On September 16, 2022, I met up with LA-based actress Verona Blue. I’ve known Verona for a long time since my later goth days in the clubs. Verona has been a local Toronto DJ, alternative model, animal rescuer, and always an up and coming actress.
I hadn’t seen her in a while, but she always champions her friends and has a way of bringing out the best in you. Verona doesn’t morph from punk to goth, she is all of it. Brutally honest and completely self-aware of who she is, she is tough as nails, and a person with a good heart.
As she came to meet me at Luma (my favourite restaurant/bar space inside TIFF Bell Lightbox), she came in a like a breath of fresh air. Blue-green hair, in black jeans, black lacy top under a sleek black sweater, she cut a svelte figure, and she’s gorgeous to boot. I was excited to talk to her about her work in Maggie Levin‘s piece “Shredding” in V/H/S 99 and about her life beyond our little coven here in Toronto.
Jacqueline Valencia: How was Midnight Madness?
Verona Blue: It was wild. I love a midnight screening, opening of something with the fandom. Whether that’s a Star Wars, whether that’s a Marvel, that first show, the people that are going to show up at 11:59pm, are there to have a good time. Nobody is showing up there saying, “This is going to be the worst time of my life.” Everybody is there because they want it to be great, which I think is really rare. Especially in a festival everyone wants to go to a movie with judgment goggles. Was this with my time? Does this deserve it?
JV: Especially horror fans.
VB: Right. The horror people who are going to go to a Midnight Madness, they want it to be the best movie they’ve ever seen. They want to have a good time. And it was. From the second the pre-roll started the people who’d been doing lots of movies, screaming at the screen. Speaking along with the trailers, saluting the volunteer reel…just wild. It was really fun.
JV: The best part of TIFF is saluting the volunteers!
JV: With V/H/S 99, I was trying to figure out, because it was so well done, Maggie’s piece, the make-up…I don’t want to give away too much. Was that CGI and make-up?
VB: No, it was just make-up. Practical effects is the name of the game in V/H/S. It was just a lot of disgusting make-up. The heads are masks. They did a full cast thing on our faces. The good part about that is you can kind of take it on and off, as opposed to it being glued to your face. But our hands, all our other skin, they put an adhesive, then they apply a cotton batting, and loop it on, with warm gelatin. It’s unflavoured. It smells disgusting. It emanates the smell of hooves or something. They paint it on and layer it. You get this really cool effect. Then they take this alcohol based paint and the make-up artists create the colours and mixtures in it.
What you see is all the make-up artists and effects team’s work. All the glitches and stuff are not CGI, but clever editing.
JV:One of the things about your part in “Shredding,” the band The Bitch Cats, what was the inspiration for that?
VB: I’m sure Maggie will have a better answer for this. But she was pitching ideas, one she’s always wanted to do a ghost band as a concept. And the other thing was, what are the things in the late 90s that people were really into? So you have skate videos, the CKY, the prank video culture, the Tom Greens, and this pseudo-misogyny-core that was up and coming. At the same time you have L7, Bikini Kill, riot grrls, Hole, all of these bands that were “inventing feminism” from their perspective, with the attitude, Bitch Cat represents that segment of society. A little Lollapalooza, a little Lilith Fair, and all of those bands that really made an impact. Even Alanis Morrisette with Jagged Little Pill made an impact, she wasn’t really a riot grrrl, but the attitude is there. “Shredding” is really rooted in, “What was the culture?”
JV: Who did you call up for your character, Deidre?
VB: The thing that was great about being able to work with Maggie on this is two-fold. She’s an amazing director to work with. As an actor she’s very welcoming. Maggie always lets everybody know, on set, a couple of things. “One. I want you to look good, so don’t worry about how you look. I’ll make sure you look good. Two. If there is something you didn’t get or feel like you want to do it again, or in a different way, just tell me. We’ll do as many takes as you need to do the thing that you want.”
She’s really collaborative with actors. For Deidre, specifically, I’m pulling from late 90s Queen St.. Catch-22, Sanctuary, all of those. It’s not any particular person, but it is the whole Toronto goth scene in the 90s and early 2000s, of really aggressive women. We had the largest goth scene in the whole world for a really long time, which is wild in this Canadian city. Something about goth culture here in Toronto, it was really big on female empowerment.
Yes, there are pretty women and a culture of beauty, also a very strong sense of unapproachability. Women did their make-up in a way that wasn’t appealing to men. Women dressing in ways that aren’t meant for the male gaze. That’s everything I wanted Deidre to be. I don’t think any of the band felt like sex kittens. I don’t think there’s anything about Bitch Cat as if they were created to appeal to men. Men would find something wrong with each of the members of Bitch Cat. Darcy’s hair is too short. Deidre has all the shit in her face and white makeup. Carissa is too manly to play the drums. There are all these things that aren’t traditionally appealing to men.
