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Tales of a triple threat

Jennifer Copping on screen vs. stage, and two Mother’s Day projects
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Stage and screen actress, Jennifer Copping.

It’s a not unheard-of scenario in the acting biz: You book a primo recurring gig on a popular show. One day, after a great run, you flip open the latest script and discover that you’re going to be killed off.

At first, you’re demoralized – and that feeling only increases when you discover that they expect you to play corpse for a couple of scenes after your character’s demise.  

But it doesn’t have to be demoralizing, or even a negative experience at all.

In fact, Jennifer Copping – one of Vancouver’s busiest screen and stage actresses – counts not one but two corpse experiences among the most cherished memories of her career.

In the first season of FX’s Fargo (spoiler alert), after Copping’s character meets an untimely demise, Lester and Lloyd – portrayed by Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton – converse over her bullet-ridden corpse.

“I got to basically spend the rest of the day on the floor watching Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman act,” the prolific actress recalls over tea in Kitsilano. “It was like a master class.”

That memory is right up there with another glorious moment that was repeated over and over again, when Copping performed in Les Miserables alongside musical theatre legend Michael Burgess.

“When I died at the barricades every show, eight times a week, I would position myself so I could have my eyes open and watch him sing,” recalls Copping of the late Burgess, who portrayed Jean Valjean. “It made me cry every time. He was so beautiful, so committed. Watching him was a master class, too.”

This theme of master class – of seizing every opportunity to learn and grow, even when you’re playing dead – recurs in Copping’s story, from her earliest beginnings to her current status as a highly regarded actress of both screen and stage.

It’s been a busy last few years for Copping. In 2015 alone, Copping dazzled as Jesus in the Arts Club’s production of Godspell, as well as in a very different type of role in Rumble Theatre’s Indian Arm.

On the screen front, her recent credits include When Calls the Heart, Becoming Redwood, Fargo, Motive, Continuum, Supernatural, iZombie, Paranormal Solutions Inc.and Mother of All Lies.

Copping’s story begins on the Sunshine Coast. At four years old, she stepped into a Sechelt dance studio and discovered her second home; as a young teen, her family relocated to Vancouver so that she could sign with an agent.

She was soon studying singing and musical theatre in addition to dance. Acting was a natural progression from there, says Copping – which is “funny, because acting is where I feel seen. Of the three that I do, it’s the one where I think you get to see all of me.”

At 16, Copping headed to PEI to understudy the titular role in Anne of Green Gables. Two years later, she was off to Toronto to understudy Eponine in Les Miserables. Her 19th birthday fell on opening night.

Around the same time, Copping was getting her first taste of the film and television sphere. She danced in an episode of 21 Jump Street where the leads infiltrated a performing arts high school, and followed up with a speaking part on Booker.

“By the time I was 19, I’d had a crazy experience,” says Copping. “I wish I’d bought a condo back then. I bought leather pants and a vacuum.”

Since those crazy early days, Copping has glided back and forth between stage and screen.

She’s never felt like she had to pick one medium over the other, or even that they’re all that different from one another.

“[In theatre], the audience can’t get right in your face and in your eyes like they can in the camera, but the process for me is the same. The only things that I have to alter sometimes are energy and vocal levels,” says Copping. On TV and film sets, “the audience is in that camera.”

She continues to make time for coaching, teaching, and mentoring – as well as for working on her own craft. Copping advises her acting students to do the same.

“Don’t ever think that you’re done with class,” says Copping. “You can always keep learning. It’s there for you. It’s your church as an artist.”

Copping is currently filming a role in the upcoming vampire-centric Van Helsing television series. She also crops up in #whatwillyousay, a viral video that hit the web last week in time for Mother’s Day.

Produced by Vancouver’s Echo Storytelling, the emotional video features Vancouverites from all walks of life speaking about their mothers; Copping appears in the video reflecting on the role that her late mother continues to play in her life (her oldest son appears, too).

And given Copping’s status as a crossover artist extraordinaire, is it any surprise that she’ll be spending part of her Mother’s Day on stage, appearing in Laughing Matters Theatre Company’s Motherhood Out Loud at BMO Theatre Centre? Tickets at VancouverTix.com

MORE FROM JENNIFER COPPING

On advice she’d give to a younger version of herself: “If you make a hundred grand in a year, put some money down on a place, especially if you’re still living at home. And keep your family close. They’ll always be more important than your career. Balance. Always check in. Where’s your balance in your life?”

On the play that she’s currently writing: “I’m attempting to write a play with a friend. I’m going to say it in print so it’ll keep us going. We are definitely in process, and it’s been very exciting. I did an interview last year where I said that’s something I’ve never attempted but would like to do, and now, a year later, I’m doing it. It’s putting your money where your mouth is.”

On whether or not she’d recommend an acting career to her children: “Definitely, with back-up, with things that you can do on the side – like I do. I coach actors. I have little side businesses. I’m getting into directing. I direct theatre and I’m going to direct a short film sometime this summer [it’s her first time directing for the camera].”

On the role that mentorship plays in her life: “Through the years, I’ve definitely had mentors, and I’ve learned how to be one. I’ve learned the importance of them, so I often have one or two people that I’m mentoring in my life now. This is something that I just do as a way of giving back for me. I feel like I’ve always, through the years, had mentors. They were usually women who I was working with in the theatre and the film world who were maybe ten years older than me: just that much ahead that I could see the things that I wanted to replicate in my life.”

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