Piecing together Andrea Brooks
Andrea Brooks refuses to pick favourites when it comes to the characters she plays on When Calls the Heart and Supergirl.
She professes mad love for Faith Carter – the capable nurse she’s played on Hallmark’s family drama for five seasons – and mad love for wacky Eve Teschmacher, who stepped onto the Supergirl canvas in the second season. She savours the quirks of each woman, and the way they interact with the characters and quandaries around them.
But when it comes to which of her two characters is more representative of who she is as a human being, the Vancouver actress has a more decisive, albeit nuanced, answer.
“You’ve got a kind-hearted character. You’ve got an off-the-wall character. I exist somewhere in between,” says Brooks after a few moments of contemplation. “There are pieces of me in both of those women. I can completely relate to being a little bit spastic and outlandish in my own life, but I can also relate to being grounded and centred and loving my community.”
Brooks is sitting in a low chair in a tea salon in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighborhood. She’s wearing a navy blue sweatshirt emblazoned with the letters WCTH, the acronym for that aforementioned hit Hallmark series that stars Erin Krakow as a teacher who arrives in a frontier town shortly after an explosion claims the lives of more than a dozen of the town’s miners.
When Calls the Heart exists in a very different sphere than Supergirl, The CW’s hit superhero series about the last daughter of Krypton (portrayed by Melissa Benoist) and her harrowing adventures on Earth.
Despite the numerous differences between When Calls the Heart and Supergirl, as well as between Faith and Teschmacher, Brooks says there are just as many similarities. Both series have vocal fan bases that are highly valued by the shows’ creators and actors. Both series feature confident women. Both characters require Brooks to dig deep and bring authenticity.
“The most important thing to me is that I make something real, even if it’s crazy and wacky and outlandish,” she says. “On Supergirl, sometimes we’re being attacked by aliens and things are falling from the sky, but I still want to everything feel authentic and real. I insert a lot of my own honest reactions. I really work off gut instinct. I’ve read all the books. I’ve trained. I’ve done everything I need to do, but at the end of the day, your gut is your saviour. It’s the thing you need to listen to.”
Brooks was born in Ontario, but spent most of her childhood in White Rock, BC. Her mother was a geologist, and her father worked in the cement industry. Brooks wasn’t an extrovert, and didn’t grow up clamouring to be in the spotlight – but she did love all manner of storytelling.
“I vividly remember watching Sesame Street and thinking, ‘I want to be that kid talking to Cookie Monster,’” she recalls, chuckling. “And I told my preschool teacher that I was born in Japan and that I had 10 dogs, which are complete lies. My mom picked me up from preschool and the teacher was like, ‘Wow, you have 10 dogs, that must keep you busy,’ and my mom was like, ‘No, we don’t have any dogs.’ Now, looking back, I can see why and how I ended up here.”
Brooks was 15 when her mother drove her to an open casting call for Ice Princess, a feature film about figure skating. The positive audition ultimately bolstered Brooks’ confidence and connected her with her agent. “I’ll never forget walking out of that little audition room and looking at my mom, and my mom just put her head down and said, ‘You’re going to be an actor.’ It was one of those weird moments where everything aligned.”
Despite her recent successes – or maybe because of them – Brooks is humble. She speaks at length about how she’s always learning, and how her experiences on both series are informing how she looks at the industry: how Calista Flockhart taught her about work-life balance (“She said, ‘My son comes first, my family comes first, always,’ because your career doesn’t love you back. You have to find your happiness elsewhere because this career can be brutal at times”) – and how, after Supergirl showrunner Andrew Kreisberg was fired for sexually harassing employees, Benoist demonstrated what it means to be a real-life superhero.
“Coming to work after that news broke was really empowering,” says Brooks. “All of the women, all of the crew, everyone really rallied, and I could sense the change in those couple days back after that movement swept over, and the #MeToo moment became a movement. It’s a top-down thing. We’re so fortunate. Melissa couldn’t have been cast better. She is Supergirl. She’ll fly herself out on weekends to take part in women’s marches. She’s an activist and she cares so deeply about the show and about society and the change that she hopes to see. All of the actors on the show are so committed to causes and doing what they think is just and right.”
Brooks is equally effusive when discussing her When Calls the Heart colleagues, including Krakow, Lori Laughlin (“It still is a little surreal working with her because I grew up adoring Full House”), Jack Wagner, Kavan Smith, and Pascale Hutton. “That flow and that ease I have with that cast, I don’t know if I’ll ever experience it again,” she says. “We really are a family.”
She acknowledges that many within the When Calls the Heart fandom – known as Hearties – are concerned about how the show will proceed when it returns in February for its sixth season; the fifth season ended with the death of beloved character Jack Thornton (played by Daniel Lissing).
“People are upset, and I understand that, and people have a right to feel upset,” she says. “They’ve invested a lot of time into this show and into these characters and into these storylines, and I understand that. But I had a good conversation with Jack Wagner, who is a TV veteran, and he had a good point that television changes, and any time you have a show and a show finds success, it can’t always stay the same. Change is natural. I can assure fans that we have a fantastic season coming up. The writing is impeccable. I think people will really love the storylines. I think we’re really diving into the backstories of a lot of the characters that people love. Of course we miss Daniel, but there are so many exciting storylines coming up, and there’s going to be new life and I hope the Hearties are on board for this ride because it’s going to be really fun.”
That said, those final episodes of the fifth season were difficult to film, according to Brooks. “The Hearties were definitely in our collective consciousness as we were shooting those final episodes,” says Brooks. “I think we wanted to do the story justice. We wanted to do it for Daniel. We wanted to do it for the fans. It was tough: the last episode of last season was incredibly sad. The funeral scene was incredibly sad. Tears were shed. It really felt like there was this big shift that was happening, and that’s tough. We really are a family, and when things change, that’s difficult. I think Erin did such an amazing job with that episode. She’s Juilliard trained. She’s such a pro. She really got to showcase her range in those episodes. As upsetting as it is for some people, there’s a lot of amazing, brilliant stuff in those episodes. It was hard. It’s not easy.”
When Calls the Heart returns in February 2019; keep up on the latest announcements at http://www.hallmarkchannel.com/when-calls-the-heart.
Supergirl airs Sundays at 8pm on Showcase. Details at https://www.showcase.ca/show/supergirl/