Alumni Interviews: Montana Norberg Knows The Ways of the Force

Alumni Interviews: Montana Norberg Knows The Ways of the Force

Montana is an alum of Vancouver Acting School’s Acting for Film & Television diploma program.

It’s massive to be taught by people who’ve been where you’re at and who know what it’s like to be on hold, to cancel work, to go into auditions, and who can speak based on work they’re doing right now, not just from roles they booked years ago.” – Montana Norberg

You voiced Padme in Lego Star Wars. How did that happen?

I booked Star Wars two and a half years after graduating the 6-month Acting diploma program. That year was crazy for voiceover auditions. I had just auditioned for a Barbie cartoon as well, so when my agent called me, I thought I’d booked Barbie. But it was Star Wars instead. Crazy! I’m a bigger Lego fan than I am a Star Wars fan, so that was a lot of fun. I actually recorded the mp3 for Star Wars in Vancouver Acting School’s voiceover booths with former fellow student Jeff Todd. That’s why I love that place, we can continue to use the facilities and produce these amazing quality mp3s.

When did you know you wanted to be an actor?

When I first told my mom I wanted to go to film school, she reminded me of something that happened when I was a kid. I don’t remember it, but apparently she found me behind the TV one day and she asked me what I was doing. I told her I was trying to figure out how to get inside because I wanted to be on TV.

What TV shows inspired you when you were younger?

I remember watching the Olsen twins on Full House and thinking, I could do that. I started watching other sitcoms like Friends, which I was probably too young for but I just loved how the characters made people laugh. That was really attractive to me. When I was twelve or thirteen, my sister, her friends and I would stay home on Saturday nights and watch Saturday Night Live, and between commercial breaks, we would re-enact the skits and add our own little improvisational flair. Then we would videotape our own version of American Idol. I’m sure we’d roll our eyes at it now, but we’d watch it months later and laugh our heads off.

So you started gearing up for a comedy career early.

Well, I grew up in Williams Lake, BC so there wasn’t much else to do! I had a friend with an amazing costume trunk, and we would dress up and do skits. Eventually, I got involved in musical theatre. But being a small town, you never heard of anyone going on to do film or moving to Vancouver to do anything in the arts. Then our family moved to Nelson, which is a really artsy town, but I didn’t really want to move so I kind of shut down my arts interests and focused on soccer instead. By the time I got to high school, I wanted to become a makeup artist. That’s what I originally moved to Vancouver for.

What re-kindled your interest in pursuing an acting career?

When I got to Vancouver, a friend who was attending Vancouver Acting School invited me to check it out. Honestly, growing up in small towns, I didn’t see acting as a real career option. Especially since most of my experience had been in musical theatre. But I attended an audition class for fun and all of my childhood excitement came flooding back. Being surrounded by the friends I had, it quickly became clear to me that a career in film and television comedy was a real thing and that Vancouver Acting School would be a fantastic place to train.

What part of your training stands out strongest?

I fell in love with voiceover work at Vancouver Acting School, which is a big part of the Acting diploma program, and pursued voice acting quite strongly after I graduated. I jumped onto Voice123 online, started putting up mp3s, had some Skype auditions. The first few jobs didn’t pay fantastically, but they were important steps. One of my first gigs was a car dealership radio ad and they paid me $75, and I was like, “What, really? Amazing!” I thought, I’m actually getting paid for this!

That validation early in your career must have been huge.

Totally. That was about three months after I graduated. And I just kept hustling really hard. I got a voiceover agent before film agent, and quickly booked my first cartoon, then a few radio ads. Then along came Padme.

Did booking Star Wars open up other opportunities?

Well, booking any role can open doors, but that was a really cool booking because I got in the room. And as anyone who’s into voiceover knows, you nerd out on successful voice actors like Tara Strong and others, especially the big Vancouver actors. And suddenly, I’m working with those people. It’s a funny story, on day one, my agent actually drove me to the wrong place for the recording session. But it was great because I wasn’t nervous, I was so preoccupied with just showing up on time. And when I got there, there were twelve people in the room, and they start introducing themselves and I’m thinking, “I know you, I know so much about you!”

