Deranged psych patient, grief stricken wife, fashion CEO with a penchant for women…these are just some of the many faces Heather Doerksen, an artist who bends herself into the shape of whatever character lies before her. With Guillermo Del Toro’s PACIFIC RIM and the feature HIDDEN alongside Alexander Skarsgard on deck, things are heating up for the Winnipeg native.
HOME SWEET HOME: I was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and we moved to British Columbia when I was six. I spent my
adolescent/ high school years in Langley, BC.
DESIGNER CRUSH: I have a few pieces from Faeries Pyjamas that I live in. So comfy and whimsical. For a fun, pinup style look, I go to Scout Boutique in Vancouver. Yummy dresses. And then for the really delicious stuff, I love Hugo Boss and YSL. Classy, sleek looks. I tend to avoid anything that overtly displays brands/labels.
BEST FASHION FIND: I’m an avid vintage/thrift store shopper. I have a vintage Italian lime green autumn jacket that cinches at the waist and flares out, and I get compliments on it all the time.
IF I COULD RAID ANYONE’S CLOSET, IT WOULD BE…Gwen Stefani. She is so gutsy. I love what she gets away with. I also love Jessica Chastain’s classic style. Very “old Hollywood meets modern day.”
TOP 3 BEAUTY SECRETS…
-Lots of water
-Exercise. My chosen workouts? Walking everywhere, as much as I can. Yoga, lots of downward dogs. And Barre Fitness in Vancouver.
-Laughing a lot. Finding joy in life. I think this illuminates you from the inside out.
BEST BODY PART: My eyes, and my legs. But growing up, I was called ‘chicken knees’, so it wasn’t until I hit my 20’s that I really embraced my legs.
LATEST OBSESSION: Harry Potter (I’m on the 5th book, and am hooked!) & Game of Thrones.
THE GREAT GETAWAY: My parents’ cottage on the Southern Gulf Islands of Vancouver. Just getting away to the trees and the ocean really grounds me when life gets crazy.
FIRST AUDITION: It was a commercial audition for juice. I had to bring in rollerblades and rollerblade around the
tiniest room, smiling big and saying something about how much I loved juice. I think I almost fell because I had lied about being ‘really good’ at rollerblading!
BEST ON-SET SHENANIGANS: On the set of Cabin in the Woods [shot in Vancouver], a whole gang of top Vancouver-based actors were hired to deliver one-liners during a party scene. We soon came to be referred to as “Team Canada”, and hung out all day (there were a couple of stand-up comedians in Team Canada, and we laughed all day long, including a full-on dance party in the parking lot while waiting to be called to set).
ACTOR YOU ADMIRE: Kathy Bates. She started acting in her 20s, stayed persistent, kept doing what she loved/was passionate
about, and got her career-making role at age 42. I met her on the set of The Day the Earth Stood Still. What an inspiration!
DREAM DINNER GUEST: Ellen Degeneres. Again, I think laughter is the best beauty secret. Who better to help with this than
Ellen? Besides Toby Berner. Stitches. I am in stitches talking with that guy.
SATURDAY NIGHT, I’D FIND YOU…At a friend’s house having a potluck dinner party. With lots of wine and music and dancing into the wee hours.
MANTRA TO LIVE BY: My father gave me this one: “All Shall Be Well. And All Shall Be Well. And All Manner Of Things Shall Be Well.”
HYDROGEN MAGAZINE: What kind of kid were you?
HEATHER DOERKSEN: I wanted to do everything perfectly. I wanted to please everyone (I learned later in life, those things don’t matter as much as finding my own voice, and making mistakes along the way). And I was always putting on little plays for my family, or reading stories to my younger brother. I remember reading the entirety of The Hobbit to him, complete with different voices for all the characters!
HM: People might be surprised to learn that your background is in the sciences, and that was the way your life was headed until you switched majors to theatre. What stirred the change?
HD: I was taking one Acting Class along with my Science classes, and my acting teacher Jesai Jayhmes, had us find a spot in the room, close our eyes and picture what makes our heart sing. Then he had us ask ourselves what was stopping us, and how we could start. For me, it was telling stories, and performing (stepping into someone else’s life). I switched my major to Theatre that day.
HM: Yourself and a group of friends started Genus Theatre, writing, producing and performing original pieces. What was the passion behind that and was the reward in the process or the final product?
