Talk Nerdy With Us recently had the pleasure of chatting with Canadian actress Kaitlyn Leeb. Kaitlyn has been acting since she was 15 years old. She is best known for portraying Cassandra on CBC’s long running drama Heartland. This January fans will be able to see Kaitlyn as Camille Belcourt on Freeform’s highly anticipated new fantasy series Shadowhunters.
How did you originally get involved with acting?
My parents actually introduced me to the industry when I was about 15, because I wanted to be a model. I started out doing print modeling and acting when I was 15 years old. I did that through out high school and university, since I still wanted to get my education. That is how I started out. I entered as a model and I made my way into acting. (Laughs).
How different is modeling from acting?
It is completely different! Both are fun. I loved my life as a model but it is completely different now as an actor. It is hard to explain. They are just completely different worlds. Completely completely different worlds.
With acting it is more than just posing for a camera. I do think that skill is super important though. I gained so many benefits from being a model. Like image, make up skills and posture. I think it is important as an actor to have that background because you have auditions and appearances and stuff like that.
With modeling you are in make up and doing poses. With acting your are in front of a camera and you have to be realistic as a character in front of the camera. Those are two very different skills.
Did being a model when you were so young help you with acting?
Yeah! I totally thought it helped. It helped image wise, especially. It introduced me to the world of make up and posture and putting myself together. It introduced me to camera angles, which I think is really important now as an actor. I have to audition in front of the camera and I have to understand angles. I have to know what looks good in front of a camera. I have to know how I stand and use my posture to look good. I think modeling benefited me so much. I am so glad my life has taken that path, because I do think it helped.
Speaking of auditioning, what was your audition process like for Heartland?
I had auditioned for a recurring role in season 5, actually. I came really close but unfortunately it didn’t work out. I was super devastated about it because I really wanted to work on the show. The character I auditioned for was really awesome. The following year, season 6, the role of Cassandra surfaced. She was just an awesome character as well. I thought it would be really great. I auditioned for her and I found out a couple of days later that I booked it. It worked out! Everything happens for a reason. Here I am 4 seasons later and I am super grateful for the character arc that Cassandra has lived through.
Did you watch the earlier seasons? Were you fan of Heartland before?
I prep shows if/when they are airing for auditions. So, I had watched Heartland before, when I first auditioned for season 5. I think it is important to do your research, know the rhythm and know the type of show it is. I had done my research prior to the season 5 audition, so I knew what I was going into for season 6.
Will we see more of Cassandra in season 9?
Yes, you will definitely see her this season! Cassandra has some fun things/arcs this season that I can’t wait for everyone to see. This season has been one of my favorite seasons for Cassandra so far. There is definitely some drama to come.
What can you tease about her story line?
It is so hard with these shows, because you don’t know what you can and can not say! I don’t know if I can say too much. But, I will say the drama is totally different from what anyone would expect it to be. I don’t want to say too much and give it away.
What is the hardest thing about filming Heartland?
On Heartland, we shoot 18 episodes so you have to- there are a lot of things that happen. For instance, Cassandra could show up in episode 2 and not show up again until episode 8. That sort of thing. There is a life that Cassandra has lived in between those episodes.
Yeah off-screen. Then when you jump back in and Cassandra is on camera again, you have to keep up with that life off-screen that the audience didn’t see. I would say that would be the hardest part. I mean she isn’t in every episode so she has to continue living off-screen. When I am preparing for Cassandra I have to bring up the back story, of what have I been doing for the last 5 episodes when Cassandra hasn’t been on camera. She has still existed in the Heartland universe, just not on camera. That would probably be the most difficult part.
But other than that it is the most beautiful set I could possibly work on. I really don’t have too much to complain about. (Laughs).
You guys film on location and on set, right?
We have studio that is in the city and then we do film on location (in Alberta, Canada). We film about an hour away from the stage. It is so beautiful.
For Cassandra’s back story (off-screen) is that all you or do the writers give you some help?
They don’t leave you in the dark, they definitely help (laughs). You work through it together. I might not be in 5 episodes or something, but they don’t leave me in the dark and say okay go ahead. They do give me back stories to work through. We all kind of work together in that aspect.
