ED- The Eerie Digest is excited and honored to introduce the highly acclaimed actress, Ramona Milano, to all our readers. Ramona has been in some of the most popular television shows over the past ten years and is an icon in her own right in many prime time television series. Ramona, tell us about your early childhood, and what inspired you to take up acting as a career.
RM- As a child I had no idea about “careers” and what that really meant, I just knew that I loved singing, dancing, and acting and imitating people. My child hood was pretty event-less to be honest, nothing tragic or traumatic or dramatic happened but at the same time, I’m not one of those people who raves about his/her youth. Mine was pretty “normal.” There was a big age difference between me and my little brother, we’re 6 years apart, and I spent a lot of time looking after him. I was the oldest grandchild and the only girl, so I was often responsible for minding the boys and “keeping an eye” on them. I was handed a lot of domestic responsibility at a young age so I think the artistic world allowed me to step out of that and into a world of creative possibilities which allowed me to use my imagination to the fullest.
ED- With many students of the Arts following our magazine for guidance on their dreams of becoming actors, tell us about your preparation for your career and the education that you took towards it.
RM- I started taking lessons at a young age. I was taking dance lessons and music lessons before I turned 10, and always involved myself in school productions. In grade eight I was so proud because I landed the lead role in Mary Poppins! I was a drama major and a musical theater minor at the Etobicoke School of the Arts high school. I got a job performing at Canada’s Wonderland before I even graduated at 17 years old. After graduation, I attended Humber College for drama. Even after my college studies I always immersed myself in classes and workshops all over the city, studying with as many people as I could. My favourite experience was studying with the legendary, late Michael Shurtleff, famous for his book, Audition. Over the past 20+ years, I still take courses from time to time focusing on areas of current interest. Last spring (April 2010) I took a theatre directing course at Tarragon theatre, instructed by Tarragon’s artistic director, Richard Rose.
ED- Tell us of your earlier work at Canada’s Wonderland Park and how this helped you gain the confidence needed to succeed in your work.
RM- We were work horses man! We did 5 shows a day 6 days/week for peanuts!!! I think I kept my contract because it was my first professional job – I should check it because I think we made something like $8./hr!! It was nothing – even in 1987, it was considered peanuts. But you know what? Nobody complained because we were thrilled to be working. We were all so young, I was the youngest singer in my cast. I was working with people who were in college/university, and older. People who were in their 20’s living in the city with roommates while I was still in grade 12 waiting for graduation day, studying for my final exams while going through rehearsals learning lyrics, harmonies, and choreography. But for me it was a rush! I was doing exactly what I dreamed of doing in school and I had entered a new world working with some people who were a LOT more experienced than me. You can’t help but build up confidence when you’re capabilities are being challenged all the time, especially surrounded by people who got experience on you and you learn very quickly that you have a LONG haul ahead of you!
ED- You originally auditioned for your role of Francesca Vecchio in the TV film ‘Due South’ in 1993 and when it successfully became a television series you were invited back to play that role in ten episodes between 1994-1996. How exciting was this for you, and what gave you that edge for that role?
RM- I was thrilled to land this role for many reasons. One of which was it was a job, hello?! Sure as hell beat waiting tables! Exactly what I was doing at that time in my home town of Bolton, where I worked at a place that no longer exists, called Webster’s. Another reason is that I hadn’t had a whole lot of experience on t.v. and film sets yet. I definitely built up my experience working as a recurring role which developed in to regular role on that show. I worked with amazing people, from writers to directors to regular cast member as well as guest stars. Toronto’s entertainment industry in the 90’s was a pretty cool place to be, and I was working on the hottest show in town. Not bad for the new kid on the block! I loved every minute of it.
I don’t know what gave me my “edge” to land the role, but I do think that comedy is definitely a place where I am comfortable. Not to mention that Mediterranean dinner scenes, (which is the scene I auditioned for) is certainly not foreign to me! So, I think authenticity helped. And I was the right age, with the right look at the right time auditioning for the right role. Timing is everything! I also went in to the audition with a jar of peanut butter so that I could actually eat and let the lines be a secondary focus and the act of eating be a primary focus that wasn’t crunchy or loud or distracting but only served to assist me in the way it was meant to without throwing any one else off. I guess it worked!
ED- You also played in another series, ‘Traders’, during that period followed by two TV movies, ‘The Absolute Truth’ and ‘The Last Don’. Please tell our readers about the roles that you played in each, and the themes behind them.
