When did you become involved in the industry and how?
I started out doing community theatre in my hometown of Fall River, Massachusetts when I was in grade 9, and after that, became heavily involved in school musicals and plays. After I graduated from high school, I became a Theatre and Film major at The University of Massachusetts, in Amherst, MA. I earned my B.A. in June 1986 on a Saturday and moved to New York City three days later on the following Tuesday.
In New York I started working as a receptionist at an interior design company and then as a waitress for about a year. Around that same time, I also started booking background work on various NYC soap operas. I also did some commercial print work and landed a few roles in Off- Broadway plays.
Eventually, I was cast in a U.S. National commercial for “Tinactin Athletes Foot Powder”, which ran during the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Stanley Cup etc.; that commercial paid more than I could have ever imagined for one day’s work, so I was able to quit waitressing fairly early on, and dedicate all of my time to working as an actor.
I did my research and hired the best headshot photographer in NYC at that time and got three great shots. I then made up postcards of my headshots (a common industry tool in the days before the internet existed) and mailed one out every other day for about six months to ensure that the casting directors in New York knew who I was.
I was so excited when I booked my first small speaking role on “All My Children” that I invited my friends over to watch the episode when it aired on television. I recall recoiling in horror at how awful I thought my performance was. It seemed sooo over the top! I just sat there in tears and resolved with myself that I needed training in film acting – and I needed it fast. It was like an epiphany when I realized that a theatre degree and training in theatre has virtually nothing to do with acting for the camera.
So I did some more research and found out who the best acting teacher was in New York at the time; I enrolled in classes under the direction of the late Wynn Handman, and his protégé Sally Stewart.
When the same casting director who cast me in All My Children contacted me again to audition for a recurring role on “One Life To Live” a few months later, I hired my acting teacher to coach me for the audition – and I got the part! The role of Coco Laine was my first regular gig as a television actor, and qualified me to join AFTRA and SAG. I felt like I was in Heaven.
Daytime television was an amazing training ground for me. We would have to shoot an entire 1 hour episode in one day. Then, we would go home late at night and have to memorize scenes for the next day. I played that role for about four months, got a great agent and then auditioned for the role of Monique McCallum on a new NBC daytime drama called “Generations”.
I flew out to Los Angeles for a screen test and then found myself moving to LA the following week. Generations ran for two years; it was such an exciting time in my life!
After that I stayed in LA and worked in prime time, feature films, commercials and eventually started doing voice over work too!
What is it that draws you to Manitoba’s Film Industry, as opposed to that of Vancouver, Toronto or the U.S. for example?
While living in LA I booked a pilot for ABC called “Jumpin Joe & Crows Nest”. It was an experimental series written by Steve Kronish, and which contemplated two television series airing back to back and where the main characters overlapped across both shows.
The pilot took me to Vancouver for the first time. I met many amazing and talented people while working there and fell in love with the city and with Canada. Many of the people I met during my years in Vancouver are still my dearest friends today.
I eventually immigrated to Canada in the late ’90s and an agent in Vancouver asked me if I would consider teaching a class for some of his clients. I agreed and during that time I met my husband, Paul Magel.
Paul and I were married a year later and we started teaching workshops together and acting in the film industry. After our second child was born, my father passed away, (my mother had pre-deceased him in 2000) and Paul and I realized that our children only had one grandmother and grandfather left and they didn’t live in Vancouver – they lived in Paul’s hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba!
So we packed up our family and moved to the prairies. We had no idea that Winnipeg had a thriving film & tv industry. We thought we were “retiring” to Winnipeg to raise our children, but about a week after arriving in town, I got a call from Winnipeg Casting Director, Jim Heber regarding a new series called “Less Than Kind”… and it went from there!
Tell us a bit about your experience working on Less Than Kind. I understand that you played the role of Clara Fine. Tell us a bit about the audition for that role?
Yes! I miss Clara!
As I mentioned, we had just moved to Winnipeg; I had an infant and a toddler at the time, and my father had recently passed away. I was so underwater with life at the time that at the start of the casting process I didn’t register much about the project. I went in to read for Jim, went home and that was it.
However, about a month later, Jim contacted me about coming in for a callback. I told him I couldn’t! I was swamped with my little ones and trying to find a house and just getting used to a new city. We had this same conversation a few times and finally Jim said, “Look Nancy, you should really make the time to come in and at least meet the people who are doing the show and read a scene with Wendel Meldrum!”
