May 23, 2002 Concordia graduate finds success on the small screen



Michelle Latimer

Michelle Latimer

by Elysia Pitt

Michelle Latimer is lighting up prime time with her role in the dramatic Showcase series Paradise Falls.

In Paradise Falls, Latimer portrays 18-year-old Trish Simpkin, a young woman who is trying to find where she belongs in a small but complex community. The series has finished its first season to enthusiastic reviews. The cast is a compilation affair, with Gemini-award-winning performers like Art Hindle, Dixie Seatle and Victoria Snow in the mix. “Trish is very outgoing and a little lost too,” said Latimer of her teenage persona. “She‚s really searching for her roots.”

Latimer’s own roots reach right back to Concordia, where she graduated in 1997 with her bachelor’s of fine arts degree in theatre performance.

Nancy Helms, associate professor in the Theatre Department, remembers Latimer fondly. She described her as a conscientious student who was very serious about her life as a performer.

“In a way, Michelle is always with me,” Helms laughed, explaining that she has a postcard covered in corks that Latimer sent back to her from New York. Helms said it was a thank you for a “magic exercise” that is taught to students: A cork is placed in the mouth so that the tongue must work against the cork during speech. It’s a cure for those who speak too fast or mumble.

Practical experience is key to the program’s success, according to Ralph Allison, associate professor and coordinator of theatre performance. “What we’re trying to do more and more is to open up doors for students,” he said.

That’s exactly what the program did for Latimer. “I hadn’t really been exposed to any kind of intense training before that. All I’d done was school plays,” she said. “It helped me to make some choices about where I wanted to direct my career.”

Latimer may have lacked experience when she came to Concordia, but Allison said the program still only takes the very best students. On average, between 100 and 150 are granted an audition for the program, of whom only about 16 will be selected.

“We get students into our program who are highly motivated to start with,” Allison said, indicating that the quality of its students is a key ingredient to the department’s success.

Latimer attributes her own successes to a combination of factors, including the training she has received and the support of her agent, Kish Iquball of Gary Goddard and Associates. It was with his backing that she made the decision to spend a year of her career focused on film and television.

“The first five months were difficult,” Latimer remembered, “but I was very lucky because I got seen for big parts right away.”

Since her role in Paradise Falls, the calibre of roles Latimer is able to reach for has changed. In April, she shot a pilot for CBS, UPN and Columbia Tri-star called One for the Money. She played a prostitute from New Jersey, and said she hopes that her role in the series might be ongoing.

Although her television career is proceeding well, Latimer still works in the theatre industry. She spent most of the winter in Montreal doing a one-woman theatre show called Idiot, in which she portrayed an angst-ridden teenager contemplating suicide.

“It inspires me to relate to people,” said Latimer, who tries to maintain a balanced view of success and the struggles of performing. “No matter what perils you come up against, at the end of the day, in the grand scheme of things, everything is relative.”

Michelle Latimer can be seen on Paradise Falls on Monday nights at 9 p.m on Showcase.