For all of the things that Canada has lost to the U.S. over the years like Norm MacDonald, plaid shirts, Arcade Fire and casual alcoholism, sometimes we get something back like Andrea Martin. Born in Maine, she made the pilgrimage up to Toronto in the early '70s.

It was the first place where she was able to find steady theatre work, eventually landing a role in the legendary production of Godspell that showed off her early talent along with Gilda Radner, Martin Short, Eugene Levy, and musical director Paul Shaffer. One tutelage in Second City and a run on SCTV (where she cranked out classic characters like Edith Prickley) later and Martin became an icon of Canadian comedy. Years of film and television followed before a late inning shift to Broadway where she’s become a Tony award-winning staple of the Manhattan musical community for the last 15 years.

On July 4, Martin will be appearing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox for a live conversation about her storied career. But before that happens TORO got a chance to conduct our own chat, delving into everything from SCTV to her brief run as a Canuck horror movie queen and the Judd Apatow project that got away.

You began in theatre before stumbling into comedy through Second City. Was it something you had even considered before then?

No. The short answer is no. My focus was on musical comedy up until Second City. In fact, when I got into Second City I was doing a little dinner theatre show in what was called “What’s A Nice Country Like You Doing In A State Like This” and it was a little musical. So, Second City was always my first real foray into complete comedy. 

You were, of course, part of that infamous production of Godspell with may other comedic actors who went off to great success. Did that feel like a special combination of talent at the time or was it only afterwards that became clear?

That’s an interesting question. I guess the people that cast it would have to believe that everyone involved was talented and worthy because hundreds of people auditioned for that show. But I don’t think you could ever predict where someone’s career is going to go. I don’t think you could have predicted that Gilda Radner was going to go on to become the star that she was or Martin Short or Eugene Levy. It was an opportunity for us to develop our unique personalities. Godspell and Second City were very similar in that way. They were a sort of breeding ground for unique personalities, so I think all the actors in Godspell were really personality driven and went on to have long careers.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but I’ve seen and enjoyed the 1973 film Cannibal Girls

Oh yeah! Some of the best acting I’ve ever done.

How was working with Ivan Reitman at that time? It seemed like there was a lot of improv, though maybe not as carefully done as in his later movies.

Oh my god, the entire script was improvised. We shot it in 12 days and it was just a whirlwind production. No time to second guess. I remember we shot in Northern Ontario with snow on the ground and I don’t think it was a union shoot because there were always troubles. I probably could have died because I was running through snow in bare feet and doing all sorts of crazy things. You know, it was like a student film except it was directed by Ivan Reitman so it’s still around. Then Eugene and I won the best actor and actress awards in the International Horror Film Festival, which is still the best award I’ve ever received.

After that you did another low budget horror movie Black Christmas, did you have any idea that would become the huge success it was and continues to be?

You know, I knew it was definitely a more commercial venture because of the actors involved who were established. Olivia Hussey had already done Romeo And Juliet, Margot Kidder was well known and so was John Saxon. So, it just felt like it was a much more commercial venture. I didn’t realize that it was going to become the cult horror film that it did. Of course Bob Clark kind of invented that genre, the killer in the house slasher movie. He originated it. I don’t normally gravitate towards horror movies, but it’s nice to know that it’s become a sort of cult classic.

Did you consciously try to avoid horror movies after that to keep from being typecast in that world?

No, not at all. I was just never asked to do anymore. I’m a whore. I’ll go anywhere.

SCTV always felt to me like a show primarily done to entertain yourselves that just happened to catch on with an audience, was that the case?

That’s so accurate, no one has ever said that to me before and it’s 100 per cent right. I can’t even really embellish it because that’s really what it was we were just fortunate that it found an audience. We had to do it for ourselves at first. There was no audience either while we were filming or even people home with their TVs at first. So we were the audience along with the crew.

There was a lot of pressure to write content on that show which you hadn’t really done before. How did you find that experience?

Well, coming out of Second City we were very used to working with each other and improvising. When you go through the battleground of writing an original Second City Show…ugh! You’ve already kind of done your duty and it was like bootcamp, really. The difference was that we just had to write more of it. But thankfully we had already established some of the characters in the stage show, so we came with some characters that we could embellish on.

This is incredibly specific, but I have to ask. Tex and Edna Boil’s commercials were always my favourite part of SCTV; where did they come from? Was there a specific commercial you were parodying?

Ha! Yes, there was. There was a commercial on in those days, I think it was for a Cadillac dealership with a husband and wife. This was way before reality TV and I’m sure now they would have their own series. But it was a real husband and wife. There wasn’t an organ playing guy, but she was the spokesperson and just as awkward as I played her. We took for things from TV like that a lot. I wasn’t a big TV watcher, but people on the show like Joe Flaherty and Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas were avid TV watchers so they could satirize the form better than I could. I came from theatre and a lot of the theatre parodies you see on the show I came up with, so we all brought something to the table. 

Was live performance and the stage always your preference since it’s something you’ve gone back to?

Yes, my dream was always to be on Broadway and then I got sidetracked in the television world and a few films. I was living in L.A. because that’s where the success of SCTV had brought us. I had always wanted to be on Broadway, but gave it up. Then in 1991, I was invited to audition for a show called My Favorite Year, got the part, won a Tony, and it was wonderful. When my kids went away to college I moved back to New York to fulfill those dreams of Broadway full time and that’s what I’ve been lucky enough to do for the last 15 years. 

How did you find going into Young Frankenstein a few years ago taking on a role made famous by Cloris Leachman. Was there pressure to replicate what she did?

You know, it was a slight homage to her because the lines were directly from the movie, but I did make it my own for sure. We rehearsed for a long time before I even looked at the movie again. Then I based the character a lot on the housekeeper in Rebecca, Mrs. Danvers. I did always have a picture of Cloris Leachman because, you know, there were iconic moments in the play. But honestly, I’m not that good of an impersonator to actually walk in the shoes of another person. I had to do my own thing.

Was there any project you turned down or couldn’t make work due to scheduling over your career that you later regretted?

Oh, I think one of the biggest things is not doing Freaks And Geeks with Judd Apatow. I did a pilot for him called Sick In The Head. It was Amy Poehler’s first job with David Krumholtz, myself, and Kevin Corrigan. Judd wrote it for Fox and they didn’t pick it up. Then right afterwards he started work on Freaks And Geeks and asked me to play one of the moms and I don’t know what the fuck I was thinking. I was like, “I want to be a dramatic actress. I don’t want to do a sitcom.” It was a mistake not to continue working with the genius who became Judd Apatow. I hope I have another opportunity one day.

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