The morning of the callback, I went to a hair salon as I didn’t even have time to think about my hair, etc. for the audition. After my hair was done I took Paul with me next door to a clothing store connected to the salon. We told the woman at the store what the character was like and she brought out a few outfits that were definitely not “Nancy” but very, very “Clara”!
I took her advice, put the outfit on and went over to Fort Garry Place to read. When I walked into the room my jaw dropped. Mark McKinney was sitting front and centre along with about fifteen other people in the room.
I didn’t grow up in Canada so didn’t know what “Kids In The Hall” was, but I was a HUGE fan of “Slings & Arrows” so I knew instantly who this man in front of me was. I walked in to the audition room and first thing that happened was he said “hello”.. Then I just loudly blurted out: “MARK MCKINNEY!??” Then I read the scene with Wendel and got the part.
Tell us about how you prepared as an actor for that role. Is there a part (or more than one part) of Clara that you personally relate to?
I just drew from all the vibrant and funny people I grew up with in Fall River, Massachusetts. I went to high school with a lot of Claras! I guess, on a personal level, I also related strongly to Clara’s vulnerability. In particular, she messed up over and over and over again but her heart never closed up… neither did her mouth! We had both of those things in common!
What is your best memory of working on Less than Kind?
There were so many, it’s hard to pin point just one, but two do stand out for me.
The first was the final episode that Maury Chaykin shot. This wasn’t “the best”, but certainly was the most treasured memory.
Maury was very ill but managed to work right through the season. As is tradition, after an actor has shot his/her last scene the AD announces “That’s a wrap on…(in this case Maury)” Well, we all knew he was very, very ill. He started to say “Thank yous” to the crew and he broke down… as everyone did at that moment.
I was overwhelmed and I hid behind some scenery. I’m terrible at saying goodbye, and this particular goodbye was very difficult. Maury and I had a fun working relationship; we teased and insulted one another as a form of (what I hoped) was mutual admiration. He taught me so much. I loved the guy.
Anyway, he spotted me standing behind a plant or something and yelled at me across the soundstage: “Hey, Sorel!…Na, na, na, Nope! You get over here and say goodbye to me!”
I did. We hugged goodbye and I just crumbled. I never saw him again.
The second memory I want to mention is from when we were shooting the very last scene of the show:
The whole core cast was working that evening to shoot the final dinner scene that then turns into a surreal perspective of the entire series from Sheldon’s POV.
A whopper of a wrap party was planned for when we finished filming and we were all feeling excited and sad etc.. After we finished shooting the master of the last scene, it was getting late and everyone figured we would just be another hour or so. So, around midnight people started getting into the champagne and other spirits between set ups. It seemed innocent at first! But by the time we wrapped, at 6:00am, well… let’s say it was all a beautiful blur! I remember us walking out of the studio into the sunrise as we said our goodbyes.
I understand that you husband, Paul, is also an ACTRA member – what is that like?
It is amazing! We’ve been together for twenty-one years.
Do you and Paul practice/work together?
Yes. Paul coaches me on all my auditions and is the reader/DOP on all of my self tapes and I do the same for him. We’re a team and I never take for granted how lucky we are to have each other.
So far we have worked together playing husband and wife quite a few times. It makes the work so easy…no need to build relationship because it’s already there!
On our 25th anniversary I think we should make a reel of all the scenes we’ve done together over the years!
Do you and Paul write or otherwise create for film together?
We don’t at this point in time. We’re raising two children and also running our businesses so time is a commodity right now. We keep notes of different ideas we both have for series and features.
When the time comes, I think Paul will most likely write/produce and I will direct them.
What is your most memorable role that you have performed and why?
There are a few that stand out.
I was in an episode of “The X-Files” called “The Walk”. While we were filming that, I learned that I was claustrophobic when I had to be zipped up in a body bag, be lifted up onto a gurney and wheeled away…with no inside zipper! I still get nightmares…
Also, working with Ian Tracey on “DaVinci’s Inquest” was fantastic. I played his very messed up ex-wife. Shooting those episodes was the first time I felt like I had hit the “sweet spot” or the “zone” that we all work towards. I finally felt like a real actor.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to get started in the industry?
