Actor Caroline Dhavernas began her career in French-Canadian television, with roles that probably played big in Quebec but not many other places. After starring in some notworthy indie dramas like Edge Of Madness, however, she finally gained wider recognition on Bryan Fuller’s charming and addictive Wonderfalls, a short-lived delight of a series that almost no one saw when it was on but has found an afterlife as a cult hit. From there, she’s gone on to an impressive career, toggling comfortably between film and TV in projects like Hollywoodland, Breach, Off The Map, and most notably spending three seasons on NBC’s superlative Hannibal. We caught up with her at SXSW, where she was promoting her new indie Easy Living, about a self-destructive door-to-door makeup saleswoman. Also, her new Lifetime series, Mary Kills People, about an ER doctor who covertly moonlights as a Dr. Kevorkian type helping people end their lives, begins April 23. We did the interview on-camera, but you can read the entire piece below.
1. If you could spend the rest of your life inside one movie or TV show, which would it be and why?
Caroline Dhavernas: Wow, that’s a tough one. I haven’t been watching a lot of TV recently, so it’d be hard to pick one. My favorite, and I’ve said this before, I know, but my favorite TV show of all time is Twin Peaks. I don’t know how great it would be to live in that show, though, because you’re always on the verge of being killed. I would probably, if I were to be part of that show, fall in love with Kyle MacLachlan’s character and live happily ever after until we both become evil and crazy.
2. Do you have a favorite swear word or phrase, how often do you use it, and in what circumstances?
CD: So if it’s a phrase, it has to include the swear word.
CD: For those who know the French-Canadian culture, we swear against the church. So there’s a bunch of them to pick from. One of them would probably be “calisse.” When you stub your toe, it’s so good to say it. It really kind of gets the anger out and the frustration.
AVC: So it’s an injury swear.
CD: For me, it is.
AVC: But you wouldn’t normally use it in other circumstances. You wouldn’t call someone that.
CD: No, unless you were really angry with them, or hate their guts. But I try to keep it for stubbing the toe and getting hurt.
3. How did you spend your last birthday?
CD: I had a party with friends. A friend of mine opened his restaurant. But I was sick, so I couldn’t drink too much.
AVC: You were sick on your birthday?
CD: Yeah, and this year I’ll be traveling on my birthday. I’ll be on a plane.
AVC: Are you usually somebody who doesn’t make a big to-do of your birthday?
CD: I used to love those parties for my birthday, and now as I’m getting older, I don’t want that attention on my birthday as much. So what I do is, all my friends are Tauruses for some reason, most of them. I don’t do it on purpose, but we have like 30 parties to celebrate in May every year. We do Taurus parties so people don’t have to spend every day of their month of May going to a party. So I share my birthday now with buddies, which is a good thing.
AVC: So you just do one big Taurus party? Is there something that distinguishes a Taurus party from a non-Taurus party?
CD: Well, you can hire a bull and do that, which we did a couple years ago. A friend of mine rented a French-fry machine and a bull. So that was cool.
4. What is the worst professional advice you ever received?
CD: Can you do it again but better? A director said that to me once.
AVC: Did it make you want to rebel?
CD: It made me want to scream and leave the premises. It’s like, you’re telling me I sucked, you’re telling me you want something else, but you’re not telling me what. So I’m just left frustrated. It was a couple years ago, like 10 years ago.
5. If you were a medical doctor, what kind of doctor would you want to be and why?
CD: Not E.R. because that seems so stressful. Neurologist, perhaps. It’s interesting, the brain. I was reading an article recently about how a lot of illness can be very close to the actual illness, but not be that, just because the body emotions are… I think they’re starting to reflect upon the power of emotions on illness and I’ve always felt a direct connection between emotion and body. It’s fascinating that neurologists are starting to tell their patients that yes, they are sick, the symptoms are there, but it’s probably happening because an emotion is not coming out the way it could and should.
AVC: Oh, that’s interesting. Have you always been fascinated by emotional intelligence kind of stuff?
