Actress Rebekah Miskin discusses her series Night Owl, working in different creative fields and how the show’s profits will impact charitable causes.
Rebekah Miskin is a Canadian actress, writer, director and producer, based in Toronto, Ontario. Some of her acting projects include roles in Murdoch Mysteries, Kim’s Convenience, Long Story, Short and Reviving Ophelia. In 2018, Rebekah Miskin wrote, directed, produced and starred in her own television comedy series, Night Owl. The show follows Jessie (played by Rebekah Miskin), a loner who builds friendships with the staff of a late night grocery store.
As you will discover in this interview, the adage ‘write what you know’ comes into effect as there’s a real-life basis for the series. Locke & Key’s Jesse Camacho (Doug Brazelle) has a leading role as Carlos, the store’s security guard.
Thank you to Rebekah for taking the time to chat with Courageous Nerd.
How has your lockdown/quarantine experience been thus far?
Rebekah Miskin (RM): Well, it’s been very interesting. I think parts of it have been better than I thought and parts of it have been worse than I thought. You know, I keep expecting that as every day goes on, maybe it’ll be less weird. I keep thinking ‘maybe tomorrow I’ll wake up and it won’t be weird anymore’. I wake up the next day and it’s still weird.
So I really think that it’s so obviously not normal life. But there are some things that I felt I’ve learned about myself from it. I think I’ve definitely learned that I am an extrovert. And I really miss everyone. But at the same time, I feel so lucky and so grateful that I have a home to be quarantined in. It just really makes you appreciate the little things, you know?
You’ve got professional credits as an actor, writer and director. Which of those creative paths came first to you when starting out?
RM: So I actually started out as a dancer and danced professionally for a while so that was kind of my main goal. That’s why I got an agent in the first place. I got an agent when I was 13 or 14 years old. I begged my parents to let me meet with this agency that represented dancers so I could audition for music videos or films where they needed dancers.
I remember I auditioned for the remake of Hairspray and I was super excited to audition for a dancing role in the film. Then I injured myself really badly when I was 18, I tore most of my ACL ligament in my knee. So that’s a career ending injury for a dancer. By that time, I’d already sort of started acting. I think I took my first acting class around age 12 or 13 and loved it.
But it slowly sort of became a bigger and bigger part of my life. The first thing was performance through dance, then through acting. Then eventually I realised that at the heart of my love of acting is really a love of storytelling. So the directing, writing and producing came later.
How different is it, as an actor, to have written and directing the project that you’re starring in? Are there advantages/disadvantages of being in that position?
RM: Yeah, well, with Night Owl it was interesting because Night Owl was actually my Master’s thesis project. So I did a Master’s degree in Media Production at a school called Ryerson University, which is here in Toronto. My plan was really just to write while I was there. I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to write scripts. Then, when I got there they had such incredible resources for production that I thought ‘Oh my gosh, I have to shoot something.’
I’d had Night Owl in my back pocket for quite a while. I came up with the idea when I had just moved to Los Angeles and really didn’t know anyone there. I was super lonely and kind of came out of that time in my life when I thought maybe this was a really good opportunity to make it. So that’s why I wore so many hats in some ways because I had to.
I totally think that when it comes to acting, your experience with writing and directing can really inform your acting and vice versa. One of the things that’s cool about coming up as an actor is that when you sit in a director chair, you can really relate to the experience of what it’s like to be an actor. To how much pressure it is, to what it takes to get a good performance out. When you’re directing someone, I think that you’re more empathetic to how that feels. And that makes you better in some ways, in giving direction. In other ways, it can be really difficult just because you’re wearing so many different hats and having to jump through so many hoops.
On Night Owl, I was very lucky that I had a really incredible producer named Miriam Levin-Gold and a really incredible director named Gillian Muller who helped direct the show with me. She directed some episodes, I directed some episodes so it wasn’t like I was completely alone in the process. And I think that’s a huge thing. In any film or television project, it’s such a collaborative art. No one is a one man band. Even when you are wearing multiple hats, the only reason you are able to do all those roles at once is because you have so much support or I had so much support from our cast and crew. In that sense, I think I just got really lucky.
You interviewed Jesse Camacho , who’s one of the stars of Night Owl. He plays “Carlos”, one of the main characters. We just got so lucky that Jesse was able to do it. He and I were friends before he came onboard and I was familiar with his work. I was familiar with his work and knew how funny Jesse was. You always hope that your whole cast and whole crew is going to have a really good chemistry but it’s hard to know. You really don’t know until you’re there.
I do think that they all help each other – acting, writing and directing. But at the same time, would I always choose to do them all at once? No, not necessarily.
