Utopia Falls dropped today, Valentine’s Day. Writer, director and award-winning actress Kate Drummond stars in the show as the smart, cunning and manipulative Phydra.
Utopia Falls is the first ever Sci-Fi Hip Hop series. It takes place hundreds of years in the future, in the last living colony on earth, a city called New Babyl, twenty-four teenage candidates are chosen to take part in an annual musical competition known as The Exemplar. For all of them it’s a chance to write their names in the history books, but for Aliyah, the independent and adventurous daughter to a city government official, it’s the beginning of an incredible adventure. Through the discovery of a mysterious archive, she is exposed to hip-hop, an ancient form of music culture, which will lead her to question everything she has ever known and change her world forever.
Now, Earpers will definitely recognize Drummond from her run as Agent Lucado from Wynonna Earp! She has also starred in genre favorites Being Human and Dark Matter just to name a few. In addition to her onscreen prowess, she’s also worked in video games such as Splinter Cell: Blacklist and Tom Clancy’s The Division.
Here’s another thing you need to know about Kate Drummond. She is nothing but inspiration. She made a career change to acting after over a decade of teaching and found success. Drummond is so grateful for her path that she works hard to share her story to encourage others. She’s even given a TedX talk called Chasing Dreams and Beginning Again which has over half a million views!
I had a chance to chat with her about Kate Drummond about Utopia Falls and Wynonna Earp. My favorite thing about this interview is that I, myself, came away inspired and motivated. She’s honest about fear and anxiety. She’s infectious about growth and positivity. I hope that our readers will feel the love when reading this interview.
Audrey Kearns: What was your first experience acting?
Kate Drummond: Well, unofficially? I think I first started when I was about 6. I used to go door to door in my neighbourhood offering to perform my “porch plays” for one penny. I don’t really remember what my porch plays were about, but I do know that they were about me performing and putting on little shows. My official acting debut, however, was when I played the Cowardly Lion in Grade 3. I had auditioned for Dorothy, and although I was heartbroken when I didn’t get the part, I took my role as Lion so seriously. I sang my heart out. I remember forgetting the words and looking out at all the kids sitting cross-legged on the gymnasium floor. I remember thinking, “wow that’s a lot of kids in my school!” But from there, my acting career kind of fizzled. My parents and teachers threw me into sports as a way of diffusing my unfocused energy, and I competed seriously right through University and into my 20s.
I was struck when I learned that you started your acting path after you already had a career teaching. I find that very inspiring and courageous. I think a lot of women feel, (I know I do) that once they get to a certain age, it’s too late to try something new and it’s so encouraging that you did and you are succeeding. Can you tell us
- A) What made you take that leap?
So many things made me take that leap. First, my love of acting and secondly, I really wanted to be a living lesson to my students. So, let me take this back.
When I was 30, I was settled down, teaching, had a house and a mortgage and 2 cars…basically all the boxes were checked off for what I thought I needed to be happy in my life, but I was deeply unfulfilled in my heart. I had worked with a coach named Barbara Deutsch and she talked about our pilot light. When we are doing what we love, it burns brightly inside of us, and when we are not, it dims. Mine was very dim at that time in my life, almost completely extinguished. I realized that that passion I had as a little girl for acting, had been abandoned. So after figuring that out, I put myself in my first acting class at 30 and it was incredible. It just fit. Things made sense to me. My pilot light burned brightly and I felt alive and I had a place to put my creative expression.
For the next 5 years, I continued taking acting classes, I did community theatre and the odd movie of the week in Ottawa and Montreal while also teaching my students. I loved teaching so much but the day that changed my life, and my path, was when I was teaching my Gr ¾ students about Martin Luther King Jr. We were talking about dreams and what our dreams were. These kids were ignited and so was I! I was telling them that they could do whatever they wanted to do no matter what and one little girl came up to me and asked quite plainly, “Miss D., what’s your dream?” I told her that besides teaching, it was to be an actress. She said point blankly, “Then why aren’t you doing it?” That day changed me. I wrote a letter to my board asking for a leave of absence to move to Toronto to follow my dream, for the opportunity to stand behind the lesson I was trying to teach my students… that was 10 years ago.
- B) How did you battle the anxiety and fear?
Did? Do. It’s a constant battle. Change is so very hard. It brings up all our deepest insecurities and uncertainties. I did a lot of journaling. Thank goodness, I had my dog, Jackson, and my family and friends who kept me grounded. It was such a huge change for me; from stability to instability, from routine to no routine, from what I knew to what I knew nothing about. Even to this day, talking about the struggle helps a lot and also respecting the anxiety and knowing that it is just part of me. We’re becoming friends in a way. As for fear? As long as my love for what I’m doing is stronger than my fear, I’m in a good place. Fear will always be there, but I’m learning to harness it and use its power instead of buckle beneath it.
