Reaching for the SkyMed
by Jay S. Jacobs
Imagine this. You’re a hot, rising young professional who has made a splash in your job in your big city hometown in British Columbia. Then you are offered an exciting, but daunting opportunity – to move to the wilds of Northern Manitoba and take on an arguably harder, but potentially very rewarding gig. The problem is that the whole atmosphere is different than where you are from, and you are being thrown together with people you don’t necessarily know and you have to prove yourself to them, all the while surviving in the rustic beauty of the area.
That is the situation that Hayley, arguably the lead character in the new Paramount+ ensemble medical drama SkyMed, finds herself in on the series. The situation also resonates with Natasha Calis, the twenty-three-year-old actress who plays her.
Calis has been acting since she was a child. She got her first role acting at seven. When she was a young girl, she starred in the thrillers The Possession (with Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick) and The Harvest (with Michael Shannon, Samantha Morton and Peter Fonda). Over the years she’s grown up on set, appearing in other movies, on TV series like Supernatural and The Good Doctor and spending the last two years as one of the leads on the Canadian drama Nurses (which also aired on NBC in the US in 2020).
Between Nurses and SkyMed, Calis may have to think about being typecast as a nurse, however it’s not just a coincidence that she was chosen for the role. The showrunners of Nurses are also behind SkyMed, so they were very familiar with Calis and her work. So less than a year after the end of Nurses, Calis was up in the wilds of Manitoba, taking in the gorgeous scenery and working with a crack ensemble of diverse actors.
Soon after SkyMed debuted on Paramount+, we caught up with Calis via Zoom to discuss her series and her career.
What was it about the story of SkyMed that intrigued you as an actress?
I just thought it was so interesting. I grew up in this in a big city… well, not a huge city, but I grew up in Vancouver. So a big enough city where I never had to think about there not being a hospital or immediate medical attention nearby. So, the whole world of flying medivacs in the north, and saving lives, was very intriguing to me. I knew that it was going to be a really fun show to film, because we were going to be really out in the elements. It’s the unpredictable north, there’s so many things that can go wrong and that can happen. You’re battling the elements and the weather. I knew that filming the show, in Manitoba, during the wintertime, we were going to really be thrown into all of that. As an actress that was also really alluring to me because I was like, I feel like it’s going to help all of our performances. We’re actually going to be in the cold. We’re actually going to be in the elements. So I knew it was going to be a fun and challenging show to film. I think that’s what was really attractive to it for me as well.
Just like you, Hayley was a bit of a fish out of water. She is a city girl as well. Then she’s taking this job in the rural part of Manitoba. What do you feel that she learns from her situation?
She really proved to not only herself how strong she is, but also to all of her co-workers. She’s obviously running from something and she’s trying to escape some of her demons that she has in the city. Well, I guess not in the city, but she’s trying to run from the city and immerse herself in the north and in this world to distract herself and run from her problems. Throughout the season, she really gets to prove to herself how strong she is, and how, with the help of the people around her how she can face her fears and face her problems. She just discovered a lot about herself in the desolate north. I think it’s good.
In what ways is Hayley similar to you? What things about her character did you find a little bit more difficult to connect with as an actress?
She’s very determined and I think I am as a person as well. I was able to relate to her strength, and I think it was very admirable of her wanting to just immerse herself in this world and take on a new job. She’s definitely out of her element, right? This is a completely new world for her. For her to step up to the plate and prove to herself everybody around her how capable she was, I thought that was incredible and admirable, and something that I would like to think I would be able to do if I put my mind to something. Also, her story was really close to heart. My mom’s best friend actually passed away from breast cancer and her daughter we’re close family friends with and so living through that with them. I was able to put all of those real raw emotions and into Hayley. So, I was able to definitely draw from the real-life experience there. And then, how she’s different? (chuckles) I mean, I don’t know. We’re very similar. We’re very similar. I do a lot of my own experiences and put them into her.
Some of the scenery in your show is absolutely spectacular. You mentioned that it was filmed in Manitoba. Is it all filmed in Manitoba or as part of it filmed there and part maybe in British Columbia?
Yeah, no. Unfortunately, none of it was filmed in British Columbia. That would be really nice. That’s where I’m from. Yeah. It’s all filmed in Manitoba and parts of Ontario.
That’s an area that’s not normally seen on film and television and stuff. What was it like to work in that type of rough, gorgeous area?
It was really amazing. It was different from any show I’ve ever done before. Because, typically, well my last show at least [Nurses], we go to the studio every single day. Every single day is the same. You’re in the same studio. It just becomes like your second home. Whereas with SkyMed, it was really fun and interesting, because every day was a new day, every day was new adventure. It was a new location. It was really fun driving to set the early mornings and, wow, this is where we’re filming today. I also just think, touching back on what I said before, it really added to our performances and the intensity of the show, because we actually were out in you know, minus 40-degree weather. The snow and the cold, it feels really raw. We all used the elements and the scenery and the locations that we were at, and we put them into our performances.