Did filming for Heartland and Shadowhunters overlap?
Yes, it totally did. Heartland and Shadowhunters and I was filming another show called Rogue, I was doing a couple of episodes on that. They all three actually overlapped. I did two shows in Toronto and one in Calgary. Then Rogue finished and it was just the two episodes.
So they overlapped, which I loved. For me, it was like I was living the dream. I was constantly working, flying back and forth between sets. It was super exhausting, but I soaked up every minute of it, because I know it won’t last forever in this industry.
They definitely overlapped. My managers were having headaches dealing with it. (Laughs). I’m sure post productions are having headaches with my schedule too.
But you loved it!
I was loving it!
Was it hard to go from Camille’s mindset to Cassandra’s, and vice versa?
So many people ask that question, and it is such a good question. Luckily I had that four-hour flight between the shows. It is because one was shot in Calgary and one was shot in Toronto. I had one day of travel. That four-hour flight really helped, because it allowed me to focus on that one script and one character. So, as I was flying into Calgary I could get into Cassandra, and the Heartland script and land there and just kind of live Cassandra’s Life. Flying back I could just focus on Camille, and read my Shadowhunter scripts and just focus on Camille and that world.
That flight really saved me. Plus Camille and Cassandra are so, so different. I didn’t have a problem with it. It kind of worked out.
Are you a method actor? How to do you get into the mind frame of each character? What do you do to get prepared?
I definitely did with Camille. Camille has such a history and a background. I definitely got into that mindset of Camille. But, when I was there on set and in make up and stuff, when we were shooting I would still be Kaitlyn and not just be, this total mean person to everybody. (Laughs).
I mean I definitely got into that whole mindset. I really try to live through Camille. I really feel like she becomes a part of me. That is for sure. I think Cassandra has too. I definitely think all characters become part of an actor, at least from my experience.
What was your Shadowhunters audition like?
I actually auditioned for a couple of roles before landing Camille. As soon as I heard about the show I was really excited about it. I was like, ‘I need to get on that show. It’s amazing.’ The role of Camille came up and I read the break down and the side. I thought Camille was the dream role for me. So, I prepped her and I auditioned and I found out a couple of days later that I booked her. That was the most amazing thing!
What did you do on the day you found out you booked Camille?
I had gotten an email the night before from my manager. It was probably the day after the audition. Or the night after. It was pretty quick. Like I said, I auditioned for a couple of roles prior to Camille. I think my manager said, ‘keep you phone on you tomorrow, we might have some great news coming your way.’ I was like, ‘okay.’ I had auditioned for a couple of roles and Camille was one of them. I didn’t know if the call was for Camille, but I had this strange feeling that it might be. I was really on edge. The next day I was just watching my phone and finally I got the phone call. He was like, ‘you got Camille.’ I was so excited. She is just a great character, I love her so much!
At the time I didn’t even realize that how amazing she was. As an actor you get the sides, I didn’t have the script and stuff for all the episodes, just the sides. I was so excited. Then I had to do a short video that they posted on ABC and the Shadowhunters Instagram. It was a whirlwind, I can’t tell you how happy I was.
Were you familiar with the book material prior to the audition?
Not really, I didn’t read the books prior to the audition. When I booked the role, that is when I did my research and my reading on Camille. Camille doesn’t actually show up until the fourth book of the TMI series.
She shows up in The Infernal Devices first, if I recall correctly.
Yes exactly, then she also shows up in like the fourth book of the TMI series, but she shows up on the show during season one. So, I did my research on the character, because that is what’s most important to me. The story lines are little different from the book and the series.
They have to be.
It has to be, exactly! It’s a good thing and a bad thing. I hope it’ll keep people watching.
For me, it was most important to concentrate on who Camille was. I thought that is what I needed to do. I needed to bring Camille to life on-screen. So I just concentrated on that. But I did all my research after I landed the role of Camille.
Do you think that helped you land the role? Not knowing the book well? That way you could easily bring Kaitlyn to Camille, instead of trying so hard to copy the book version of Camille?