RM- Traders: I don’t really remember the details about that role. I know my character was married to the fabulous Juan Chioran’s character and I think we were having marital issues and going through a divorce….am I making that up??? I‘m pretty sure, but can’t quite recall. I know she was bitch – I remember that! An uptight, corporate bitch. (that was fun) The Absolute Truth: I played a young, hungry reporter who attempts to screw over Jane Seymour’s character, who takes me aside in her office and basically tells me to get it together. She warns me that if I go down that path of back stabbing, it’s only going to come back to bite me in the ass and that I should adopt a better work ethic before I lose everything from under me. Jane Seymour was really nice, uber professional. She has two different coloured eyes, I remember being so intrigued and distracted by that the first I met her. The Last Don: I played Ceil Ballazzo who was a former innocent young love of Jason’s Gedrick character who he pays a visit to and she falls for his good looks and goes out to lunch with him and offers all the information he’s fishing for. That was a very cool experience. It was a Hollywood production taking place in Toronto and I got to work with Jason Gedrick, Kirstie Alley, Burt Young, Danny Aiello, and of course, I was reunited on set once again with former Due South cast mate, David Marciano.
ED- It wasn’t long before you were back in ‘Due South’, and portrayed your character again in the next twenty-five episodes of that show. Tell us about the other actors in the series and how you interacted with them on, and off screen.
RM- Due South was an untouchable experience because we all got along. Paul was fantastic because he recognized a good idea whether it was conceived by him or not. His ego was not so fragile that he wouldn’t do something for the benefit of the show because it hadn’t been written or conceived by him. He would laugh hysterically at an idea then all of a sudden he’d come walking down the hall with re-writes and we’d find ourselves incorporating the joke in to the script. I loved that about him! All the actors recognized a good thing we had goin’ on and what can I say, we all came to work happy! Me, Beau, Camilla, Paul, Callum, Tony, Tom, Gordon, and Draco! I was also very close to many members of the crew. Still to this day, when I work on other sets, I inevitably run into former Due South crew members, and we instantly spark up conversation as if no time has passed. There is definitely an unwritten camaraderie amongst us. We socialized a lot outside of work. Camilla even through a baby shower for me when I was pregnant! We shared a lot of laughs and a lot of stories and a lot of dinners together. Beau was the best story teller! To this day, I am in touch with 2 crew members and 3 cast members on a pretty regular basis.
ED- The next few years found you quite busy in a number of varying roles on television. ‘Relic Hunter’, ‘Pushing Tin’, a second episode of ‘Traders’, and the first of two episodes as the role of Vera Rizzori in ‘Earth the Final Conflict’. Tell us about these different roles and how you successfully kept their characterizations apart.
RM- To be honest with you, that time is kind of a blur to me because I had just given birth to my first born son who was very, very colicky and miserable! My husband and I were running on fumes as we were both pretty sleep deprived with the candle burning at both ends! When I do Due South conventions, I can hear people laughing when I don’t remember details but I’m telling you, the reality and experience of my first born left me a little shell shocked if you will! Thank God he turned out to be an awesome kid, who turns 13 next week, which I cannot believe. Those 3 roles were quite different in that in the Relic Hunter, I played an Italian curator who was shy, and a bit of a book work worm geek. You know, the kind of fantasy geek where if she takes her hair down and takes off her glasses she’s hot. In Pushing Tin, I played a pushy, go getter reporter – I was actually VERY pregnant filming that! They hid me in a big winter coat with a hood. I had a great time filming that! The director, Mike Newell allowed me to do some improv with Billy Bob Thornton and that was a rush!
ED- Starting in 2000, we saw you in ‘Doc’, ”You Belong to Me’, and ‘Deceived’. This was soon followed by ‘This Is Wonderland’, ‘Cool Money’, ‘Til Death Do Us Part’, and ‘Flashpoint’. Which of these were your favorite, and what role were you most satisfied with?
RM- I had a lot of fun working on “Til Death” where I was reunited with former Due South director Larry MacLean! My character Marcia lost her marbles over the betrayal of her spouse’s infidelity to his gay lover. Climbing on that emotional roller coaster was great fun! I also loved working out the fight scene where I had to get choked to death. My mom and my husband didn’t enjoy watching that but I loved it! Definitely an actor’s play ground. I also really loved working on “Deceived” with Louie Gossett Jr. and Judd Nelson. Come on man, I’m working with the bad ass from the Breakfast Club! Do you know how cool that was for me? I was a teenager in the 80’s! Lou was a class act and I really appreciated my time on that set. Coincidentally, the soldier that my character killed telepathically was the actor who played my husband’s gay lover in “Til’ Death!” Hmm., maybe it’s him! Maybe we need to work together more often!
ED- You next appeared in seven episodes of ‘Cra$h &Burn’. Explain the theme for this series to our readers, and the character that you portrayed.
