Cover Story: Rosemary Dunsmore

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Cover Story: Rosemary Dunsmore

By Cece Scott

Rosemary Dunsmore, award-winning actress of stage, film and the small screen, was frazzled and stressed out when I met up with her. After living in her funky Rose Cottage that overlooks a beautiful, forested ravine for the past 27 years, Dunsmore was on the move – literally and figuratively. Initially, when she made the decision to sell her home, a range of emotions, which involved her self-worth and self-esteem, all seemed to be tied up in the very thing that she was separating from.

Photo, Chris Frampton

“Selling the house was a hasty decision,” says Dunsmore. “I made the decision and then was quite frightened. My identity was wrapped up in this house – it was my personal sense of cool. I brought up my son, Rob, now 23, in this house. And I have been through two marriages here as well.”

Once Dunsmore recognized that her angst was separation anxiety, she was able to embrace the act of cleansing and decluttering – a ritual that she likens to ageing, as well as to the anticipation of the next chapter. “Every time I get rid of a load, I feel lighter – not so bound to my stuff. I remembered that old adage, do you possess your possessions or do they possess you?”

Character Development

Dunsmore, who has been acting since the age of 21, describes herself as a Pollyanna, and admits to being a fan of Pippi Lonstocking. She identifies most with characters who change during the course of the story, and whose moral compasses are challenged. At a young age, Dunsmore auditioned for the Stratford Festival’s then-artistic director, Christopher Newton, who said to her, ‘You are the sort of actress who won’t start working until you are 28.”

Having fun with her son, Rob, on a trip to Galapagos in 2008. Photography, courtesy of Rosemary Dunsmore

Dunsmore says that Newton’s prediction was bang on. She was never the wounded deer who needed to be helped. She inherently wanted more depth and complexity to the roles that she performed. “Acting is an inside/out job,” says Dunsmore. “In developing a character, I concern myself with what they see. And with a bigger push to tell women’s stories, roles for women are getting incrementally better. There are certainly more women writing stories and more women directors.”

For many actors, especially women, finding decent parts are harder to come by. In fact, there was a period of about six years when Dunsmore, who is now 64, felt sidelined – that her acting career was over. The 40s and 50s didn’t rattle her so much, but turning 60 did. “It was a wakeup call – 60 sounded so old,” says Dunsmore. “I couldn’t relate to it. But, it also focused me – made me think about doing things in the now. It became liberating. My whole paradigm of thinking shifted. There was a bit of a slump after turning 60, but since then my life has been fantastic.”

With her father, Bob, in Montserrat (where he has a house) in 2012. Bob is now 97. Photography, courtesy of Rosemary Dunsmore

The Role of Aging

Acting roles have been moving along an innovative clip for Dunsmore over the past few years. She currently plays a recurring role in the Canadian science fiction television series, Orphan Black. For the very first time, Dunsmore took on a singing role in the Stratford Festival’s 2016 adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s musical, A Little Night Music. “I had to go on stage every night holding my fear in my hand,” says Dunsmore. “I was terrified. For the first five months I just learned bad habits, but, from there on in, I learned how to sing. I was thrilled with the opportunity and also the fact that I was able to do it – not just at some small theatre, but at the Stratford Festival.”

Dunsmore loves working in films and television, but her favourite discipline is live theatre. She admits that she’s noticed a change in the process of learning her lines now that she’s in her sixth decade. “I learn them quickly and they are gone just as quickly,” says Dunsmore. “They don’t seem to stick.”

The physicality around acting has not been a problem in the least for Dunsmore, who insists on performing her own energetic stunts. “In the Stratford show I did this past summer (2016), The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, I was jumping around a lot with one of my students from theatre school. A lot of the young people [actors] came up to me and asked if I had a particular exercise regime.” says Dunsmore with a delighted laugh. “They kind of marvelled at me. I was not what they thought an actor of my age should be acting like. I was enlivened by that. It felt fantastic. Here I am 45 years later and I can still do all this stuff. Bring it on.”

“The older I get, the more full of wonder I am.”
– Rosemary Dunsmore

Moving Forward

On a personal level, Dunsmore found that the maternal letting go of her son into adulthood a difficult rite of passage. During this transition, Dunsmore had some great acting roles, including one where she played a distraught mother of a distressed young man. “These are great parts, because they are born of enormous love – the love of a mother for a son,” says Dunsmore. “They [the roles] are full of the bewilderment and helplessness around your child approaching young adulthood, and, as a parent, not having any power anymore.”

Along with her yearly getaway to the family home in Montserrat, Dunsmore enjoys cooking and dinner parties. Meditation, yoga, walking and a consistent exercise routine are all wellness practices that she is committed to. Meditation, in particular, provides Dunsmore with the spiritual opportunity to create, and to, ultimately, observe the gap between her thoughts and her feelings. “I am not as concerned about consequences. I feel lighter,” says Dunsmore. “I try to turn everything into an opportunity, rather than stressing about why things are happening as they are. It’s a grand adventure, and I have been extremely fortunate to be able to pursue curiosity. As the great 6th Century B.C. philosopher, Lao Tzu, says, “You have to give up who you are in order to find out who you can be.”’

In 2017, Dunsmore is performing in the Stratford Festival’s adaptation of Bakkhai, as well as playing Mme Pernelle in the dark comedy, Tartuffe. She is the recipient of a bevy of prestigious acting awards, including an Actra (2009) for Best Actress in The Baby Formula; a Dora nominee for Single, Straight Ahead, Blind Dancers, as well as Tom At The Farm; Best Performer at the Edinburgh Fringe, London Daily Telegraph; Private Lives to Fallen Angels; The Glass Menagerie; and The Beauty Queen of Leenane; a Masque Award for her interpretation feminine performance in WIT; and a MECCA award for Best Actress in Glorious! (Montreal). In her television roles she’s received an Earl Grey Award for Best Performance in a Leading Role, as well as four Gemini nominations, and has appeared in many television series including Anne of Green Gables – the Sequel; Mom P.I.; and Murdoch Mysteries.

“I look at things as opportunities,” says Dunsmore. “If I don’t like a situation, I look to see how I can change it. I find a person gets what they expect. It is very easy to fall into the victim role, particularly as an actor, which, in turn, makes you powerless.”

Since this interview, Dunsmore has bought a house in Stratford, Ontario. She hadn’t been in a rush to purchase, but five days after she connected with a real estate agent, she was made aware of a rare Ontario cottage on a nice property. “I drove up the next morning and bought it on the spot,” says Dunsmore. “I’m really excited – time for a change.”


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