By Carol Crenna Gabrielle Miller - Turning the Right Corner
Vista asks Gabrielle how she stays balanced within her burgeoning career, living in LA, flying back and forth to Vancouver and other cities for location-shooting almost weekly.
VISTA: Starring in two series at once must keep you busy. Are they shot at the same time?
Gabrielle: Corner Gas is shot in Saskatchewan and Robson Arms is in Vancouver. When one finishes the other begins. I do a lot of travelling though. I just returned from filming a movie in Montreal and tomorrow I'm going to New York because Corner Gas has been nominated for an Emmy Award. And then I fly to Toronto, back to Los Angeles and right away to Vancouver to see my boyfriend, an actor who lives there.
VISTA: How do you combat air travel?
Gabrielle: I don't think flying is the greatest thing for our bodies, but I deal with it. I drink lots of water and I do as much stretching on the plane as possible because flying bothers my lower back. I also usually bring my own food.
VISTA: You're vegetarian. Are you also vegan?
Gabrielle: I was born a vegetarian. I sometimes eat rennet-free cheese but otherwise I'm vegan. Both of my parents are vegetarian and raw foodists and they raised all six of their children as vegetarians. It is mostly for ethical reasons but I am now very interested in my health so that is a great reason.
VISTA: How old are you? And where did they raise you all as vegetarians?
Gabrielle: I'm 31. I was born and raised in Vancouver and my parents now live in Nelson, BC. My middle name is Sunshine, so that tells you a little about my upbringing. My brother just had a baby girl and she will also be vegetarian.
VISTA: Wow, that's three generations! And, do you worry about your weight, like most women?
Gabrielle: For sure I'm conscious of it, but I try to keep it in perspective. If you eat well and take care of your body, exercise often and do good things for yourself, one of the benefits of your health will be that you don't have to struggle as much with weight. The body doesn't hold on to the good stuff you put in, it uses it. The camera does "put on pounds" though, and though film caterers are really good about planning around my diet I always seem to gain weight when filming in Saskatchewan.
VISTA: What factors are associated with it when you don't eat well?
Gabrielle: When I leave the house in the morning and don't bring nutritious snacks with me, I break down and eat foods that don't make me feel good simply because I'm really hungry. I think it's important to take the time to plan ahead. In LA you spend so much time driving, on the go constantly, so you don't have time to eat healthily if you haven't brought something.
VISTA: Is the lifestyle in LA as unhealthy for actors as others say?
Gabrielle: There are definitely those elements, and it's heart-breaking to see people who haven't been raised to eat healthily so they simply don't have a clue how. They come to LA and have to stay slim so they diet and really mess with their metabolism which puts them unhealthily out of balance. But, on the other hand, LA is a wonderful city for vegetarians and those who eat natural whole foods, with an incredible support system of stores and restaurants that cater to this lifestyle. Yoga is so hot that there are studios everywhere and at the end of each day I do a class to centre myself.
VISTA: What other exercise do you do?
Gabrielle: I go into the canyons with my dog each day. I love to breathe fresh air and be in California's nature. It's really important to me to connect with nature regularly so I do it where ever I travel. I see some incredibly different natural environments. I work out at a gym while filming sometimes but I prefer yoga or pilates. I'm not very flexible so I have to work really hard at it, which is why I think it's good for me. I also took a hiphop class, popular here, and we're all terrible but it's so much fun!
VISTA: How much sleep do you get?
Gabrielle: I sleep eight hours when not shooting but I often get only six while working, since some schedules start at 5:00 AM. I really need eight. On the movie I just finished, One Dead Indian, I worked 15 hour days so couldn't even take a nap. I used to drink coffee to keep awake but I quit because I found myself getting panicky.
VISTA: Was it difficult getting started in the industry? How did you keep motivated?
Gabrielle: I feel very lucky because I started acting and met my agent at 17. It is extremely rare in the industry to have a long-term, trusting relationship like ours. Every actor doesn't always have good years and I've had times that were very challenging financially and emotionally. Two things kept me going: A saying of my mother's, "This too shall pass", because things always change. And I fell in love with acting, it's when I feel the most at home, so even when I was at my lowest there was a part of me that felt solid because I knew I was doing the right thing for me.
VISTA: Does working on a comedy show help to keep you positive, with all those laughs?
Gabrielle: We have a lot of fun and I love working with the people on Corner Gas. But comedy is actually difficult. It's like creating a close dance between you and your partner and much has to do with timing. You learn your dialogue then on set you see what happens. You can't hang onto anything. What the other person gives you changes the entire dynamic, but that relating is the exciting part.
VISTA: That sounds like an analogy for life.
Clean Living with Gabrielle Miller
She's a vegetarian whose middle name is Sunshine.
by ADRIAN MACK Photography by BRUCE SKIPPER
"Come in," says Gabrielle Miller, opening the door to her loft apartment, a stone's throw (with a weak arm) from Vancouver's notorious Downtown Eastside.
As she pads across the single open-concept room to a long antique walnut dining table at the far end, Miller pins her hair on top of her head, inadvertently leaving a single lock jutting upward, making her look somewhat childlike'an effect that's enhanced by her large eyes and open face.
