While many people have stayed close to home since the pandemic began in March, one Inuk actor from Nunavut ended up across the ocean.
In September, 28-year-old actor Ipeelie Ootoova travelled from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, to England after being hired to be part of the cast of a BBC miniseries, The North Water.
“It was kind of scary and exciting at the same time,” said Ootoova, who is originally from Pond Inlet.
Around the start of the year, he heard the BBC was shooting a mini-series in Iqaluit. So, he contacted the producers to audition for a role.
He wasn’t cast at first, and the filming of the series also got scuttled due to the pandemic.
Ootoova says he forgot about the show for a while, until September, when producers reached out to him again, hoping for more information about him.
He describes the audition he sent in as a home-taped improvisation of him hunting a seal and talking to someone. It was filmed by his partner. Harvesting, he says, has been part of his life for a long time, and he has always enjoyed it.
And, it seemed to do the trick.
“[The producers] liked my audition and asked if I could leave next week,” Ootoova said.
“I was kind of nervous to travel at the same time. But it was an opportunity that I didn’t want to miss. So I decided I was going to go.”
A long haul
But getting to that decision wasn’t easy. On top of the pandemic, he says he also had to consider how it would impact his family, since he would be away from his partner and young child for several weeks.
“We both agreed [that] it’s a great opportunity for me, especially because I’ve been in the film industry for a long time and I’ve never been on a TV show,” Ootoova said.
He left Cambridge Bay on Sep. 15, was in Toronto the next day, and arrived in London late in the day on Sept. 17.
He returned to Canada on Sept. 28 and isolated for two weeks in Edmonton.
The series is based on a book, he said. It’s set to come out in 2021 but says he can’t give any other details on it.
Ootoova has taken drama courses in high school, and has taken acting workshops. He has now acted in three feature films, six short films and two commercials. He continues to study acting, and has enrolled in courses online.
He also took a two-week course at the Vancouver Academy of Dramatic Arts. He has an agent in Edmonton and frequently creates and circulates audition videos seeking new roles.
Sharing Inuit culture
He says the most memorable aspect of being part of the BBC production was working with the crew.
“They were very supportive,” he said adding there were a few Canadians but the majority of the people were from London.
“They were willing to learn about Inuit and the culture.”
Ootoova says he was even able to offer input on how best to film and says the director was receptive to his ideas.
“That’s a moment that I’m not going to forget,” Ootoova said.
Even though it’s been a few months since he’s been back home, he says it feels surreal that he went.
“I still can’t believe that I was over there,” he said.
“It’s still unbelievable that I was able to travel during the pandemic.”
Ootoova says he did his best to keep safe and followed health protocols.
Now that he has a TV series under his belt, he says going forward he hopes more opportunities come along for Inuit actors and Inuit stories.
“There’s a lot of untold stories that people can learn from,” he said.
“And I hope that Inuit actors will play Inuit … It’s 2020, it’s a great opportunity for everybody to be involved.”