I think it could go either way. When you are prepping for a show I think it is important to watch episodes and stuff because it gives you the context of the show and the rhythm. I think that’s important. For this situation it could go either way. Who knows it could have gone the opposite direction and they would have been like, ‘what are you doing?’ (Laughs).
I don’t know. I guess it worked out in this situation! When I read Camille, even just reading a break down of her, I felt her immediately. It was a weird feeling. You get that with some characters you audition for.
It worked out for me this time. I’m not sure. It is hard to say. Yeah, I don’t know. (Laughs).
How did you hear about the Shadowhunters casting?
For auditions, casting directors are hired and they will reach out to agents and get the actors that they want to see for certain roles. I had auditioned for a couple of roles prior to Camille and when this one popped up I had got the call that they wanted to see me for Camille. That is how I went in to audition for it. There were no producers or anything. I was at the casting directors office and there was a reader there, and a camera man. Then I guess it went to the big bosses and they made their decision.
You are the second Degrassi alum on Shadowhunters!
I am! There are a couple of Heartland alumni too. Maxim Roy and Jade Hassouné were on Heartland as well.
Did you guys meet on Heartland?
With Jade our seasons overlapped, we were on the same seasons, but our characters never ever overlapped. I had seen him on episodes and had heard of him. But, I never got a chance to meet him until, I went to a Shadowhunters read through and we were in the same episode. I was like, ‘hey it’s finally nice to meet you.’ I haven’t even meet Maxim yet, but we are Heartlanders and now we are Shadowhunters! It has been awesome and I am really happy about that.
How are you similar to Camille and how are you different?
That’s such a good question as well. Camille is complex, which I think I am as well. We are both calculating and I think we are both calm under pressure. However, Camille is also evil, which I don’t think I am (laughs). She is so fun to play because she is so different from me and she is so different from any character that I have had a chance to play. I think Camille is definitely in me. It has been so fun this year to dig inside and bring her out. She is just amazing. That would be our similarities.
What would be the differences? Not being evil? (Laughs).
Yeah, not being evil! She is manipulative, conniving, she plays games with people. She is ancient, I mean she is 400 years old. She is very smart, but she is almost child like in that sense, because she plays games with people. I think she doesn’t take too much seriously. I think that those would be our differences.
Now that you’ve played an antagonist do you want more “bad girl”/ villain roles?
I loved playing the antagonist! It is definitely an outlet. I have loved every second of playing Camille. I loved every scene that was written. I would love to play more villainous characters.
Is it therapeutic?
Yeah, I think so. Because you get to be this person you would never be in real life. I mean if you were really that character you would have no friends or relationships, I’m pretty sure. No one would ever want to talk to you! She’s just that type of person.
I do think it is therapeutic. I think it is healthy to get that stuff out. Not that I would be like Camille naturally. I think it was therapeutic to use her to get anything that I would ever want to do out. Because she is so bad and so mean.
We saw the fake nails, but how long did it take for the Camille make up?
It would take 2 and half hours for Camille’s make up. Camille is dead obviously being a vampire. (Laughs). She is a lot paler than I am naturally. It took a long time to pale me out and make it look natural. To make it not look like I have white powder or white paint on my face.
The make up artist Katie, she is so amazing. Camille’s make up is so beautiful, but it does take up time, because it had to look as natural as possible. I mean 2 and half hours later, it looks so natural. I look into the mirror and I almost start forgetting what my natural skin color is because it looks just beautiful.
My face, my neck, my arms, my legs, it is pretty much everything. Well it is everything that is exposed. And then those nails! They definitely bring Camille all together, but they are super hard to maneuver with because they are so long.
Would you take them off right away afterwords or did you keep them on?
Oh my gosh yes, (laughs) they were the first things that I wanted to take off. You really couldn’t do too much. I had to learn how to text properly with those long nails.
Yeah. It was a skill I picked up from Camille. (Laughs). I couldn’t wait to take those nails off. At lunch I would take them off, because it was really hard to eat with them. You can’t do anything with them, because they are so long. I am not used to super long nails or stuff like that. They were extremely long. You saw the pictures!
Can you tell us who your first scene is with?