Ask yourself these questions:
- Am I really willing to work my butt off for this?
- Do I LOVE acting?
- Am I willing to take myself seriously as an actor?
- Am I willing to train/keep up my fitness/self care?
- Am I willing to invest everything I have into my professional materials (headshots/reel/clothing/make up/ hair/classes/self taping, equipment/good mental health etc?)
- Am I willing to take constructive criticism?
- Am I willing to make myself strong enough to handle the vicissitudes this career can bring?
- Am I willing to always be a beginner and to always keep myself learning?
As actors we have to study every facet of human life. We need to know ‘Human Being’ better than other people do. We as actors have the ability to make people laugh, cry, experience terror, love, doubt, joy, arousal, fear and everything in between – it is a humble AND noble profession. I think many, many of us forget this, and we give away our power and our feelings of self-worth to others whom we deem to be more powerful than we are in our industry. I think we need to stop doing that and replace it with a solid work ethic.
Over and over I watch young actors succeed because they do this. The ones who show up for a class unprepared, or show up late for a call time, or don’t take care of themselves, inevitably are those who have not answered “Yes” to the above questions yet. They don’t yet believe they deserve a respectable seat at this industry table. If they don’t…then no one will.
We at the Women’s Committee of ACTRA Manitoba are always working with the ACTRA National Women’s Committee on ways to increase work opportunities for women – especially women who are not in the “ingenue” category anymore. With that in mind, have you encountered any particular challenges as a female in the film industry, and if so, what advice would you give to other female actors about overcoming such challenges?
As far as work opportunities go, I see this changing rapidly every day and this makes me hopeful.
I was the ingenue in the ’80s and ’90s, so I don’t think we have enough room in this interview for me to share the challenges I have encountered as a result of my being a professional actor in the industry who is female. It would take hours to read, unfortunately.
I’m one of the “lucky” ones. Not to say my stories are not important to share. They are. I believe any women over thirty who has been working prolifically in this industry would be able to share numerous challenges they have encountered, from the horrific to the humiliating, to simply the unjust, illegal or unfair. Challenges of this nature continue to be rampant, even post #metoo.
It’s so rampant that many of our stories have now been relegated to the realm of background noise – each chilling obstacle, assault, disregard, mistreatment and disrespect having been diminished by the overload of truths shared. The sheer volume of stories is currently making society and our industry numb. It is an awfully tragic reality.
It continues to be rampant because female film professionals will often still not come forward and speak out fully out of fear that they might be punished one way or another. In my view, it is still a pervasive concern that if they report abuse, discrimination, harassment, bullying, or exclusion, it might cost them what little dignity they have maintained. This certainly takes a severe toll on their health and sadly, the result of this is one which only adds insult to injury: they lose work.
I am pleased to see that Guidelines are being developed and put in place for productions and that a dialogue on this topic is evolving. My hope is that as more and more producers and production managers become invested in equality and dignity for all, that things will change and the number of occurrences will be reduced if not eliminated entirely.
What can we as female performers do?
Again: Start taking ourselves seriously as professional artists. Stop sexualizing our humanness on social media. I become despondent when I see talented, intelligent, hard-working female actors selling themselves as sexual objects on Instagram. I am not saying that female sexuality isn’t powerful or beautiful… it is. But a female professional in this industry does not need to exploit that online. When she walks into the room her beauty and talent will shine through.
To the contrary, when an actor posts countless nude/ bathing suit or other sexual imagery of themselves, the industry at large gets bored and she/he is not taken seriously.
Instead, start seeing yourself, your thoughts and your actions as important. As dignified. As strong. As powerful. As noble.
Female performers can start saying “No”. They can say “No” to auditions if the material creates the energy of female as sexual object. That would be another good start. They can say “NO” to a lot. I think that will make room for more “yes” in the future.
As an actor, what are you doing during the current global crisis and social distancing in order keep practicing and stay sharp?
It’s not a time for that…for me anyway. I think this is a time for us to be going within. A time for honouring ourselves and others. A time for self-care and for the care of others. This is a time for contemplation. A time of change. Healing. Growing.
This is a time for things that can fill our artist’s well and make us all profoundly present. We may not be aware of how much this experience will change us all until it’s over.
