For two decades, Lexa Doig has been bringing memorable characters to life in the realms of drama, sci-fi, horror and everything in between. Along the way, she has continued to hone her skill set and evolve as an actor, elevating each project to a higher level. In 2017, Lexa is continuing her winning ways! Currently, she is appearing on two of the most buzzed about shows on television. First, she stars in the E! Channel original series “The Arrangement” opposite Josh Henderson, Christine Evangelista and Michael Vartan. The series follows the lives of struggling actress, Megan Morrison (Evangelista), Hollywood action star Kyle West (Henderson), his producing partner Terrence Anderson (Vartan) and his wife, Deann Anderson (Doig). As Deann, Lexa is a true scene stealer, as she is a passionate storyteller who is forging her own path in an industry that is not known for being supportive of women. In addition, she also graces the screen in a recurring role on the hit CW series, “Arrow,” as one of the DC Universe’s most iconic and beloved characters — Talia al Ghul. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Lexa Doig to discuss her journey as an actress, the challenges she has faced along the way, her roles on “The Arrangement” and “Arrow”, and much more.
Let’s start by going all the way back to the beginning. How did you get involved with the arts at an early age?
I always wanted to be an actress but I grew up in Dawn Mills, which is a suburb of Toronto, and I think the closest I ever came was doing school plays, church plays, and that type of stuff. My parents were subscribers to the local theater company in Toronto. I remember seeing “Porgy & Bess” when I was six years old and I wanted to be Porgy! [laughs] My dad had to explain, on multiple levels, why I couldn’t be Porgy. As far as I was concerned, he was the shortest guy on the stage and I could identify with him! [laughs] I would go with my parents to all the plays. I remember I wanted to be ‘Evita’ as well! I really thought I could be Eva Peron. Given that I can’t sing, some of these aspirations were a little bit ambitious, I guess! So, I just sort of settled for acting in TV and film! [laughs]
Tell us about your early years as an actress. Who are some of the people who had an influence on you along the way?
It’s funny, when I started as an actor, I was about 18 years old when I started auditioning for things. At the time, it was a challenge because I am of mixed race, so nobody knew where to put me. I was told many times that I should probably consider a different profession because I was not likely to make a living at this, and if I did move forward I should definitely leave Canada because Canada would be too restrictive for me and I wouldn’t get the opportunity to play different roles. There was a casting director in Toronto, named Liz Ramos, who was really sweet and really supportive. She was also mixed, so she totally got it! [laughs] One of my favorite directors who I’ve worked with in Canada, who I think is an actor now, Jorge Montesi. He is a Chilean fellow who was amazing. I’ve worked with him many times and he was always very supportive. For the most part, it was almost like I had to stick to it myself. In terms of acting touch, come on, Meryl Streep! Just look at her and her body of work! She’s amazing! It’s hard to think of others off the top of my head because, honestly, I very rarely see a performance in film that I hate and there is something to learn from all of it. Even with the performances that maybe don’t work, there is still something there to learn from all of it and I have such an enormous amount of respect for actors who do that!
What can you tell us about the first role you played and, looking back, how fondly is it remembered?
It was very funny! William Shatner had written a series of books called ‘Tekwar’ and they were being made into a series. As I said, I was very new to the audition process, so I really didn’t even know the process. I got the audition and I didn’t realize at the time that there was supposed to be a reader in the room reading the other person’s lines that you are in the scene with. My agent called and said, “You have an audition. It’s for William Shatner’s ‘TekWar’ and he is going to be directing. He’s not going to be in the room. It’s just going to be the casting director in the room, so don’t worry about it.” I grew up watching ‘Star Trek,’ so I was a huge fan of William Shatner. I show up to the audition and not only is William Shatner in the room directing me, there is no camera and there is no reader. I literally just did my line, waited, did my next line and waited because I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to do that! They were fine with it and no one directed me otherwise! I left there not knowing if I had done a good or a bad job. I just had no idea and that was it! A day or two later I got the call from my agent saying that I got the part. I was kind of screaming around my parent’s house, “I GOT THE PART! I’M WORKING WITH WILLIAM SHATNER! OH MY GOD! I GOT TEKWAR!” Yeah, I kind of lost my mind! [laughs]
You have gone on to build a great body of work through the years. Going back to what you had mentioned about being an actress of mixed-race, how have things changed for you over the years? Has it gotten an easier or more inclusive?
