"Happiness is hearing my two year old start to put thoughts together, and start to express himself and be heard. We all just want to be heard."
About Jennifer May Copping
Jennifer Copping is a singer, a director, an accomplished actor, a mother of two boys, and the wife of filmmaker Jesse James Miller.She won the Leo Award for Best Lead Performance by a Female in a Motion Picture for the 1970s-era coming-of-age story ‘Becoming Redwood’. She recently directed David Lindsay Abaire’s ” Good People,” and currently starring in Hiro Kanagawa’s Indian Arm at the Rumble Theatre.
1. What is the force that drives you forward? What fuels your ambition?
Family is a huge source of fuel for my artistic drive, because I find that when I’m creatively fuelled, I’m also willing to give more to my family. It just means more time management, but I’m definitely a much happier person when I’m working on a project – to be honest, I’m usually working on three at a time.
I’m just a multitasker by nature. I’m a gemini. I’m a really deep thinking, feeling person. I always connect the dots. That’s why acting’s perfect for me. I love to look at what I can bring of myself into a role, and how brave and vulnerable I can be. And that’s exactly where I’m heading right now with this project.
You mentioned three different projects. Are you acting in all three?
What I mean by that is that I always have a play that I’m dreaming about doing – if I’m on the directing side I’m putting out feelers out to actors or spaces. I also have projects that I am going after as an actor myself. And then I invariably have a job; a movie coming up, or a voice job, or an audition (which is also a huge part of my job). I just feel like I always have a lot of balls in the air.
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).
Well, I don’t think relationships when you’re young that don’t work out are necessarily failures, but they definitely show you a road when you look back on them (as you get older) of choices you made, and people you chose to be in your life – to be a partner with – that may have not been for the right reasons, or may have been because you had things to work out from childhood. I very whole heartedly acknowledge that those relationships I had are what brought me to my current relationship, which is with my husband of 16 years.
I tended to be attracted to addictive personalities in any form. He’s not that. He’s a very grounded and communicative person. If I had not gone through what I went through with other relationships, I might not have realized I needed that. So, I was really lucky to find him. And he supports my artistic life too. We have a great family, but he also gives me the space I need to do my art, and I try to give that back to him too (he’s a filmmaker. A writer and director).
But then we get to the biggest problem in my life right now, which is that there really aren’t enough hours in the day, so I need someone to deal with that for me. I need 30 hour days a couple days a week.
3. Are you happy? What does happiness mean to you?
Happiness is hearing my two year old start to put thoughts together, and start to express himself and be heard. We all just want to be heard.
When I’m heard – when I allow myself to speak my truth and it’s accepted even when it’s ugly – that’s when I’m happy. When I’m not speaking my truth – when I’m pushing down my feelings, or trying to be everything for everyone — then I’m not happy.
Happiness is painful. Happiness requires bravery. And happiness isn’t all the time. You’re not always happy, and I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
I woke up, and I was depressed yesterday morning. I was walking around this kitchen, and thought:
What am I feeling?
I’m feeling depressed.
Why? Life is great.
Well, I’m still depressed.
I acknowledged it, and moved on.
How did you move yourself out of it?
I had to make lunch for my son. I had some lines to learn. I had to get to class. Life moves on, and then you get through it. I’m lucky that I’m able to get through it.
4. What do you think is your greatest strength?
I think I’m a good listener. I enjoy giving people space to talk. Sometimes I get stuck in my own voice, so listening becomes an exercise in really focusing in on someone else. That’s probably my biggest strength.
On the reverse, can you identify a personal challenge (something you currently struggle with)?
I was going to say confidence… which isn’t something I’d normally have said.
I’ve been doing a lot of work for this role that I’m preparing for, and I’ve been wondering if I don’t always tell myself the truth – that I’m as confident as I think I am. I’m not totally sure if that’s the right answer – if that’s the truth – but I’m definitely looking at that. Is it okay to not be confident? Do I think that’s a failure?
In a day-to-day thing it goes back to feeling like I don’t have enough time. I don’t feel like I have enough time to accomplish everything that I want to – enough time to give everything to my family and to my art that I want to give. It’s hard. I feel angry, like I want to be more selfish. I just want to find a way to be more selfish. So I’m working on that too, which is also strange.
