Apparently, one doesn't have to be a neurotic outsider to be an artist anymore. Lara Gilchrist is a case in point. Asked what she has to offer directors, the 22-year-old beauty replies: "People tell me I'm grounded."
Dark-haired and pale-skinned, Gilchrist has had a very good year. A recent graduate of the Studio 58 acting program, she is currently commanding the stage in two major roles at Bard on the Beach. In Much Ado About Nothing, her Hero is so transparently vulnerable that it's painful to watch; and, in a saucy demonstration of her range, Gilchrist uses a doll-like deadpan to wring every last laugh out of the role of Anne Page in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Those shows run in repertory in Vanier Park until September 26. She has also recently appeared in Little Women for Carousel Theatre, and she snagged a best-supporting-actress nomination at this year's Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards for the cinematic restraint of her work in The Wedding Pool. There's a future, too. From February 9 until March 6, 2005, Gilchrist will join some of Vancouver's most talented actors, including David Marr and Jillian Fargey, on the Stanley Theatre's stage for Enchanted April.
This success has not gone to her head. Chatting in the colourful Main Street apartment she shares with roommate Shane Droucker, who is a lighting designer, Gilchrist recalls: "My biggest problem in theatre school was that I didn't understand why people took it so seriously. I always thought I should be helping somebody or doing something for other people. I had a hard time being so self-involved." Trips to Zambia and India helped to create her sense of perspective. "It's very humbling. When you see babies lying at the side of the road, it helps you to realize that your career isn't the most important thing in the world."
She is just as humble about her appearance: "I don't think I'm all that attractive. I really don't. But I know other people think so and that it's one of the reasons I'm getting all of these parts. I used to kind of resent it, but now I just accept that I'm lucky."
Surely there's a skeleton in some closet somewhere. Gilchrist's mother took her two children and left her husband when her daughter was less than a year old. "My father was very abusive to Mom. He lied a lot," Gilchrist reports, trying her best to rattle some bones. "And there was a big melodrama when he showed up a few years later and he wanted to take my brother. I was aware that he didn't want to take me. So I'm sure that's in there somewhere." Still, she says that for years, she been okay with not knowing her dad. Clearly, trauma does not drive her life.
Perhaps Gilchrist learned this almost Buddhist cool from her chosen profession. She says she found out at school that when you're acting, you go as far as you can with an emotion. You don't fear it. You live it to its fullest. Then you go backstage and forget about it.