Tammy Gillis Talks Ghost Wars, Hallmark, and Mentoring in the Age of Me Too
Tammy Gillis is a familiar face to the Hallmark set, most notably for her performance in a pair of Signed, Sealed, and Delivered films that probably broke you, but she’s also appeared in several one-offs for both networks, and will be back in the spring on the third Fixer Upper Mystery. She’s done a fair share of genre TV, too, appearing on series like Continuum and Lost Girl. In March, we’ll see her on Freeform in the upcoming new series, Siren. Tonight, she begins a four-episode arc on Syfy’s Ghost Wars. I spoke to Gillis this week about her recent TV roles, and her lead in the indie film, Menorca, which last month won her the UBCP/ACTRA Award for Best Actress.
Gillis has a history with Ghost Wars showrunners Simon Barry and Dennis Heaton, and loved getting involved in the show. “I auditioned for a couple of different parts, but I know both of the producers and have worked with them before. Being on the show and getting to work with a lot of my friends was really amazing,” she says.
“[My character] Jane came about. It was the right fit. I didn’t anticipate that I would be in as many episodes as I was, but the scripts kept coming and I’m having the time of my life. I love working for them. Their sets are always really relaxed and really comfortable. Simon talks about how he wants people to have fun when they come to work and love what they do. That totally bleeds into the show and the entire work environment. Please let them keep making shows in Vancouver.”
The details of Jane’s arc are being kept close, but Gillis did share a couple of teases. “Jane works for Lambda. In this episode that comes up Thursday, you’re going to be introduced to a couple of Lambda employees. Because we work for Lambda and are mercenaries, we have interaction with a bunch of people in town,” she explains.
“Things keep getting crazier and crazier and now there’s this new arrival. People can’t get out. But all of a sudden people are possibly getting in, so what’s that about? It’s exciting.”
Freeform’s Siren is also being kept under wraps, but Gillis is excited for its arrival. “It’s going to be dark and mysterious and little scary. They aired the pilot at NYCC. The trailer gives a good sense of the world they’re trying to create with mermaids,” she points out. “That storyline has never been explored before. I think the fans are going to love it. The stuff I’ve seen is so cool.”
Menorca is a Canadian indie that’s done the festival circuit and is now available in the U.S. on Netflix and Amazon Video. “We keep calling it the little film that could and still does. They made the film for like $250K Canadian and had Canadian distribution before we shot it, and very quickly got American and worldwide distribution a week and a half before SXSW, which was amazing,” she recalls.
“It’s this really dark, sort of weird, movie about this woman who’s highly depressed and severely unhappy trying to find some way to feel alive and have some sort of purpose in life. She goes on this journey. It’s not the first time she’s taken off, but it’s the first time her son calls her and tells her not to come home.”
“That really strikes a nerve for the first time. She decides to win him back, not knowing what that will really look like. She tries to figure it out while also trying to survive. She starts saying yes to everything. She lets the road lead where it does and ends up going on this crazy decision to return this rock to Menorca that her son took home from vacation and [later was remorseful because he] felt like stole it. She feels like if she does this big thing, he’ll forgive her.”
“It was incredible to work with [writer and director] John Barnard. I’d worked with him on a couple of short films. It was nice to reunite with him. It was a really challenging role for me. I was kind of scared and freaked out and excited. If I took a chance on going outside my comfort zone and what the response might be, it would be with John, because I completely trust him. I’m really honored that people got what I was trying to portray. That feels pretty great.”
Gillis has had a long relationship with Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries and appreciates the relationship. Two Signed, Sealed, Delivered appearances, in The Impossible Dream and Truth Be Told, had the most impact on her. “I love working for Hallmark. It’s always a really amazing experience. I love what the movies say and how they make people feel,” she says.
“Martha [Williamson] is incredible. She is such a brilliant, intelligent woman with a massive heart and I think that’s why these movies resonate. [Playing a prisoner of war in Signed, Sealed, Delivered] was really an honor for me. When we shot the first one, the second one hadn’t been written yet, but [Hallmark] greenlit it.”
“Martha came and saw me on the first day of filming and I’m really grateful she gave me a heads up that there would be another one. She gave me time to research what would happen with someone held captive in Afghanistan for two years.”
“I read a lot about people’s experiences. I thought it was really, really important to show what a survivor this woman was and how she would do anything to get back to her daughter and her father. We have no idea what that is like. The people who go and fight for our freedoms are amazing and miraculous people.”
Gillis also loved working with Mark Valley, who is a Desert Storm combat veteran, and that lent some gravitas to their scenes together. “I had conversations about his experience and what it was like when he came home,” she shares. “In the reunion scene at the end of the second film, weâ€™re sitting on the tarmac and it was really special to sit beside him [in uniform] and talk with him.”
The current climate of “Me too” in the wake of a staggering onslaught of sexual assault and harassment claims resonates with Gillis, who’s had her own experiences and is now coaching and mentoring up-and-coming actors. “I’ve always been a person that is really open to any actor coming and asking advice. I try to leave that door open,” she explains.
“I have been a mentor [with Women in Film and Television‘s Vancouver chapter] to three women for the last three years. I also coach and teach acting across North America, and I tell people there’s no such thing as a stupid question for me. Especially when it comes to issues of sexuality or sexual harassment. I always make it very clear you can come to me and I will help you in any capacity I can.”
“With â€œMe too,â€ absolutely, me, too–more times than I wish to remember–[I tell] younger male and female actors, this behavior is not okay and it’s never been okay, and you can come to me, and I will help. I’ve always had an open door policy. I tell them if you experience this, you need to report it. You need to report it the union and your agent and I will be there with you.”
“One of the interesting things I’ve found….we’ve had town house meetings, I’ve had actresses ask me why I haven’t shown up yet. I was surprised, but it made me realize that I need to talk to my people and tell them that they don’t have to feel pressure to come forward if they’re not ready to [just as I am not ready yet]. It’s definitely changing. Iâ€™m hoping that people that have done things will be held accountable.”
“It’s amazing that finally it’s coming out. It’s overwhelming but it’s also great. I feel so much safer going to work on any project or talking to men in the industry about anything. I feel so much more empowered about saying no and this is not OK and putting my foot down.”
“If I have that feeling, I’m hoping everyone else is starting to feel more like that. We don’t have to be quiet and deal with it because that’s the way things are. No, that’s not the way things are anymore. It’s not appropriate. That’s one thing that I think is really amazing that’s come out of that.”
Ghost Wars airs Thursdays at 10/9c on Syfy. You can catch all of the season so far on Syfy’s website. Here’s a sneak peek of tonight’s new episode.
It’s about to get real ugly for everyone in Port Moore.
Ghost Wars (@ghostwarstv) December 5, 2017
[Updated 1/18/23 — Ghost Wars is now streaming free on Crackle.]
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