I absolutely think things have gotten better. When I started in the early 90s, it was a real challenge actually. People have certain perceptions in their head. I’m literally a kid who was from Toronto, kind of boring and there’s nothing exotic about me and yet that “exotic” label was kind of placed on me. I was told flat out, “You will never play a girlfriend and you will never play the daughter because white people don’t have children that look like you.” That’s interesting because my Dad is white! [laughs] I heard, “You’ll never play the sister or the girlfriend. You won’t get any of those roles.” I was reading for these jaded sex workers when I was 18 years old, when I couldn’t have looked more young and innocent at 18 years old. It was so bizarre! Now, you do see more faces like mine but at that time I didn’t see any faces that look like mine on television. It was actually a big impediment and that’s why representation to me it is so important in front of and behind the camera. Behind the camera, you don’t deal with questions of, and this is something, God’s honest truth, I have actually heard, “Yeah, we would love to hire you but we are just trying to figure out how [insert white actor’s name here] would be your dad.” I’m like, “Umm, you do know my dad is white, right?” [laughs] Apparently, in TV Land, white mean only choose women of color when they are soldiers at war and have no other choice when they are stuck in another country and have no other choice! [laughs] It’s quite insulting when you see the back stories sometimes, but now it is less and less of an issue. When I started out, they felt they needed to explain why I was beige. Now, it’s like, “No. She’s beige.” That’s what I like to see more of! There still needs to be a lot more, absolutely, but I have seen a progression. One of those things that’s doing that is all the people who are complaining, which is great! [laughs] Keep complaining! Keep pointing it out because your voice truly does matter. When I was younger, in the 70s and 80s, there is an internalized kind of racism that happens where you begin to think, “No, the girl next door has blonde hair and blue eyes.” You just accept it. Today, people aren’t accepting that and it’s a great thing!
You have some great projects going on at the moment and are playing some truly unique characters. What can you tell us about “The Arrangement”? How did you get involved and what intrigued you about the role?
How did I get involved with it? I auditioned! [laughs] The manner in which I got the part kind of shocked me. Usually with TV series, there is at least a screen test, callbacks and all this other kind of stuff. I put myself down on tape in Vancouver and was told, “They might need you for a screen test.” I said, “Okay.” Then I was told they would just use my audition tape as my screen test. I thought, “Ok, well I’m probably not going to get the part then.” Then I got the part! It was a shockingly easy job to get! I love, love, love the show! I like the peek behind the curtain of Hollywood; the idea of seeing how the sausage gets made. We all see the finished product when it is all shiny, glossy and pretty but how does it get made? Who has to die? Figuratively speaking, not literally speaking! What mess has to be made in order to get it made in the first place? Deann, the character I’m playing, is a lot of fun and is very different from a lot of characters I’ve played in the past. I think she works a lot harder than I do, to be honest! [laughs] She has been, I think, for a large chunk of her adult life, largely defined by the men in her life. She is often described as Terrence Anderson’s wife, who is Michael Vartan’s character, or Kyle West’s producing partner, which is Josh Henderson’s character. I think she’s more concerned with how she would describe herself outside of that context, as opposed to being just an appendage to the men in her life. What is interesting to me is discovering with Jonathan Abrahams, the show’s writer, how she pisses in her own corner, so to speak.
What do you consider the biggest challenge you have faced with this role?
You know what? The biggest challenges were all logistical! [laughs] Quite literally, they were logistical and there were a few wrinkles that needed to be ironed out during production. It was a lot of fun to do and a joy to do. I work mostly with Michael Vartan. He and I got a house on fire and I think he should be Canadian! I’m pretty sure he should be Canadian because he speaks French and he loves hockey, so we get on fine! [laughs] not because I speak French but because I love hockey as well. He’s actually not that dissimilar to my real-life husband who is, coincidentally, also named Michael. I enjoyed exploring this character alongside like Michael and the rest of the cast. I’m really looking forward to next season where, hopefully, I will get to work with Christine Evangelista because her and I didn’t work together a ton. I’m definitely looking forward to doing more with her next year and I think she’s amazing! I have seen all 10 episodes and I think she’s absolutely fantastic!
