TIFF rising star Charlotte Sullivan is no rookie

The Canadian actress, one of the Toronto film festival's featured performers for 2012, stars in Rookie Blue and has even played Marilyn Monroe.
From a rookie cop on a hit TV show to the unforgettable Marilyn Monroe, actress Charlotte Sullivan has already tackled some tough roles. One of TIFF's rising stars for 2012 talks to CBC about her influences and career aspirations. 5:21

On a bright Saturday morning, Charlotte Sullivan sits in the park with her latte and the panting Penelope, her English bulldog,  faithfully at her feet. Sullivan's fingernails are painted black and her hands are laden with silver. Most prominent is a large skull on the ring finger of her right hand.

"Since I was a kid I've had this morbid fascination with dark and scary subject matter," she told the CBC’s Janet Thomson.

Sullivan says she's wanted to be an actor since she saw Johnny Depp in Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands in 1990. She was seven.  

"His face was covered in scars, he had scissors for hands — he was smokin' hot. I had an epiphany when I saw that movie," she adds.

And Depp is not the only cute guy who has influenced her wanting to be in the movies. At the age of five she watched David Bowie in the movie Labyrinth and she has loved him ever since.

"I was obsessed with David Bowie — still am.  He's a babe, a total babe. His music is killer, his visuals are beautiful."

Early introduction to acting

A young Charlotte Sullivan, 12, plays Angel in the movie The Legend of Gator Face. (childstarlets.com)

Sure enough, by the time she was 12 Sullivan was playing Angel in the movie The Legend of Gator Face.

Charlotte Sullivan's filmography list is now about as long as your arm. 

When she got the call to play Marilyn Monroe in the controversial The Kennedys TV series released last year she was already playing a rookie cop in the Canadian-shot series Rookie Blue

By day, Sullivan played the rough and ready urban cop Gail Peck as she learned the ropes. By night she threw herself into researching the life of the troubled actress. Marilyn Monroe's voice, her movements, her emotional landscape all came under Sullivan's gaze as she studied the iconic actress.

"I've been doing this [acting] a long time and that was the first time I ever really researched a character. I wanted to make her as real as possible. It was the first time I felt like a real actress," she says.

Sullivan portrayed Marilyn Monroe in The Kennedys television series, appearing alongside actors like Greg Kinnear and Katie Holmes. (Reelz Channel)

She found it hard to leave that role behind, partly because she fell in love with Marilyn, but also because even after she would retreat to her trailer after shooting her scenes she would still feel like Marilyn, and people would treat her as if she really was Marilyn.

"I was definitely under her spell," says Sullivan. "It was a really amazing time in my life and it was hard to walk away from it and say goodbye to the magic."

Power of the uniform

But she had to cast off the glitter of Marilyn for the grit of the downtown rookie cop. These days she can be found on the set of the fourth season of Rookie Blue.

"I love playing Gail Peck. She's so much fun. People often ask me about playing a rookie and it's just so easy because they're green and they have no idea what they're doing and that's how I feel, especially since I'm not athletic."

She says she knows it's illegal to impersonate a cop but one day, while she was on a break from the Rookie Blue set and still wearing her police uniform she ventured out into the middle of an intersection to help a little old lady cross the street. 

"She needed help so I put up my hand and the traffic halted — Ah, the power of the uniform," she sighs.

Great expectations

Sullivan says she would love to do comedy. Drama is easy because everybody has been through something intense, but not everybody can be funny. Describing Lucille Ball in the famous I Love Lucy chocolate factory packing scene she says, "She's a gangster!" — the highest compliment she can dole out it seems. 

Sullivan, third left, with fellow TIFF Rising Stars, from left, Tatiana Maslany, Connor Jessup and Charlie Carrick. (John Rieti/CBC)

"I would love to do that kind of comedy, or an art film."

"I gravitate toward people who perhaps have lost a couple of marbles" she says lovingly. "It's something about artists that they're not following everybody else — like Daphne Guinness" (of the Guinness Brewery family) … she's doing some incredible art films that are blowing my mind."

Sullivan is one of TIFF's Rising Stars this year along with Tatiana Maslany, Connor Jessup and Charlie Carrick. About TIFF this year she says, "I just hope I don't say something inappropriate and that I don't fall. I'm probably going to be stuck at the food table feeling uncomfortable and trying to look cool. And really I'll be crying on the inside.  I'm such a dork!"

Charlotte Sullivan lives in Toronto with her husband Peter Stebbings and their dog.