HD: There was a course offered in my Theatre training at Simon Fraser University called Black Box, where we had to write, direct, act in and create a new full length show every 2 weeks for 10 weeks straight. It was basically acting boot camp. The six of us who formed Genus Theatre loved the format so much that we decided to form our own theatre/film company based on that process upon graduation. The reward for me was having complete control over my creative output. There was no censor, no one telling us what we could or couldn’t put on stage or on screen. We were known for pushing the boundaries. And it was exhilarating. The company still exists and I do guest appearances, acting or directing every now and then.
HM: What were your first impressions of Hollywood, and the competitive nature of it all?
HD: When I first visited Hollywood, I had a lot of expectations. I couldn’t for the life of me secure an agent or a manager or anyone willing to represent me. I’d been making my living as an actor in Vancouver for 5 years with no other jobs on the side, yet no one was interested in LA. So, Hollywood was a difficult time the first time I went. The second time I visited, I felt like I went without expectations, and just went as ‘me’. I wasn’t pretending to be the person I thought everyone would love. I just went in with a ‘take me or leave me’ kind of attitude. And I fell in love with LA. Because it was about me just being me, and keeping myself open to all the wonders that Hollywood has to offer.
HM: Are there certain roles you just won’t take? If so, why?
HD: Very early in my career, I had an audition for a girl who gets sexually assaulted in a very brutal manner. I auditioned anyway because I felt I had no choice and couldn’t say ‘no’ this early in my career. I ended up getting the part, and then thought about it long and hard, and it just didn’t sit right with me. I went back to my agent and told her I wasn’t comfortable and I’d need to turn it down. I felt everyone would be angry (again, me trying to please people) but they were totally fine with it. This was when I started realizing there was a lot of power in saying no, and standing up for what you feel is right.
HM: Your list of credits is a mile long from The L Word, Smallville, Battlestar Galactica, Fringe, I could go on. If you could pick just one, what was a standout experience for you?
HD: I loved working on Marmaduke with William H Macy. Children’s movies are magical (try and find an animated feature I haven’t seen!), and I got to do a really fun scene where Marmaduke knocks me into a punch bowl at the Cow-a-Barka Dog Surf Competition. I get soaked with punch and all the dogs go crazy. But by far, the best experience on set was working on Pacific Rim.
HM: Let’s talk about PACIFIC RIM, the movie you have coming out this summer. First of all it is written and directed by the brilliant Guillermo Del Toro. What did you learn working with him?
HD: That if you are passionate and intelligent about what you are doing, people will bend over backwards to work with you/for you. It also doesn’t hurt to have a spot-on sense of humor. All of which Guillermo has in spades, and I would work with him in any capacity in the future without question.
HM: The movie is all about giant robots piloted by humans trying to defend Earth from an alien attack. You play co-pilot Sasha Kaidanovsky. Tell me about her.
HD: She is a rock. You don’t want to mess with her. And she’s got her co-pilot Aleksis (played by the very kind Robert Maillet) wrapped around her finger, which makes her even more formidable. At the start of the film, she is the only female pilot left piloting one of the Jaegers. In one sentence? She’s badass.
HM: You also have the feature HIDDEN coming up, also starring Alexander Skarsgard. What’s the film all about?
HD: It is the story of a father (Alexander Skarsgard), mother (Andrea Riseborough) and daughter (Emily Alyn Lind) trying to survive during a zombie apocalypse. There is something different about these particular zombies, however, which I think will be a big draw for this movie.
HM: Tell me about your character Jillian.
HD: She is the neighborhood friend to this family and comes in and out of the story in different capacities as it evolves…
HM: When you get some downtime, what do you like to indulge in?
HD: I love baking and cooking, and hanging out with friends.
HM: What goals are still out there that you would like to fulfill?
HD: In terms of my career? I’d love to work with director Sofia Coppola. She really allows actors to luxuriate in moments. Her films are so sensual. In terms of my personal life? I’d like to learn how to accept change and go with the flow when things don’t go according to plan. My science brain wants life to follow a schedule, but, obviously, it doesn’t. I’m still working on seeing the adventure in life when it goes sideways!
PACIFIC RIM IS IN U.S. THEATRES ON JULY 12.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY GRANT MALO