Be it this character or any other project to take on, what is your typical process for flushing out a character before you ever step on set?
It’s a bit all over the map actually. I start with reading the script as many times as I can to understand the character and the context of her life within the script. The basic way to breakdown a script is by what you say, what other people say about you, and what you do. These are the things that indicate character. I just like to feel each character out. The process can also start in wardrobe sometimes to see what she might wear, how she would walk, how she would talk, her interactions with people and the thoughts that are going through her head. It’s a discovery process for me which is my base point. Because I never trained properly, I never went to theater school or spent a long time on the stage, my starting point, strangely enough, is myself and then moving away from that. I have to find a way to be grounded in truth for me. My starting point is “What would I do?” Then I go, “Ok, that’s not going to work for the situation. What would the character do?” then I find a way for that to make sense to me. For example, I had to play a terrorist. I don’t think I would ever do something a terrorist would do and I like to believe that’s something that I would not choose to do, but I had to find a way for this to make sense to me when I played her. That involves creating extreme scenarios in my mind that would push me to do that, so that is often where the starting point is.
You’re also a part of another huge series with CW’s “Arrow”. You’ve been part of a lot of big sci-fi series in the past. How does a production like this differ from the ones you’ve experienced in the past?
“Arrow” has a nice, healthy budget! [laughs] Some of the ones that I’ve done in the past I have not had nearly the budget that “Arrow” has! [laughs] It’s funny, I walked up on the set for one of the episodes that I was doing and saw the director of photography I had worked with for 5 years on “Andromeda.” I see a lot of the same faces I have worked with in the past and that is partially because we shoot in Vancouver and partially because of the genre. These shows are very comparable and are almost the same kind of thing but this one as a bigger budget. Everyone involved is so incredibly talented and it is so slick, especially the fight work on the show! It’s mind-boggling, especially when you consider the amount of time they have to do it in! With fight scenes, you have to understand, writers will write “And then they fight…” on the script page. That is literally half of a sentence and it takes a day to film. When a fight is described in half a page, it takes a day and a half to film that! They do it like it was a regular scene and that’s amazing to me how tight their stunt crew is at what they do. Stephen Amell is amazing at getting shit done when it comes to the fight scenes!
This is an iconic character to many comic book fans. What type of research went into the part and what do you feel you might have brought to her that wasn’t on the written page?
I did some of my research after I played her because I didn’t know I was going to be playing her when I got cast in the part. It was funny, my agent called me on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening and said, “Do you want to do a few episodes of “Arrow”?” I said, “Yeah, absolutely! Can I see a script or character breakdown or something before I agree to do this?” She said, “Yeah, sure.” The next day I got a character breakdown and a couple of pages for an audition for a character named Lindsay. I read them and said, “I would love to play this.” My agent said, “Great! I will work out the deal.” She went and worked out the deal and said, “Done!” So, Wednesday night, because the character was playing on Friday, I got a call from the costume designer asking me to come in the next day. I’ve worked with her before so know her quite well. Then I get the memo explaining where I am to park and at the top of the memo it says, “Wardrobe fitting for Talia al Ghul.” [laughs] I went, “Whaaaaaat?!!!” [laughs] I went running downstairs to my husband, who is equally as much a comic book geek as I am, which is not a huge comic book geek but enough to know who all the different characters are. He was in the basement and I went running down and said, “Dude! Duuuuude! I think I’m playing Talia al Ghul!” He said, “That’s so cool!” [laughs] So, I did know she was Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter and I knew that her sister Nyssa had already appeared on the show but the context of their relationship, as well as Nyssa’s backstory on “Arrow” and Nyssa Raatko’s backstory in the comics. I was trying to figure that out and I read up on Talia, her relationships, alliances, etcetera, etcetera. She honestly exists more in the Batman’s world then in Arrow’s world. In terms of what I brought to the character and what I saw in her, is that in the comics, she has the patience to play the long-game always! In fact, I think that is the preferred game that she likes to play! She is definitely someone with the attitude of “Why do for myself what I can get someone else to do for me? But, if you want it done right you have to do it for yourself!” [laughs]
As we said, you have been a part of a lot of great projects in the past. Of those projects, which has had the biggest impact on you and your craft?
