of five to eight films. Two are in post-production. We have another three presently in development. Obviously, with the SAG-AFTRA strike, we will see what happens. But we were issued a SAG waiver for one of our films. I know we’re one of the few productions that have been issued one so far in the city, so that’s awesome.
I have a cute romantic comedy [in the works]. I don’t know if it will end up on Hallmark or where it will live. I’m not sure of the distribution status, but it’s called Writing a Love Song. I’m excited about it because I had to sing throughout the movie.
We recorded my vocals ahead of time. It was so much fun going into the studio, recording and performing. We were shooting the film and a live concert. Departure is so emotional, and Writing a Love Song is very light, which is nice.
MM: Have you watched anything interesting lately?
BM: I just started Lost for the first time. I feel like I’ve lost the little social life I had; it’s completely down the drain. Also, I love Dave and The Righteous Gemstones. I love Schmigadoon! That’s a dream project of mine.
MM: Name your favorite films.
MM: Thank you so much for chatting with me, Brit!
BM: Thank you, Melody!