Another thing that I found very interesting about the show is it takes a real look at the indigenous populations of Canada and their lifestyles. Again, something you don’t often see. How intriguing was that to immerse yourself in that world?
It was amazing. I’m so honored to be on a show that sheds light on these stories. We had such an inclusive and diverse [group of] people of behind the camera as well as in front of the camera. It was really special. I learned so much. I got to meet some incredible people and hear their stories. I feel really honored to be a part of this show.
You’ve played nurses both on SkyMed and Nurses in recent years. How much did you know about nursing previously? How much have you learned working on these shows?
I’ve learned so much. Actually, I had to take a step back. I just finished two seasons of Nurses. So coming into to SkyMed, I was pretty comfortable with the medical jargon and the world. The fast pace of being on a medical drama. I was able to apply all of that into my character, Hayley. But within the first week of filming that I realized I had to tone it back a little bit – my confidence – because she’s obviously very out of her elements. She’s getting thrown into this new job where she’s very overwhelmed. It’s definitely not what she’s used to. I was coming in with a very confident “I’ve done this for two seasons” type of thing. (laughs) So, I had to tone back the confidence and bring a little bit more of the “I’m in over my head” type of attitude. But yeah, it was definitely very helpful coming off of another medical show.
Hayley is very smart professionally, but her personal life is a bit messier, particularly inadvertently getting involved in this sort of that love triangle with Bodie and his fiancée, who was also a friend of hers, although she didn’t know they were together at the time. Why do you think that Hayley acted so impulsively? Obviously, she had her own demons that she was trying to get away from when she came up there to begin with.
It’s a new world. It’s a new job. Not only are these people going to work together and saving lives, and that in itself is a pretty special bonding experience that I don’t think anybody can really imagine. Coming together as a team and saving lives is pretty incredible. But then also, in the unique way, we all come home together and live in the crew house together, which is interesting on its own. I also think her coming into the north and into this new world, she’s obviously looking for an escape. She’s looking for distraction. She wants to live in this world and forget about everything that’s going on in her personal life. I think when she meets Bodie, there’s these instant fireworks. He’s obviously showing a lot of attention to her. I think she just wants to feel love and she wants to escape. I mean, I don’t blame her, but it does get messy unfortunately for her. (laughs)
In the cliffhanger Hayley’s left in a very precarious position. I don’t want to give away spoilers or anything, but how do you think that her storyline can go forward if there’s going to be a second season?
I would hope that everything works out for her, and I would hope she discovers that she can overcome anything and that she will be okay. I hope she makes amends with her dad who just cared about her so much. I hope she forms a relationship with him and that was the first step. Stopping running from her demons was where we left off with her in the final episode. So I’m hoping that there’s a reunion with her and her dad and hoping that everything is better and brighter for her.
Is there any word about whether there’s going to be a second season yet?
Not yet, so keep your fingers crossed. (laughs)
Any idea about when they might decide?
I have unfortunately, no idea. I wish I did. Trust me, I’m losing sleep. (laughs again.)
Along those lines, I’ve never even seen that Nurses has been officially canceled. Is there a chance that that would come back in the future?
No, unfortunately, Nurses was canceled, which was sad. But I got the pleasure and the honor of working with [creator] Julie Puckrin and [executive producer] Vanessa Piazza again on this show, because they were both on Nurses. So, that was that was a pretty special thing.
You’ve been acting since you were seven years old. How did you first get involved in acting? When did you know that was what you wanted to do with your life?
That’s a great question. I always love talking about this because I think it’s a little unique. I honestly just formed an obsession and a fascination with movies and filmmaking and acting, when I was like four years old. From like, when I can first remember. I would always watch movies over and over and over, and I’d study them. I’d dress like the characters. I’d try to live like the characters in my life. I’d go to school, and I’d be holding a book, and I wouldn’t know how to read yet. But it was because the character I was playing was a big bookworm, or whatever. My parents saw this, and they didn’t want to ruin what was naturally happening by putting me in acting. So they just let me express myself how I wanted to. Then when I was seven years old, I was like, “Oh, this is acting, okay, I want to be an actor.” I went to my parents, and then they got me into it and from there on its history. It was just something that really naturally happened. I never took any acting classes or anything. It just came naturally to me. I am very honored. I don’t take for granted that I found my passion very early on in life and was able to make a career out of it.
When you were younger, you made a couple of horror films, The Possession and The Harvest with some pretty big Hollywood names. You were, I don’t know, around 12 or 13 at the time. What was it like to be in a movie like that with some big names that you’d probably seen around?
