Caleigh Le Grand on the delicate balance between acting and mental health

Caleigh Le Grand is one of those people you could talk to for hours and completely lose track of time. The conversation flows effortlessly and she has endless fascinating anecdotes to share from her eclectic past. We talked about the acting role that prompted her to start a podcast and I got a glimpse into what it feels like for an actor to give themselves over fully to a character. I loved doing this interview. Read it below!

I’m here with Caleigh Le Grand. We’re at Lit Espresso Bar on Roncesvalles. Ronces- Roncesva-
Yeah, I call it Roncy ‘cause I don’t know how to pronounce it.

I also do that. I think we all do.
Alright, let’s jump in. Tell me about your podcast.
The podcast I host and produce is called We’re Totally Not OK (But That’s OK). It’s a passion project. It started out of a recognition of a void. Tanya, my co-host, and I are both Toronto actors and we realized we were having similar conversations after every workshop or class we took together. We kept talking about how fucked up it can be in an actor’s mind when you think about where we go to get into a character and how we unravel the work we’ve done to get back to ourselves. It just led to some really interesting and important conversations.

We're Totally Not OK Podcast

You and Tanya Bevan interview different people in the industry on that topic.
We interview people in the entertainment industry and that was initially our goal at the outset, but we very quickly started ballooning outside of that world. The podcast focuses on the intersection between mass media culture and mental health and that’s a very broad scope so we do end up talking to people outside of the entertainment industry. One in particular that always stuck with me is when we interviewed Bruno Maruzzo, whose company essentially builds robots that aid physicians in diagnosing and suggesting treatments for people with different mental illnesses. He spoke about why it was important to have these robots. And he had a lot of personal stories about why he decided to get into that field. Ever since that episode, thinking about technology, I’ve become obsessed with the idea of trying to convince a lie detector that I’m a different character.

So, that would mean you would almost fully become someone else. Because the lie detector, I think, reads your physical responses like your heart rate, temperature…
Yeah, the physiological response you have in that psychosomatic connection.

That’s kind of a spooky idea. Convincing the machine you’re someone else.
Exactly! And that’s where I think the importance lies in it. You hear actors talk about these “moments of magic” where you lose yourself to the character. I’ve had scenes where I break down and I have difficulty stepping away and realizing that’s not my emotion. That this is the character’s emotion and I am actually okay. Because the physiological responses happening in your body are real and they’re part of your experience as a human being. It’s such a strong connection. And it’s not very well understood how that goes on to shape who you are and your everyday life. And what the dangers are. We do take more precautions in the industry these days. I know, for example, during the filming of the IT films, they had a therapist on set to make sure the little kid was psychologically safe and sound during the process.

Yeah, your body kind of holds onto things like that, right?
Yes! Unwittingly. So, I like that we seem to be taking more precautions with that. I just think there are so many more measures that could be taken. Especially since the audience at large, people who aren’t in the industry, don’t understand that psychological effect as well as they could. As an actor, you’re literally giving yourself to the art. You are that piece of art. So, it’s important to look at how celebrity culture spins the wheels of what gets told and where the importance is placed. It can be really shitty [laughs] for lack of a better word.

That’s super interesting. Is there a particular episode of your podcast that new listeners should start with?
The thing I like about our podcast is that I think different episodes will resonate with different listeners because we have such a diverse cast of interviewees. Our first episode with Rosana Zammit is a good one to get a general grasp of what the intersection of the arts and mental health is like. She’s a film producer, former lawyer, and psychotherapist. She wears every single hat. I love that woman. Rose is so in tune with how her work has affected her as a human being. So it’s a good lead in. It’s a bit of a longer episode because she’s one of my girlfriends and we just chatted for a long time.

I think podcast listeners tend to like that friendly banter. Where you feel like you’re just in the room listening to two friends talking.
I think that’s why a podcast works for what we’re doing. Because, the whole point is to add to the conversation about mental health and media in today’s society. It’s nice to just have it on in the background while you’re doing dishes or driving and feel like you’re just part of that conversation. It would be very difficult to condense that conversation into a written format.

Do you listen to other podcasts?
Yeah! Scriptnotes is one of my favourite podcasts because I’m also a screenwriter. John August and Craig Mazin put out this weekly podcast to teach anything and everything having to do with screenwriting. But they also have a wonderful banter back and forth. I love their energy. I also love the Nerdist Podcast. [Laughs] I’m plugging work that isn’t mine right now. But yeah, there’s also Sam Harris’s podcast called Waking Up. I listen to that one because I love the guests he interviews. But I get very frustrated listening to Sam Harris. We disagree on a lot. Anyway, I get attached to different podcasts for different reasons. But I definitely have my favourites and I almost feel like they’re my buddies.

Yeah, people get very attached to podcast hosts.
Oh, I talk back to them in my car like they’re there [laughs].

I do that too!
I yell back at Sam Harris. Sometimes, I’ll even pause it and go off on my own tangent. I’ll put my voice recorder on and I’ll start writing my own essay about whatever it is I’m getting fired up about. I think that’s why I still listen to it and appreciate it. Anything that gets me fired up enough to put my own voice out there is worthwhile. I always seek out things that give me that spark.

