Indigenous Roots and Facing Fears: Cara Gee Stars in The Call of the Wild
Cara Gee stars as Francoise in the new film adaptation of Jack London 1903 novel The Call of the Wild. The Canadian actress works with the Buck [a CGI dog that is performed by a human, you have to read more below!] as she leads a mail-delivery dog sled team with pal Perrault, played by French star Omar Sy. Risen sat down to talk with Gee about her own indigenous roots, facing fears, and how expecting her first child is changing the way she sees this movie.
Interviewed for Risen Magazine in Beverly Hills, California
Risen Magazine: What do you hope audiences take away from your character?
Cara Gee: I’m an indigenous woman, I’m Ojibwe. I’m from Toronto, and that’s the area where my people are indigenous to. And in the film, I’m portraying a Tlingit women, that’s the nation that exists in that geography, and they basically invented dog sledding, that’s where that tradition comes from. So, I worked with a cultural advisor from the Tlingit nation whose granny was a musher, or a dogsledder, in the 1920s and ’30s. So, that’s a real tradition that was important to me to honor and respect, and to integrate that story into the larger tradition of The Call of the Wild was something that I felt really proud to do. When I was growing up, to see a woman staring in a movie like this, in this way is… I feel that responsibility, and that pride, and that is very important to me, and to hopefully inspire others to dream big.
RM: Because of your cultural background, and lack of representation on screen, how does it make you feel about playing your role?
CG: It is a responsibility that I am keenly aware of, and the rarity of a moment like this is not lost on me. I think it is really special, and I feel so lucky to be here and to be a part of this. I’ve worked really hard. There’s sort of certain stereotypes and ideas that people have about native people that you end up having to confront, and work through, and change people’s perception as you go perhaps. But my granny used to say “You can only change the world one person at a time.” And I think that’s very wise.
And so I feel like for me, it’s all about telling this story, and any project I take on. You can’t necessarily feel like you’re doing it with the weight of that representation on your shoulders. You have to just do the work, and do it to the very best of your ability, that’s how I feel. So yeah, that’s how I represent, and how I hopefully will open doors for the next generation as the women who have come before me have.
RM: After you almost drowned in the frozen lake, that night you invite Buck into the tent, what was the real deeper meaning of that?
CG: Well, I think that in the story that is a huge turning point for Françoise and her relationship to Buck. You know, she kind of has thought of him as less capable until that point. She’s not sold on him as a sled dog sled. Françoise isn’t sure yet, but certainly he earns her respect and love, and in a major way. You know, she owes him her life, so there’s a kind of kinship that blossoms between them there. It is a coming of age story really, centered around her dog, but we place ourselves in the dog’s position, and sort of identify with him as our hero. I think that looking at the tradition of the story, my role, my function in this story, is to be a springboard for Buck to bounce off of, to become his better version of himself.
RM: Why do you think it’s important to trust the people you’re around in close quarters?
CG: I think that trust is earned, and I think that’s what we see in this. I think there is a sense of history between Perrault and Françoise that you feel that there is a camaraderie and a sense of trust between them. But she doesn’t have that for Buck at the top. She doesn’t trust him until he earns it, and I think that that’s a worthy lesson too.
RM: Can you speak about the filming of that particular scene when you’re rescued? Technology enables us to have a very different sense of what you must’ve had on set as you were filming it.
CG: I would love to talk about it. Yeah, it was wild. I actually became a certified scuba diver to do that scene and I worked one-on-one with a man named Casey who is a former Navy SEAL and a dive master too, what an amazing opportunity. And it’s so rare to actually do something that is legitimately kind of scary. I was not a swimmer, I never opened my eyes underwater before this. I wear contacts, so, I had to confront all of those fears, and push past that. I was under water for a long time, I would get set up under water with the regulator in my mouth, then they would call action, and I would ditch the regulator. It was really wild. I had an amazing stunt double named Hannah who also did some of the takes, and we were shooting at the same time. It was really an incredible experience.
RM: Are you in a pool, or a tank?
CG: In a shipping container full of water, [Laughter] in Santa Clarita, so it was big. It was actually really hot out when we shot that scene, so the water was refreshing, and in fact when we wrapped for the day Omar [Sy] took off his microphone and jumped in the water with me. It was so hot out, we had to really pretend.
RM: Did you find working with so much CGI, Buck being a person instead of a real dog, challenging or helpful?
CG: Terry Notary played Buck, and he did the Planet of the Apes films, he also worked with Cirque du Soleil. So, he’s physically incredibly talented. When he runs on all fours, if you see it in your peripheral vision, you’d think it was a dog. But definitely when I got the part I was like, “Oh, I’m going to have to look this grown man in the face.” But he was so committed and I could look in his eyes, and believe what he was doing, believe in him. So, all of that soulfulness that we feel from Buck in the film is because of Terry’s acting ability.
RM: Are you a dog person? Did you have dog’s growing up?
CG: No, I didn’t have a dog. My husband wants a dog very badly and we were talking about getting one, and now we’re going to have a baby first. [Points to pregnant belly]
RM: So, as you’re about to have a child, how do you feel about making something you can watch with kids as a whole family?
CG: Well that’s sort of taken on a whole new meaning for me now because I wasn’t pregnant when we shot it. So, now it definitely has taken on a depth of meaning, especially looking at the reverence for the natural world that we see in this and thinking about the next generation. Protecting the environment for that next generation is something that I think the film speaks to in an indirect way. We just get to experience the majesty of it, and hopefully that inspires some deeper respect.
The Call of the Wild opens in theatres on February 21