Profile on Suleka Mathew

by Patricia Cullen on July 9, 2009

Post image for Profile on Suleka Mathew

Originally published in the Vancouver Actor’s Guide October 2008 newsletter.

Coming off the heels of a successful and yet surprisingly cancelled TV series, Men in Trees, Suleka (Sue) Mathew [imdb] is anything but concerned. With 20 years of acting experience, Sue is considered a veteran actor on the Vancouver scene. Yes, with that experience comes some clout in the industry. But clout won’t get you the job. And Sue knows that. Working or not, Sue is constantly in pursuit to learn more and it’s paying off. Within days of this interview, Sue was back in L.A. to meet with producers for a new series. What’s her secret? Read on to find out.

Why acting?

It was the one thing that I found when I was a child that I loved doing more than anything else in my life. It fulfilled the creative. It fulfilled the performance. My family would tell you it got me over being shy. It’s like that Graham Green quote; “Somewhere in childhood a window opens up and you get a glimpse of the future”. For me it happened really, really early.

Who has influenced you the most in your work?

I think I’ve had five acting teachers, whose words constantly ring in my head and there were a lot of actors that I grew up watching that I worshipped; Carol Burnette, Katherine Hepburn, Lucille Ball, Jane Fonda and Dustin Hoffman. Peter Breck said to us, “If you’re going be an actor, fall in love with the process because you will find that you will spend more time in process than you will in performance.”

Who or what inspires you?

Those individuals who do not just sit around waiting for the phone to ring. They are self-motivated, and self-generating. They’re putting on plays. Writing pilots, features, finding and creating work themselves. We come from a community of talent in Vancouver that is rich with those individuals. And one day, I honestly hope that I will have the guts to do the same myself. They are really, really, inspiring.

What about training?

For me, it’s one of the keys. However, it’s not always possible on a regular basis. When I came out of doing Men in Trees I went into Ben’s (Ratner) class pretty much right away because for me, letting go of a character means getting into a new one. So you can return to being an actor rather than being the last character you played. Currently, I’m doing voice work and looking for a movement class.

How do you prepare for an audition?

I try whenever possible to read the entire script. Then I read my sides. I watch for my instinctive first blush reaction to the scene and I jot them down…then I try to get off book as fast as I can so I can then go to the place of character analysis and adding layers to it. Try to find the understandable truth behind it. I think Gene Hackman said the first thing he does is try to find out how the character is like him and I think that is a good note. I look for those things Larry moss talks about like objective intention. Like, what do I want? What does this character want?

What aspect of preparing the audition takes precedence for you?

Getting the lines in, dialect, character history, affect and…hair & makeup. (Sue laughs). I’m kidding. But it’s funny that even though I’m joking it’s funny that how wearing the right shoes or the way you comb your bangs can lock you in comfortably. It informs you and gives you an odd confidence about who you are portraying. Our job is about convincingly portraying the ultimate lie which is, we are something else. You look for the small discoveries that will root you in the audition room.

What was your best audition? Did you book it?

One of the best auditions I’ve had was to play a lawyer and there was a 4 page closing argument. There was a casting director and the director and the producer. And I worked that thing into the ground so I felt pretty good about it. I’ve played a lawyer before but I hadn’t done a closing statement so I was really excited about that. And despite the fact that in the last two lines I forgot the name of the defendant and had to yell out ‘Naaame!’ and Lynne Carrow, who was so kind, whispered ‘Stella’, despite that, I finished the audition, yelled “Stelllllaaa!” like Marlon Brando, they all laughed, I got the part and then the movie folded about a week later so I never got to shoot it.

How do you spend your time in between shows?

When I’m not working I read more books, I hang out with my kid more, I spend a lot of time gardening because it fills both an artistic and physical component. And I look for more things to inspire me or feed a need to understand human behaviour. If you had to suggest just one book for actors, what would it be? Anything by Uta Hagan. In fact, I just bought her scene work videos at the Samuel French shop last time I was in L.A. Biz Books is fantastic and they probably carry them too. Just watching Uta chain smoke cigarettes and rattle off jems is worth the price right there. Larry Moss’s newest book, The Intent to Live. Deanne Henry’s book, Streamlining, which teaches a way of memorizing that is proving to be beneficial. There are so many things out there that we owe it to ourselves to be constantly unearthing them. Hardest lesson learned as an actor? That it is not a meritorious career. You never get to rest on your laurels. You can never insure yourself a future in this career. And that’s not a bad thing because that keeps us true artists but it is hard.

If you had to suggest just one book for actors, what would it be?

Anything by Uta Hagan. In fact, I just bought her scene work videos at the Samuel French shop last time I was in L.A. Biz Books is fantastic and they probably carry them too. Just watching Uta chain smoke cigarettes and rattle off jems is worth the price right there. Larry Moss’s newest book, The Intent to Live. Deanne Henry’s book, Streamlining, which teaches a way of memorizing that is proving to be beneficial. There are so many things out there that we owe it to ourselves to be constantly unearthing them.

Hardest lesson learned as an actor?

That it is not a meritorious career. You never get to rest on your laurels. You can never insure yourself a future in this career. And that’s not a bad thing because that keeps us true artists but it is hard.

What has been the largest contribution to your continued success?

Perseverance. I say this because the call and the desire to become a professional actor came so early in my life, I’m proud I honoured that in myself. Along that path there were plenty of people who would rather I became a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. So not being talked out of it was a feat in itself. But even now, many years later, despite the brutal cyclical highs and lows of our career: 9 month periods of not booking a single job, union strikes, burdensome deals like scale minus 250%, dozens of auditions with nary a bite on the bait, midnight hours racking our brains wondering if we wouldn’t be better off choosing another dream, another lifestyle – something inside me keeps going. Fortunately for me, I’m surrounded by wonderful, supportive loved ones who put it all in perspective on a regular basis.

Life after acting?

I have quite a few friends who went on to do other things when they felt that were done. They don’t have regrets, they found something they loved, so I never think that acting is the be all and end all. And it’s such an individual thing, the only person who can really make the call is yourself. I don’t believe anyone else can know. It might just be the thing that takes you in a new direction towards a new dream. But so far, I’m hanging in there. And I can’t tell you how grateful I am.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jerry Smith August 5, 2010 at 7:25 am

I just thought I would provide you with somefeedback. Congrats on you performances in Hawthorne. I am a Liscensed Mental Health Counselor who thinks that your character shows the most real compassion and realism towards patients and staff on the show as the script unfolds.As with a counselor, your wonderful expression of feelings which is tempered by your professional knowledge and understanding of the issues experienced are a realistic blend that everyone seeks in a person and a professional that endears trust. Thank you for the priviledge of viewing your very believable and caring character/

Brad Stutzman March 2, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Hello Suleka
You are an incredible actress. I only saw you in one movie; “The Final Days of Planet Earth,” and the entire movie came alive, because of you in it. You have such an attractive realism in your performance, that I easily became hypnotically entranced watching your every movement. Of course, it could be that you are just naturally attractive and beautiful. Beyond that, you do have a natural way of carrying yourself as an actress, which makes you very enjoyable to watch……and to look at. Unfortunately, I don’t have cable or satelite TV otherwise I would find you on every program you’re on. You’re the best.

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