Those Damned Haunted Interviews... Helene Udy

Actress/director Helene Udy is best known for her role on Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman working alongside Jane Seymour in a reoccurring role as Myra, a prostitute with a heart of gold. Her work in the horror industry on films like The Dead Zone, My Bloody Valentine, and The Incubus gained her the ranking of the #30 horror actor out of a list of 200 on www. She also had a rather dark starring role in the film, Katie Bird Certifiable Crazy Person. Fans of soap operas might recognize her from her work on As the World Turns back in 1983. To fans of the Star Trek franchise she is also known for her role as Pel on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in the episode, Rules of Acquisition. Helene also works behind the lens as a director. She directed Nowhere Land and Naked in the Cold Sun and won a Hollywood Fringe Festival Award for her work directing the play, Rehab! The musical. Udy produced the documentary, 3 Billion and counting as well, which is expected to hit theatres sometime this year.

We caught up with her recently and managed to grab her for a chat.

1. Can you tell us a little about your beginnings and what led you to become an actor?

A writer named Helene Holden wrote a play for our school when I was a child and cast me in the lead part of the Princess. It was a magical experience. Previous to that I had tired ballet, but despite my tiny stature was pushed to the back of the class due to a complete lack of talent. So that was out. Later in high school my girlfriend Marla Neftin and I took up the guitar. Marla was five times better than me in half the time. Acting was the only thing that stuck.

2. Your father was a city planner, professor, artist, and musician. Do you think his creativity was a major influence to your own?

My father was a constant source of inspiration. He would read us poetry and introduced us to classical, jazz and Frank Zappa. He played the double bass, he painted. He was incredibly inventive and under his guidance, creative thinking and doing was something to be admired and cherished. My Dad chose and coached the two monologues that got me into theatre school. I was fifteen and about 4 foot ten at the time. He chose Lady M and Lady Bracknell for me. Needless to say my performance was memorable and I was the youngest child at that time to get into that particular program.

3. What was your mother like? Did they encourage from early on to always pursuing your passions?

My mother was a task master in a lot of ways. She expected the most of me. She kind of scared me a bit. She was the disciplinarian. I can’t say she was a lot of fun. But she was willing to be disliked to get the most out of me and show me my potential. I needed both parents to succeed. I do admire my mom’s courage in many ways. Without discipline, very little is possible. Great choices are not always the easiest choice. You have to have stamina to get through. I thank my mom for that.

4. Were you nervous when you got your first major acting role? Do you remember what was running through your mind the first day on the job?

No. I was really determined to get and to do a great job with my first acting role. I saw everything as an opportunity to make art. Or to communicate. I have always seen even the worst sorry whether on screen or on stage as an opportunity to elevate and illuminate either myself, or the person watching. I still constantly look for ways to find the greatest purpose for any project, large or small. And by that. To stay as inspired as possible. I was so excited. My first day on any acting job was actually as an extra on a movie that was shooting in Montreal, starring Vince van Patten and Claire Pimpare about a hockey player. A group of “extras” including myself were told to run to the gate of the college and try to get in, or out, (can’t remember). I ran and I believed it as hard as possible, is the only way I can describe it. It was completely exhilarating. It was not the best movie, but I felt in that moment that it was, extremely important. And that thought elevated me into the moment completely.

5. How do you think the acting world has changed most since you started your career? How would you most like to see it change in the future?

I grew up with movies that were character and story driven. Movies that I will always cherish. Birdy, Gallipoli, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid, American Graffiti, Annie Hall, Being There, The Godfather, and Last Tango in Paris. The stories were about people and their relationship to each other and the world. These were the movies that moved me. But cinema is doing many different things, serving many different functions all over the world; the beauty of it now is that I can enjoy the story telling of such a variety of filmmakers now, not just the American blockbusters. Pedro Almodovar is among my favourite story tellers at the moment. Exposure to different cultures and different modes of thinking is so pleasantly available. Inspiration is everywhere. I would like someone to give me all I need to make my own movie, and do a great job with it. Is that in my future? Hah. Other than that, I feel we are headed in all the right, many and varied directions that this new interconnected interrelated world deserves. I have my preferred interests, but there is something for everyone.