I don’t know if I can say that, but what I can say is that Camille’s first scene is what I am most excited for everyone to see. It’s amazing. I guess I can answer in that way. I am not sure if can say who it’s with because that might give things away. But it is definitely my favorite part. I can’t wait for everyone to see the unveiling of Camille and that episode that she first appears in.
Will you be live tweeting and interacting with fans when that episode premiers?
Yeah! I definitely will be. I try to keep up and answer as many question as I can with fans without giving too much away. I know everyone is so excited and January feels so far away.
I will be live tweeting and I will be interacting. I try to interact as much as I can. I try to answer as many questions as I am allowed to. Camille’s picture hadn’t been released up until New York Comic Con happened. Then a picture was finally released. Sort of. I think it was of her and Simon. I would like to show the fans photos but I can’t. I have to leave all that stuff up to production.
What’s it like to work on a show that is so secretive?
It is hard, especially with a show that already has a fan base. The fans are so interested and so excited for the series to come out because they read the books and they are already attached to the characters. So, I get it. I would want to see the characters and know certain things as well. This has been a process since May of this year. It’s hard because you want to answer questions and you want to make people happy, but you can’t.
I have been taking pictures and banking them for when Camille is shown. Then I can finally show fans the process and finally talk about that stuff. (Laughs). It’s hard. It’s really hard to work on a show (when social media is so huge these days) when you can’t tell anyone anything. It’s difficult.
What do you think of the cast? What is their off-set dynamic like?
I love the cast. The group- They are amazing, they are talented, they’re so friendly, they’re so welcoming. I mean Kat did such amazing job leading this series. She is young and she is so amazing and so beyond her years. It is amazing to watch her. Off-screen and on-screen she is incredible. The rest of the cast is amazing too. They are so welcoming and warm. It is so easy to talk to anyone.
It is a really nice environment to be around. That main cast is so close. It was so nice to see, since they are spending every single day together. It was a really great environment to work on. No negativity. I thought it was amazing to work with all of them.
Do you think that filming in Toronto helped make it feel like a family unit?
I don’t know, maybe. I mean the main cast is all Americans so they were here in Toronto filming. I don’t know if being away from home/the States helped. I just feel like the type of people they are is just who they were. They’re real and kind. They got along so well that they became a family unit. Either right away or at least throughout the course of the series. I don’t know if it was because it filmed in Canada, or it if it was just those people. I mean I’ll say yes Toronto helped, because I am Canadian and we’ll take the credit. (Laughs).
Do you “ship” any couple on a show?
I’ve seen people say on Twitter, ‘I ship Cassandra and Caleb.’ I don’t really know. I haven’t been able to watch very much TV because I have been so busy. I am going to jump on the Shadowhunters band wagon and say I ship Malec. I’ll say Malec and Magnus and Camille.
Cue the Twitter drama right now!
Yeah, exactly! (Laughs).
Are you naturally brunette? Is that why Camille is brunette?
Camille is blonde in the books. That was a big thing I remember from when I first got cast. Fans were upset that I was not blonde. They kept saying, ‘Camille is not going to be blonde in the show.’ It had nothing to do with me. That decision came from the producers and people who were well above me. I am just the actor, I am in charge of bringing that character to life on-screen. They decided to keep her brunette. I am actually brunette and they kept her that way. I know she is blonde in the books, so I don’t know why or how they made the hair color decision. It may spice it up a little bit.
They did that with The Vampire Diaries too, and nobody cared after the first few episodes.
Yeah, I know it’s hard at the beginning. When I first got cast I didn’t know what their plans where. I mean I obviously didn’t care what they do. If they wanted to put a blonde wig on me, that’ was fine. I’m like whatever. I saw some of the fan art that people were doing with me was with blonde hair and it looked amazing! It had nothing to do with my decision. I know it’s a big deal for fans that Camille is going to be a dark-haired.
So it had nothing to do with the fact that you had different projects, or you couldn’t dye it? It was not your decision?
It had nothing to do with my decision. There are wigs today that are so amazing that you can’t even tell they are wigs, so we could have worked around it. Again, it wasn’t my decision. They decided to keep me dark-haired and just go with that.
