Actress Lisa Berry chats about Continuum, Shakespeare and why Richmond Hill will always be home
Growing up in Richmond Hill, she was the kid who would cower behind her mom when a stranger approached.
If it weren’t for her mother, Lisa Berry would never have graced the small screen. In fact, this versatile actor would likely never have stepped in front of a camera without the prodding and encouragement of the person she calls, “the greatest woman I know.”
Fans of Berry’s work — including two popular Showcase series, Continuum and Lost Girl, and a host of other TV shows and films — should be thankful both for her talent and her mother’s insight.
Berry was quite shy as a child, in contrast with her dynamism today (which is quite evident while she chats). She’s currently in Vancouver wrapping up her work on Continuum and helping her actor fiancé, Dion Johnstone, with his own project, The Ties That Bind.
Growing up in Richmond Hill, she was the kid who would cower behind her mom when a stranger approached. And needless to say, Berry refused her mother’s entreaties to enter a talent show.
However, there was something about showbiz that stuck with Berry because by the time she was 22 she had built a successful career as a makeup artist and stylist. Everything was going well, but Berry’s mother had other plans for her daughter.
“My mom said to me, ‘I know you enjoy what you’re doing now, but I think you should be an actor,’ which is very rare for parents to tell their kids,” Berry acknowledges.
It was a case of role reversal: Berry wanted to tread cautiously, and her mother was ready for risk.
“I had my own doubts,” says Berry. “I didn’t know how I was going to pay rent, because you hear so many horror stories about being an actor, but my mom said, ‘I would never tell you to go into a business that challenging if I didn’t think you were really talented.’”
With ample encouragement, Berry headed into an open call audition for the onstage production of the Lion King. She says she went in part just to prove her mother wrong, but we all know how that often turns out.
“My mom was, like, ‘It doesn’t sound like I’m way off base — with no singing, acting or dancing lessons, the Lion King was interested in you,’” recalls Berry. She made it to the final round of callbacks.
Supported by her family and still living at her parents’ house in Richmond Hill, Berry enrolled in the Randolph Academy and dove headlong into “the greatest experience of my life.”
“I already had an agent before I finished the program,” Berry recounts. “I was helping at the front of house during a show and just goofing around, and a woman comes up to me and says, ‘Do you sing as well?’ I said, ‘Don’t mind if I do!’ And I just burst out in song then and there. She was like, ‘I’d like to sign you.’ ”
That woman was a representative of Newton Landry — one of the most successful talent agencies in Canada. Berry was soon getting commercial and TV offers, becoming so busy that she wasn’t even certain she could finish her program. But finish she did, working hard is a complement to her natural talent.
Berry also set her sights high, to test her own acting chops: she wanted to be onstage, and she wanted to be performing the Bard.
“It was always easier for me to get into film than theatre, so I worked extra, extra hard to keep the craft up,” explains Berry. “It was two or three years after I graduated before I finally got to work at Shaw and then Stratford and then other major Canadian stages.”
To further build her Shakespeare repertoire, she began to take extra classes on the side, and within four months she landed a lead role in the Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of Pericles.
It also didn’t hurt that Berry’s fiancé is, as she puts it, “a little bit of a Stratford star.” Johnstone is in his ninth season at the festival, and Berry credits him with keeping her on her toes when it comes to Shakespeare.
“Every now and again he’ll just whip out a sonnet,” Berry says. “He’s just so well versed in it … and I think it’s pretty romantic.”
Ironically, all her theatre experience led Berry right back to the work she’s focused on today — Continuum. “Shakespeare and sci-fi both require the same things of an actor,” says Berry.
“Ian McKellen and all of those bigwigs have made that connection. Shakespeare is great training for sci-fi because you have to work with long-winded sentences and words and jargon that you’ve never heard before, but if you understand what you’re saying, the audience will too.”
To nail her role on Continuum as a time-travelling soldier, Berry draws on her personal template of female strength: her mother.
“When I get asked to play strong women characters like on Continuum, it’s something I can tap into relatively quickly because my mother is just the strongest person I know,” Berry says. “I’m lucky to have a bloodline of strong, confident women in my life.”
Berry is also currently tackling one of the feistiest female characters in existence, Wonder Woman. She and Johnstone are working on a second YouTube episode of a side project in which they give voice to issues of DC Comics’ new Superman/Wonder Woman series.
“It was just a little project that I started for myself, but it got rave reviews, including a thumbs-up on Twitter from one of DC Comics’ top artists: Charles Soule, the creator and writer of the series,” says Berry excitedly.
Despite all her acting success and jet-setting for film, television and theatre projects, Berry still feels rooted in Richmond Hill. Her family remains there, and whenever she returns for a home-cooked meal, Berry marvels at the beauty of the area.
“At a lookout point on the east side of Bayview just past Elgin Mills, you can see the stars and look down on all of the beauty,” she says, before proudly adding, “also, my mom loves landscaping and is constantly winning Best Front Yard.”