Born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario, Tommie-Amber Pirie is perhaps one of the most likeable Canadian actresses working today, and not just because she loves cats, coffee, and garage sales as much as we do. The former competitive figure skater has appeared in some of the most critically-acclaimed films of recent years, from The F Word starring Daniel Radcliffe to The Trotsky, starring Jay Baruchel. Pirie received a Canadian Screen Awards nomination for her role as Claire Webb on CBC’s Michael: Tuesdays and Thursdays, and she’s now joining the cast of Syfy and Space’s most-watched original drama series, Bitten, for season 2 of the hit show (premiering in 2015). Pirie plays Paige Winterbourne, a hard-headed young witch, in the supernatural series centered on a pack of werewolves and starring Smallville’s Laura Vandervoort as the central character, Elena Michaels, the only female werewolf in history. We caught up with Pirie to find out more about her new role, her past life as a competitive skater, her two rescue cats, and what super powers she’d most like to have…
Tell us a bit about yourself. What should people know?
People should know that, yes, my real birth name is Tommie-Amber. Not short for anything or the “cooler” version of a name like…Tommasina. Please, no! I moved to Toronto when I was 19 to pursue my career as an actress. I drink excessive amounts of coffee. I love to garage sale. I’m a Pisces.
You’re joining the cast of Bitten for season 2 as a witch. What drew you to the character and the show as a whole?
What drew me to the role initially was the fact that my agent got me the audition and that the Bitten execs cast me! So for that I am eternally grateful. That being said, I love being able to step in to the role of Paige Winterbourne for S=season 2 for many reasons — mostly, the fact that I get to play a witch! I have magic powers! I mean, come on, how cool is that? That aside, I get to work! I get to go to set every day and do the thing that I love to do. Coming onto a show that already has an army of followers and fans is such a wonderful and supportive feeling. I felt that support and excitement before I even started filming, which was such a gift and motivator. The show is actually based on a series of books by Kelly Armstrong entitled Women of the Otherworld. I value that I get to represent a strong, powerful, dominant, and fierce woman but also a woman who is vulnerable, unsure, naive, and soft. It’s not one or the other. I hope that the fans can appreciate that as much as I do.
If you could have one supernatural power, what would it be and why?
Two things. I would have teleporting powers so that I could get from one place to another with the snap of my fingers. Snap! Boom! There! Because I am impatient and can’t stand waiting. Also — I would have the power of ejecting delicious and perfectly-brewed Italian coffee from my finger tip. Why? Um… because I love coffee.
You were a figure skater growing up. When did you decide to pick up acting, and have you been able to integrate your skating talent into a character you play’s storyline yet?
This is my favourite thing to talk about, actually. I’ll tell you why: Being a competitive figure skater from the age of 4, skating became my life very quickly. It was all I did. I was the girl known as “the figure skater” at school, and it was what I identified with. I skated five to six days a week, which mostly cut into my schooling. During the summer holidays, when everyone was out playing with their friends, I was training. Apart from actually being on the ice, I was involved in everything that came along with being a competitive athlete: body training, ballet, Pilates, physiotherapy, sport psychology — you name it. I had many competitions, and everything during the training process led up to being fully prepared for that 4-6 minutes that I spent on the ice doing my short and long programs. From a young age, I definitely had a “performer” in me and, because of skating, I was able to allow that aspect of my personality to flourish when I was on the ice with my skates on. I think I was around the age of 17 when many things started to change for me. I was finding my independence and autonomy as a young woman and feeling like I wanted to hang up my skates and pursue the things that I knew I wanted to do. It definitely wasn’t an easy decision — mostly because there was so much on the line and many people involved in the harnessing of my career as a figure skater. I loved skating with all my heart, and it was difficult for me to comprehend a life without it. But one great thing led to another! Slowly and seamlessly, the transition from skater to actor made itself apparent in my life. I have to say that, without a doubt in my mind, if it was not for the fact that I hustled beyond measure at my sport (which instilled the fundamental and necessary traits that I needed to succeed), I couldn’t and wouldn’t be the actor I am today. Learning what it meant to have dedication, determination, motivation, will power (both mentally and physically) from a very young age prepared me for this business that I am in today. The most important quality I learned skating for so many years was “when you fall you must get back up and keep going.” Literally. I truly hope that my understanding of skating can make its way into my professional acting career one day. That would be the icing on the cake, as well as the simpatico of two things I love so dearly.