I did my own make-up because the make-up artist would make it look really good! The make-up artist wants you to feel good and wants you to feel beautiful. Deidre does not want to be beautiful. Her idea of beauty is not everyone else’s idea of beauty. The make-up artist would make the eyeliner wings perfect. It was intentionally really harsh. It was a little bit weird because I was doing it at home. I would get in my little car and drive on the freeway. From neck to hair it was all nightmare and I’m in my pajamas the rest of the way down. I’m going to dress comfortably until I get there.
I wasn’t pulling a specific person. I’m pulling from everything I know growing up in Toronto, especially as a goth in this scene surrounded by really strong women.
I don’t know her name. She’s not goth, but you might know who she is. A Black woman with a shaved head that used to ride a recumbent bike down Queen Street. She was super punk, lots of piercings, and really stunning. I’ve never met her, but I used to see her all the time. She gave me such Tank Girl fuck off vibes energy. I aspired to that. She was like a goddess and no one would fuck with her. That is the pinnacle of femininity for me. And that’s where I was coming from with Deidre and you have to do it in thirty seconds.
JV: Tell me about growing up in Toronto and how you got into acting.
VB: Oh boy. I mean, like all actors, “When I was a child…” I just really wanted to be an actor ever since I was little. My parents were very supportive of the arts, not really super interested in acting as a career. You know, I went to a really academic school, barely had a drama program. During summer I would do children’s theatre and National Music Camp of Canada, so I had arts. But school was academically rigorous. I still wanted to act all the way through. The last couple of years of high school I struggled with my general happiness being in an academic program instead of a performing arts program. By that time though, my parents were already getting to the point of thinking that maybe I could change schools. Well now it’s gonna look like I quit. I kind of made the decision to finish at the private school instead. Then after that I went to Ryerson to do film and new media and sort of avoided acting. I did other stuff.
In Toronto, I DJ’d, did events, did some modeling, and some performance stuff. Then I started hanging out with actors again. I met some people who had become really successful in a variety of mediums. I couldn’t get away from it. I grew seethingly jealous that they got to do the thing that I’d always loved. Sometimes you get a dream as a child and you have some idea of what it’s like. Then you grow up and it’s not necessarily what it’s like. I got to thinking that if I really wanted to do this thing, I had to figure out if I actually liked it. I started taking acting classes at an acting school here, just to see how I felt about it. I ended up liking it. Then I applied to a Shakespeare intensive in London for the summer at RADA to see if I hack a full day? It’s one thing to do an hour class once a week. But can I do a 7am to 7pm intensive…”
VB: That’s how long theatre school conservatory programs are like that. You usually show up at 7, have a warm-up, and have classes until 8:30. By 6 or 7 you’re doing the rehearsal for whatever your show is. It’s a long day. There’s a lot of emoting and shouting, breathing, and things that wear out your body really quickly.
I really thought about, is this the thing I really want to do? Or is the idea of being an actor, the idea of fame, the thing that attracts me to this. And I got there, and no it wasn’t. I really loved it. I love working with creatives and watching other people love the thing that they’re doing. So after doing that, I decided I wanted to do a grad program. I applied to a bunch of UK schools because I knew I wanted to do it in England. I think the best actors are UK trained. I got into Bristol Old Vic and did a one year Masters there. Then I lived in London for two years doing theatre, then I moved to LA. It’s been all from there.
JV: I’m thinking of the kind of culture shock, when it comes to acting, in those various environments. You’ve got Toronto, you’ve got London, and Los Angeles. Is there a difference?
VB: Yes. The biggest difference is two-fold. The general business side, LA is the Superbowl. The rules are very specific because the competition is so tough. Where in England it is definitely beginner since they’ve been filming the Harry Potters and the Game Of Thrones. Big shows that when I went to theatre school, they didn’t have these big shows. It wasn’t a centre like it is now. In England, if you wanted to meet a casting director you could just pop by, bring your headshot, have a cup of tea, have a nice chat…you didn’t have to call and make an appointment. In LA, if you show up to a casting director’s office uninvited will get you on a blacklist. Prior to the pandemic, sometimes you could kind of crash auditions, but mostly commercial stuff where they see a lot of people. You can’t do that now because a lot of it is online, you get the link and that’s how you get it. So the business part is a huge difference. The terms of how casting works, the relationships you create in all these different cities, LA is the most stringent, even though it has the most people.
In terms of acting, people in England go to acting school to be actors. Their schools are part of an arts commission. If you get into RADA, it’s not like Julliard where it’s twenty-five or whatever. It’s subsidized like a regular university if you’re a resident. It’s much more affordable. The classes are competitive. They take 12-15 people max every year, but it’s a full conservatory program. You’re learning classical texts and how to break them down. They teach you how to use your body as part of your acting tool box. There’s breathing and projecting because the ideas with a classical style is that you have to hit the back wall.
JV: Does that ever come into play?
VB: Yes, if you have that training, it’s always valuable. It just makes you a better actor. But in LA it’s a lot of beautiful people who are the most popular people in their high school. They got on a bus or an airplane when they were eighteen because someone told them, “You should go to Hollywood and be famous.” With no acting background, they’re just very good looking, very thin, and they show up and think, “I’m here now, you should make me famous.” That is a career choice, with reality TV you get that, if that’s what you’re after.