Do you feel your training prepared you to work alongside actors you looked up to?

Absolutely. It gave me the confidence to know I deserved to be in that room. I was working with actors I admired and that I was excited to be with, but the disciplines we learned helped me focus on the fact that we’re all doing the same thing. We’re all working the same show. Don’t get me wrong, you’re still really excited to be doing this, but it turns into a different kind of excitement. You’re confident, you’re prepared, you and know what to do next, rather than just nervously wing it and hope for the best.

Have you got any personal projects on the go that you’re excited about?

I work with a fantastic sketch group called Urban Jester alongside Scott Patey and Ed Witzke, two huge Vancouver talents who also teach at Vancouver Acting School. About two years after I graduated, even though I had an agent and was booking auditions, I really wanted to do comedy and Scott and Ed knew that. So they invited me to one of their writer’s rooms where I was one of the only girls on the team. In the beginning, I would listen and pitch in. Eventually I threw in my own sketches and had the opportunity to produce one I’d written.

I’ve seen Urban Jester on YouTube. It’s really funny!

We’re really proud of it.

What are some of the big challenges you’ve faced as a professional actor?

Well, look at me. I’m a medium-height, medium-weight, brunette woman in her twenties. So there’s a lot of “me” out there. Finding an agent was hard in the beginning. There were times when I was really broke. I went through all the questions and self-doubts about whether the training was worth it or if I’d ever work. I’ve had to schedule my sleep at different times or I just didn’t get any. Same stuff a lot of actors go through.

What kept you going?

I guess I’ve just never loved anything this much. And having busted through those moments, I’m also at a place where I’ve seen my work pay off so it’s much easier to keep going. I believe strongly in self-development as well, and I read a lot of things that move me in that direction.

And now I hear you’re preparing to run a marathon.

When you’re auditioning all the time, it’s easy to think your future is entirely in someone else’s hands – producers, agents, whoever. So I decided to train for the BMO marathon happening this April. I think it’s a great idea to have a hobby that’s not related to your job, which is tough because acting is so fun. But it’s really important to have pursuits that aren’t related to acting, to have friends that aren’t in the business. I love running because it’s just me, it’s just mine. Which is very empowering. It kicks my butt out of bed in the morning, I journal about it. It’s what keeps me sane.

Sounds like your family has played a big role keeping you going.

They’ve been very supportive. I’m the middle child in a blended family. I think there was a small part of my mom that hoped I would go to university and get a degree. But more than anything, she wanted me to be happy doing something I loved. That’s huge. Sometimes I forget that not everyone’s parents are like that, so I’m very lucky that way.

How important is it to have ongoing support from your teachers and fellow students after you graduate?

I’ve had to battle a lot of doubts, every actor does. Some of the biggest and best support I’ve had has come from my teachers and fellow students, and it started right at the beginning of my program at Vancouver Acting School. It’s massive, just how much everyone continues to encourage and believe in one another. To be taught by people who’ve been where you’re at and who know what it’s like to be on hold, to cancel work, to go into auditions, and who can speak based on work they’re doing right now, not just from roles they booked years ago. They get it, they’re living it. And sometimes their support comes in the form of tough love and calling you on your excuses, at least from the teachers I appreciated most. They help keep us focused and accountable. Some schools seem to be all about getting students and their money, but it’s so clear that isn’t their motivation. And that’s everything.

What advice would you give someone who’s thinking about pursuing a career in acting?

Above all, do it! Get training and make the most of being surrounded by like-minded and passionate people, because there’s really no other time in your life that you get that. Look for opportunities, take advantage of them when they come, because they will come. Don’t say no, even though you might think you’re not ready, or it’s not the right time, or you can’t take that job because you have to work. Keep that fire inside you burning!

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