Josue Laboucane, the shy kid from Fort St. John, is starting to believe that he has something to offer.
The charismatic 24-year-old actor inherited his name from his Métis grandfather and he identifies as gay, but he's not overly concerned with those aspects of his identity. Sitting outside the tents at Bard on the Beach, where he's playing Horatio in both Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead this summer, he says: "I don't know what it means to be Métis. I don't disregard it, but it's one of those things that's always a question. Being Métis, what does that mean? What does that mean to other people? It's just like sexuality; it doesn't define me."
His sense of being an outsider in his hometown was more encompassing. He didn't play hockey. He didn't work on the oil rigs. And he was so timid that in elementary school if anyone teased him-even gently-he would compulsively replay the scenario in his head until he figured out how to act cooler the next time.
When Laboucane started getting leads in the high-school musicals-including the King in The King and I-he suddenly gained status. He says he didn't belong to any particular group but "I was the diplomat between the nerds and the popular guys. I was the one who could talk to the bullies, so I did." Defending the nerds, he got roughed up sometimes, but he has little room for anger: "To this day, I don't want to hate anybody. When I find somebody who rubs me the wrong way, I don't like that I feel that way towards them, so I try and figure it out."
That said, he is beginning to understand that acting isn't primarily about pleasing others, such as writers and directors; first of all, it has to be about satisfying his own standards and instincts. A recent graduate of Studio 58, he says that at the school, "I learned how to settle in and be myself and trust the part of me that's dynamic and interesting-without knowing what it is or worrying that I might not have it."
Settling into a self that was once so rattled is an ongoing process. Referring to his work at Bard, he says: "Like now, this little voice comes up and says, 'It's not good.' I've got to instantly forgive myself. I've gotta shift that around. I've got to trust that the channel that is me is worthwhile."
Directors and critics have been quick to recognize Laboucane's talent. While still at Studio 58, he delivered a star-calibre performance as the sleazy talent agent in Pal Joey. From November 3 to 19, he will appear in Pi Theatre's Carnage at Performance Works, and this spring, he will perform in Section 8's Terrible Things (April 27 to May 6, 2006, at Performance Works).
Asked why acting is a worthwhile thing to do with a life, he throws up his arms in a sudden and surprisingly fey gesture and says with a sigh, "I don't know." Then he answers: "It's about trying to understand one another, and I think that's very important."