Acting isn’t easy. It’s a job. You wouldn’t hire a pop star to be a basketball player, but we hire pop stars to be actors all the time which I think is weird. But it’s a real job that requires real skill. There is a bar that is called The Good Enough bar, and as long as you meet that bar you can get cast. You might not go that far if you don’t go above that bar though.
Like I said, LA is like the Superbowl. Only the best get to play and not very often. You have to have other things you like to do. Your plan can not be, get there! Make it big! Get rich!
LA can exhaust you. It’s hard to get auditions if you’re not represented, if you do, it’s hard to get called back and if you get called back, it’s hard to get the job.
JV: You’ve been through a few transformations, in the end, you’re you. I love that if you approach a character, you will turn into that character, but at the core, it’s you, like a chameleon, a different version of you. How do you go from a character like Shaz in Bosch to Deidre in V/H/S, or even a voiceover of a Star Wars computer? How do you get into the space of a character?
VB: I think it’s all in the writing. That’s part of the training. It’s all in being able to look into the context of the writing and drop everything else. You have to drop every pretense about yourself and give into the world that was created. Hopefully you have enough advanced information because you have the script. You can look up the director and the writer and see their previous work. You can get a feeling of what that world is like.You have to percolate your personality through that lens to really be believable in that world. I think I’m not believable in a soap opera. My personality, let alone my look, does not exist in a soap opera. But like a Bosch, a real, rounded, gritty, where there’s real people, type of show. It works great.
JV: I’d like to see you solve crimes in a gritty detective show.
VB: Let’s do it.
JV: What sort of things are you looking for right now?
VB: My North Star has always been a series regular. I would love to be in an ensemble type of show where you have multiple lead characters, with interesting and intertwining storylines. Now that we’re in 2022 and being alternative is cool again, whether it’s trendy or relevant it doesn’t matter. All the Millenials, Gen Xers, older Gen Zers, really have an authentic alternative look and are in the workplace, as themselves. I would love a character who is a CEO at a tech company, somebody who exists in reality who isn’t just a costume. I get regulated a lot to wearing the goth outfit, and sometimes there’s not a lot behind that. That’s why Deidre was cool because I could root her in reality. Maybe an author, a lady Neil Gaiman type who is writing fantasy/science-fiction, whatever is happening in her world. More horror as well would be amazing.
JV: I feel like you’re writing and producing in your head a lot.
VB: In my head, yes. On paper, no.
JV: But you’ve accomplished stuff.
VB: Yeah. I mean, I get to see Maggie Levin’s draft because we’re friends. Her pitches. I get to read her scripts sometimes before they go out because she lets me. And she’s SO good. She’s so good at it. There’s a difference between really good writing when you see it. I can come up with bits, I can come up with ideas, and I can come up with little scenarios that could be evolved into something more interesting.
The thing that I would love to do, my agents do this sometimes, they set me up for characters that are the right vibe for me, but not necessarily described to look alternative. The characters are tough or whatever. They send me in as an option, to be like, “What if though?”
But I’ll do anything. I just love acting.
JV: How do you juggle all that? You’ve got your work with Dogs Without Borders, regular work, and then you have acting.
VB: I don’t have kids! That’s a good start for me. Carefully. My husband is very supportive and extremely helpful. We have a good system at home. We’re really respectful of each other’s time. Having someone on your team knowing what you’re trying to do, and also isn’t in the business, helps a lot. I spend most of my time doing my day job. The trajectory is slowly going up. I’m getting more opportunities and things are getting bigger, so that’s very cool. But every day is the day job, remote on a computer and it’s very flexible.
Dogs Without Borders, my dog rescue in Los Angeles, and I’m the vice-president. We have a staff that does the day to day. I help manage the volunteers and a lot of social media. Again, I’m on the computer and kind of on the phone. A lot of my day to day is contained in my laptop.
When it comes to auditions, I have a booth at home, especially for voice auditions, I can just pop into the booth. Now most of my auditions are done either over zoom or it’s a self tape and I’m recording it and bringing it in.
I have good people supporting my efforts to do this job. It is a lot and I don’t have a lot of down time.
JV: Any projects lined up that we should keep a look out for?
VB: I’m working on this video game of which I can say nothing. I think it comes out next year. That’s all I can say. It’s performance capture, so it’s my body, my face, and my movements originating in this character.
JV: And lastly, how are the dogs?
VB: They’re so good. I have four permanent dogs. My little medical dog, Pixel, continues to be an endless money pit. She’s very cute, so we started her a tiktok to help with vet bills.
The dog rescue is good. We have a new Executive Director called Chloe and she’s working really hard. We’re rescuing a lot of dogs. It’s tough! We’re trying to keep up with the good work and stay involved in the community.
Outside as we were about to part to our separate ways, we ran into fellow Queen Street East pals. It’s one thing to see a friend become a star, it’s another to see pals stay true to their core.