Enoch Cree Nation's Crystle Lightning on motherhood, mentorship and landing a dream TV role
‘I waited my whole life for a role like this’
For Crystle Lightning, two life-changing events happened in the same week.
Just four days after giving birth to her son, the actor from the Enoch Cree Nation was still in the hospital when she received a phone call from her agent.
Months before, Lightning had auditioned for Trickster, a Canadian TV show about an Indigenous family, submitting a tape of herself acting while four months pregnant.
Now her agent was telling her the show's co-creator and director, Michelle Latimer, was flying to Edmonton to meet with her.
The only problem was, Lightning was living with her son in a neonatal intensive care unit, where there was no professional clothing to be found.
After debriefing with nurses — and making a quick trip to Value Village for an emergency outfit — Lightning met with Latimer. More interviews followed with cast members before she officially landed the role of Maggie on the show.
It was a dream gig, in many ways.
"It's really exciting to be a part of something that's Canadian and Indigenous and a juicy role," Lightning said Monday in an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.
"I waited my whole life for a role like this."
For Lightning, who moved from Alberta to California at age nine with her family, the series marks her first with a Canadian crew.
Trickster, which premiered at TIFF last month, is based on Eden Robinson's bestselling 2017 novel, Son of a Trickster.
Joel Oulette plays the lead character, Jared — a teenager trying to balance a complicated family life with startling supernatural sightings.
Lightning plays Jared's mother, Maggie, who would do anything to protect her son but struggles with her own issues, including substance abuse and mental illness.
"She's never had healing so she kind of acts out," said Lightning.
She said the new show, which is part thriller and part family drama, will appeal to fans of Stranger Things, Breaking Bad and Shameless.
Becoming a mom, working with mom
Lightning said becoming a mother helped her understand the maternal feelings crucial to Maggie's character.
"This instant mother bear instinct — that you would do anything for your child... that is the emotion that being a new mother brought me," she said.
Coincidentally, the series gave Lightning the opportunity to act alongside her own mother.
Georgina Lightning plays Sophia, Maggie's mother and Jared's grandmother, on the show.
Working with her mother, who happened to be her first acting coach, came so naturally that many of the scenes felt real, Lightning said.
"All I had to do was look in my mom's eyes and it was very easy to feel the emotion."
Helping younger actors
Lightning said she appreciated Latimer's commitment to including Indigenous perspectives in every department of the show's crew.
In turn, she tried to pay it forward by being a mentor for her younger cast members, including fellow Edmonton resident Griffin Powell-Arcand, who plays Dylan, and Anna Lambe, who plays Sarah.
Lightning said she felt vulnerable and at times intimidated by actors with more experience in the early phase of her career.
"I want to be the best supportive actor that I possibly can to make them feel safe and make them feel like they can take risks and chances in their scenes," she said.
Trickster premieres on CBC Television and CBC Gem on October 7.