You’ve already touched on it; how was the experience of working with Jesse Camacho? What made him the right person to play “Carlos”?
RM: Jesse, as I know you are already familiar with, is such a talented actor and there’s kind of saying that if you can do comedy, you can do anything. And it’s true, comedy is so much harder than drama. Because how much of it comes down to timing. And Jesse just has that, hate to say he has that natural talent that you can’t teach because I don’t know if I believe in that from a principled perspective.
With him, it’s hard not to because he’s such a natural. So the experience was amazing. He’s just hilarious and we did a lot of improvising on Night Owl. So what we would do is get a take with the script and we’d make sure we had that recorded.
And then once we had that, I’d just say “Do whatever you want, say whatever you want, let’s have fun. Don’t worry about the script, don’t worry about the words” like whatever feels right is what you should do”. And he would just take that and run with it.
Not all actors are comfortable working that way but certainly, almost all the actors on Night Owl were. They were just amazing improvisers. It takes the comedy to another level when you have someone that’s comfortable working like that. That was really cool. I think Jesse and I have really complementary working styles.
Since the pandemic hit, have you been watching any shows or movies that you’d like to recommend?
RM: Well, The King of Staten Island is on my list. I haven’t watched it yet but I’m planning to this coming weekend. What else have I been watching? I was so sad that I devoured Succession.
Another show that I just finished that was so good was The Boys. Actually funny story: for some reason, I really don’t know why, I think because I have a friend, Nathan Mitchell, who plays one of the main characters on the show. I had seen him in LA just prior to the pandemic and told him I was so excited to watch The Boys. I knew they had finished shooting Season 2 so when I went in to watch it, I thought that as soon as I was done with Season 1, Season 2 would be there so I could go in and watch it.
I just devoured the first season of the show and realised the second season isn’t out yet. I think it comes out September 4th and I’d love to tell you I’m not counting down the days, but I am. They left it on such a good cliffhanger. I have a few friends on the show who I just thought did a wonderful job. Mostly actors that I know. I thought as a whole, it’s a bit gruesome and gory, which isn’t always necessarily my thing because I can be a total baby, total scaredy-cat when it comes to violence or scary movies. But I loved it even in spite of that, the moments where I had to close my eyes when something gruesome was happening.
I just finished, again same thing, The Marvellous Mrs Maisel. I watched all the seasons and was so sad I finished before the pandemic hit. There were a lot of shows that I had just finished that were so excellent right before. Also Locke & Key, not to shout out Jesse again. I know that everyone will read this and think I’m shouting him out. I actually loved it and also devoured the first season.
I just couldn’t stop watching it and I was almost surprised not because the show wasn’t great, it was great. Sometimes fantasy can go either way for me. I’m a huge Game of Thrones fan, of the books and the show. But sometimes fantasy can miss the mark for me. Locke & Key didn’t, I really liked it. I was really impressed how they weaved both ends of the story together. The fantasy stuff with the keys and then the reality of being in high school. I thought they did a really great job.
How much do you relate to your character, “Jessie”, in Night Owl? Did you write that part with yourself in mind?
RM: I did write the part sort of with myself in mind. At first, I thought I wouldn’t act in it because like I said, it was my Master’s thesis project and I figured it would be too hard to do so many roles on one project. It was important to me do a good job. I was afraid if I took on too much, maybe I wouldn’t be able to do a good job. Then, the conversation completely shifted when I realised I really couldn’t afford to not use myself as an actor because I come for free. So I thought, yeah, I will play Jessie. Of course there’s so much of you. The show is based on or inspired by my real-life experience.
When I first moved to LA, I had moved there for pilot season and I didn’t know anybody. I was auditioning and then maybe going to the gym. That was about as exciting as my days would get. I didn’t really know how to meet anybody. It’s difficult to make friends when you’re not in school, you don’t have a traditional job to go to every day. I was lonely and so bored. As a result, I couldn’t sleep and would find myself sitting in this tiny studio apartment that I was living in. I felt like I was going stir crazy, it would be 1 or 2 in the morning.
I would wanna just go for a walk to clear my head. But I couldn’t very well go for a walk because a young woman in the middle of the night, at 2 in the morning in Los Angeles. Not exactly the safest thing to do. So I get in my car and drive to the nearest 24-hour grocery store. Literally, just so I could go for a walk in a safe place. I started to see the same people at the store.
There was a security guard who made fun of me for how often I came in. And there was a cashier, this young woman, who was literally putting herself through school by working the graveyard shifts at this grocery store. Her and I just hit off and became friends. At the same time all of that was happening, I kept thinking I really want to create something that is small enough that I can do it on my own. All of a sudden, those two notions converged and I thought ‘oh’.
