By Kyla Konopka
It happened… I forgot to put on pants and had run out of the house this week – one of my finer moments. On days when I’m not half naked during the kids morning school runs, well, I call those day ‘wins’. So, while I’m busy celebrating my monumental triumphs, others are walking red carpets, starring in feature films and long-running dramas, spearheading community events, raising three lovely boys (three!) all while gracefully taking role as artistic director of the Lakeshorts Film Festival. This is definitely someone who has wisdom to share. I had the pleasure of speaking with the gorgeous Michelle Nolden, renowned film actress (Carrie, Red, The Time Traveler’s Wife), Television star (Saving Hope, Nikita, Numb3rs), she shared with Milk ‘N’ Heels, some of her secrets on family, career, balance and pulling it all together – even on those ‘no pants’ kind of days.
Milk & Heels: Some might believe that anyone who has struggled to find a happy balance between gainful employment and home life must have a secret formula. Do you? What is it?
Michelle: A secret formula would be nice! I feel very lucky that Saving Hope has such an ensemble cast because it allows me to maintain balance a little easier than it might be on other shows. The writers have created some dynamic and complicated stories for Dawn Bell but there are also episodes where Dawn might not play as heavy and those are always the weeks where I catch up on things at home and with my community involvement. I often joke that work is where I relax and can actually chill out a bit. I know it sounds odd but for me it is true. When I am at work it forces me to be more singularly focused and to multitask less – I can joke with the cast between setups, work on my script, have a nap at lunch (sshh!!) and not be rushing to throw in a load of laundry, empty the dishwasher, clean the toilets (I have 3 boys) or racing through the grocery store to grab cookies for a parent council meeting, or or, or…. there is no end to the to do list at home.
Would you share a time when the scales were tipped toward ‘ all work and no play’ and how you managed to endure.
M: The hardest part about the times in my life when work is all consuming is that I am away from my kids and I miss them. The most difficult is when I have to travel and be away from them but again – this is a double-edged sword in that it also gives me time to actually recharge and to focus on myself. I am grateful that I love what I do so much and so my time at work for the most part is actually energizing and not draining. That being said I could not do it if my husband didn’t have the flexibility in his schedule (sometimes we are both crazy busy and then it is truly a bit of a circus) and if we didn’t have the amazing village around us who helps us. We have a fantastic caregiver (not Nanny) Anne, who literally is an angel, and I don’t know how I could manage it all without her help. My parents have often traveled with me when I have brought the kids for work and we have had some fantastic adventures together. I am also blessed with a great community whom if I am stuck, are there to pitch in. Bear in mind that as an actress I can have down time between gigs and so it is in those moments that I am able to return the favor. It also makes enduring the really busy times easier because there is always an end (if not only for a short time) in sight.
Recall a time when family needs superseded your career out of immediate necessity – a child’s illness, family emergency etc. How did you manage to find your way back to your career?
M: Family comes first and career is second. Emergencies make this a much more clear cut decision and I think when we are faced with a family member really needing us, you just have to put the faith out there that it will work out – maybe not the way we originally thought but that it will work out. There are many benefits to being an actress but being pregnant is not one of them. Unless one is already on a show and the production can work around a pregnancy, getting work if you are already pregnant can be very challenging. As well there is a two month benefit post pregnancy but the expectation is to be back at it in “fighting shape” pretty quickly. I remember being very nervous about what it would mean to my career to have a baby and in fact I have been asked this question by many actresses thinking about making the plunge. I always say that when I die they will not write about the movies that I did, they will write about whether I was a good mother or daughter or sister or friend and that if my end goal is to be successful in these things then why doubt myself when I let this be the priority.
Being so involved in your community, schools, projects and events, what is the driving force that keeps you motivated to do such selfless work when you face potential burnout?
M: That is a good question because I do definitely get burned out. The problem is I LIKE doing all the things that I am doing and so it makes it really difficult to say no. I love being involved at the kids school and am so proud of the group of parents that we have who have done so much to enhance our kid’s education. I love that my kids see me in the halls and talking to the teachers and that I know their friends and what happens in their day. For the most part I have enjoyed the learning curve of writing grants and delegating especially when I can see the difference that it makes. I love watching my kids play sports and seeing my husband out there coaching them. I love Lakeshorts. It’s really, really fun. It’s a ton of work yes, but it’s fun. I love working with our Councillor, MP and MPP to make our community better because it is energizing and so different from my work and they’re really dedicated people making positive change. There are so many people in our community doing so many great things and I just like to be a part of it – sometimes as a leader but just as often as a follower. It has helped me to recognize that I have skills outside my work as an actor. I think the work would be selfless if I didn’t get anything out of it but I get so much and feel such a part of my community that I think I am the one that benefits. I just need there to be 36 hours in a day.
And what is your cure for burnout?! If you have it, please share?!
M: Cottage. Date night. Netflix. Sleep. Wine. Family and Friends – not in any particular order.
What skills have you developed through being a successful actress that have helped you thrive in other aspects of life?
M: Being an actress is often feast or famine. The ultimate validation needs to come from within because we all know the industry itself can be fickle and unkind. I think that has given me an ability to trust myself and to weather the tough times. I have often said that we define ourselves as artists when we are not working more than when we are. The work is the best part but staying focused, positive and fluid when the times are tough and the validation scarce, takes practice and discipline. This is a lifetime challenge.
For new moms out there nervously returning to work after their maternity leave, can you remember what inspired you when you were in this position? did you have a specific mantra for when the road became daunting?
M: It’s a bit like jumping in the lake. You just gotta do it. The initial shock of that cold water might get you but the swim is so worth it. And… We are raising human beings. What could be more empowering than that?
In terms of style, we’ve all had those days when we’d prefer to hang out in sweats and a t-shirt- but how do you manage to pull it together when you need to be red carpet ready?
M: It’s a load of work and I truly have a love/ hate relationship with the “Red Carpet” – particularly as a woman who is most comfortable in sweats and a t-shirt. (I LOVE wearing my scrubs on Saving Hope) We have enough to beat ourselves up about so let me keep it very, very real and say – a team of hair and makeup people, spanx, hair wefts, padded bras, lighting – you name it – SMOKE AND MIRRORS baby!
Thanks to Michelle for her amazing insight, honesty, humour and advice. You can Follow Michelle on Twitter at Michelle Nolden, for information on Lakeshorts Film Festival visit Lakeshorts and be sure to catch Michelle in her role as Dr. Dawn Bell on CTV’S ‘Saving Hope’. Visit Saving Hope for info, Web exclusives and news.