- C) How did you keep your confidence up — especially since this field can be tougher on women?
I find it really helps to find my confidence and sense of self through things outside of acting. Like, I’m a great aunt. A pretty amazing sister, I think. And who am I in my core… in my heart. Am I a friend I’d want to be friends with? That’s where I try to tap into my confidence. When I’m feeling beaten down by the industry, I just go back to the things that are really me… outside of the job I do. That helps a lot.
But yes, this business can be hard on women and I definitely have my days where I’m judging my lines and wrinkles, maybe the little extra love around the waistline and the grey hair… it’s normal. I just try to keep going back to what’s real and true about Kate Drummond, the woman, outside of the actress… there is always joy there.
- D) At what point did you think, “Yep, I’m supposed to be here.”? Or have you even landed at that point yet?
I 100% have landed at that point. For the first years, I had imposter syndrome big time. What was a woman at the age of 35, doing in Toronto, trying to be a movie star, and with so little training? I even had an agent tell me I was too old to dream of being a movie star.
Even though I was in Toronto, working in the biz, I still always had one pinky-toe in my teaching career, knowing that I could go back to the classroom if things didn’t work out. A couple of years ago, I was actually searching for teaching jobs online. I was feeling beaten down and hadn’t booked that role that I’d been praying for; the role that would give me the ultimate platform to let my heart be seen. You’ll never believe this, I almost don’t believe it, but 2 days after I started looking for teaching jobs, I got the direct offer to be the lead of Secrets in a Small Town (known as Nowhere to be Found in Canada). It was my first lead role ever in a major movie. I was terrified and excited and knew that this was the Universe’s way of telling me to stay the course, to keep following my passion. That experience on that movie set was magical. I knew it was exactly where I belonged and at that moment, I knew I was doing exactly what I was meant to do. Forever.
I saw that you did a TedX talk about this called Chasing Dreams and Beginning Again (which we’ll link to right here). How did you feel after you gave your talk? What response did you get from it?
Doing that talk was probably the hardest and most rewarding experience of my life. I wrote it and rewrote it so many times. I read one of the original drafts to a really close friend and she said, “Kate, I feel like you have just wrapped your life up in a pretty pink bow… you’ve missed talking about the hard parts.” She was right. I went back to the drawing board and the talk I ended up with, was my truth. Fully. The whole experience was kind of surreal. I felt very revealed after the talk… like people really saw Kate Drummond. I was a bit embarrassed, thinking that maybe I over shared, or wished I hadn’t gotten so emotional. But looking back, it was perfect. I never expected that it would go any further than the audience I had that day. Today, it’s reached over 550,000 views and I have connected with people all over the world who relate to me and share their journey with me. It’s incredibly humbling and rewarding and when people share their stories with me, I am equally inspired.
Is there a void that you feel in regards to teaching? What do you do to fill that void?
Gosh, I miss teaching so much, but thankfully I have found ways to still be a teacher in my new life. I love coaching actors, and working with kids on set. Directing. I love that my elementary school students, who are now older and some even married (what?!?) still keep in touch and follow my journey on social media. I’ve also had opportunities to visit local high schools to talk about acting and such so I still feel like I’m teaching, just that my classroom got a little bigger.
What would you say to an artist or anyone for that matter, that is looking to try a new path but cannot take the first step – whether because of fear, imposter syndrome, peer support/pressure – there are so many excuses that we use to self-sabotage!
So many excuses… but we don’t see them as that at the time, right? We see it as truth. “I don’t belong”, “I’m not worthy”, “I don’t deserve this success”… this internal dialogue that keeps us stagnant and status quo. The thing is, there’s no such thing as cannot take the first step. You either want it badly enough or you don’t. Again, I go back to it, make your passion stronger than your fear and you will be able to at least learn to live with those voices. They’ll always be there. It’s just about learning to move forward in spite of them.
What’s the most surprising thing you learned about the entertainment industry as you started to book more work and be on many sets?
I’m constantly being surprised by this industry. It’s ever changing and every set is a new experience, but one thing that has blown me away is the sheer number of people involved in a production. I mean, I always had a sense of the size of the machine that brings a show to life, but seriously, we are talking hundreds and sometimes, thousands, of people behind the scenes who make the show possible. All visionaries in their own right. I’m in awe of the talent that is behind the camera and with every project I just meet more and more talented artists who love film and television as much as I do. It’s fantastic.