You’ve been in critically-acclaimed films from The F Word with Daniel Radcliffe to The Trotsky as well as beloved shows like Lost Girl. What have been some of your most cherished projects thus far? Did you receive any advice or have a moment on a particular set that was particularly significant to you?
Yes, I have had the opportunity to work with some really great creative and talented people over the last little bit. It excites me! I would have to say getting to work on indie projects in a super collaborative setting feels the most fulfilling to me. Both indie theatre and film give me the artistic satisfaction of creative union and explorative discovery through the process. Creatively. this is where I always want to be operating from. In terms of advice, well, there has been a ton along the way. Most of which I can’t tell you who told me (because of my bad memory), but it resides in my artistic psyche somewhere. I receive advice constantly in many different forms — whether I am reading an article by Meryl Streep or working with a director who I really admire. Operating in the world with an artistic and creative perspective and open eyes and heart — you will notice that advice resides everywhere. The thing that resonates most with me is preparation. There is nothing more valuable than being fully and entirely prepared before you walk on set or onto the stage so that when “Action!” is called or the lights go up, you can drop everything and just be… with all of the preparation in the “creative bank,” of course, but from a place of the unknown. As an actor I feel like I can’t fully be present or have the freedom of exploring and discovering moment to moment if I am not 150% prepared.
You’re an animal lover, we hear…
I love animals. And you know — my love for animals has actually increased progressively more and more over the last few years. I have two cats, Edie and Buster, both of which were adopted from the Toronto Humane Society! I often go to the Toronto Humane Society and just hang out with the animals too. I encourage anyone who wants to add a pet to his or her family to adopt. There are so many animals in need and in cages all day. It breaks my heart. Or at least stop by and give them some attention. I also love horses because they have the most beautiful grace, strength, and power. But note — the Humane Society does not have horses… just FYI. I want to be more involved in the volunteer community with animals, for certain — looking forward to whatever it is!
What products are always in your beauty bag?
I like to go down the more natural avenue when it comes to my beauty regimen. If I can’t read the ingredients to what is being applied to my face and body, it kinda freaks me out. So I do what I can. When it comes to my skin products, I only use olive oil to hydrate, and coffee grinds to exfoliate. Also, I love the round colourful EOS lip balms. Also, Tarte has a really fantastic lip tint that I love. I wear it on Bitten as well. It’s also vegan and cruelty-free.
How would you describe your personal style?
I feel like my style is a mishmash of everything. It varies on how I am feeling, really. Also I’m kinda bad when it comes to knowing and naming designers or trends. On the average day, I value comfort, so it’s not rare that I look like a bum. High-waisted shorts or sweatpants with a comfy t-shirt and my Converse or boots would be an average day. I’m often at Value Village looking for some interesting pieces. Sometimes I feel really girly and want to sport a floral skirt and heels; another day you will find me in the men’s department at H&M. So let’s go with “comfy-hipster-Con-wearing-bohemian-girly-vintage-pink-lipstick-bum-with-holes-in-her jeans-and-a-blazer.” Oh yeah, sidenote: thinking back when I was in high school, I went through a hard time and found myself sporting the Mary-Kate and Ashley homeless look. So there’s always that…
What’s your favourite restaurant and why?
I love Insomnia! It is in the west end at Bathurst and Bloor across from Honest Ed’s. The food is so damn good. Brunch on the weekends is killer. I love everything about that place — the way it’s set up, the lighting, the coffee, the drink specials, the local art, the vibe, and — most importantly — their fries with aioli. Boom! Also, I used to work there when I first moved to Toronto — trying to make money to pay rent while I pursued acting. So there is a special place in my heart for that place because I used tell myself after I had a long day hustling on a double brunch-dinner shift and smelling like a freak that, “One day you won’t have to serve and will be able to support yourself doing the thing that you love to do.” And now I’m there! (Knocking on wood, always.)