I think that I've come to understand that my life as an actor – as a fully alive human being – means that I'm going to have a bit of a rollercoaster of a life. Life's going to be BIG. It's going to feel BIG all the time... and so, hmm... that's actually a nice little realization right now.
About Jeff Todd
Born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Jeff Todd was raised in multiple cities and towns across Canada’s prairies. He moved to Vancouver, British Columbia shortly after high school, in March of 2011, took a six month acting intensive at Vancouver Acting School, signed with an agency within a few months of graduating, and then landed his first paid acting job as a voice actor on Lego’s “Legends of Chima” a few short months later. Since then, he has worked on several short films, DirecTV’s “Rogue”, SyFy’s “Olympus”, and Barbie’s “The Pearl Princess”, to name a few, as well as performed in productions of Bert V. Royal’s “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead”, and Christopher Durang’s “Beyond Therapy”. When he’s not acting, Jeff spends his time walking, reading, watching films, and pondering the universe.
*The following interview was transcribed from a conversation I had with Jeff. Enjoy!
1. What is the force that drives you forward? What fuels your ambition?
I would say… this is going to sound a little corny, but love. Love drives my ambition. And that’s not necessarily ‘soul mates’, although that’s something that does perplex me and will continue to perplex me (and drive my curiosity) for the rest of my life – this idea of finding someone who is such a similar frequency to you that you’re pretty much the same person.
But, I’m talking about the kind of love for everyone and everything. That kind of cosmic love – or that understanding that we’re all sort of in this together. What drives my creative endeavours is this sort of wonder in relation to our connection to one another. And everything else. In addition to that is obliterating silly hatred for one another. When I see racism or sexism or homophobia or any of these isms or phobias we have today, it baffles me… absolutely baffles me. And it is my goal, my life’s work, to break down these barriers and to show people the similarities between one another and make the world a more thoughtful, generous, compassionate place.
Do you feel driven to portray characters who sort of exemplify those phobias?
When I think about that, I think of playing both sides of the spectrum. I think about playing characters who are the worst of the worst, only because I think that if those characters are in a story, they exist there to obliterate those phobias. So I would play that sort of character – a hateful, nasty character (first character that comes to mind for me is Michael Fassbender’s character in ‘Twelve Years a Slave) – in order to tell a story that makes other people think about how they treat people. However, I would also play – love to play – a character who has been isolated by society. Whether it be a historical recounting, or a story about a gay or transgender person. That’s actually a very current topic that has a lot of animosity around it. The way I’ve heard transgender people talk about their challenges is huge; they feel so isolated from everyone else.
Another group is people with mental illness. There’s this idea that some people have that depression isn’t real – same with anxiety. But there’s people who are crippled because of their anxiety or depression. Or for some people, it lasts their whole lives because they don’t believe that there’s an alternative. A way to bring themselves out of that. I think it’s very important to represent that community as well.
I mean, who knows what kind of characters are going to cross my path. But I hope I will get to a place where I will have the choice to portray character… to help tell stories that will help challenge people’s preconceived notions of other people – people they don’t necessarily have an understanding of.
2. Can you talk about your greatest “failure”? (something that led to your most significant shift in consciousness, and made you who you are today).
Yeah… I would say so. When I moved out to Vancouver – almost 4 years ago now – that was probably the best thing I ever did for myself, but I’ve been a bit of a…
Moving around as a kid, I had lots of friends and family all over the place, but I always felt uprooted. I felt this sense of insecurity or lack of safety around where I was living, or where I was going to end up. I guess it’s created a fear of losing people in my life, and having to leave them. And that’s created some bad habits in me. I had a lot of acne when I was in high school and that made me really insecure.
By grade 11 I started drinking a lot, and that hadn’t really stopped at all since high school. So when I moved out here… I was the only person I really knew out here. I had a roommate who lived with me briefly who I knew back from Saskatoon. But then he moved back home and I was alone out here. I started making friends – and there’s friends that I still have to this day and I fucking love them – but I had my own demons to wrestle with. I’m still figuring them out. But I just abused my body. I drank a lot. I smoked a lot. These are still things that I’m battling.