But then I feel guilty if I’m selfish. That’s where the trick is.
How are you balancing everything. How do you choose what you do in a day?
First of all, I base it around what my kids need and what my husband needs from me. And then whatever time is left over is mine. I’m just trying not to work from fear.
A big source of fear for me is that I’m not going to be able to learn my lines when I get a role. I get really worried about lines. So I’m trying to give myself an hour a day, if I can squeeze it. Sometimes more. Yesterday it was two hours. And then I’m working on being selfish about not taking anything on during that time. That seems to be working. I just can’t have a whole day ever, and I want to.
5. When did you first realize that you wanted to be an artist? Can you talk about that moment or time in your life?
Very young. I used to make a joke that I think I came out of the womb singing and dancing. He [motioning to her son] is like that.
I just always loved to get people’s attention; sing for them, dance for them, and make them laugh. But I think when I really, really knew that it was more than just a job – that it was a passion – was when I realized that I wanted to direct. That’s when it all came together. When you’re the person spearheading the creation with other people, and you see the bigness of it and realize that you are just apart of it… that’s when I really went ‘okay this is being an artist.’
It’s not just showing up and doing your part. But when you’re only an actor, you don’t always totally get that. It feels like it’s all about you… but it’s not. That takes the pressure off in a way.
When did you realize that you wanted to direct?
Probably in my mid-twenties… that’s when I started to get that urge. I started with teaching. I was asked to teach a couple of classes and that was scary. I thought ‘what do I know?’ But they convinced me that I should try it and that I did know a lot. And then I realized that they were right. I did know a lot. I had a lot to offer. And so it went from there: classes, to private coaching, to I’m going to try directing – and I co-directed something with my friend who was in the same place; feeling that urge but also feeling a little bit afraid. That was great. We did it together, and after that we just branched out on our own things. I’ve directed 6 or 7 plays now.
This year is my year to be on stage, and next year I’ll direct again.
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?
Exercise. I want say eat right and drink 8 glasses of water, and all those things you’re supposed to do, but I’m not always great with that. I have my times.
Exercise is my thing. It’s the thing I need to keep me sane in my head. It’s also where I go when I have an audition. I’ll get on the stair-master and I’ll learn my lines. It all goes in when I’m being physical – I think that comes from my dancing background and learning choreography. I need the physical rhythm for the lines to make sense.
7. How do you deal with doubt? Where do you go for support?
I’ve always done musical theatre, I’ve always been involved in the theatre, but working on straight plays as opposed to musicals has been a source of fear for me. So I guess a good example of me facing my own fears and doubts about my abilities is related to what this year looks like for me.
When I was asked to audition for this play that I’m about to do, I felt the fear come up. I had a perfect excuse not to go – I’d been cast in a movie and I was learning those lines and we were starting shooting 5 days later, and I’d also just been cast in a musical for the summer (I’m doing Godspell at the Art’s Club. So I kind of felt like I had every reason not to go. I thought ‘Yeah, I’ll pass. I don’t need to put myself through that.’
But then I decided not to let myself off the hook.
I’m so glad that I didn’t. They offered me a role. We start rehearsal in 2 weeks, and that’s what I’ve been diving into recently. I’m proud of myself. It’s a definite fear of mine, and I’m just facing it by doing whatever it is that I need to do.
I’m in class twice a week right now, working on all the stuff — the triggers — that I’m going to need. I’m working hard. It feels like I’m in school, and it’s been really, really fun.
Can you remember your first pay cheque that you received as an actor?
I think it was a commercial for Pharmasave. I was hired as a dancer. It was really fun. I’m still friends with a lot of those people.
How did that feel? To get that call? The first one.
Oh! So exciting. I still jump up and down – I do the happy dance. I love working. And it’s great to get some acknowledgement for what you love doing, and pay.
8. What, in your opinion, are the qualities of someone who is a “great” artist (in whatever discipline)?
I’m really inspired by writers right now. I’ve never been brave enough to sit down and try, and I think that’s something I’m going to force myself to do in the future. I want to face that fear.
The discipline it takes to be a writer, I think, is remarkable. It inspires me as an actor, because I see how lazy we can be.