Here’s kind of an idea that could work as a low concept comedy. What is it like to wander around the grocery store in the middle of the night? What a strange place to make friends. I do very much relate to the character in many ways, of course, because the show is inspired by real experience. Then at the same time, there are lots of things about Jessie that are not like me at all. It’s always kind of an interesting thing.
I think as an actor, your main goal always is to find ways to relate to the character that you’re playing. Even if you’re playing someone who’s a total crazy person or who’s the villain, you have to find some way to embrace and like them.
Otherwise, your performance won’t hold up, it comes off as insincere. I do think that of course there’s lots that I have with the character of Jessie. It’s always interesting when you’re writing both sides of it because of course you’re drawing on your real-life experience to make it real. But you’re like “Oh God, I don’t wanna make it too real”. It’s too vulnerable. So it’s a mix of both, combining that vulnerability, making sure that the character is different enough from who you really are.
Who would you say has been your biggest influence as an actor, writer or director?
RM: Huh, yeah, that’s a tough question. I was asked a similar question recently and the answer that I gave was my grandmother. My grandmother has faced so much adversity in her life. She’s paraplegic and she has been for 35 years, I think. She had spinal cancer and it basically came down to, “you will have this surgery and you’ll never be able to walk again or if you don’t have the surgery, you will most certainly die.”
She’s been through so much adversity, yet, she is the most positive person I’ve ever met. She has more tenacity and more ambition than anyone I’ve ever known. So she inspires me constantly. I always think of her, she has many expressions that she often says. One of them is “you have to make the most.” You have to make the most of every moment, of every day, no matter what the circumstance. You can feel sorry for yourself or feel mad or you can get busy and do something about it. That’s another thing she always says. I think that’s been ultimately the most helpful thing that’s helped me to keep going as an actor, writer, and director.
In all of these creative fields, you face so much rejection. I always joke that as an actor, you’re really just a professional reject because that’s a huge part of the job, right? You’ve got to be able to go in, audition for stuff and know that you probably won’t get the part. It’s really actually the rarity when you do get it. That’s just part of the course. I think that ability to keep going in the face of rejection, to keep moving forward, let it be water off the duck’s back and move on from the next thing, totally comes from her. I certainly think she’s the biggest influence on me that’s allowed me to pursue a path of being an artist in any way. Also, my grandmother’s quite talented in her own right, she’s an incredible musician, piano player and visual artist.
She’s kind of the main person but I think there’s so many people in the business whose careers I admire that it would almost be difficult to pick one.
Is there a show/movie you’re a fan of that where you wish you could’ve been involved in some way? Or a project you’d love to play a part in?
RM: 2 shows that I mentioned, Succession and The Marvellous Mrs Maisel, I think both the shows are so good. Also, Atlanta – Donald Glover absolutely blows me away, he’s just so good at everything he does. It’s kind of astounding. He’s an amazing musician, had crazy success as a musician, his albums are so good. Then, as an actor, obviously, he’s hilarious in the context of comedy, he’s riveting in the context of drama. He can do it all.
And then he goes and creates Atlanta. The first season of that show is damn near perfect. I really just think it’s so good and so smart and funny. It’s kind of all things. He says everything he needs to say about America in that moment without saying any of it at all. The writing is so subtle, the performances are so nuanced and so good. He would certainly be someone, if ever I got the chance to work with him or even to watch him work, I’d be just stoked. I’d just be over the moon.
Also, I think Succession, it’s just the strangest thing, that series. If someone were to tell you or if you were to read a paragraph of what the show is about, it sounds like the most boring concept ever. It’s about a really rich family and they’re all a*****es. Okay, great, why would I care? Why would I want to watch that show? It’s so riveting, the characters are so well constructed. From a writing perspective and an acting perspective, it’s just an amazing study in character. I would do anything for a role on that show.
It would just be the coolest experience to watch Brian Cox [Logan Roy] work, who plays the main character in the show. I think those would be my answers there. Also, in terms of film, Greta Gerwig is another one who I’d absolutely love to work with, even watch her work. I really like how different all of her films have been. To jump from Ladybird to Little Women and do a period piece quite well, is really impressive.
Viewing for Night Owl will be pay-what-you-can, with funds going to charitable causes. What the thought process was behind that decision and when did it become a consideration?
RM: That’s right. When we made Night Owl, a really cool thing that happened once we were done making the show was that it got into SXSW. That was a huge win for the show because it gave us so many opportunities From there, we did a year-and-a-half festival run after that. Then it brought us up to now where I’ve been deliberating about how to release the show.