CD: Yeah, I think I feel everything very strongly, and I guess that’s why I’m an actress. I’ve made such clear connections between some of my chronic boo-boos in my body and emotion. It’s kind of fascinating. I really feel like as a society, we need tap into that and embrace that more and more instead of wondering why we’re sick.
AVC: Did you ever get a doctor trying to diagnose you or something and it turned out you were just actually feeling stressed or upset or something?
CD: Yeah, so many times. And I’m not saying certain illnesses don’t come from genetic baggage and all that. It would be too simplistic to summarize and make it all about emotion, but yeah, so many times, I’ve been to doctors trying to pinpoint what it was exactly and finally it just went away. It was a stressful time in my life.
AVC: That would be a good reason to be like, “Maybe not so much with the medical diagnosis without the emotional.”
CD: Exactly. I think a lot of people get into what they’re eating. Yes, it’s important, but at some point, let’s think about what we’re feeling. It can become a control issue to control everything that you’re eating and the exercise that you’re doing. I think it’s good to do a bit of everything, but to just notice how you’re feeling when you wake up in the morning.
6. What’s your perfect Sunday?
CD: I’m not a big fan of Sundays, but now that my life is kind of chaotic, structure-wise, I don’t really notice it’s Sunday most of the time. But I used to associate it—when I was in school—to back to school on Monday, so I didn’t like that day. I guess going for a walk on the mountain. I’m from Montreal, and I’m right by the mountain, so taking a walk and embracing nature in the middle of a city.
AVC: Okay, so going for a walk would be definitely part of it. Let me rephrase. What’s your perfect day off?
CD: I’ve started taking Zumba lessons.
AVC: You’re getting into Zumba?
CD: It’s fun! I really prefer the teachers that make it more about Latina dancing more than aerobics and stuff. So I guess working out a little bit and then going to the country and reading. I haven’t been watching TV lately because I’ve been reading more books, which is such a good feeling. So yeah, I guess going to the country, walking around, going snowshoeing, and skiing. That’s my perfect day, going skiing.
AVC: Cross-country or downhill?
CD: Downhill, but I started doing a bit of cross-country. Very different.
AVC: You mentioned books. Do you have a favorite genre or preference, if you were going to pick up a book or go to a section of the library?
CD: I try to be open-minded. I’m not really into sci-fi or horror or thrillers. I’m reading a Krishnamurti book right now. It’s a fascinating book. I deeply recommend it to anybody. Freedom From the Known.
7. What do you get snobby about?
CD: That’s a good question. I guess sometimes when people make a very clear mistake with language. The French language is a very hard language to speak, and so many people, including myself, make mistakes while expressing themselves in French. And sometimes, when it’s a really intense mistake, I get a little, “Uh.” But I understand where it’s coming from, it’s just, part of me can’t help it sometimes.
AVC: And you want to tap them on the shoulder and be like, “Actually...”
CD: You can’t tell someone, “You just said this, but it’s wrong. You made a mistake.” You can’t be that person. So you have to kind of live with it inside yourself and carry on.
8. What book have you read the most?
CD: Like, over and over again? I don’t think I’ve ever read a book twice.
AVC: So once you’ve processed something, you want to move on to the next thing?
CD: I guess some graphic novels that I read as a kid, but there are so many things to read and discover that I feel like once I’ve read a book I need to go somewhere else. I get a little stressed even sometimes knowing all the things I want to read, I won’t have enough time in this lifetime. The more you read, the more you realize there are fascinating books to be read and so little time to do so.
9. What are you afraid of?
CD: Cockroaches. I lived in New York, so, you know. Rats. Mice.
AVC: Anything like that. Did it develop while you were in New York?
CD: My mother was always afraid of mice, and her mother was too. So you just pass that on. So if I have kids, I’m going to try to be really cool if I see a mouse. A mice. A mouse. Mice. See, I’m making mistakes now.
AVC: But cockroaches versus mice?
CD: Roaches are gross.
AVC: Are you not a bugs person in general?
