Friday, February 11, 2011

The Global Actor

An interview with Sandra Oh from the latest issue of ACTRA* magazine where she talks about working in the US and the Thorne-set in the UK. If you're interested in the practical details of working as an actor and the business aspect of it all, check out it out below:

O.T. Fagbenle, David Morrissey and Sandra Oh in Thorne: Scaredy Cat.

As ACTRA members, we don’t just shoot in Canada, we shoot in many parts of the world where union jurisdictions may overlap, or on co-productions that move scenes from one country to the next. Many of us are multi-union cardholders, and with big network shows such as the Irish-Canadian production The Tudors and the eight-part The Pillars of the Earth, we need to do more than just keep our passports up to date. Christine Willes caught up online with some of our members to ask them how they navigate their careers in the international acting scene.
Q: How hard was it to work outside Canada? Did you get a work permit, green card, or apply for dual citizenship? Do you pay taxes in both jurisdictions?

Sandra Oh: I came down to L.A. in the summer of ‘95. I was very, very lucky. I got a job as a reoccurring character in a sitcom that was promptly cancelled but not before getting me a six-month work permit. I stayed in L.A. working on that permit on various things – play workshops, short films – then I landed a pilot for HBO, Arliss. That was shot in December of ‘95 and I decided to apply for my green card then.

I came back to Toronto and did a play, and during that time the series was picked up and my application went through. So when I moved down permanently in the spring of ‘96 it was with a job and the green card paperwork. It then took me three more years to actually receive the physical card, so a lot of schlepping travel permits and so on. I gave up my residency because I couldn't afford to keep a place in both places. I know a lot of fellow Canadian actors who do keep residency and there are a lot of benefits (tax-wise) for that.

Q: For the most part I consider our production world to be full of organized producers, but if you are pursued for a part that shoots outside of Canada do they take care of the paperwork?

Sandra: I don't think so because I have an accountant – who then hires an international accountant - for the handling of that paperwork.

Q: Do you have agents in each jurisdiction? Who else do you have to add to your team: publicist, manager, international tax accountant?

Sandra: To work in all jurisdictions it is imperative to hire or be very well versed in accounting. Usually you need accountants in both countries. My team consists of agent, manager, lawyer and accountant. And a publicist, when needed. It's a lot of overhead, especially when it comes to working internationally and all the taxes.

Q: From your experience on international productions, might you have a piece of advice for other actors who are about to go down the same path as you?

Sandra: Make sure you know why you're doing the project. If it's for creative reasons, financial or a new experience (exotic location), you have to take into account all the overhead, the agency fees, the taxes and your own expenses. Then balance that out with what's important to you because you might not want to leave your family for three months and go to Bulgaria for all-night shoots in a swamp when you're only going to end up making five bucks.

Q: Have you ever found performers in other countries have a different style or approach to their craft?

Sandra: Yes. Most recently I worked in the U.K. on Thorne: Scaredy Cat with an all-British cast. Everyone I worked with was trained and you could tell. I think when people don't make a lot of money – and that's usually the case in Canada and most other parts of the world other than perhaps the U.S. – and they accept a job, they tend to want to be there more than a gig just for money – for the script, the talent, the new experience

Q: What's the most interesting or challenging experience you’ve had working outside Canada?

Sandra: It was again Thorne: Scaredy Cat. It was the most challenging first day of shooting, and general project, I've ever had and that's because of the lack of prep. I had just fin- ished filming the final episode of the sixth season of Grey's Anatomy, flown to London and had one three-hour voice/dialect tutorial before shooting the next day. The production was not helpful with prep and I would never put myself in the same situation again.

*ACTRA (Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists) is the union of more than 21,000 professional performers working in English-language recorded media in Canada including TV, film, radio and digital media.

Source: ACTRA magazine. Winter 2011.
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