She plays the time-travelling Erica Strange on CBC’s Being Erica, reliving past regrets. But personally, Erin Karpluk will take a pass on any do-overs. From her small town Alberta upbringing to this year’s potentially career-making role, she
wouldn’t change a thing.
It’s Jasper, Alberta in the late 1980s and Erin Karpluk—10 years old and with unstoppable determination—is riding an ancient bicycle through the snow to deliver copies of the Jasper Booster. With 32 customers, she has the largest paper route in the Rocky Mountain resort town. It takes her six months to save up for her own television; the one that her parents flatly reject and the one that she, just as flatly, insists on having.
It wouldn’t be the last time their daughter’s will would prevail.
When she has accumulated $400 in earnings, the girl marches down to the local Home Hardware store and puts her money down on her new TV. “I quit my paper route and sat in my room for two years and watched,” Karpluk remembers, only half-joking about her childhood fixation on Three’s Company re-runs.
Karpluk, BFA ’00, relates all of this as she sips her way through a late Sunday afternoon tea at a table in Jitters, a West 4th Avenue café. The Kitsilano neighbourhood has been her adopted home since coming to the city eight years ago to carve out a career in television and film.
It has proven to be a wise move. Her resume is now filled with gradually more prominent roles, but none has given her the chance to test her versatility more than the part of Erica Strange, the single-and-seeking Torontonian in CBC Television’s dramatic comedy, Being Erica. With the aid of a mysterious therapist, the over-qualified and under-achieving Erica is able to revisit regrettable, often painful episodes of her past in order to put her present circumstances in perspective.
It’s one of the most highly acclaimed Canadian-produced programs to come along in some time and it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Karpluk in the leading role. She has comedic charm. When the part demands dramatic depth, she brings it. And her natural good looks stand in welcome contrast to the polished glitz and glamour of American stars. In short, she represents—at the risk of sounding stereotypical—the friendly, likable all-Canadian woman.
After Being Erica’s premiere in January, a Globe and Mail review called Karpluk’s performance “magnificent, superbly effective.” When it debuted on ABC’s Soapnet cable network in the US, a New York Times review applauded the series’ “willingness to portray single womanhood as something beyond a sum of consumer choices” and said that it “feels (like) the right kind of counterprogramming to balance the mood of the moment.”
There weren’t any drama classes or high school productions in a town the size of Jasper. So Karpluk grew up the “hugest tomboy” who had a painful dental incident involving a waterslide. When she declared her intentions to play left wing for the Bantam AA boys hockey team, her dad the railroader and her mom the high school principal reacted the way a lot of parents would: “They said, ‘Oh please God, don’t play hockey!’” she recalls, laughing. “I wasn’t very good at stickhandling and I would definitely get suicide passes from the defence. The first day, I looked up and someone hit me. Wham! It was so much fun though.”
The acting bug didn’t really bite until Grade 11 when she and her classmates took part in an emergency response drill for volunteer firefighters. The students had to pretend to be victims in a car crash.
“They said, the more real you make it, the more it’ll benefit the emergency teams. So when they said go, I just got right into it. I remember my guidance counselor saying, ‘Erin, are you okay? Are you okay?’ The next day in school he came up to me and said, ‘You should be an actor!’ That was the first time in my life I thought, oh my God, maybe… So the door opened” and led to UVic.
It was a simple mistake on Telereg, the old course registration-by-phone service, that landed her in the Theatre Department. She really just wanted to take a single acting class but wound up in the full program. “My mom was like, ‘The hell you are!’ and I remember walking across from the Trutch residence for my first day of acting class and thinking to myself, Holy shit, I don’t know how to act! I think I had my first grown up panic attack. All the people that were there were stars in their high school plays. But I thought, why not try it for a year, and it just kept going from there.”
Wouldn’t Change a Thing | 2 | 3 | 4