You might know award-winning actor Thom Allison as Pree on Syfy’s Killjoys, but, over the years, he’s amassed a significant body of work in film, TV and theater, including roles on Frankie Drake Mysteries, Kim’s Convenience, Repo! The Genetic Opera and Broadway’s Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
Recently, Thom appeared as a guest judge on Canada’s Drag Race, and I had the privilege of chatting with him about his time on the show, his favorite drag queens, sage career advice and his eclectic taste in movies.
This interview has been condensed for clarity.
Melody McCune: We at GGA love a good origin story. What’s Thom Allison’s origin story?
Thom Allison: Well, I was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I’ve wanted to be an actor since I was four years old. When I was 10, my mother said, “Do you still want to do that? You haven’t acted in anything.” She found this class for me to do.
My life became about being in shows and taking classes. I auditioned for Ryerson Theatre School, which is one of the big theater schools in Canada. I attended Ryerson for two years. I left after my second year; it was a three-year program. I got into the Stratford Festival in Canada. I hit the jackpot right out of the gate, and that helped a lot.
MM: Let’s talk about Canada’s Drag Race, where you’re appearing as a guest coach for its second season. How did you get involved with that?
TA: I’m not sure how that transpired, but my agent’s fantastic. He finds what you want to do, and then he finds the people. So, he was talking to the producers. As far as I know, he also began the first drag agency subsection within the agency.
So, I think it’s a world that he knew of and had his fingers in; he knew I loved the idea of hosting or judging on reality shows, and I’ve been doing that over the years. I guess talking to the people and being asked, “Hey, do you want to come on board and be a guest coach?” And I said, “Yes, sure do.”
One of my life themes is “transformation” in all different forms. It’s internally, spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically. I’ve always inadvertently become pals with costume and makeup people, and I just loved what they did. I love costumes.
Like most people, I’ve been obsessed with watching the wild creativity of all the drag greats. Things you wouldn’t even imagine, and I love where their minds go. So, needless to say, when they offered, I jumped at the chance instantaneously.
MM: What was it like coaching contestants on singing and performing?
TA: I loved it so much. Well, I’ve been teaching more over time. They had to sing live for the first time. So they were terrified, which is what happens. They’ll sing in their car, in their shower; they’ll sing to their favorite performer. But you ask them to sing publicly, their heart stops, and they pee their pants.
I realized part of my job was, yes, to have fun and be fun on TV, but to help them not be afraid. Let them know they can do it, and it’s about having fun and playing the character they had to play.
They had varying degrees of ability. Some of them were singers, a couple of them were great singers and a couple didn’t think they could sing. Part of the work we were doing was, “You can sing, and you’re giving yourself permission to sing,” and then watching them open up and go, “Oh, my God, I’m singing.”
MM: Do you have any fun set memories from this experience?
TA: They’ve all been fantastic. What’s remarkable is that I worked with them on camera first, and then I got some time with them off-camera to coach more in-depth. Each one of them had a mini “come-to-Jesus” moment.
They were like, “Oh my God, this is great.” “My voice opened up,” “Oh, this one was harder than I thought it was,” or “Oh, I can do this.” That was exciting. Each person had a moment where they opened or found something interesting, and that, as a coach, is the most gratifying thing.
MM: If you could describe your episode using three words, what would they be?
TA: Shocking, endearing and playful.
MM: If you could coach your dream drag queen, who would that be?
TA: I want to be in the room with Bianca Del Rio. I have nothing I need to coach her on, I want to be there with her, as an audience member, and her go, “I want to try some material on you, Thom.” That would be fantastic. She is the funniest thing in the world to me.
Even though it’s not like he needs coaching, I think it’d be enjoyable to coach Bob the Drag Queen, who’s brilliant.
I don’t know if he can sing or thinks he can sing, but I’d be in the room with him because his skill set is so huge as a comedian and actor. I’d love to be there to help him facilitate the singer in him.
MM: You’re recurring in Season Four of Coroner as Dr. Elijah Thompson. Can you talk about how you got involved and your role in the seasonal narrative?
TA: It’s one of those weird showbiz stories. I did an episode of Hudson & Rex, which is a Canadian TV show. It’s about a police dog and its human counterpart. I did a guest spot on that, and the director of that was terrific — Adriana Maggs. We got along really well.
Cut to a year later, and I get this message from my agent saying that he got a call from the Coroner people, saying they want to write me into Season Four. I thought it was so odd because that’s rare. “Okay, so who knows me there?” And I couldn’t figure it out.