6. You yourself are a fan of the original Star Trek series. Why do you think it has had such a timeless appeal?

It appeals to all my senses and all my personal age groups. I’m fascinated with the unknown, and what’s out there. It shows human potential at its best. These are good men and woman and on a journey of friendship and exploration not decimation. So that’s a hopeful depiction of humanity. The Trouble with Tribbles is such a fun episode. I have seen it 10 times and could see it ten more. It is only now clear to me William Shatner’s ability to self-parody and to be amusing, that his huge personality, and willingness to wear black stretch flood pants as if it was an invincible suit of armour truly sustained and elevated the show. I identify with his commitment to possibility. Maybe he did not even know consciously then, what he has mastered as a personal art form now. But ultimately it is still the most fabulous exploration of kitsch, and fun and who can resist any tale where everything always works out for the best in the end?

7. What was your role like as Pel on Deep Space Nine? Did you enjoy playing such a character?

Pel was a very determined young woman who was trying to change the role of females within her species. She had tremendous courage and tremendous honour. And she was a boundary breaker. The character was an absolute honour to play because the character’s soul was so full of honour.

8. What is your fondest memory from the set?

We had the hardest time with the kiss, because the dentures were modelled very carefully after Piranha teeth. And they were extremely sharp. We had a few painful encounters. But Armin was such a lovely and welcoming guy. And very funny. He had great comic timing. We got over it.

9. How did you prepare for your role as a Ferengi? Did you know anything about the characters before you landed the job? How did you research the role?

The character started with the voice for me. Once I found the voice, I found the character. I loved the characters courage. That was my grounding post. I did not actually study too much on Ferengis except with the information I was given. I am glad of this. It allowed me to look at the needs of the script and the story and form the character form there, as opposed to getting caught up in what the producers might expect, and getting lost in that vortex of people pleasing. The need to please can often kill the ability to venture out. It is always best for me, to come from my own heart and hope for the best.

10. What is it like to have to be in makeup for four hours? Did make you feel a little more comfortable to be in your own skin and not have to bother with so made up?

The most unfortunate thing about doing this show was my discovery that I was dangerously claustrophobic. This uncontrollable need to tear my face off as the day wore on almost overcame me one very long 14 hour day. In my delusion, I called my then boyfriend and told him that I was very close to pulling my face off. Lucky for me, we lived 5 minutes from the set and he appeared immediately to make sure I did nothing stupid. But I do think the producer was aware that I was losing my mind. Apparently after my stint on the show, they put a huge warning that no-one with claustrophobia should audition for the show. Kind of a pity. Pel had the potential to recur, but they knew in that first episode that my claustrophobia would make that unlikely.

11. What are your feelings on aliens in general? Do you believe in life on other planets?

I am not obsessed with thinking about it, but it seems unlikely that we are the only living form in the whole universe. Sometimes I find the behaviour of certain factions of humanity so inhuman, it does make me wonder if aliens walk among us even now. I try not to think too much about the un-humans I have met here on earth. As none of them are particularly nice. But perhaps there are folks I have met that give me the sense that they are a greater and better breed of human. So maybe aliens good and bad exist here already, at least metaphorically. I’m happy to see it that way.

12. I know a fortune teller once gave you advice that kind of stuck with you. How do you feel about clairvoyance, telepathy and such? Do you think people are often guided by unseen forces or unexplained feelings of certainty?

I feel that thoughts are energy in as much as we are made up mostly of water and may arguably therefore manifest some form of electric something. I’m a plebe. I don’t have the language for such things. But if backed against a wall, I would have to admit I have a vague unformed, uncertain feeling that more is happening than the human eye can see or science can necessarily prove. My dog is barking at the air quite deliberately as we speak. There is nothing there. Who can explain this? But she is taken with something.

13. Have you found faith is a helpful virtue to possess in your career and life in general?

I think having a dream and trusting your instincts keeps you on the path of possibility much more effectively than wandering around life without a reason. I believe in virtue. I have no proof that being bad is better than being good. Sometimes it appears to me that virtue is always overcome by darkness. But maybe it is that I naturally resist darkness as it seems endless and formless and ultimately useless for anything other than to produce nightmares. As maudlin as it may sound, I definitely prefer to stand firmly in virtue where light, as it were, is most likely to appear.

