…It’s time to take control of your destiny and make your own work. If you want other people to believe in you, you need to believe in yourself and do the work to prove it. If you’re not a writer, team up with a writer. There are so many creative people in our industry looking to collaborate and once you get a ball rolling, you will be amazed at how many people will want to work on your project. I started writing and producing because I was frustrated with the lack of opportunities I was getting as an actor. After creating a few independent projects, my life changed. I got an incredible agent, had tv shows optioned, and was getting the auditions I always dreamt of. Not to mention, I learned a tonne (sometimes through mistakes!) and found some new passions that I didn’t realize I had. Seriously, go for it!
As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Katie Uhlmann.
Katie Uhlmann is an actor, director, writer, stand-up comedian, and CEO of the production company, Katie Chats Inc.
Katie began to pursue a career in the arts after completing a degree in Drama and Psychology at Queen’s University and a summer program in Entertainment and Media Management at the UCLA Anderson School of Business. She is a recipient of the Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award for Community service that was presented to her by Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex; primarily for her work building an orphanage in Honduras.
She is best known for directing and starring in her award-winning digital series MY ROOMMATE’S AN ESCORT, as well as her talk show, KATIE CHATS, where she interviewed over 3000 professionals in the film and television industry.
She was a recipient of the 2018 IPF bursary for Emerging Digital Producers at the Banff World Media Festival; and was a nominee for the Toronto Arts Council Emerging Artist Award. Katie is a Vice President on the board of the Independent Web Creators of Canada; and is also involved in the women’s committee at ACTRA, where she has lobbied politicians on behalf of artists, and child performers.
As an actor, she has appeared in over 50 television shows and films, including CBC’s WORKIN’ MOMS and Hulu/Family Channel’s HOLLY HOBBIE. Up next, she appears in Burt Reynolds’s last film, DEFINING MOMENTS, and has a heavily recurring role on Global’s hit medical drama, NURSES.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Absolutely! I grew up in Trenton, Ontario — a small town a few hours east of Toronto. My parents Bernie and Joanne raised me and my older brother Eric there — they’re pretty much the best parents ever and I probably owe everything to them. I didn’t have any family in the business and didn’t really even realize that acting was a possible career until I was a bit older. I loved growing up in a small town though — really safe and everything is close by, my dad always came home for lunch. Not as exciting as the city, but I feel very lucky that Trenton was my hometown.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I started doing theatre in high school and fell in love with acting. I have a feeling quite a few people start that way! I was always decent at math and science so my parents always encouraged me to keep focus in that direction. I don’t blame them! I went to Queen’s University to study life sciences. I thought at the time I might want to be a veterinarian. Then I had an epiphany while sitting at the back of a biology lecture listening to a prof passionately talk about fish spawning. I remember thinking, “I really don’t care about fish, but I really do want to be this passionate about what I do.” I went to the guidance counselor shortly after and switched to drama. Since that moment I haven’t looked back.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
When I booked the part of Candy Kemper on NURSES. I had just gotten back from a holiday with my parents in Cuba. I was in a good mindset, but had been pursuing acting for over a decade, and was starting to think about maybe shifting gears a bit away from it. When my agent sent me the audition and I read the character description, it clicked. Candy and I both wear our hearts on our sleeves and are eternal optimists — I got her. I prepared for a few days — probably ran the lines over a hundred times, knew them cold, and thought a lot about the character. When I went in to audition I remember thinking, “I’m just going to give them my take on this, and not worry too much about the rest.” Sometimes we can get caught in the trap of thinking “what do they want,” but as an artist, it’s important we bring our perspective and life experience to the work. Anyway, I did the audition and then I heard from my agent that they loved me, but that I was too old for the part. Which is fine, I mean, it’s not something I can change! So I kinda forgot about it. Weeks later my agent called again and said “they’re thinking of changing the part for you. Would you consider going back and doing another audition?” Obviously, I said “of course” and the rest was history. When Perry Zimel and Amy Parker (my reps at OAZ) called me to tell me the good news, I was so happy I cried on the phone. It’s all been very exciting. I’m a lucky girl.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’ve made a lot of mistakes. That’s probably my specialty. One in particular that still makes me cringe was at one of my first auditions ever. When I was just starting out, I had an acting instructor tell me that “you have to own the room in an audition, and if you forget a line, you just confidently say ‘line’ and the reader will have to give it to you.” I got an audition from a very well-known casting director and was extremely excited, and also very nervous. Then when I was called into the audition room, the reader was a well-known actress, which at the time made me even more nervous. I forgot a line halfway through the scene, and I have to know the idea why, but I literally, in a panic, yelled “LINE!” I still remember the shocked/confused look on the reader and casting director’s face, which was completely warranted. They haven’t brought me back for an audition since.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I received some development funding for a tv pilot that I’m writing. It’s a mother-daughter comedy that’s really close to home and I’m excited about it. Also a little nervous. But mostly excited.
You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
Definitely get ready to embrace failure. Try to re-frame it in your mind as a learning experience. I realize it’s easier said than done. I used to fall in love with every character I would audition for, and then be heartbroken if I didn’t get the part. It’s taken a decade, but I can honestly say now I’m grateful whenever I get an audition and will prepare as best I can, but after it’s sent, I’m usually good about forgetting about it. Your self-worth is not connected to the jobs you book as an actor. Work hard. Create your own projects. Surround yourself with good people. Trust your gut. Be gracious. Say “thank you.” Spend some time in nature.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
We live in a diverse society so it’s very important to represent that honestly in our art. We are so lucky to live in a country with people from many different backgrounds. When we learn about each other’s experiences, it helps open our minds, and more importantly, our hearts. Whatever our background, I believe there’s so much more that we have in common than what can tear us apart. Tom Robbins said “Our similarities bring us to a common ground; our differences allow us to be fascinated by each other.”