Then I got a message from Adriana, who I hadn’t talked to for a long time, saying, “I’m the new showrunner for Coroner.”
MM: That’s so cool!
TA: Isn’t it crazy? Elijah is an obstacle for Jenny Cooper, the lead character on Coroner. So, they work together, and he ends up being a problem for her. He has a different way of working — he’s not a villain. It’s entertaining. We butt heads a lot.
MM: You released an album titled A Whole Lotta Sunlight. Would you consider recording another one in the future?
TA: It was fun, but I’m still a live performer. A lot of my experience is in doing musicals, and I love stories and songs. I might if I felt drawn to particular pieces. I’ve thought of doing a Christmas album. I love Christmas; I’m a Christmas fiend.
MM: Do you have any advice for aspiring creatives looking to get their foot in the door of the industry?
TA: Across the board, whether it’s music, or acting, or film and TV, whatever that is, see everything. Go to concerts; watch them online. Figure out who you like and why you like them. Figure out what they’re doing that you like, the quality of performer you want to be and the kind of work you want to do.
If you have usher at a show, go usher if you can’t afford to pay for a ticket. Get to know the directors and actors you like.
The blanket statement is, “Do the work.” Talent takes you so far, and then that can go flat because there’s nothing to back it up. It doesn’t grow, and the skillset keeps the talent growing and the focus and keeps people wanting to work with you.
Practice graciousness. It means treating everyone on set or in the theater with kindness. Goodwill goes out and flows in a river, but it also flows back to you.
An example is when I was doing Miss Saigon in Canada, and I was nice to the ushers and other actors. Cut to 19 years later, one of the ushers became one of the heads at CBC. They were looking for three hosts for this extensive search for Dorothy on TV (Over the Rainbow). She was like, “Thom Allison would be perfect for this … he’s a lovely person, and we want good people.”
But 19 years later, because I was kind to someone earlier, I got this tremendous opportunity to be on national television. It comes back to you. I don’t mean it as a payoff, but you never know who someone is or what you do for them. You don’t know whose life you’re going to make better by being kind.
MM: Amen! What’s on the horizon for you career-wise?
TA: A lot of little things are happening. I was in another TV show called Your All-Time Classic Hit Parade. It’s a throwback to those hit parade shows in the ’40s and ’50s, where you sing hits of the day. We sing songs from the turn of the century up to the ’50s, ’60s and even ’70s — pop songs of different eras.
We’re now doing the fourth season, and there’s talk of a fifth season. That’s on every Friday night here, over in Canada. I’m directing my first big show at a major regional theater in Calgary in all of April called Million Dollar Quartet.
MM: Have you binge-watched anything interesting during the pandemic?
TA: Hacks was amazing. Call My Agent! was spectacular; it’s about a talent agent in France. My partner and I have been watching all the Marvel movies in order.
MM: Oh, wow! That’s an undertaking.
TA: We’ve been going through them. I’ve just finished Sex Education, which was terrific.
MM: Last one! Name your favorite films.
TA: One of my favorite films is Victor/Victoria. Also, it’s interesting for me, as a director, it’s only now, I love Blake Edwards. I think the thing that he does is so amazing if you watch any of his movies, whether it’s The Pink Panther movies or SOB, which is another hilarious movie of his.
He does such great things with the secondary character, even the tertiary characters, but all the minor characters in this, you have full stories that happen around. I like weird things for different reasons like Labyrinth is fascinating to me.
It’s not the best movie ever made, but … it’s weird, wacky and muscle-y, but it’s also this wild, dark adventure. Why are David Bowie‘s pants so tight? It’s so many odd things happening at once.
There’s this movie that I saw years ago; it had to be 20 years or more. It was called Tous les matins du monde, which, my French is rusty, but I think it’s “All the Mornings of the World.” It’s with Gérard Depardieu in the starring role. He’s the maker of the viola da gamba, which is like a mid-size between a cello and big bass. It’s about adultery and love, and I had to see it two or three times. It was fascinating.
I just fell in love with Mulan. I saw it in theaters eight times — the original cartoon. The songs were great, and the vocal performances were fantastic. Eddie [Murphy] was hilarious as the dragon, but I liked him better “weird” and “incongruent” … because I think life’s like that.
MM: Thom, thank you so much for chatting with me, and congratulations on everything!
TA: Thank you, Melody!
This interview was originally published on 10/26/21.
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