From the moment Michelle McLeod read the script for Women Talking, she knew it was going to be an important film.
The Sarah Polley-directed film that’s based on the acclaimed 2018 novel by Miriam Toews has been nominated for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay at this year’s Academy Awards. It was also nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award in the Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture category.
The film and book are inspired by true life events where women and girls in a remote Mennonite community were being drugged and sexually assaulted by the men. In the film, the women must decide what’s next for them while the men await a bail hearing.
McLeod plays Mejal, a character who suffers panic attacks and turns to smoking to deal with her trauma.
With a “stellar” cast that includes Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, and Frances McDormand and a talented director in Polley, McLeod felt right away “some magic was going to happen” with the film. How right she was.
“It's been exciting being part of Women Talking, to say the least, and I feel very honoured because the movie is resonating with people,” said McLeod, who graduated from Humber’s Acting for Film and Television program in 2013. “I was so excited to be chosen by Sarah to be in this film. It’s a privilege to be in a something that has so much to say and is generating so much discussion.”
McLeod is primarily a comedic actor so tackling the role of traumatized Mejal in a film with such a heavy premise was a challenge, but one she embraced.
“This was probably my first big dramatic role and the most intense,” said McLeod. “It didn't feel like I was transitioning to drama from comedy really. It felt like I was, for the first time, showing a piece of me that I haven’t necessarily shown. It was somewhat terrifying because I had never really taken that risk before but it definitely paid off and I grew as an actor.”
McLeod said Mejal bridges the gap between the younger generation of women and the older generation in Women Talking.
“The female spirit is so strong in this film,” said McLeod. “I’ve grown from this experience and I have more of a voice now. I have more confidence and I've stepped a little bit deeper into my womanhood. And I don't know if that would have happened if I hadn't had this opportunity.”
With such an impressive cast, McLeod said each day on set was like taking a masterclass in acting. She remembered watching Claire Foy’s monologue and how confidently and seemingly effortlessly Foy reached the level of emotion needed for the scene.
“I thought to myself ‘If you want to go forward with your career, this is the kind of vulnerability it takes and you can’t be afraid to show that kind of emotion,’” said McLeod. “It raised the bar for me, and I learned so much. Watching these women inspired me to challenge myself and push my acting that much further.”
McLeod previously starred in the award-winning comedy Don’t Talk to Irene that was featured at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival. She’s appeared in the comedy series Workin’ Moms as well as Tin Star, acting alongside Tim Roth and Genevieve O'Reilly, in the feature film Honey Bee and DHX's Creeped Out.
You can find out more about McLeod and her career by visiting her Facebook page.