Samantha Wan doesn’t want to pick a lane. Nor should she. The director, actor and creator secured a Canadian Screen Awards nomination for Best Director for her work on the TV movie Love at Sky Gardens, helmed the popular web series Lady Ada’s Secret Society and starred as Cathy Tan in CBC’s hit comedy Run the Burbs. At 23, Samantha became one of the youngest creators to have a primetime series in Canada with Second Jen, which she co-created, wrote and starred in. 

Recently, I had the privilege of chatting with Samantha about her Canadian Screen Awards nod, her various projects and what’s on the horizon. 

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This interview is edited for length and clarity. 

MM: We at GGA love a good origin story. What’s your origin story? How did you get into this industry? 
Samantha Wan: The funny version of how I got into creating/directing starts in the trunk of a car. I was acting in an indie horror film with my co-creator of Second Jen, Amanda Joy. We were playing two school girls who got kidnapped. During shooting, someone actually (accidentally) locked us in the trunk. In that moment, we decided we needed to start being in charge of our work.
The more straightforward answer is I went to the National Theatre School of Canada and started as an actor. After a couple of hard years of acting, I wanted to have more agency in my life and co-created a television series (Second Jen), where I got into directing and fell in love with it. Since then, I’ve been pressing more and more directing opportunities to be creative behind the camera. 
MM: Let’s talk about Love at Sky Gardens, for which you’ve been nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for Best Director. Can you tell me about the film and how you got involved? 
SW: I knew the producer from another series I acted in called Private Eyes. Later, she became head of development at Neshama Entertainment. She knew about my hard work ethic, so when the opportunity came to direct a rom-com and work together, we jumped on it. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to keep ties with people you like. Often, you will advance together. Love at Sky Gardens was my first feature-length film on my own. I’m proud of how it turned out and appreciative of the team who worked on it with me. 
MM: How does it feel to be nominated for a Canadian Screen Award? 
SW: It’s gratifying that it’s specifically for directing. We received a Canadian Screen nomination for Second Jen in 2019, which was incredibly exciting. However, this nomination feels particularly special because I’ve been working hard to build my reputation as a director. The recognition feels like I’m heading in the right direction. 
MM: Who are your creative inspirations as a filmmaker?
SW: My creative inspirations are the multi-hyphenate filmmakers. Meaning people who are a combination of actor AND director AND writer. People like Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Taika Waititi, Jordan Peele and Lin-Manuel Miranda. I admire that they are fantastic in each singular discipline, and they often jump between without people being confused about their “label.” The idea of picking a lane is limiting, and we are in a renaissance of creators right now. 
Filmmaker and actor Samantha Wan wears a white shirt with a pink cardigan and holds her hands in front of her face as if to frame a shot while standing in front of a gray background.

Pictured: Samantha Wan. Photo credit: MAD Works Photography.

MM: On the acting side, you’re currently starring in CBC’s Run the Burbs as Cathy Tan. Can you talk about how that came about and your experience on the show? 
SW: I knew Andrew Phung (one of the show’s co-creators) from Kim’s Convenience. Second Jen and Kim’s Convenience came out around the same time, so we’re often around similar events supporting each other. When both our shows ended and Run the Burbs got picked up, it was an exciting opportunity to work together. So, when asked to read for the character, I lept on the chance. Collaborating on Cathy’s character with the creative team has been a blast. It’s really exciting to build a character from scratch. 
MM: Describe your character on Run the Burbs using three words.
SW: Dry. Deadpan. Boss.
MM: What’s your favorite part of the acting process? 
SW: Following your gut/intuition and letting the character lead you. I’m often a heavy planner, but when it comes to acting, I can let go and live in the moment. It’s so freeing for me. It also allows me to express things I would be more nervous about in real life. For example, Cathy is very blunt. It’s empowering because I can be polite to my detriment sometimes. I learn a lot from my characters. 
MM: Back to the directing side of things, you’ve also directed Lady Ada’s Secret Society. Can you tell me what it’s about and what drew you to it as a director?
SW: I’m so proud of this project. Lady Ada’s Secret Society is a digital series about four girls who rebel against their hyper-traditional boarding school by using technology they invented, hacked or “borrowed” to play pranks. It has female empowerment, encourages girls in technology and is full of mischief. I took a lot of inspiration from the film Matilda and Wes Anderson-style visuals when directing it.
The creator and writer, Shannon Fewster, and I are long-term friends and collaborators. I loved the playfulness in the script. It shows girls can be messy, gross, and rebellious, not just “sweet and pretty.” I was grateful to win Best Director at the Sydney Web Fest for it. The series has gone on to win numerous awards all over the world. People can still watch the series on YouTube or follow the series on socials @ladyasecretsociety.
MM: Do you have a dream director you’d love to collaborate with?
SW: It’s funny, as directors, we often don’t get to collaborate, and it can be a little lonely. I would love to work with any of the people I mentioned above. I’m a massive fan of Everything Everywhere All at Once and would love to collaborate with that directing team (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) to see how their brains work. 
MM: What else is on the horizon for you, career-wise? 
SW: My next big project is an independent feature film I’m writing inspired by my journey with my father and dementia. It’s a much more dramatic piece than anything I’ve created before. I am excited to share that side of myself with an audience. 
MM: Name your top five favorite films.
SW: Everything Everywhere All At Once. The Princess Bride. Train to Busan. Kung Fu Hustle. Moonlight.
Thank you so much for chatting with us, Samantha! You can follow her on Instagram (@thesamanthawan). Watch Love at Sky Gardens on Vudu, Lady Ada’s Secret Society on YouTube and Run the Burbs on CBC Gem. 

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