Interview: Kate Drummond of Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Blacklist

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KateDrummond1Have you heard of Tom Clancy? Probably. Have you heard of his video game series Splinter Cell? Maybe. Have you heard of Kate Drummond? Probably not. Here’s the thing…not only is Kate an up-and-coming actress who has a string of great roles in a bunch of new and recent releases, she’s also a really fun and interesting person–as I found out in this interview. Plus, she’s a a total geek!

For those of you who love exciting video games, you might want to check out the newest addition to Tom Clancy’s series: Splinter Cell Blacklist. Kate Drummond plays Anna Grímsdótti (aka Grim), the lead female character in the game, and she’s no wilting flower! Kate took some time out of her schedule to share her experiences working on Splinter Cell Blacklist with Amazing Stories Magazine. We also get a glimpse into her life and what makes her tick as a person and as an actress beyond her killer new role as “Grim”.

My advice is to keep your eye on this former elementary school teacher (Yeah! I know. How cool is that?) because you’re likely to be seeing a lot more of her.

Erin Underwood for Amazing Stories Magazine: Splinter Cell is a series of video games and Blacklist is the latest addition to the series. Were you in any of the previous games? If not, what was your reaction when approached to play the part of a video game character?

Kate Drummond: Splinter Cell Blacklist is the first video game that I’ve ever been in. When I was invited to audition for “Anna Grimsdottir” it was listed as an “undisclosed project”, but I was fully aware of that character and the Splinter Cell video game series. I was stoked! I remember exactly where I was when I received the call from my agent telling me I’d booked the role. I was sitting in my truck, in the parking lot after a voice gig and I literally wept. The poor people walking by must have thought I was crazy but I didn’t care because I…was about to “get my Grim on”.

ASM: Who is Anna Grímsdóttir, aka Grim, within the game? What did you enjoy most about playing her?

SplinterCellKD: Anna Grímsdóttir is the technical operations manager for 4th Echelon. She provides the lead, Sam Fisher, with technical support in the field, and analyzes and interprets much of the electronic data transmitted and intercepted by the team. Grim is a focused, assertive, intelligent, dry-witted woman. You can’t ask for a better character to play, especially when she’s placed in a male dominated environment. It’s a dynamic that I’m completely familiar with! Growing up, I was a pesky little sister to my older brother and his friends. I always wanted to be a part of their boys’ club. I wasn’t all that successful but I did make a really great stand-in goalie for road hockey. Looking back, they should have given me a helmet or something!

ASM: How did you prepare for your role in Splinter Cell Blacklist? Were there any new skills or talents that you needed to develop for this project?

KD: For this role, there were a lot of technical terms that I needed to familiarize myself with. Some of the words and ideas were foreign to me, so I had to do a lot of research along the way, but I loved that part of my job. The writers were amazing for Blacklist and had a great sense of humour too. There were a few days of laughter and apologies about the tongue twisters that I had to say. But I’m a word nerd, so I embraced the challenge!

ASM: Did acting in a video game differ much from acting for film or stage? If so, in what ways did the experience differ?

KD: Acting in a video game is definitely a different experience. For starters, you’re wearing the motion capture “cat suit” and you’ve got a head mounted camera on! The set is different too. Our set was a large 2000 square foot space called the “volume” that was equipped with 80 motion-capture cameras that would record our every move. We had a few props to work with, but ultimately had to rely on our imaginations and the detailed visuals from the artistic team. It was like being kids at the playground! I remember the monkey bars were my spaceship and I knew exactly where all my crew sat and what high-tech gadgets I had, even though there was nothing there! It’s the same thing. We got to be kids again, in a way.

ASM: How much interaction did you have with the other actors in the game? Or were you mostly on your own?

KD: As mentioned, Splinter Cell Blacklist uses performance capture technology, which synchs facial, voice and motion data in real time. In the past, video games typically had actors doing the motion capture and then the voice would be added later, and maybe by a different actor altogether. The technology that Ubisoft uses allowed us to work off each other as if we were on a regular movie set or stage. We could fully delve into the reality of the situations and experience authentic interactions and relationships with each other. Director, David Footman, and creative director, Maxime Beland, were so dedicated to creating the richest story as well. David would throw himself into the ring to help us understand our reality and to get the best performances from us all. I was surrounded by such a force of talent with actors, Eric Johnson (Sam Fisher), David Reale (Charlie Cole) and Dwain Murphy (Isaac Briggs). We relied on each other to keep the reality of the scene alive and the events truthful. I also did work on my own for some of the voice work specifically when I was giving commands or where there was no back and forth dialogue.