Okay. This interview is for Geek Girl Authority, so we must talk about Wynonna Earp! We love you as Agent Lucado! Had you any idea how impactful the show was when you were cast?
I had absolutely no idea. When I first auditioned for Lucado, it was written as a one-scene character but I didn’t care. I just loved the script so much and the concept of the show and I had to audition. When I started filming, and realized how amazingly fresh and unique this show was, how inclusive it was, how awesome the cast and crew were, it started to become clear to all of us that it was going to be something very special. I’m sure Emily Andras knew how special it would be all along. She’s an incredible visionary. I’m so grateful that I got to be a part of it.
How did you feel when you found out that the show is emotionally important to so many people?
As the show became more and more popular, and the fans started talking more openly about their personal connections with it, it made me feel proud, really. I mean, as an actress, that’s all I want; the opportunity to move people, to tell stories that people can relate to and feel seen in. I feel proud to be part of a show that celebrates this diversity and humanity and love. The fandom is unlike anything I’ve experienced and is definitely a highlight of my career. They really are the epitome of love.
Earpers are a proud, loud and compassionate group of fans and we, here, count ourselves among them. We even took part in the #FightForWynonna movement. What’s amazing to me is how the cast, writers and crew give those positive feelings right back to their fans. I saw this in action when I moderated a panel at Dragon Con. The love and energy between the two cast members we had and the audience was palpable. What is it like to be an important part of the Earper community?
I can’t really put it into words. It’s just a tidal wave of love in my heart. I love the Earper community so much. I love how passionate, and generous they are, how supportive they are of each other and all of us on the show. I’ve never experienced this type of community before and it’s very, very special to me.
Let’s talk about Utopia Falls! Tell us about the show and your role as Authority Phydra!
Utopia Falls is such a unique show. I think it’s the first performance-based sci-fi show out there. It feels a lot like a cross between Hunger Games and America’s Got Talent, with a little Handmaid’s Tale thrown in.
It follows a group of teens that have been chosen to compete in the prestigious Exemplar talent competition in the not-so-distant futuristic society called New Babyl. I play Authority Phydra, who is the head of New Babyl’s police force and is a staunch believer in upholding the law, order, and above all – the status quo of New Babyl. I think of her as The Enforcer. If anyone questions, challenges or shows diversion from the laws and established norms of New Babyl, Phydra is there to shut them down.
How did you feel about playing Authority Phydra?
I love this character so much. She’s sly and cunning, smart, manipulative, but all out of love for New Babyl, of course. As Aliyah and her friends introduce hip-hop to The Exemplar, and culture at large, Phydra becomes determined to root out the catalyst of this new influence and bring any dissenters to justice. It’s so fun to play the antagonist, I have to say.
How would you explain the role of music and the arts in Utopia Falls?
Music and the arts are the foundation of this show. The series uses the power of music and dance in a variety of genres and styles to explore themes of Afrofuturism, youth activism, eco-awareness, diversity and culture, and freedom of expression. We recognize that through the power of song and dance, we can shape our future and spark positive change. I love that this series is unlike any other that I’ve seen. It’s relatable, relevant and inspirational.
With Utopia Falls in the books for you, you’ve now appeared in many genre series: science fiction, supernatural, dystopia etc. What’s one thing you love about working in genre that’s different from working on other shows?
Sci-fi is so fantastical. I mean, no matter what genre I’m working in, I always aim to bring an authentic truth to my character portrayal, but with sci-fi, I also get to this in these wonderfully imaginative worlds under wild circumstances and I love that. I love in worlds where anything can happen, even things that I couldn’t even have imagined! The other thing I love about sci-fi is outside-the-box creativity of the team involved with bringing these shows to life; hair and makeup, costumes, set design, lighting, sound, visual effects, music…I mean EVERYONE’S dialing it up and going big with their creativity because we are not confined to the realm of reality. We are creating new worlds and new visions. It’s so fun.
I’ll ask you one more question, what’s one thing you do for yourself to keep your mind and body happy?
One thing? I try to eat well, stay active, meditate and journal in the mornings… lots of dog time. I look for daily inspiration from those around me, and through podcasts and motivational talks. It’s a lot of things. But to be happy, I just always have to be sure that what I’m doing has love attached to it, then I’m good.
Kate! Thanks so much for chatting with us and digging deep to share moments of your personal journey. I truly love the idea of a ‘pilot light’ and your powerful thoughts on fear. I can’t wait to binge Utopia Falls!
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