Our industry will most likely go through another massive shift. I hope it will bring us a workplace with greater compassion and respect. I think this can happen if we all start to contemplate our mutual dignity.
We performers and film folk in general have a tremendous wealth of beauty, creativity and love…not to mention talent!
On a practical level I have offered my students one on one sessions online with me at no cost. This is my gift to my students as none of us are earning any money right now… but we all still need to feel connected.
I also understand that you teach. What is your approach in the classroom?
I’ve been teaching workshops and coaching actors and singers for over twenty-five years. I also host a 3-day/night retreat for performers once a year.
I get asked a lot about my approach in the classroom. To begin, I usually ask prospective students to contact a few current or former students to get that answer. Usually they will get varied responses, which will hopefully provide them with a good foundation for deciding whether they wish to study with me.
Generally though, I teach a mindfulness based approach to the craft rooted in Method and Meisner technique. Then we switch gears and it’s a bit of career boot camp!
We try to offer at least three, 6-week workshops per year. They are primarily designed for the professional performer. I do require that all people who apply have studied acting previously and have worked on set already.
We put notices of upcoming workshops on social media, including our Facebook page: Acting For Film & Television with Nancy Sorel. Actors who are interested should send us their headshot and resume.
In addition, private coaching is always available Monday-Friday, 10:00am-4:00pm. On set coaching is also an option. The Retreat is usually held at the end of June.
Do you have any general “business” tips that you want to share with our members?
Always be gracious and humble. For example, if you’ve auditioned for or booked a role, don’t hesitate to reach out to the director/producer or casting director and say “thank you”. Don’t do it by email. Take the time and make the effort to send a hand-written note, on personalized stationary or notecards.
Something handwritten is ‘tangible’ and is appreciated and valued. It shows grace and effort on your part. You will be taken seriously.
Know What You Want
Answer the “Am I” questions. Make sure you have clearly identified what you want as an actor. Define your goal and then everything will just fall into place. If it doesn’t, take a look at yourself and be honest with yourself about “why am I not getting called in?” or “why am I not booking?”, for example.
Take workshops. Stay connected. Maintain your demo reel(s). Take different classes. Draw from the different approaches to acting that you learn; not all of it may work for you, but adopt those things that do and create YOUR method that WORKS for YOU.
If your goal is to win a CSA, Emmy or Oscar, then move to Vancouver, Toronto or LA. You can’t lay an egg if you’re not in the nest. Make sure you have a kick-ass demo reel that you’ve made from all your great work here in Manitoba, and then go for it! Once you’ve won your Emmy, you can always come back to Winnipeg later and give back to those who have the same dreams as you – because Winnipeg is a great place to raise a family!
If you want to cultivate a career in Manitoba, then build a life in Winnipeg and pour yourself into classes and making yourself known. The industry is growing rapidly here. Do not hold back – commit to your career and what you have to do.
Know what you want. Be clear on the “what”. Then be willing to do the work and the rest will follow.
Stay connected to the acting community. It’s important to surround yourself with supportive, creative, like-minded individuals.
Ask questions. Never assume you know it all. Always know that you need to constantly be learning in order to be a good actor, and then when you’re a good actor, reset your goals and learn to be a great actor, and so on. The learning does not stop in this business.
As well, the people you meet in the business will become the community you have to work with. Your connections, your educators, your references, your mentors…the list goes on. Grow your contacts – like any profession, the greater the pool of people you know, the greater the opportunities.
Anything else you would like to share with our members?
If you don’t already: Meditate. Start small. Close your eyes and breathe for just 3-5 minutes. After that, work your way towards a longer, more formal practice of your choosing. Even look online for videos on platforms like YouTube, etc. that contain guided meditations. Trust me – it will make you feel good. It will make your mind stronger, more focused and less prone to ANXIETY. Anxiety is the number one demon performers come to me for help with.
Meditation is a powerful tool and helps to counteract the number one struggle in auditions – nerves. The audition setting is unnatural and is not designed to support the creative process. Meditating (and training of course) will help you become more graceful with this challenge.
When this pandemic is over, make yourself attend a class of your choosing. Stay connected in community with other actors. (Ignore the “ya buts” on this.) It’s crucial.
The life of a film & tv actor is incredibly solitary, yet we are all more hardwired than most to crave connection. Reach out. It’s essential.
Especially during these times.
Hang in there everyone.