CoverSplinterCellBlacklistASM: Did you work exclusively from a script? How much input did you have in developing your role or in the filming process?

KD: The script was extremely specific, but like any script that you work with, sometimes when you get it on its feet, it sounds different than the writer had intended. Sometimes small adjustments were made on the fly, but it was never an improv situation, at least where my dialogue was concerned. One of the writers actually changed some dialogue because he was getting to know the actors more as people, and discovered certain words or ‘attitudes’ that really represented each of us. It was such a gift because we felt like they were really tuned into our individual personalities and to what we brought to our characters. That’s a cool thing to have happen because it just highlights the collaboration between all the people involved in this game.

ASM: Have you played Splinter Cell Blacklist yet? If so, what was it like to be playing a game in which you are one of the lead characters?

KD: I played a little bit of Splinter Cell Blacklist but I was so distracted by everything that I was really bad at it! I was running into walls and stuff because I was too busy admiring how cool it looked! I was thinking, “Oh my gosh, I remember filming this scene!” I saw some of the narrative components of the game where the 4th Echelon team is interacting and it blew my mind. It really translates from the work we did on set, to our characters in the game. I forgot I was looking at animation. It was so engaging and cinematic!

ASM: Prior to becoming an actress, you were a schoolteacher. What inspired the change in careers? What was it like to take that leap?

KD: What prompted me to leave a life of stability and a pension to be an artist? Since I was a little girl, I wanted to be an actress. I saw a production of Oklahoma when I was 8 and was bouncing in my chair I was so excited; I wanted to be on that stage so badly. It’s funny how things unfold though, when my jazz teacher told my parents I had no artistic rhythm, they decided I might be more successful at sports. I ended up being quite the little jock. I’ve been a competitive athlete since I was 8 or 9 and when you’re training and competing, you don’t have much time for anything else. I thought I wanted to be a doctor at one point put myself in education instead. I spent over a decade as an elementary school teacher and simply adored it. When teaching, I found that incorporating drama into the other subject areas was a great way to reach and engage my students… and it reminded me of how much I loved acting!

I took my first official acting class when I was 30 and there was no looking back. I spent 5 years balancing the two passions, teaching and acting, while living in Ottawa. But what made me leave the classroom was when I was teaching a unit on Martin Luther King Jr. and we were writing our own “I Have a Dream” speeches. The kids were so excited to share their hopes and aspirations and then one of my students asked me what my dream was. I told her that I always wanted to be an actress. She just stared at me, confused, and then so plainly asked, “Then why aren’t you doing it?”

Leaving the classroom was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. I sold all my stuff, rented out my house and moved to a basement in Toronto. Jumping into the unknown is hard for anyone to do. It’s way easier to stay in the safety zone, but I knew that I would live with this regret for the rest of my life if I didn’t take this leap of faith. Acting is my calling. I’m designed to be doing this.

ASM: What excites you most about your job as an actress? If you could have any role you wanted, what character would you most like to play?

KD: I love breathing life into a story, a character. Making a living as an artist is so fulfilling. When we were kids we created and used our imaginations without any hesitation. Being an actress gives me this same permission, as an adult. I love lifting a writer’s words off the page. I get to tap into things about myself that make these characters relatable. I love playing strong kick-ass women as much as I love playing women on the brink. I’ve never really viewed acting as being someone else. I have always viewed it as a being different versions of myself in different situations. I’m moved by performances where I don’t feel like I’m watching someone act, so I aspire to be the type of actress who does the same.

On stage, my dream role would be Lady Macbeth. She’s intriguing to me with her strength and vulnerability. On television, I’d love to play the role of Sarah Connor in Terminator but, I also just started watching Homeland, and I’d really like the role Claire Danes has! Also, remember Jennifer Garner in Alias? I’d like that role too. Oh, and Super Woman, of course, but with a few more articles of clothing. Oh, and … yeah, there are a lot of dream roles… I’m a Libra, it’s hard to pick.

