written by Winter Tekenos-Levy
I went to Canada's Wonderland this Fall for the first time in years. It was a cold, off-season day at the park which meant no crowds or deathly long line-ups. I immediately regressed into my tween self and vowed to ride only the biggest, scariest rollercoasters on repeat all day long. Each time I rode Leviathan or Behemoth, I went through the same parade of emotions: It starts with a little wave of anxiety as I get buckled in, my heartbeat speeds up when the employee checks that big life-preserver type thing around my neck and I think, "THIS IS IT? This is the only thing holding me in?" but it's too late. Panic trickles in while I ascend to 300 feet in the air, my eyes scan for the CN tower because it feels like you should probably be able to see it from that high up, it's really truly, horrifying. I scream as the coaster rushes down the first drop, pause for a moment because my stomach is in my throat, more screams, tears from the wind in my eyes, laughter, and then a sigh of relief because it's all over. I get up and do it again and again, until the park closes.
When I went to bed that night, there was no doubt an abnormal amount of adrenaline coursing through my veins. I couldn't fall asleep, my brain was on overdrive, but when I finally did I had really strange, vivid nightmares. All the intense emotions from the day had to play out in my head. Amusement parks are such a strange thing to willingly put yourself through: throwing yourself into a make-believe world so that you can feel the most extreme joy, fear, etc. The next morning I woke up feeling exhausted and emotionally drained.
Shooting the final episode of Just Cuddle Season 2 had a similar effect on me. Which is to say, acting is kind of an insane thing to put yourself through - tricking yourself into feeling intense emotions, then legitimately feeling them, then feeling like you've been hit by a truck when it's all over. Maybe the weirder thing is that I enjoy it?
DAY ONE S2, E3
The night before a shoot day I always start stressing out as I'm going over my lines. I start doubting myself and questioning my motives for acting. Am I a delusional narcissist? Do I just need the attention? Those thoughts are kind of always swirling around in my head, but once I'm on set I manage to focus. Everyone's here to do this thing, so I tell my brain to shut up and do the best it can.
Luckily day one was such a dreamy, beautiful day. We had a small crew that headed over to Toronto Island, it was mid-July and the sun was shining. Since we had a fair bit of traveling (driving, ferry, walking) it felt like there was more than average hang out n' relax times, which I'm always down for. There's something about travel shoot days where everyone becomes closer, like we're all on this little adventure together, even if it's just the island. It also made it easier to get into character - as character Winter had been dealing with the weight of the death of Katherine and this was the first time in a while where we see her having fun and going on a little adventure of her own.
Plus, that day was sort of my warm up as all my heavy scenes were on day two. I spent most of the day bonding with the new faces in the crew and supporting Azad, my co-star on the episode, in whatever way I could as he had most of the heavy lifting. Azad was great, he came in strong, he was ready to attack the day. I felt a little rusty off the top but once we started rolling I began to relax. By midday everyone was relaxed and we all felt comfortable enough to laugh at each other.
My favourite moment of the day: we had a walk-and-talk scene through a busy section of the park, tons of tourists wandering around. I can remember Michael trying to direct bystanders out of the shot from behind the camera while he was walking backwards. He was so focused on this he didn't notice the giant flower pot decoration thing that was in the middle of the walkway, he tripped and sat down in it. SAT DOWN. Not a slap-stick fall, just an adorable flop into a flower bed. It was perfect and amazing, and one of those things that makes the entire crew cry actual tears from laughing so hard.
I guess what I'm getting at is day one was warm n' fuzzy. We were a bunch of pals shooting a film on an island, laughing and getting sunburnt. It was a nice time.
DAY TWO S2, E3
I woke up feeling sluggish and stressed. Day two had the most personal and powerful scenes for character Winter and the toughest acting the real Winter has ever had to do. The entire series has led up to this point, where Winter finally opes up with a touching and heartbreaking conversation with her mother.
I was nervous for this scene, more nervous than I'd been for any other. I wasn't sure (and frankly I'm still not convinced) that I was equipped to deliver the emotional intensity. My acting thus far has been mostly comedic or improv based. Just Cuddle is the first thing I've shot where I've had to act like a real human. To clarify, other characters I've been: A bread-loving gluten enthusiast in a commercial and "Space Slut #2" in a short film. But in this episode, I couldn't be goofy or sarcastic, I had to deliver something real and meaningful. So, I was on edge, and worried that I would let people down.
The funny thing is, what I've learned from acting in this series - I'm actually ok at tapping into sadness. If I had to pretend to be a normal person that was happy, I would be garbage, but sadness, no problem. More specifically, the way my character was dealing with loss is something that felt close to home. I lost a parent five years ago and still struggle to really talk about it with anyone, and character Winter seemed to have that in common with me. We did a few takes, and Elias gave me some really incredible direction, and we got the scene. I think it was, at least, not a major let down.
I went home that night, completely exhausted. It had been two long days of shooting, sure, but it was more than that. I had the same crazy type of vivid nightmares as I did after Wonderland, and the next day I woke up feeling like I could sleep for another 2 days.
I came into the Just Cuddle journey as a not-very-serious actor. I guess I still wouldn't call myself a "serious" actor now, but I'm trying to take it more seriously as a profession. We started shooting season one when I had just left a long-term relationship and the second season started shooting after I left a full time job to pursue writing and subsequently, acting. Those were some pretty massive changes in my personal life, it's interesting to see how it's played out on camera and how it's reflected in character Winter.
The thing about filming during a fragile time in my life is that I also felt freer. I was single and jobless, and suddenly I was able to look at what I really wanted to do with my life. I was more open to growing and learning. I still wasn't quite ready to admit that I wanted to do more acting, because obviously it's scary to go after your dreams, and my writing dream seemed hard enough. But after this season, I think we all feel like we've made something special and it has encouraged me to keep going after the dream.
I thoroughly enjoyed making this show, all of the awkward cuddles, the laughs, tears, stress, and fear. It was all the things I like to put myself through. So hopefully I get to do more acting stuff, I've had fun on this emotional rollercoaster.