With acting you can wait until the phone rings, you can pick up the script and learn it as much as you feel like learning it. I mean, you can be as lazy as you want… or you can work as hard as you want. But with writing, it’s just not going to get written unless you sit down every day and write it.
I see that as a guide, because I need to meet those writers half way. I need to be ready when they write that brilliant work, and really dig into it; really honour it. That’s why I love script analysis – you’re honouring the writer who sat there for maybe a year of their life, every day, and wrote a script for you to act. It’s pretty amazing. The writers inspire me to be a better actor.
I’m trying to incorporate that same discipline into my life by finding that hour or two to do whatever work I need to be doing – whether it’s learning lines, working on a monologue, making notes about back story, and so on.
What’s the work that you find yourself putting off the most? The one that you really have to motivate yourself to do?
It’s the learning lines part. You just have to crunch it out. Do it again. Do it again. Do it again. I find that tedious and hard… but I think everyone does.
9. Any advice for artists on a similar path? (Perhaps advice you wish you’d been given when you were first starting out).
Ask questions. Challenge yourself. Stay in class. Ask someone you admire to go for a coffee. There’s always mentorship programs starting, but if you’re not someone who is lucky enough to get a spot, just do it anyways.
I’ve been mentoring two people on and off for the last two years, and it’s not within the programs that are available. I think all you have to do is ask, and you’ll find that there are a lot of resources available to you. If you want to know how they got to where they are, ask them. Also, find the people that you admire and emulate them.
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! All the time. Well, I wish all the time. I guess that’s really the goal.
I think one of the biggest gifts I’ve had as an artist is being given opportunities to play roles over long periods of time in musical theatre. I’ve done four productions that were all a year or more long. With those, you can either phone it in or you can (when you’re up for it, and obviously there are days when it’s hard when you’re doing that long of a contract) try to find something new in the performance every time. Even a small thing: noticing something different on stage, or directing a line to someone in a different way – using a different objective. It doesn’t have to be much. Just one or two little things can make you feel such a sense of accomplishment.
When you’re not in a long contract, how do you still do that? It’s probably connected to realizing that you don’t always need to be working on something new. You can pick up a monologue from two years ago and find something new because of a loss you’ve had, or a relationship that has ended. There’s always something in your day that you can put into your work that wasn’t there the day before. It’s a cool way to prevent yourself from ever getting bored of the work you’re doing.
When you pick up one of these year contracts (I guess they probably somewhat come out of no where), how do you weave your life around them?
It’s crazy. Our oldest was only 2 1/2 when I got the call that I got Jersey Boys. We had to move to Toronto with 10 days notice. We moved our entire life there for 15 months.
How do you navigate that, or allow for that flexibility in your life? Have you had to open yourself up to the possibility of constant change?
Again, that was an audition that I resisted, and that I didn’t say yes to 2 or 3 times after it was presented to me. But something was pulling me, and I just knew that it was a role that I was supposed to play, and that I should go after it. And that’s what I did. But I don’t always go after everything, because I can’t always.
11. What is your favourite book? It could be about your craft, or maybe just an excellent story. If that is too difficult to answer, who are your favourite authors?
I love Intent to Live by Larry Moss. I just think it’s an amazing book and an incredible tool for an actor, or a human being. I also love all the Doctor Seuss books. Having kids has reminded me of the greatness of those words and the wisdom in there.
Follow Jennifer May Copping
Jennifer will be appear in the play ‘Indian Arm’ at The Rumble Theatre on April 8th — LEARN MORE
Loved This Interview? Want More?
As a subscriber you’ll get that month’s interviews, stories, and Creative Life updates right to your inbox.
You Can Also Follow Us By:
FOLLOWING US ON
Failures, Breakthroughs, and Bravery
Are you in Vancouver? Join us for the first Creative Life event on Wednesday, April 8th!
Latest posts by Creative Life Interview (see all)
- “It’s a pins and needles feeling… only it’s my heart” — a conversation with Diana Carson-Walker - January 21, 2016
- “It will get better in time. Don’t give up on your dreams, because you’ll go far if you believe in yourself” – a conversation with Jenny Story - November 10, 2015
- “There’s this connection that happens when you write something you want down, and make it tangible in the world” – a conversation with Daniel Scherl - November 3, 2015