Funny enough, I was young enough to not know who anybody was. (laughs) Now, looking back at those times, I’m like, “Oh, my God! How didn’t you know who they were?” Because I would freak. I would fangirl now. But yeah, it was definitely pretty amazing. Everybody who I had the privilege of working with was just so wonderful. I had such amazing experiences with them. They really took me under their wing. I learned so much. I think that’s one of the things that I’m most grateful for: doing those movies at that age and just learning so much about acting and about the industry. Just watching these people who I now idolize. Watching them do their work. They really taught me a lot and just set the tone for the presence that I wanted to bring onto sets. The person that I wanted to be and my professionalism. I’m very grateful for the people who paved that path for me and showed me how I should act.
There’s a very strong film and television industry in Canada, even US shows that you guest starred in like The Good Doctor and Supernatural were filmed in Canada. Have you ever considered moving to Hollywood for your career? Are you just more comfortable with the idea of working closer to home?
Listen, I love Vancouver. I love Canada. It’s always going to be home. But wherever my career takes me, I will go. I love acting so much. There obviously are more opportunities in America and Hollywood. Right now, I guess from COVID too, everything is online. So, tapings – we’re actually just submitting our own tapings. We’re not going into audition rooms anymore. So I can kind of tape from wherever and submit them into casting, which is what I’ve been doing. So that’s why I still remain in Vancouver. I love it here. All my friends and family are here but who knows what the future holds?
Along those lines, I assume SkyMed was probably filmed during the midst of COVID. How did that affect the filming?
Yeah, it was. Actually, the first time that I had worked on a show, post-COVID was during Nurses season two. We were in the thick of it. It was like, March of 2020 and so we got shut down. From when we got shut to when we picked back up again, it was just a completely different filming experience. We had to have masks. We had to get tested every couple of days. There was PPE all the time. So that really paved the way for what to expect for SkyMed. Thankfully, with SkyMed, we were filming outdoors a lot, so it was a lot easier to social distance. It was a lot less stuffy in the rooms. It was a pretty ideal show to be filming. You had alone time because we were always outside. We would get tested. Thankfully, everybody remained healthy, and everything was good and safe.
In a more personal way, how did these last few crazy years affect your life?
It been challenging, I think, for all of us, It really taught me the importance and the value of finding what makes you happy in your everyday life. You can’t find one person or one thing to feel your happiness. You have to truly find that within yourself. I picked up some new hobbies. I love to paint now. I am a huge bookworm, so I read a lot of books. I spent time with my friends and family and my parents. I also just love now going outside for like an hour or two walks every single day. That makes me happy. A happy and healthy lifestyle, I tried to make sure that was my first priority.
SkyMed was filmed for Canadian television and was later released in the US through Paramount+. Nurses was also filmed for Canada then released in the US on NBC. Do you think that streaming services Paramount+ help to get shows like yours a wider audience internationally?
Binge watching TV shows now is such a thing. First of all, I don’t think as many people now have cable as they used to, because everybody’s watching streaming services. Also just the convenience of being able to watch as many episodes as you want all at once not having to wait. Or be home for that exact time that it’s on because If you’re not you have to record it. It’s just so much more convenient. So, I’m really excited. I’m very excited that SkyMed is on Paramount+, and that people can binge watch it and just immerse themselves in the world. Watch as many episodes as they want all at once. It’s very cool. It’s also just really exciting following along on Twitter and seeing what people have to say. Like, “Oh my god, we just watched this episode. Wonder what happens.” It makes for a fun fan interaction, too.
Well speaking of fans and binge watching – just as a fan, what type of things do you tend to watch? Or you just said that you’re big a very big bookworm. What do you like to read?
One of my favorite books is Where the Crawdads Sing [by Delia Owens]. I like to follow Reese Witherspoon’s book club, so I try to keep up to date with all of those books. What I like to watch? I love Ozark? I really love Ozark. I’m also a huge fan of the “SmartLess” podcast, which is Jason Bateman and Sean Hayes’s podcast. I’m constantly listening to that when I’m at home or even when I’m out. I have it on my headphones. But I would say Ozark is my favorite show right now.
Okay. Now, just one last question. You’re still pretty early in your career. But if you could go into the future and look back at what you’ve done, how would you like for people to remember your body of work?
Oh, wow, really, really good question. I really hope and strive to be a versatile actor, I want to play every character all different from who I am. I would hope in the future I get more opportunities to play really fun and intense and obscure and crazy and all aspects of life. Different characters. I would hope to look back on it and see a very wide range of people that I’ve played and portrayed.
Copyright ©2022 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: August 26, 2022.
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Photos #3-8 ©2022 Pief Weyman, Heather Beckstead & Shauna Townley. Courtesy of Paramount+. All rights reserved.