Karen LeBlanc recalls scuffling for attention as the youngest of eight siblings in her Nova Scotia-by-way-of-Ontario clan. That may be visible from the confident way she enters one of Vancouver’s most popular French restaurants. But you’d never spot “Ms. Performer” (as she describes herself) from her calm, tightly controlled performance in Nurse.Fighter.Boy, in which she plays one of three central characters locked in a quiet struggle for survival.
Watch the trailer for Nurse.Fighter.Boy.
LeBlanc is able to meet with the Georgia Straight because she recently moved here from Toronto to shoot the first season of Defying Gravity, a sci-fi series launched by CTV, Fox, the BBC, and Germany’s ProSieben network, among others. In the program, starring Ron Livingston as an astronaut (B.C.’s Laura Harris is also aboard), she’s a tough space-flight controller—a far cry from the film’s Jamaican-born hospital worker suffering from sickle-cell anemia.
In the Toronto-shot feature, which opens here Friday (February 6), young Daniel J. Gordon plays the widowed woman’s doting son, and veteran Clark Johnson is the titular boxer who comes into their lives at a critical moment.
“When I read the script,” LeBlanc says, “I thought, ”˜Can I do something this sad?’ I mean, there would be hours spent in a hospital bed.”
Innovative young director Charles Officer, who cowrote the Nurse script with producer Ingrid Veninger, was there at the first audition, however. He convinced LeBlanc that the movie would be more energetic than that; indeed, it’s more of a stylized mood piece—filled with rich-hued images and cool music cues—than a disease-of-the-week thing.
“I’m so glad I went for it,” she explains. “I felt an instant connection with Charles and Ingrid, and a week or so later I got the job. They created a safe place to be vulnerable, and that was necessary for the part.”
She has played cops, doctors, and sports wives in shows as varied as ReGenesis and Trailer Park Boys, but LeBlanc started as a singer and continues to get work in musical theatre.
“I played Buttercup in a Grade 5 version of H.M.S. Pinafore,” she remembers with a laugh. “I did Rent in 1998; it played at the Vogue here for three months. And this last Christmas I did Cinderella with Ross Petty in Toronto.”
She has also provided many voice-overs for TV ads and cartoons, sung backup in touring rock bands (Glass Tiger is still on the prowl?), soloed with orchestras, and starred in a Tina Turner tribute show. The big hair, husky voice, and bold personality certainly must have come in handy for that last one. But she left the Tina bit off her résumé until recently for fear of getting stereotyped as a sassy celebrity impersonator.
“Now I feel that people are able to see that as just one part of what I can do. Of course, this role required a certain kind of strength in its own right.”
Viewers in Halifax must have agreed last fall when they voted her best actress at the Atlantic Film Festival. Not the Thunderdome, exactly, but a good place for Ms. Performer to be.