interview by JANA LETONJA

Canadian actress Karen Cliche is best known for her roles in ‘Adventure Inc.’ and starring in the popular horror film ‘SAW VI’. Most recently, she starred in Eli Roth’s thriller ‘Thanksgiving’. Karen is a dedicated advocate against sex trafficking and actively champions various women’s issues.

Karen, you recently starred in thriller ‘Thanksgiving’, based on the mock trailer from Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Grindhouse’. How excited were you to work on this project? 
I was so excited to be in another horror film. I enjoyed being in ‘Saw VI’ so much, the challenge of bringing that fear to life and feeling it all in the moment. It’s why we become actors I think, to feel so intensely and make the audience buy in as well. So, with ‘Thanksgiving’ and being a huge fan of Eli’s from ‘Hostel’, I was very excited and even a little nervous with the cast lineup. But everyone, including Eli and the crew, was so down to earth and fun that it was such a perfect experience from start to finish.

Tell us more about your work in Eli Roth’s latest thriller film ‘Thanksgiving’. 
This experience was like nothing else. Working with Eli was such a treat. His energy, his ideas and his kindness were so helpful during my crazy scenes in the movie. I pushed myself to the limit and I felt he was in the trenches with me, both of us wanting to create something terrifying. I really wanted to live up to his vision. The entire cast and crew were amazing too.

In the film, you played a pivotal role as Rich Hoffman’s wife who finds herself at the center of a memorable Thanksgiving dinner. Tell us more about how you experienced the whole story through your character. 
What I loved about the plot is that there is a moral behind it all, the reminder of how crazy people get with Black Friday and the loss of the meaning of ‘Thanksgiving’. My character was a part of that greed and helped deepen the story and the tension between her and Jessica, played by the amazing Nell Verlaque. My character comes across as superficial and bitchy, and I wanted to make sure she wasn’t a villain, just in her own self-absorbed world. The way things turn out for Kathleen actually evoked some emotion and sympathy from the audience, so that was a nice well-rounded experience of her.

What is the best and worst part of being an actress? 
The best part is the fact that every day, every role and every project is different. It keeps life interesting. I love mornings because you never know what the day will bring. The ups come with the downs though and those months you go without work can be hard. Keeping hopeful can be challenging. 

What kind of roles do you like or would like to play and why? 
I have played mostly strong characters and in the past most of my roles were action based, which I loved. Fight scenes excite me. I think because my dad was a sergeant and I had a strong capable mother, we weren’t raised to be dainty girls. I love getting dirty and physical.

How natural does it feel to you to transform from one character into another? 
I love getting into other characters’ skins. Acting was always a great escape for me and now with more life experience, I love incorporating all that into the parts I play. As you get older, you become more fearless as well so that opens up so many new ideas and the courage to try them out. I don’t have much trouble letting loose in real life and am not an over thinker, so I am always ready to dive into other personalities.

How did you start acting? Has it always been a passion of yours? 
I always wanted to be an actress my whole life. I was even practicing my autograph signature in 5th grade. My mirror also saw many performances that I am grateful were not filmed. I was in drama class all through high school and put on school plays and MC’d some too. I just loved it. Then when I was modelling, I started auditioning for acting roles and thankfully started working as an actress consistently soon after. It felt like home.

When you became a mother, you temporarily stepped away from the spotlight to fully embrace motherhood. Did you encounter any challenges when you returned to the industry? 
I returned fully to the industry in my 40s so that was different knowing I wasn’t the young woman anymore. I would be going out for older roles and maybe there were less of them out there. I was happy to see a shift in Hollywood over the years, starting with ‘The Good Wife’, with female leads in their 40s and continue to see that more and more. I know personally, this has been an incredible journey and I am thrilled to see stories like mine and my friends being told now. I feel confident now that I have way more to offer as an actress from being a mother and growing older and wiser.

What advice would you give to your younger self and why? 
I wish I would have had the confidence to aim higher in my goals or had a vision for my career and finances too. I just lived in the moment and was happy to be working and having fun.  

How would you describe yourself in 3 words? And how would your best friends describe you? 
Spontaneous, loud laugher, crazy cat lady. And my friends would say I am fun, opinionated, unfiltered, thoughtful and a lover of margaritas with no salt. 

What is your own definition of happiness? 
I always evaluate my life like, “If I were to die today, how would I feel about my life and the things I have done, and how I treated people?” If I smile when I think of all those things, I feel at peace. I have tattoos that say ‘No Dress Rehearsal’, a lyric from the band The Tragically Hip, but it means life is a one-shot deal. This is it, make sure you live it to the fullest. And the other is ‘Anything Can Happen’ because it is a reminder that anything can happen at any time, good or bad, so live in the moment and appreciate it all. 

You are a dedicated advocate against sex trafficking and actively champion various women’s issues. Why is this something of such huge importance to you? 
I grew up with domestic abuse and was often coming out of my room at 10 or 11 years old to confront my dad. I just felt the fight in me so strongly and carried that with me in life when it came to injustice and abuse in general. I feel we are given the life we have to learn from and grow from, and with that empathy we can drive change. I also believe very strongly in body autonomy and sexual freedom, especially for women.

What do you personally believe more could or should be done in helping to advocate for these issues? 
I believe shame and secrecy is a breeding ground for abuse. So, if we could eliminate stigma and have more people tell their stories, people would feel less alone and in the shadows. As humans, relating to one another is key, finding trust in others that hear you changes everything. That is the baseline and then of course funding for shelters, resources for women to have help with their children when fleeing abuse with no money, etc. It’s a complicated web, but I am always happy to hear of one woman at a time escaping violence.

Where do you see yourself and your career 5 years from now? 
I hope to put my older and wiser self to effective use in interesting, challenging roles. Becoming a mom 14 years ago broke me open and took down walls that kept me from being vulnerable. Now, having lived so much and experiencing life without those walls, leaves so much room for deeper feelings. I see how much my acting improved in the last few years of being more emotionally raw. I would like to spend more time in LA as well. Especially in the winter, get me out of cold Canada. 

What can you share with us about your upcoming projects and goals for 2024? 
I just finished a comedy called ‘Racewalkers’ and hoping to do more comedy next year. I absolutely love it. I plan on continuing teaching acting classes here where I live, as well as private coaching because helping other actors find their confidence and abilities is so rewarding to me, I feel so excited for them. I guess this is all part of the getting older and wiser part of life.

photography by PASCALE THERIEN