All of a sudden, it sort of struck me that I’d made a show about a 24-hour grocery store that stars the staff who work at the store. I was like through it all, through the pandemic, through the fight for justice, police brutality, protests and everything that’s conspired in the past many months, it’s been so hard on all of us, collectively. It really has been a really difficult time.
But grocery store workers have really held us down, through it all. They’ve been offering us hand sanitiser, wiping down carts and continuing to work so that we can have one part of our life that remains as normal as it can through all of that upheaval. All of a sudden, it just made sense, to put out this show about a grocery store and grocery store workers and dedicate it to them.
The best way to do that, to honour that is a sincere way that can actually be helpful would be to donate 100% of the profits to 3 different organisations, one of which is called The Neighbourhood Food Hub. They really focus on getting food to low-income families or any family that isn’t secure, making sure that they have food on the table. Not just groceries but also prepared meals.
BIPOC Film & TV, they’re working really hard to make sure there’s diverse representation in our industry, the television and film industry, as much as possible. To really implement real programmes that help to integrate and offer equal representation and opportunity. The third organisation is called Pathways to Education and they’re just a really great organisation that offer educational opportunities to kids who may not otherwise receive them.
And so yeah, it just felt like the only reason I was able to make this series in the first place was because of this amazing community that surrounds me. In the wake of such crises that have occurred, it just felt like the only way to give back in any kind of tangible, real way. I think most creators or most people that get into this business do it, as cliché as it sounds maybe, to change the world. And I am no different.
I think we all want to tell stories that change the world and make the world a better place. Even if, in the case of Night Owl, I don’t think it would change the world, other than to make someone laugh. Even if they’re laughing at how bad they think the show is, it’s good enough for me. But it felt like it had to help in a little more of a tangible way if that makes sense.
Were you working on any major projects before the pandemic hit? If so, how far along were they in the process before you had to stop?
RM: Yeah, so I got really, really lucky. Of course, as I’m sure you know in the entertainment industry, all filming and all productions that were in production were ground to a halt. There was 1 or 2 that kept going because the crew was working in such a remote location that they were effectively already quarantined. Other than than, it was really brought to a complete screeching halt.
So I was so lucky in that I was in the development process on a number of different projects that I’m working on. All of which I’m really excited about. By way of being in the development process, I wasn’t really interrupted because I can write from home. I can collaborate with other writers that I’m working with over Zoom and over Skype. I got so lucky; I know so many friends that were just about to go into production or received a green light that was ready to go.
Then the pandemic hit and that’s just not a situation that I envy. I hope to get these productions off the ground as soon as its safe to do so. Right now I’m here in Toronto, Canada and it’s looking like we’re entering phase 2 of our reopening. It’s still a really slow process and I think it’s like we are entering phase 2 but we still have cases and every day there’s new cases. I think we’ll have to see how it goes and stay on course.
To that point, if you could offer a piece of advice or a sentiment to anyone out there living in the pandemic, what would it be?
RM: I think my advice would be… well, to stay home. That would be the first thing. Even if it looks like things are opening up. We’ve got to be really careful about maintaining physical distance and wearing masks. Not just for other people’s protection, for our own protection. Because we really don’t know.
With so many viruses, I was reading an article the other day that was talking chickenpox and how forty years later, it resurfaces when they’re adults as shingles. We don’t really know the long-term effects of coronavirus, this particular one, COVID-19. While we’re figuring it out, I think that it’s not something to be cavalier about. That would certainly be my first advice. In terms of another part, the psychological part, I think is really the hardest part for a lot of people. In the face of a lot of loss, a lot of suffering, people are dying, people have loved ones that are sick or loved ones that they’ve lost. Maybe they’ve also lost their jobs or their homes or income.
And I think that I’m definitely not going to offer platitudes like “stay positive!” in the face of what’s been such a difficult time. I do think that just continuing to put one foot in front of the other and not allowing fear to take over. The answer to that is really just courage, find those little things that can keep you grounded through this. Keep going, be courageous, not let fear take over because I think when people get really scared, it’s hard for them to think rationally. That really concerns me, I really worry that people all over the world are becoming very polarised in their views. I think that it would be a good time for us to make sure that our fear isn’t interfering with our ability to make calm decisions.
We’re always going to make the best decisions when we are ground and calm. So that would be my advice, find a way to feel some clarity, feel some calm even if that’s just taking some deep breaths, and close your eyes just for a moment. It will inevitably be better when you open your eyes after those deep breaths.
Night Owl is available to watch for Pay What You Can: https://nightowl.vhx.tv/
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