14. You have said your role as Myra has been your favourite so far. What did you enjoy most about playing her?

Oh Gosh. I truly loved Myra. Myra was a better person than I can possible ever expect to be. But she made me a better person. She was courageous, sweet, and extremely naïve. But how wonderful to be so naïve and believe so much that change is possible. And she was funny. Myra was a very funny person. I’m not sure she knew it. But it was lovely to inhabit her for a time.

15. What did you learn from working with Jane? Do you find her professionalism...inspiring?

Dedication and tirelessness are what I learned from Jane. She was in almost every scene, working 12 hours a day 5 days a week with a very short break in between. She never complained about the work, and she was always available and very kind to the fans that appeared on set. She made the connection that it was these devoted people that continued to fuel interest in the show, and in her. She did not get where she is, and remain relevant, by accident. She has maintained her career through tremendous devotion, determination and hard work. It’s exhausting just thinking about all she manifests through her guided actions, and her perseverance. She’s a very dynamic and admirable personality in that way.

16. How did it feel to win the Hollywood Fringe Festival for your work on Rehab! Can you tell those not familiar with it a little about it?

Rehab! The musical was written by a friend form high school. I grew up watching his talent grow and bloom and then watched as life side tracked him and he had to focus on a making a living and taking care of his family. It was such a pleasure to participate in the fuelling of his creative revival. Such a fantastically talented guy. He is, and always has been, talented right through and down to his very toes because the production itself was so fraught with misery and difficulty in more ways than I have time to explain. But I was determined for Patrick’s sake, to see it through. Winning the Hollywood Fringe festival for best Musical was such a shocking surprise to us both; it was so much more than we had expected. There is nothing like a small miracle to make one feel that indeed, anything is truly possible. I think Patrick is a creative Monster now. There’s no stopping him. That is how it should be.

17. How does stage work differ most from film work?

Repetition, repetition, repetition... ha. With stage you discover, you question, you doubt, you forget, you rediscover, you try desperately to hang onto what’s working and then it morphs on you again. Then the audience gives you instant feedback for better or worse. Theatre produces a very visceral interaction between the audience and the performers. Theatre frightens me far more than film does. I would say theatre, in more ways than one is the ultimate endurance test

18. Do you enjoy acting, producing, and directing equally or is there one you love to do more?

I prefer acting to anything. But I can’t seem to stop producing. If I see something that speaks to me, I have to find a way to get it done in whatever capacity. It’s like a duty. Kind of horrible. It has gotten me in a lot of tough spots. But it’s usually worth it

19. Do you feel lucky to be able to work in a field that offers people a much need little bit of escapism?

That’s funny. I see it more as human communion. We’re all together in the dark.

20. Katie Bird left an impression on you as well, why do you think that was?

Katie Bird was an absolute torturous character to play. And the director was a complete maniac. I underestimated him. He is a complete genius and the film itself makes that plainly clear. Sometimes you have to go through hell, to explain hell. That’s what playing the character of Katie Bird was like. And as art would have it, I was dating a truly horrible person at the time. A horribly sort of mind bending guy. I have to think him for the inspiration he provided. Completely coincidental though his presence in my life, at that time, may appear to be.

21. What are your feelings on how the world views mental illness in our time? Do you feel people are viewed unjustly for such things?

I feel there are many and varying levels of truth and that truth is relative. It is hard to say what motivates a soul. But no-one walks around this world, thinking they are nuts, or evil. They are generally projected into action through a sense of their own weird truth. I like to believe that the truth of any matter eventually rises to the surface. Sometimes, it does appear that crazy folks are just highly motivated truth seekers it’s true. But some are just plain nuts.

22. How do you hope to be remembered when your time comes?

As having made a difference and moved humanity forward towards a better way of being. Isn’t that so with all of us? I think we all innately want to help. It’s the question of what’s helpful that we sometimes differ in.

23. What do you think you would be doing if you hadn't chosen this line of work?

I’d be a news reporter or a marine biologist or maybe I’d head up an orphanage in Africa. Hey, there’s still time. You never know…

24. What are you working on at the moment?

I'm working on a horror movie about what it is to be human. No really. Funny huh? I just noticed that now.

Helene, it has been a pleasure speaking with you. Many thanks