“I was a pretty not-great kid back then,” Emmelia Gordon begins. She’s remembering the time just before she realized that she could be a professional actor. “I was a bully and I was suspended and it was not good. I had issues, as all 14-year-old girls do.”
Chatting with the Straight in her South Fraser apartment, Gordon, who grew up in Courtenay, recalls the turnaround. “One of my teachers, Karen Dawson, took me aside after a pantomime that I was doing and she was like, ‘You could do this. If you wanted to, you could do this as a career.’ I was like, ‘Really?’ I thought acting was just for fun. But the next day, I said, ‘Mom, Dad, I’m going to be an actor!’ Their response was ‘Ooh. Okay. She’s going to make less money than a waitress, but—hey!—she’s got a goal.’ ”
Asked where the bullying came from, Gordon replies, “I have a learning disability, so school was really hard for me. I wanted to succeed, I wanted to do well, but I couldn’t, so I was like, ‘I hate this! Fuck! I’m outta here.’ And I was a very big girl back when I was in school, so I was also having a hard time fitting in.” Kids teased her about her size: “They were mean to me, so I was mean back.”
But, as an actor, she found out that she could make people laugh—on purpose. Eventually, this freed her into a fearlessness that’s thrilling to watch when she performs. Gordon explains that people have always told her how she should look and how she should behave—especially as a female—but on-stage, she can just let things rip, and she’s not going to waste that opportunity.
Gordon fully occupies her body: she’s vivacious. She attributes this partly to her learning disability, which has forced her to negotiate the world in a responsive, intuitive way.
However it happened, the result is comic genius. If you want to see Gordon’s skill in action, catch her Jessie-nominated performance as the sexpot Jisbella in Proud, which the Firehall Arts Centre is remounting in April next year. This fall, she’ll be touring schools with her Jessie-winning turn in Shameless Hussy’s production of the solo show Dissolve, which uses both comedy and drama to explore drug-assisted rape. And in the middle of the Dissolve run, she’ll be doing Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig, in November at Studio 16, in an interpretation from Short, Sharp and Pointy Productions.
Gordon has come a long way from being the teased and bullying big girl. Asked what she sees now when she looks at her beauty, she replies: “Confidence.”