RM- In Cra$h & Burn, I portrayed Teresa Silva, the Portuguese sister of lead character Lucia Silva. This was a Whizbang Films production, run by former Due South exec’s Paul Gross and Frank Siracusa, who clearly really enjoy me in the Mediterranean sister role’s! It was about an insurance adjuster named Jimmy Burns with a questionable past, trying to turn over a new leaf and finds himself complicating matters in his personal and professional life. My character had nothing to do with the insurance aspect of the show, I played the older and more responsible sister to Lucia. Teresa is not in a very happy or fulfilling marriage which becomes apparent when it is discovered that she is having an affair with Lucia’s priest, who publicly declares his love for Teresa at Lucia & Jimmy’s engagement party. Unfortunately, things were just getting juicy with my character’s storyline until the network cancelled the series. Personally, I was thrilled to play Portuguese, because I’ve only ever been associated with being Italian, and I am in fact half Portuguese! I got to speak in Portuguese some times too which was a great upkeep for me! Incidentally, during the filming, my husband and I had traveled to Portugal to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. So upon my return I was brimming with all things Portuguese!
ED- This soon was followed by your roles in six episodes of ‘Degrassi: The Next Generation”. What was your role in this series, and how was it pivotal for the show ?
RM- In Degrassi, I play Audra Torres, helicopter mom to Adam and Drew Torres. Audra is on the school board, primarily for the purpose of keeping a close eye on her teenage children and making sure that things run the way Audra thinks it should. She is all business and pretty much void of humour. She is very concerned about her children but unfortunately she has lost her self in that concern, and can come off pretty cold. It couldn’t be further from the truth, she just doesn’t know how to handle her feelings and her concern for her kids in any way other than organizing their lives and having everything run on schedule and just so. She is heart broken over the loss of her daughter Grace to Grace’s transformation of Adam, but Audra is doing her best to be supportive of Adam’s decision to be a trans-gender. This is not easy for Audra and her pain is visible, though she can misconstrued as hardened.
ED- Tell us about the awards that you received for ‘Due South’ and other acclamations you received during your career.
RM- I received two nominations, one in 1997 and one in 1999 from the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television for “Best performance by an actress in a featured supporting role on a dramatic series.” They are framed and in my den.
ED- Acting is not your only passion. Teaching and cooking have also played a principal role in your life. You also directed a short film, The Conversation’. Give us a glimpse into these interests and what you envision them to becoming another niche for you.
RM- I think it’s only natural that new interests develop and grow as you develop and grow. My life and my perspective of success and my perspective of many things are not the same as they once were when I started out, so if I was striving for the exact same goals now as I was then, I think that would be kind of sad! Directing is a very natural transition for an actor. It certainly doesn’t replace my love for acting, but instead is a new flame of passion that is still under the same umbrella. Cooking is creation and comfort. I wish my house was one enormous kitchen, which is where we can be found most of the time! To create a meal is to show love and artistic passion that pleases all the senses! I love to cook and I love to eat! It’s my favourite past time – enjoying a home cooked meal and red wine with good friends where you sit for hours and talk and eat and laugh and not even notice that you’ve been seated in the same chair for 6 hours! I love that. Being a mom has definitely altered my life in every way shape and form. My husband asked me recently what I most wanted to do if I had to focus on one thing and one thing only, and the most honest and immediate answer I came up was, to create. I love teaching my teen class and the relationships I develop with these kids along the years and watching the relationships they develop with each other. I am grateful to be in a position to observe how being in a safe, nurturing world of the arts has allowed these kids to be who they are without judgment or criticism. Instead they develop tolerance and acceptance and appreciation for diversity and uniqueness rather than only being comforted by unity and conformity. They learn to think outside the box. By the time they graduate from grade 12, they are such three dimensional, interesting, confident and compassionate people who love to laugh and enjoy rolling up their sleeves and jumping in. There’s no way I could have ever appreciated that observation or even related to what that means to me as a teacher/instructor/coach/director. It’s way more meaningful than any role I’ve ever landed.
ED- What other venues do you plan on in the near future?
RM- As they say, “Man plans, God laughs”…I don’t know we’ll see. I have lots of ideas. Not lots of time, but lots of ideas! For now, I’m happy with what I have created and hope to continue on that path successfully.
ED- Ramona, it is surely an honor and a pleasure to be able to interview you in The Eerie Digest magazine, and we want to thank you for your time in doing so. I know that the many students, and young actors, who follow our magazine will have learned a lot from your experiences, and will be following your career closely for many years to come. I hope that you will visit with us often, and wish you the best of luck in all that you do.