I think that my biggest failure at any given moment in my life is judging myself and hurting myself, when the only way I’m going to grow is loving myself. So at any given moment, if I’m abusing my body (it’s going to take me awhile to even figure this out, because I still struggle with it) I have to tell myself ‘you’re losing your identity. You’re losing who you are. This is not you.’ You’re body’s not built for this.
I also have this fear of not being liked or loved by people; fearing that I’m going to be alone in nothingness, and that that’s all there is after we die. And that’s also led me to the smoking and the drinking. This fear that we’re alone. And honestly, whenever I’ve had girl problems I start smoking.
I just ended a really long term relationship – the most serious thing I’ve ever been in; I was fully in love – and I have been smoking. It’s over now, and I’ve lost my identity. I don’t know if it’s that when I lose my identity I try to rattle my body into waking up – rattle my spirit into waking up from this whole thing? And I just do this (I abuse myself) until I’m at the bottom of the pit?
But… I don’t know if that’s a super effective way of doing that. I know that when I’m sober, I feel way better and I have more moments of clarity, and that smoking and drinking slow down my thinking and feeling ability. On the other side of the coin… it could be that I haven’t figured out balance yet. To understand the good that I feel, I feel like maybe I need to feel the bad, to its most extreme? Maybe that’s an actor thing. Maybe that’s a self-deprecating silly little artist thing. But… I haven’t quite figured this out, but the thing that I think I need to work on is going through these times of struggle and really looking for the good.
Despite feeling as shitty as I’ve felt, looking for the good and finding it (because I’ve asked for it) has probably been the greatest epiphany that I’ve had. Going through the shittiest of times, and not judging myself for how I feel. If I have to cry, I’ll fucking cry for a half hour in the bathroom after a shower. Who gives a fuck? It’s what I need to do.
3. Are you happy? What does happiness mean to you?
I have moments of profound happiness, and I have moments of profound sadness. I think that overall, I’m becoming happier.
[At exactly this moment in the interview ‘I Just Want to Be Okay’ started playing the coffee shop where we were sitting].
I think I am happy. I think that I put myself out there to be happy. I think that I put myself out there to be whatever I need to be in any moment, and I’m happy that I do that. I’m happy that I can be sitting here with you right now, feeling myself get emotional… and I’m proud of myself for that. I’m proud that I can be myself. And some days ‘myself’ feels really sad, and really angry, and really scared, and really happy… So I think that I’ve come to understand that my life as an actor – as a fully alive human being – means that I’m going to have a bit of a rollercoaster of a life.
Life’s going to be BIG. It’s going to feel BIG all the time… and so, hm… that’s actually a nice little realization right now.
I am happy. I am happy, because through all the stuff I’m been going through lately and everything else, I’ve learned how to become more present. I’ve learned how to be more available to people, and I’m proud of that. That makes me happy. That makes me happy that I can be myself. I don’t really know yet what ‘happiness’ is supposed to be.
I think you can find happiness in the darkest of your days. And for that split second when you come out of this cocoon of bullshit and fear and tragedy and you can have a connection with someone, or with yourself or nature… that rush is SO good. It’s SO good. And it can fuel you for weeks. Months. It might fuel your whole year. And I think as you get older, if you can focus on staying open to those moments, we will get more of those moments to use, helping us find happiness easier down the road.
So… I think even more happiness will be down the road. I think it’s coming.
I think the more people we know, the more tragedy is bound to fall into our laps. But the more experience we have as well to deal with it. And also the more people we meet to help us through it.
So yeah. I think I’m happy, and I think that everything that I’ve been through in the last few months has helped me realize that I have some pretty fucking awesome people in my life that aren’t afraid… that don’t judge me and who teach me not to judge myself or how I’m feeling. So I can just be ‘me.’