CAT8posterASM: You’re also in an upcoming science fiction mini-series called CAT-8 in which catastrophic manmade solar flares put the Earth in danger. What character do you play in this mini-series? What did you enjoy about that experience?

KD: Shooting Cat. 8 was a lot of fun! How can you not have a blast when you’re about to be annihilated by a solar flare? I was excited to be in a disaster series because I’m such a SF nerd. I play Beverly Hillcroft, mother of Karen (Kalinka Petrie) and the ex-wife of lead, Matthew Modine, a renegade scientist trying to save the world. I had admired Matthew Modine since I saw Pacific Heights when I was 15, so to find out that I would be working with him was a dream come true. Our director, Kevin Fair was fantastic and created a set that was this awesome collaborative playground. We shot it in Montreal and I just love that city.

ASM: If a solar flare was heading our way, a flare that would wipe out the planet, what thing would you most like to do or accomplish before the flare hits? i.e. What’s your #1 Bucket List item?

KD: Well, this is a tough question because I’ve already started analyzing it! If we’re all going to perish, then that will affect my choice! BUT, all cause and effect aside, the # 1 thing on my list is to be a mom. I can’t wait to have kids one day. Whether I adopt or have my own, it’s definitely in my life plan. If you’re looking for something a little less deep, then I’d want to be a racecar driver.

ASM: In addition to your other releases in 2013, you’re also in the upcoming TV movie Clara’s Deadly Secret. There isn’t much information about this show online yet. Is there anything you can share about this film?

KD: Clara’s Deadly Secret is a great story. When I read the script, I asked my agent to submit me because I loved the role of Jane Jenkins. She’s a mother who is tormented by the death of her daughter. A lot of my roles are really strong, contained women but this one spoke to me because it was the other end of the spectrum. Director, Andrew Erin, and his team, fostered this environment on set where I felt safe to go to those dark places in my work. I loved working with him.

BeingHuman

ASM: You also had a guest role on the hit SyFy series Being Human. Was that your first role in a science fiction/fantasy show? What was it like acting alongside a vampire, werewolf and ghost?

KD: Being Human was the first TV show that I’d shot and I loved it. The best part of that shoot was working with Sam Huntington and Kristen Hager. They treated everyone as if they were part of the family. It’s really the best way to create a hit show – when everyone feels comfortable and welcome, good work gets done.

ASM: Would you consider yourself a geek? 🙂 Do you have favorite SF/fantasy shows or books?

KD: I definitely consider myself a geek and I geek over so many things: learning to cook, puppies and babies, Superhero movies and comics and random space trivia. As for shows in particular? I loved Alias and 24 at the time. Now it’s Homeland. There’s so much great television out there, I have a lot of favourites right now. I’m not exclusive in my geekness. Is that a word?

ASM: What other projects do you have coming up?

KD: I am the creator of an online charity reality cooking show called A Jock’s Guide. It’s a funny twist on the regular old cooking show. I’m partnered with a great charity, KidSport Ontario and all my proceeds go towards the kids in the community who can’t afford to play organized sports. I’m also honoured to be producing and acting in a new play by writer, Laureen Vonnegut.

RELEASE YOUR INNER GEEK QUIZ
The Lightning Fast SF/F/H Speed Round:

Worst Science Fiction Food:
__Soylent Green
__Slurm (from Futurama)
KD ANSWER: SOYLENT GREEN

Most Brilliant Mystery Writer:
__Edgar Allan Poe
__Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
KD ANSWER: EDGAR ALLAN POE

Most Interesting TV Town:
__Haven
__Storybook
KD ANSWER:
STORYBROOK

Best James Bond Actor:
__Sean Connery
__Daniel Craig
KD ANSWER: DANIEL CRAIG

Safest Story World for a Character:
__Game of Thrones
__True Blood
KD ANSWER: GAME OF THRONES

BONUS FILL-IN THE BLANK QUESTION:

Favorite Kickass Female Character (shameless self-promotion is highly encouraged, but not mandatory):
KD ANSWER: Sarah Connor, Terminator (Linda Hamilton), Kate Drummond in the new Super Woman movie. (…. races to vision board to salute cape picture and chant … )

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