Wow! That’s a tough one! I can’t say that anyone project had the biggest impact on me because they have all been kind of incremental. Even the ones that I didn’t like, in terms of the the roles you do for a paycheck. You hear that said a lot and unless you are Angelina Jolie or Meryl Streep, you do have to take jobs to pay the bills! I have definitely had jobs like that! I have had jobs that I hated doing while I was doing them and jobs that I loved doing while I was doing them that nobody has seen! You learn something from all of it, even if it’s what not you want to do. Getting back to what I was told before about all the roles I would never play; I’ve played them all! The upside of doing that is that is that I live and work in Canada. The benefit is that the casting directors and producers don’t have the luxury here to typecast actors. Although we have a very talented pool of actors, it’s not as big as it is in the United States. With that said, I get the opportunity to play all these different roles that I may never have had the chance to do had I gone down to Los Angeles, hit it big and been typecast, on and on. The upside to all of that is that Canadian actors are like this great big group of repertory players. You do end up seeing a lot of the same s faces and it can be difficult to break into. I know that because I was on the side of having to break into it. At the same time, you get an opportunity to play all different kinds of characters. For example, in the past 7 months, I was on “The Arrangement,” “Arrow” and a series of Hallmark movies I do with Candace Cameron Bure. These three characters could not be more different and I’m literally set-hopping, playing all three! It was a little mind-fucking for awhile! [laughs] At the same time, I get to do that and it’s this wonderful thing I get do! Playing different, wonderful characters in short proximity to each other, which is a fun challenge. You learn a lot from that!
A lot of us can look to you as an inspiration with everything you have accomplished! What is the best lesson we can take from your journey?
Keep on truckin’! [laughs] You know, no matter what people tell you, there is a fine line between determination and delusion. I’ve met those actors who are like, “I’m gonna hit it big!” and I’ve seen their work and I’m like, “I don’t think you are!” [laughs] It’s awful! [laughs] I hate poo-pooing someone’s dreams and I would never say to them, “No, you won’t.” Something might change! I’m sure people looked at me and thought the same thing at some point and I’m sure people look at me right now and think, “Why is this bitch working?” [laughs] The point is, you have to stay true to your own vision of yourself but make sure it’s not a deluded vision of yourself. Make sure it’s very realistic and don’t lie to yourself. That’s what I would say to any young actor out there who wants to get into it. In addition, you have to be willing to work hard but also pay attention to what you are working on. I have seen actors, especially young actors, who are great on things like social media and getting their name out there but when they come to set, they aren’t that good. I feel like, if they put half the effort into your craft that they put into curating their Instagram account, they would be amazing! So, you just have to work hard, be focused and work hard on the right things!
Are there any causes you lend your voice to that we could help shine a light on?
I like to take every opportunity to raise awareness and money for the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society of Canada or the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in the United States. I do because both my father and first cousin, along with my husband’s first cousin, all suffer from MS. It’s a cause that is very near and dear to my heart. It’s amazing, some of the strides the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society of Canada has made. MS researchers from Canada have discovered some pretty extraordinary things about treating the disease and halting the progress of it. The money raised is going to a good place and it works! With Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society of Canada, a lot of the money raised goes toward supporting families and people who live with MS, so it isn’t just research but helping with the practical, day-to-day needs. Sometimes people might need extra caregivers or the caregivers might need some respite and someone might come in when they need to take a break. It can be quite brutal on the caregivers for people with MS. That is definitely a cause I support fully. Every opportunity I get to raise money for them, I try to!
Awesome, Lexa! Thank you so much for your time today. We really appreciate it and can’t wait to see where your journey leads you next!
Thank you, Jason! Talk to you soon!