To go with her dark insides, it works!
Yes!!!!!! It matches her dark heart. (Laughs).
Do you enjoy or dislike watching yourself on TV?
Sometimes. My parents are big Heartland fans and they watch every Sunday. They are like, ‘are you watching?’ Especially if I am on it they ask. I used to. I don’t know. I kind of go back and forth. I used to watch and I would get all freaked out about it. I think I have kind of grown as an actor. I can just take myself away from it now.
I feel like you are always harder on yourself. I mean you can watch it and you’ll be like, ‘Oh god that was terrible’. You are always your hardest critic, I think.
I don’t really go out of my way to watch myself on TV. If it is on or something, I will. My husband loves watching me. So he will watch. But I don’t go out of my way to watch myself on TV. It’s kind of like ‘eh. It is a little weird. (Laughs).
You also said you really don’t have time for TV. So what do you do in your free time? What do you have time for?
Oh my gosh! I haven’t had much free time to do anything this year. I am not complaining! I would keep this going forever. What I have I been doing? I really haven’t done too much to be honest with you. I caught up with friends and family. I spend time with my husband and my dog at home. I really haven’t had too much time. I’m not really complaining though.
Oh, I picked up horseback riding. So that is what I have been able to do when I have been back home. I am learning how to ride a horse.
Because of Heartland? Or is that something you’ve always wanted to do?
It is something I have always wanted to do, but Heartland definitely pushed me in that direction. I play a vet. Cassandra is a vet. So, I am working with horses (and other animals) all the time. I just never really decided to go take lessons until now. This year I was like, ‘okay you know what I really want to learn. I don’t just want to go on a vacation and ride on the beach. I want to really learn how to ride a horse properly.’ I have been taking lessons and I really love it.
So that is one thing I have been trying to find time for when I am home. But it has been hard, I haven’t had too much time off.
Are you learning English or Western?
I first learned Western on Heartland. Now, I am learning English actually.
Are you jumping?
Not yet. That is my goal. I want to jump. Just like a little. I don’t want to compete or anything. But I definitely want to get to the point where I can jump over something. So, I am learning that. I am learning the position you need to be in when you jump and posting now. I originally wanted to just do Western, and they were like maybe you should learn English first and then go back to Western.
I want to learn both because in my career you never know when a role could come up. I do love Western. I love both. I am definitely concentrating on English right now, but I will come back to Western.
I was so scared to do Western at the beginning because you have to hold the reins with just one hand. I was like, ‘okay wait! I can’t I can’t do this!’ (Laughs). I was so scared when I was learning. When they tried to teach me Western on the show.
Since our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us, what do you nerd out about? What makes you a nerd?
Oh my gosh! There are so many things people don’t even know. This is going to sound so weird, but I love watching documentaries on the ocean and fish especially. (Laughs).
I’m watching River Monsters. I have watched every episode of that. I really love that stuff. I don’t know what it is, it is just so fascinating to me that there is this whole other world that we have no idea about. I just like learning about that. I love sharks. Shark week is my favorite week. I watch every night if I am home and not working. I am a big nerd when it comes to that stuff. Like sharks and the ocean and under water sea creatures.
So if you were not an actress would marine biology be your thing?
No not at all! In school I studied Psychology. I think if I wasn’t an actress I would be in the field of mental health. I really loved psychology and I really loved doing that stuff. That’s where I really thought my career path was going to take me. Marine biology is more of a hobby. I don’t think I would be a marine biologist. I never even thought about it in school. It is something that I love to learn about as a hobby, more so than a career.
Is there anything else that you are currently working on?
Nothing at the moment. There aren’t anymore days in a week so that I could do anything else this year. (Laughs).
We wrapped up Shadowhunters which has been sad because I loved my time on Shadowhunters so much, but season 1 is finished. Heartland will be going until the end of December. I will be working on that till the end of the year. Back and forth between Toronto and Calgary. That’s it for now, but you never know we’ll keep our fingers crossed to keep this going!
Heartland airs Sundays at 7pm on CBC and Shadowhunters premieres Tuesday, January 12 at 9pm/8c on Freeform!