Quietly, Gander’s Sara Canning has had herself an amazing 2017. The 10 year professional actor, whose name should bounce rather effortlessly off the tongue of her fellow Newfoundlanders through high profile stints in Remedy, Hell on Wheels and The Vampire Diaries, found some of her greatest career successes over the course of the past year. Yet despite an upward trajectory and raise in public profile, Canning is staying cognizant of who she is, where she comes from, and practicing in the art of staying grounded.
“I’ve become good, after having a decade of doing this now, of sort of setting sights on what the next thing is,” Canning explains. “For me lately that involves a lot of my own work. I’ve been writing a lot and I’ve been planning on getting some short films made and I want to do a feature film. But then I stop for a second and it’s like oh right, that’s cool, War For the Planet of the Apes happened this year.”
Canning has reason to pinch herself, as she lent her substantial acting chops to the role of Lake in War For The Planet of the Apes. That’s right, our very own Ganderrite portrayed one of the signature apes in the worldwide blockbuster, starring alongside the likes of Andy Serkis and Woody Harrelson. That’s a big deal.
“Getting the job was incredible, but then we jumped right into training. We did like a three week ape boot camp, us new apes,” Canning shares, laughing.
“There were about five or six new major characters that show up, ape characters in this film. We did three weeks of training, which was just unreal. We would spend 30 minutes just working on breathing and just getting out of the cerebral and into the instinctual. Letting go of the over-thinking we do as humans and drop into that really primal reactionary instinctual thing of what it means to be an ape. That was such an interesting lesson.
“From there we were out in the woods and running around with our arm extensions on. People would jog by with their dogs and we’re running down a path as apes. It was just a fascinating experience. I just go to work as you do any other job and you just get zoned in on what the very specifics of what you’re doing are.”
Canning wouldn’t stray too far from her more familiar medium of television. She reprised her role of Jenna Sommers in the final season of The Vampire Diaries, before appearing as a regular in the Netflix adaptation of renowned children’s series Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Canning’s performance as Jacquelyn Seleszyka earned her a Leo nomination for Best Guest Performance.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be able to have been a part of some long-running shows, so now I can kind of take a beat when a script comes my way – even in choosing what to audition for or what not to audition for,” Canning says.
“I kind of feel a sort of balance of being a part of a series like Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, because series work is very valuable to an actor because there’s somewhat of a steady element to it and you kind of know if you’re going to be working next month or not. Something like that is just so imaginative.”
With aspirations for a career in acting bubbling at the tender age of 12, and a proper career spanning 10 years, Canning has the desire, and creative inclinations, to make a real mark on the industry. But despite reaching a fairly comfortable stage of her career, Canning is far from negligent of her homegrown roots. Quite the contrary, in fact.
“It is so much a part of who I am it just comes out,” Canning says of her Newfoundland pride.
“If anyone, in an interview situation or not asks me where I’m from, it’s always Newfoundland. I’ve lived in many cities and I do feel at home in many places, which is really nice, but Newfoundland has always been and always will be home to me … That comes up often, and the great thing is an interviewer ends up chatting about Newfoundland, they either say they love Newfoundland or love every person from Newfoundland that they’ve met.
“It’s like they already have a very formed opinion of what Newfoundland is. The people who haven’t been always say that they want to go. It’s always a very warm thing to talk about with anybody. I’m fiercely proud of being from Newfoundland, that’s for damn sure.
“People come for the cultural richness just as much as the icebergs or the whales. It’s getting screeched in, the whole experience,” she adds. “I think Newfoundlanders have always been amazing storytellers. There’s just a huge artistic spectrum on the island, and I feel like it’s really being recognized for that now on a global front, which is really exciting.”
As for the future, Canning aims to branch out creatively, letting her passions and interests guide her in ways less experienced or those lacking in confidence wouldn’t dare. She isn’t relying on pre-conceived expectations on where she should be career-wise, but rather letting the wild ride that is acting unfold as it may.
“I think one thing I have in mind for this year is not having really specific expectations,” she says. “That’s a really hard thing to have in this industry. You really never know from one day to the next where you’re going to be or what you’re going to be doing. It’s exciting. I think I’m finally at a place in my life where I really embrace that and can actually find some freedom in that. When I was younger that made me slightly crazy, being unable to plan anything. I think I’ve really started to embrace it.
“I really do want to focus on what kind of vision I want to have. I just have so many interests and I think I can filter my interests into my work. I think this is going to be a real year of zoning in on some of those things for myself, and really finding some focus. It’s all part of finding out what it is to lead an artistic life. And that’s exciting to me. It’s exciting to not know where I’ll be at the end of 2018.
“It’s been a really good diving-off point I think, the end of 2017. I feel very fortunate to be where I’m at and I’m feeling very curious. I’m feeling fortunate, because the world is in such a state right now. You can’t flick on the news without something wild and sometimes very tragic going on. I just feel very lucky to have some really wonderful steady folks around me, to have a really good family and to not fear for my safety and to have the brain space to be able to daydream and think about what I really might want to do. I feel like that alone is incredibly fortunate.”