And I can be sensitive: I can cry, I can yell, I can hide in my bedroom for a few days and they won’t rag on me for not going out with them. Yeah… I think that I am happy. I’m happy, and I think that I will continue to be happy because I choose to be. Yeah.
4. What do you think is your greatest strength?
I think coming out of this recent relationship has made me think: ‘what do I have to offer?’ Why does the world need me to be here?
And I think that my greatest strength is possibly… curiosity. Wanting to know more, feel more, be more. It’s like an insatiable desire to be better. And to always be learning and growing. And to be able to – not always, and I’m trying to get better at this – turn off judgement of myself and others in my mind and no matter who the person is, build them up.
OH! Honesty!! That’s what it is. I think my greatest strength is honesty. Yes. It’s being honest with myself and that need to be more honest with people, and being here with them, and giving them 100% of who I am, and just being a real human being. An available human being who is not afraid to carry people when they need to be carried, or ask to be carried when I need to be carried. I think that there’s a lot of great things to who I am, and I’m not afraid to own up to those things. Well, there’s a little insecurity to owning up to it, but that’s one of the things I’m working toward right now, is loving myself and saying ‘I’m awesome because of this reason, this reason and this reason – this is why I was born into the world.’
If I’m not second guessing everything I am and what I bring to the world, then I’m not going to spend all this time and energy being insecure about my choices and what other people think of me, because I know what I am. Maybe it’s a Canadian thing. We’re too polite, and it’s been like bludgeoned into me. I shouldn’t have to feel ashamed to say that I think I’m a great person because I’m honest and curious. I know I have shortcomings.
On the reverse, can you identify a personal challenge (something you currently struggle with)?
I’m currently struggling with faith – faith in… I have to believe that the world can change, otherwise my efforts are futile. But on the other side of the coin, I have this struggle with having faith, and where this all comes from. I’ve never been religious or anything, but for the first time, this year, I’ve really started using the word ‘God.’
And that doesn’t mean a great big guy with whiskers and a robe, and who has a voice like Morgan Freeman or something, but this sort of ‘loving central energy or intelligence that sort of creates’ thing. I do have faith that this is what’s going on, but… I guess the biggest thing I struggle with depends on the day: fear of the unknown. Some days I’m like ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen and I don’t care what’s going to happen, but some days it’s like ‘Oh God, what’s going to happen next?’ Fear of not being loved.
My biggest fear or struggle is that I’d be too afraid to give all of myself to someone again… and not lose who I am. Fear that I’m not good enough for someone else. I think I could be good enough for me… but I just worry about not being good enough for someone else. I’m afraid of hurting someone. I’m afraid of…
I can beat myself up all day, but I’m really afraid of hurting someone else. There’s this song that Ryan Gosling sang in Blue Valentine, and the lyrics that have always stuck with me since I saw it: ‘you only hurt, the ones you love.’ Ugh, it’s so true. And I want everyone to get along and love each other, but the people I love the most… they make me crazy sometimes, and I lose that sense of love for them… I forget that that’s what I’m here for. To not hurt people.
So, that’s the biggest thing I’m struggling with right now is this fear of hurting other people. Especially someone I might be in a relationship with.
5. When did you first realize that you wanted to be an artist? Can you talk about that moment or time in your life?
First time I realized I wanted to be an artist? My dad’s in the RCMP and so we moved around a lot. We moved to a new town in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. I signed up for drama class. It was the first time I’d ever been in a drama class, and then my drama teacher suggested I try out for the school play, and I thought ‘Yeah, that sounds great. Maybe I’ll make more friends there and stuff.’ So I auditioned for this play, and got the role of ‘Donald the Soda Jerk’ in this play called The Nifty Fifties (or Rock around the block).