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
The first one would be to stay in your own lane. It’s so easy to compare yourself to others in a competitive industry. There’s always another actor who is thinner, cooler, booking more. When I was younger I would be jealous if someone in my category got a big part. One of my best friends from school booked a great role soon after graduating and I remember being so envious that I didn’t go to the screening party (something I regret to this day.) Then I heard an award acceptance speech Naomi Sniekus, an actress I have admired since I was a kid from seeing her on stage at The Second City, gave at the Canadian Comedy Awards. She said something along the lines of “it’s important to be each other’s cheerleaders, and lift each other up.” When I heard her say that something shifted in me and I decided I was going to embrace that mindset. Funny enough, the more I did, the more opportunities came my way.
Get excited about an audition. Work your butt off preparing for it. Do the audition (and have fun doing it). Then, forget about it. I realize “forget about it” is easier said than done, especially if it’s a job you really want. But trust me, as someone who has over-analyzed, picked my performance apart, thought “what-if” I had tried this or that, called my agent for feedback, etc. After the audition is done, it’s done. No amount of over-thinking is going to change the outcome — it’s only going to make you crazy. If it’s meant for you, you will get it. Trust the decision-makers. Sometimes you’re going to fit into their vision and sometimes you won’t and that’s okay. The filmmaker is putting together a big puzzle of a cast and all the pieces have to make sense. When you make sense for one of those puzzle pieces, you will book the part. And when you don’t, which by the way is most of the time, treat yourself to some ice cream and skip down the sidewalk because you have another audition coming your way soon.
Make your own work. I know, I know, it can seem daunting. You entered the business to do just one thing, and that one thing really well, right? But maybe you’re not getting the big opportunities you thought you would, and you’re thinking “how many more Tim Hortons commercial auditions can I go on?” (No disrespect to Tim Hortons!) It’s time to take control of your destiny and make your own work. If you want other people to believe in you, you need to believe in yourself and do the work to prove it. If you’re not a writer, team up with a writer. There are so many creative people in our industry looking to collaborate and once you get a ball rolling, you will be amazed at how many people will want to work on your project. I started writing and producing because I was frustrated with the lack of opportunities I was getting as an actor. After creating a few independent projects, my life changed. I got an incredible agent, had tv shows optioned, and was getting the auditions I always dreamt of. Not to mention, I learned a tonne (sometimes through mistakes!) and found some new passions that I didn’t realize I had. Seriously, go for it!
Trust your gut. I know, it seems cliche, but it’s true. Your instincts are usually spot on, and you should listen to them. Trust your gut when it comes to work, safety, and the people you collaborate with. If something seems “off,” don’t do it. If you’re in a room, and you feel uncomfortable, leave. If you’re in an audition or on set and someone asks you to do something that you feel uncomfortable doing, don’t do it. You do not have to do anything you don’t want to. When I was just starting out, I was so scared to offend anyone or miss out on an opportunity. I remember going to non-union auditions in locations that did not feel safe. I once did an improv in an audition that I did not feel comfortable with. I wish I had politely said, “no thank you.” You will have many opportunities in your career. Your self-worth is the most important thing. Trust your gut and don’t do anything that makes you uncomfortable.
Help others. It’s so easy to always be looking ahead at what the next steps are to help ourselves. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! It’s great to be ambitious. But also look around you. Who are your peers? Make friends with them, collaborate, and you will grow together. Who are the people coming up behind you? Grab a coffee with them when they ask and try to point them in the right direction. We all need a mentor, but we can all be one, too. Jack Lemmon said, “No matter how successful you get, always send the elevator back down.”
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Have interests and friends outside of the industry. Sometimes our work can be all-consuming and we feel like we constantly have to be enhancing our craft, making connections, and furthering our success. Rest is important and having some aspects of your life outside of the industry will only make you more invigorated when you do come back to your work. Also, have you ever been in a room with a bunch of actors talking about auditions, agents, and headshots? It can be pretty annoying.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
To help people know that they are enough. For people to believe that there’s no job or other person that has anything to do with their self-worth. To inspire confidence and whole-heartedness.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Yes, and his name is David Carruthers. He has become a great mentor and collaborator. We first met on the set of CBC’s Workin’ Moms and he had seen some of my previous work. He approached me on set to collaborate, we met for coffee soon after, and it has been a wonderful collaboration ever since. We complement each other very well with our skill sets and I have learned so much from him as a leader — he knows how to command respect in a room full of people better than anyone I know, and in a very kind way.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Youth is wasted on the young.”-George Bernard Shaw
Obviously, the quote is in jest, but something about it has stuck with me for many years. When we’re in our teens and twenties, there’s this sense that we have all the time in the world, and it can be easily wasted! Of course, sometimes it’s good to play, and have unstructured time, but life is shorter than you think! It’s so crazy — the older you get, you start to really recognize how every hour, day, week counts. Make the most of it — whatever that means to you. Our time on this planet is finite, not infinite, after all.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Anyone in the world?! Wow that is quite the question. There are so many, but I’m going to say, Dolly Parton. She’s such a good, kind soul. She’s had an incredible career. She’s been married to the same man for over 50 years. She has provided hope and inspiration to so many. I think she’s tremendous.
How can our readers follow you online?
I’m on Twitter and Instagram at @katieuhlmann
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!