Andrew Moodie

Modern-Day Philosopher

By Jennifer Hartley

There are many ways to describe Andrew Moodie: award-winning Canadian playwright, theatre and film actor, director and teacher. Add in patriotic, kind and spectacularly talented and you are off to a good start.

Andrew was in the GCTC production Daisy by Sean Devine. Photo: Andrew Alexander

Andrew is an artist akin to a modern-day artistic philosopher, fed by his love of history and current affairs. And he is good at it. His play Riot (about Rodney King and Toronto riots) won the prestigious Chalmers Award and Toronto the Good, which was written in response to the rise of gun crime in Toronto, was nominated for a Dora Mavor Moore Award for best play. The Real McCoy is about Canadian black inventor Elijah McCoy and Oui was a take on the 1995 referendum. You get the idea.

His passion for what he does is evident minutes after meeting him, as he launches into a complex discussion about the arts. “We really must get away from the idea of making ‘good’ art. Good or bad. All these words are subjective artistic judgments that have nothing to do with it. Actors communicate real emotion under imaginary circumstances and writers find philosophical truth, creating imaginary circumstances and they communicate that truth. I think of the way George Bernard Shaw gave equal value to a character who was diametrically opposed to his own beliefs as he searched for the truth. That quest is what we must hold on to. So sometimes people don’t understand your work until you’re dead and that’s ok.” (That isn’t the case with Andrew.)

Jackie Richardson and Andrew Moodie were in Dionne Brand’s thirsty at the NAC. Photo: Andrée Lanthier

The bottom line is he is a thoughtful individual who believes art can make the world a better, more understanding place by taking on topics and looking at them from different angles. If you followed the award-winning series Afghanada on CBC Radio, then you will have heard his handiwork. He also delves into love and relationships in other plays, while a play he has just finished explores artificial intelligence.

Though he is obviously a talented writer, there is no question you will have seen this versatile artist work his magic in front of the camera. Perhaps it has been on the silver screen. He has 105 film credits under his belt, such as Race (the Jesse Owens’ story) and A Simple Favor. Or you may be familiar with his appearances on Canadian TV shows like Saving Hope or Working Moms. He also hosted TVO’s Big Ideas for five years.

On stage, he is mesmerizing and has won theatre awards for his acting. Andrew got his start in the late 1980s in his hometown of Ottawa, at the Great Canadian Theatre Company. The NAC, the Factory Theatre, Theatre Passe Muraille, Second City, the Canadian Stage Company and, of course, the Stratford Festival (he loves Shakespeare) soon followed. Andrew, a theatre junkie, laments that Canada doesn’t seem to have the respect for theatre that other countries have, but he is trying to change that.

On stage, Andrew is mesmerizing. Photo: Jennifer Hartley

Is theatre his favourite artistic outlet? “No. I actually love it all.  I love being exposed to something new” and pushing the boundaries of what is possible.

At this phase of his life (late 50s), he has a reflective perspective. “When you hit your 50s, you become stoic. There is stuff you care about and stuff you shouldn’t. Let the world do its thing. Look, there’s a finite amount of time I have to create my art and everything I do is different. That is one thing that is amazing about getting older. I keep pushing myself. I’m going into new territory, some places [I’ve] never been before and I am not scared. There’s nothing in the past that’s going to help me with what I want to do in the future. I like doing radically different things that challenge my creativity and push me to new limits. For example, for the AI play I just finished, I had to learn a whole new language.”

Like many successful artists, he had the choice to head south of the border, but he made a decision early in his career to stay in Toronto. “I have a friend who is a big star and I got a glimpse into that life when I was younger and my reaction, which may surprise people, was like ‘No I don’t want that.’ Besides, I love being Canadian. I love so many things about Canada.” Fiercely protective of his family (he has two daughters, now adults), he knows that also cost him job opportunities. “You can never get those years back. The few times I was away for a long period of time, I came back to discover the family goes on without you. It’s like you come home and they are like ‘Who are you? What are you doing here!’ I didn’t want that.”

Andrew has won theatre awards for his acting. Photo: Andrée Lanthier.

He talks of always wanting to be a better dad, but his nurturing also extends to the next generation of actors. He jokes that “teaching supports my habit of acting,” but in reality, his face lights up as he talks about teaching at the Toronto Film School. “I love directing and watching young actors deepen, bloom and search for a deeper truth.” In a way, he is paying it forward, having caught the acting bug early on, thanks to an inspirational high school drama teacher.

Is there one thing he advises others that he learned the hard way? “Pay attention to your finances. Over and over again.  Art is great, but you need to be financially responsible.” Any other great lessons in life? “Forgiveness. Don’t punish yourself when things go wrong.” In acting or life?  “Both.” Good advice for all of us.