Caleigh Le Grand headshot

Let’s talk about your acting. Tell me about a recent project that you’re really proud of.
Mike Donis, one of my buddies, is a writer-director turned actor. We did a show together last year called Spooky Lagoon. It was a live theatre piece. It was so successful for its first run. Basically, it was a tour of the haunted lighthouse at Gibraltar Point on Toronto Island. We’re bringing it back again with a bigger budget for this year. Mike trusted me a lot with creating my own character. It was essentially improv. I played the dead wife of the original lighthouse keeper who was murdered in that lighthouse. So, because I got to create my own character, it felt more like my baby as well. Those projects are the ones that really feed my soul.

You’ve acted in a lot of horror projects, like Late Night Double Feature, for example. Do you find that horror is harder on your mental state as an actor?
I don’t think it’s necessarily harder than other roles. I think no matter what gig you’re playing, you can give 100% or you can give 10% to whatever it is. But, 100% means you are giving yourself over to another character. That role in Late Night Double Feature was actually one of the instigators for why the topic of media and mental health became important to me and why I started the podcast. When I was first offered that role, I read the script and I initially said no. I had such an adverse reaction to the character. I didn’t know why I was afraid of it. But, it was a great opportunity and I didn’t want to decline. So I asked the director to share anything and everything he had ever written about this character. And he worked with me. What I realized afterwards was that I wasn’t afraid of getting into that character; I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to drop it and get out of her. And that’s exactly what happened. I never would have classified myself as a method actor, but I went “method”. I ended up writing diaries in this character’s voice. I even sent text messages in character to one of the producers and I don’t remember sending them to him. I blacked out and repressed a lot of my experience on set.

Caleigh Le Grand in Late Night Double Feature

That’s terrifying.
The thing is it wasn’t terrifying as it was happening. But, it was terrifying to realize afterwards. I couldn’t even talk about it in interviews because I couldn’t remember so much of it. It stirred something up in me that made me scared of the process of acting. It made me realize how unsafe it can be and how unsafely I worked on that project. I think that’s part of the reason I started doing more comedy. I ended up doing the musical conservatory and the longform conservatory at Second City and started producing shows right away. I found how to follow the fun again.

How do you keep yourself clear-headed when you’re going through a difficult project now?
These days, I study a lot with Lewis Baumander because I love his approach. I think it’s important to go back to class, at least every so often. So you don’t have to be in it alone and in your own head. It’s hard to do on your own. You definitely need that support system. As far as my personal practice to keep balance in my life, I’ve taken up much more frequent meditation and yoga. I meditate with different stones. I have an obsession with crystals and stones. My co-creator, Tanya, and I are… I think we have a crystal problem. We just went to a crystal convention recently. We’ve spent hundreds of dollars on crystals. [Laughs].

Nice. Ok, let’s do some random questions!
When was the last time you couldn’t stop laughing?
Oh man. Well, the first thing that comes to mind is the end credits of the movie, Just Friends. The movie alone is amazing. But, I have fallen off the couch laughing for solid minutes watching the end credits of that movie. When they’re rolling the credits, Ryan Reynolds is there as the younger version of himself and he’s singing that song, “… and I swear, by the moon and the stars in the sky…” I love that song. But, anyway, he’s singing and he’s staring down the barrel of the camera. And his facial expressions. It’s so funny. Send that to me if I’m ever having a bad day because it just brings joy to every cell in my body.

If I say close your eyes and go to your happy place, where do you go?
I love mountains and water. I want to be by water, in nature, with trees and birds and stones and crystals. So I would say somewhere expansive, if not on set. I think they’re both expansive: either being in a physical place with every different element of life or being in that mental state of exploring a different character and being in their world.

I think for some people those can be pretty scary places to be. It seems like you’re comfortable with the unknown.
I don’t know if it’s that I’m comfortable with it. I think I find comfort in the discomfort, in knowing that I’ll never be able to know everything. I like being surrounded by whatever vibration is quicker and more intelligent than me because I think that’s how I grow. I’m attracted to the unknown because it can expand you, if that makes sense.

If you could wade through a pool full of something that isn’t water, what would you choose?

Would the caffeine just absorb through your skin?
Well, there are coffee scrubs out there for your skin. I’m sure you shouldn’t let yourself become coffee via osmosis. But, if I could choose the way I’d die, that’s what I would choose.

[Laughs] Death by coffee.
Ok, there are two types of people in this world. What are they?
Hmmm… God, people are all the same. I mean, we’re different but we’re so similar. Um, I guess in the simplest terms: yin and yang. I think there are those who go with the flow and say “yes!” and then there are those who push against their own energy and block things that are coming to them. I guess you could say positive and negative charges. But, the thing is: we are all human so we are all both of those people.

If you had one question for me, what would it be? You can ask me whatever you want.
What do you most want? If you could paint a picture of where you could put yourself right now, if you could manifest a perfect reality, what would it be?

Damn [laughs]. Um, what I most want is to someday get to a place where I am basically fearless. I’m always anxious about things. I’d like to just be comfortable with that uncertainty of whether things will or will not go wrong. And just know that either way is okay.
I love that answer. I mean, I think that’s what we do on a daily basis. That positive and negative balance. Allowing and resisting.

Is there anything you want to plug?
Spooky Lagoon is coming up again for Halloween, but that’s in a few months.
Listen to We’re Totally Not Okay.
Oh, and I’m hosting the red carpet interviews for the Sudden Impulse Film Festival (SIFF) this Saturday, June 2nd! So check that out!
I try to keep updating what I’m doing on my social media accounts, so you can find out more about what I’m doing there:
Twitter: @calesleg
Instragram: @calesleg

Awesome! Check out SIFF this weekend and follow Caleigh on all the social things to find out what new and exciting projects she’s in!

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