Gas is the highest-rated Canadian comedy show in history. And the signs of Miller's success are obvious. This is no starving artist; there's no waitressing gig on the side, and Miller certainly doesn't need the publicity. But the B.C. native has nonetheless decided to give SharedVISION a generous glimpse into her life. She dishes on the unconventional upbringing that equipped her to keep her head in an industry that, frankly, collects heads.
"I'm a really sensitive person," she begins, "and I think I could have been quite easily hurt. But I've also had very supportive people in my life."
Raised with five siblings in a family she cheerfully describes as "hippie"'"Hey, my middle name is Sunshine," she quips'Miller is unequivocal about the source of her well-being.
"Just the spiritual base that I had," she says, "and the lessons my parents taught me when I was younger definitely helped, especially in a business like this one. And then growing up with not very much money and a big family, you have to learn to work together, and you have to figure out how to share."
Miller's mother, father, and stepfather were all (and remain) initiates of Sant Kirpal Singh, an Indian guru who preached the importance of self-knowledge, God-knowledge, and selfless service. She continues, "We didn't have a lot, and my fantasy world and my imagination were really nurtured by my parents. It was a place I could go to and dream. I think that all helped."
The significance of this can be felt in Miller's views on acting itself. She is almost apologetic about what would normally seem to be a fatal absence of competitiveness ("If I'm competitive with anybody, it's myself," she shrugs); she lavishes sincere praise on her peers, particularly Robson Arms co-star John Cassini ("He makes walking up stairs look fascinating," she sighs. "Everything he does is so fresh and alive"); she demonstrates a rare ambivalence about the venue she occupies, eschewing the prominence of film over television and remarking, "I'm not about one or the other. Just quality and good stories"; and she does all this while fussing over her interviewer's comfort in the face of a schedule that would kill most of us (back to the Robson Arms set this afternoon, off to Saskatchewan for Corner Gas tomorrow').
But it also becomes apparent that Miller's grounding is commemorated in the objects around her. There are the cabinets, entertainment unit, and various other furnishings built by Ornamentum, a Vancouver-based company that uses FSC-certified wood and recycled materials. "I just try to focus on being as simple as possible and using companies that use good methods in how they build," she notes.
And there's the funky "vegetarian deer head" wood carving that hangs on the wall above the dining table, symbolizing Miller's lifelong commitment to a meat-free diet. "I think it would probably take me years of therapy to be able to eat meat," she shudders. "That's kind of my little f-you to hunters," she continues, nodding towards the deer head. "No! I'm just kidding. But I think it's just a beautiful piece of art, and nobody had to die for it." After a beat, she adds, "Except for the tree. I guess you gotta draw the line somewhere."
Then there's the choice of location itself. Miller's character on Robson Arms struggles to find a sense of community in Vancouver's bustling West End. Miller herself, meanwhile, has built a solid home with her partner AJ in a neighbourhood characterized by degradation, poverty, and suffering. It's on this particular topic that Miller definitively upturns the otherwise reasonable notion that actors tend to be vain dimwits; she is clearly no dilettante roughing it in an "emerging" district.
"You know," she begins, furrowing her brow, "I think everybody should have food, and a place to live, and be taken care of, and'" She pauses momentarily, fixes her gaze, and the voice drops a semi-tone. "Look at where I live," she sighs. "I don't think this city has enough beds for people that are in trouble. I don't like that people who have problems with mental illness and addiction'don't have anywhere to go. There's no excuse for people to be starving, or beaten, or hurt, or not have a safety net of any kind."
She continues, "My mom and I just discussed this. We have some sort of draw or spiritual connection to this area. I've lived here on and off, my grandmother lived and died here, my mother sold flowers on East Hastings when I was growing up to support our family..."
Asked if she feels safe in the area, Miller's eyes blaze with emotion. "It's funny, peoples' perception of things," she answers. "You know, what scares me is the Friday and Saturday nights at the bars." She jerks her thumb in the direction of Granville Street, Vancouver's downtown nexus of shiny cars, high-octane dance clubs, and weekly brawls. "That's where I don't want to go. That's where I'd be scared to walk at night."
Miller's phone rings, snapping us both out of an absorbing discussion. The busy actor has to make her way back to the set, and there's barely been any time to talk about the land Miller recently purchased in the Slocan Valley and the eco-friendly home she plans on building there, the laudable greening of the Robson Arms set, or her work with the Vela Microboard Association on behalf of Miller's sister Shanti, who lives with cerebral palsy and who Miller describes as her "hero." But she's disclosed enough to make one thing clear: Gabrielle Miller has inherited a rare sense of balance and humility.
As for the reason she chose to speak with SharedVISION? It turns out that it's a publication that Miller and her family are very familiar with. "It's a magazine that talks about cool stuff, and I knew my mom would be excited about it. I called her. I'm, like, 'Mom, guess what!?'"
Adrian Mack is a local writer and musician who is old enough to remember when The King of Kensington was the pinnacle of Canadian television.