I had the first line of the play. I don’t remember what it was, but I remember people laughing, and then the light bulb went on. I mean, the lightbulb was kind of starting to flicker before, you know going to rehearsals with my classmates I realized that they were just a bunch of weirdos like me, and I realized that the behaviour that I’d had before was so in line with acting. I thought ‘Oh yeah, this is who I am.’ Then we did the play and people laughed right away, and I just felt like the matrix happen all around me, and I thought, oh my God this is it. I did a play every year after that in school, and then in grade 11 I decided that I was going to move out here to be an actor and take more schooling.
6. Habits, routine, morning rituals — What are the positive things you do daily that have had the most significant impact on your life and work?
Every morning I try to journal 3 pages when I wake up, in one of those Hilroy notebooks or journals, and that usually gets a lot of the bullshit out right off the bat. I can write down my dreams – which I believe have significance. I can ponder those. I can write about what I want. I can write affirmations – what I want from the universe today. And also, I find that writing three pages of anything when I wake up makes me feel good about creating. It makes me feel like I’m being productive right off the bat.
Going for walks also really helps me. I used to do this a lot, and I’m starting to get back into it: going for walks at night; like midnight and beyond. I find that the temperature of the day is just right. Sometimes I talk to trees. I find that trees are sort of these guardian angels of human beings and earth. I feel like they have this wisdom within them and this ancient knowledge. And I feel like they’re protectors. They’re completely selfless. They’re these examples of pure generosity. So, I find that it’s beneficial to me sometimes to go out and acknowledge nature. And be in the peacefulness of the night, because it gives me so much room to think and feel. And the moon is shining as brightly as it is and the stars are out. And recognizing that we all come from star dust, and realizing that I’m connected to those stars out there, and that they’re connected to me, and that we’re made of the same stuff, gives me such a profound sense of bigness, potential, imagination. That is something that’s really positive for me.
And reading at the end of the day is something that really helps me a lot too.
Also watching movies. Really good movies where people are trying to change something. Because the amount of energy that goes into the making of a film is tremendous. You have to really want to tell that story. You really have to want to make a difference somehow. You really have to want to make that film, because it takes a lot of energy. Watching others pour their hearts and souls into telling their stories is really beneficial to me too.
7. How do you deal with doubt? Where do you go for support?
Sometimes it’s a pep talk in the mirror with myself. Affirming certain things to myself. Remembering that I’m not a victim. That I don’t have to be a victim of anything if I don’t want to be.
Using mantras sometimes. Sometimes it’s music. Sometimes I go to music for support. Whenever I’m doubting myself, I feel like I’m judging myself. If I can just find time and a moment and just be a full human being and feel whatever it is that I’m being – listen to a song that reminds me that I’m a human being, then that helps me feel less doubtful.
Again, going out in nature. Connecting to these things makes me feel less doubtful. Doing things for myself and for other people makes me feel less doubtful – more certain of what I can do. But do you know what? I have a lot of great support systems in place. I have a family of great listeners, and I have some fucking amazing friends as well. I’m so glad that I have this great community of artist friends. They know what’s going on. They’re going through the same thing.
And I have mentors. I mean, mentors have just fallen into my life continuously, and I’m incredibly grateful for that as well. I feel like the universe is conspiring in miraculous ways to help me through all this. So, there is a sense of faith in the master plan of everything. I feel really supported.
8. What, in your opinion, are the qualities of someone who is a “great” artist (in whatever discipline)?
Someone who is a great artist is someone who knows that they aren’t going to make a change unless they can be honest with themselves and know that there is a sacrifice that comes along with making the world a better place; with influencing change. You need to be honest with yourself and other people and just be available.
One of my closest friends, and my roommate currently, once told me that as actors we’re sort of the emotional police of the world, and I agree with that in a sense. We’re here to remind people to be human, and say ‘Hey you’re closing off. Be here. Be present with us.’ But I think that by making the choice to be in that position, we also have to be available, and that doesn’t mean that we won’t have our days when we want to be alone, but I think that to be a great artist means taking a risk, a big chance, on yourself and on humanity. You need to trust that there’s more to people than meets the eye.