CD: Well, I just went to Costa Rica and I saw a bunch of beautiful things in the forest. I saw a tarantula, which I thought I was afraid of, but seeing it in its own environment is fine. When they’re in your environment, not as cool.
I had a do a scene once with a roach crawling up my neck. Bastard, they cut it. They never used it. So they made me go through that for nothing.
10. Who are you a big fan of that we wouldn’t necessarily expect you to be a big fan of?
CD: I was just talking about this yesterday. Blazing Saddles, the movie... Gene Wilder. I love him. There’s something about the intelligence that you can read in his eyes and the choices that he made. He was so natural, and I think he was kind of ahead of his time in many ways.
AVC: When did you first discover him?
CD: The Frankenstein movie. Young Frankenstein. He doesn’t take himself too seriously in his roles, and I really think that’s pretty sexy.
AVC: I think most people see Charlie and The Chocolate Factory first, which is also great, but there’s something about that Young Frankenstein performance, too, where he’s so manic but just very normal at the same time.
CD: Exactly. You feel like he’s not really into himself all that much, he’s just having a good time and going crazy and having fun. I love that. Gregory Peck, too. My all-time fantasy.
AVC: When did you stumble on to Gregory Peck?
CD: To Kill A Mockingbird, the movie. That’s the first time I saw him act. I think he’s one of the most gorgeous humans to have ever walked upon this Earth. There’s a calming, soothing energy to him that I really like.
11. What advice would you give your younger self?
CD: I feel like I’m the same person so I can’t really talk to myself, even the old version of me. I don’t want to give myself advice. I would rather give myself advice for the future, I suppose. But I can’t really talk to what I used to be.
AVC: When you say you’d rather give yourself advice for the future, what would that entail?
CD: I guess most of us have to work on that, not minding what other people think, or to disappoint people, or to not fit in. That one is a hard lesson to learn. I think it causes a lot of anxiety and a lot of pressure. So yeah, that lesson.
AVC: It’s hard though, right? It’s the people that you don’t know that you don’t want to, but there’s also still family or whoever, where you do care what they think, and you should.
CD: It’s a funky limit or balance to find. I think everything has to come from something that you feel comfortable with and want to be in and sometimes we try to negotiate that limit, but it’s not always easy to find the right balance.
AVC: So you haven’t found the ideal balance?
CD: No, I look for it every day.
Bonus 12th question from Grace And Frankie‘s June Diane Raphael: When was the last time you had a lot of fun? And it can’t be performing, because that’s always fun.
CD: Oh, is it? Sometimes it’s not.
Yeah, the most fun I had recently… traveling. I went to Greece in October, and that was a revelation. I went in October when the tourists had all gone and I had complete beaches to myself and that was a great feeling. The beauty of that place is stunning, and the variety of that beauty—and the food, yeah.
AVC: When you’re traveling, do you like to get quality alone time?
CD: Yeah, I need it. Going to museums, too, is a lot of fun for me. Having a moment alone in front of a painting that really rocks my world, that’s a lot of fun for me.
AVC: Do you have a favorite museum or place?
CD: Yeah, a couple. I love in Sydney, the MCA. I saw really beautiful exhibits there. New York, too—MOMA is great. There’s the one close to New York, you have to train through from Manhattan. I think it’s called the Dia:Beacon. You get off the train and you’re in this small town, a little village that you would have probably never gone to, and to know that someone took the time to think this museum had its place in this small town. It’s amazing. I love that.
AVC: That means we’re at the end, which means you get to pick the 12th question for the next person that we’re going to talk to.
CD: What’s the piece of clothing in your wardrobe that you would never get rid of?
AVC: You immediately have to answer your own question, of course.
CD: Okay. It’s a jean jacket that my dad wore in the ’70s. It’s all patched up and old, and it has this kind of imitation sheep-skin on the cuffs. It’s a real rock star jacket. I think my dad was wearing it when he met my mom, which makes it even cooler. I’ve had people try to buy it off my shoulders in New York City, so I guess it must be really cool.