9. Any advice for artists on a similar path? (Perhaps advice you wish you’d been given when you were first starting out).
Just push your limits. Live a life outside your comfort zone. Know what makes you comfortable and safe so that you can come back to those things and reward yourself for leaving your comfort zone, but always be challenging yourself. And trust that what you bring to the world, your piece of the puzzle – is enough. Trust that you are valuable and that you deserve to be here. And that no one else will be able to live the exact same story or tell the exact same story that you do/can, and that there’s a reason for you being here. Figure out what that is – figure out what you bring to the table and bring it; own it. Bring it!
10. Ever experience flow/being in the zone? What does it feel like for you, and can you tell us about a time when you experienced it?
Oh yeah! Flow, being in the zone, is like… it’s not about becoming another human being. It’s about really truly being yourself. My roommate described this perfectly: lots of actors go into a scene with choices and decisions about where the scene is going and what they should be feeling by the end. But the best feeling is when something unexpected happens that makes you feel a way that you weren’t expecting. But it’s honest and it’s true and it helps tell the story better.
So those moments of flow are less about you trying to do the scene, but those moments when you let the scene do you. Right? Like, trusting. Those moments when it feels like you’re just channelling creation. You’re just a channel for that greater power that is. And it just feels like any moment you’re having in everyday life, when you’re just honestly feeling something… like let’s say a loved one passes away, and you have this tremendous feeling of sorrow. That’s an honest moment. That’s an honest human experience.
So I think just feeling anything like that in your work as an actor is being in the zone. Is just… being present with another human being and empathizing with them, and loving them, or hating them, or being afraid of them. And not judging them. Having no judgement. And it feels like you have wings in those moments. It feels like you are alive. You are just a human being. And for that moment you connect to that undercurrent of positive energy. Whatever God is. And that sense of oneness and you look them in the eyes and you’re one with them for that moment.
Moments I’ve felt it? Here and there.
I remember doing one scene in this one class where I play a man whose wife had just died. She had been abused sexually and murdered by these soldiers in the woods. This man was a business man. A very straight laced dude. And when he was feeling stressed, he would go home and he would put on women’s clothing. And his wife would go out shopping and buy the clothing for him. And would ask him whenever he seemed to be feeling especially afraid or anxious ‘do you want to go to the red address?’ That would mean, do you want to put on your red dress, your high heels and his stockings. So his wife dies and he has this tremendous pain that he’s feeling but he can’t relieve it because he can’t put on this dress for this woman who had no judgement for him. So he hires a prostitute and brings her to a hotel room for the sole reason of asking her if he can wear this red dress for her. At the time, I was still with my girlfriend, and I had imagined – as morbid as it sounds – that this was her. And it was out of a place of love. I loved her so much that losing her would have been… would have destroyed me. So… I just… Something just opened up and I felt – as I was putting on that dress and those stockings – relief because I could finally mourn for this woman that I cared so much about. This was one of those moments that I really started to understand how much I really care about the people in my life. And it was one of those moments of being a real human being with other people. I’d say that was one of those moments.
11. What is/are your favourite book(s)?
I loved the book ‘The Alchemist‘ by Paulo Coelho. I just read another one by him called ‘The Fifth Mountain‘ that’s also really good. It’s about struggle and the struggles you go through in your life and how there’s a reason for that.
Oh! And this book I read last year called ‘Hey Nostradamus!‘ by Douglas Coupland.
There’s also a book that I read in high school that really sparked my imagination, and that was ‘Enders Game.’ It was an incredible book for me as a young lad – what I remember of the book is that it was about loss of innocence. It was about growing up and doing really difficult things under unbelievable amounts of pressure. It was about believing in yourself and making difficult decisions – coming to terms with decisions you’ve made after you’ve realized their impacts on people. I’ll have to go back and read that one again.
IMDB: Jeff Evans Todd
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