The Human Equation: Interview with Bomb Girls' Meg Tilly

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Actress Meg Tilly

During World War II every able-bodied person helped in the fight against the enemy. While the men served on the front lines, the women did whatever necessary back home to support the troops. The popular Canadian-made TV drama Bomb Girls follows the stories of four women working in a Canadian munitions factory while the conflict continues to unfold overseas.

Multi-talented stage and screen performer Meg Tilly plays Lorna Corbett, Blue Shift floor matron at the Victory Munitions bomb factory. Having taken an extended break from her profession in order to raise a family, the actress decided not too long ago to venture back into the industry. She had no idea, though, that her efforts would result in a lead role in a brand new TV project.

“I didn’t know if I would be successful at my attempt to return to acting, but I decided to give it a try because I wanted to do plays,” says Tilly. “When my children were young I always thought, ‘Oh, I’d love to do some theatre,’ but theatre doesn’t pay much of anything. It would have cost me more to move my children to a town that had a play going on and pay someone to help take care of them than I’d actually earn doing the play. When my children grew up, however, I figured maybe I could try, but I seriously didn’t expect or even plan on being asked to audition for a TV show or get such a great role right off the bat.

“I had a new Canadian agent, Rich Kaplan, who asked me if I’d meet with the people from Bomb Girls. He told me they were lovely, so I said, ‘Sure, of course.’ I met with Adrienne Mitchell, who’s one of the co-creators of the show and who also directed the first two episodes of the first and second seasons. She was so insightful about the Lorna character and brought so many layers to it in just the 20- or 30-minute period I spent with her. By the end of our meeting, I was all fired up about the part. A director who can really help you become a better actress is such a joy to work with, so I thought, ‘If they want me to do this, I’ll do it.’

“I’ve really loved getting to know Lorna, and [head writer] Michael MacLennan and his team of writers have done remarkable things with all the characters on the show. So I’m incredibly grateful to be a part of something like this.”

Bomb Girls originally started out as six-part miniseries, but when it was renewed for its current second season, it was given a full 12-episode order. The season one opener, "Jumping Tracks," introduces the show’s four main characters including Gladys Witham (Jodi Balfour) and Kate Andrews (Charlotte Hegele), both of whom have just begun working the Blue Shift at Victory Munitions. The factory’s best worker, Betty McRae (Ali Liebert) is asked to take Kate under her wing, while the Blue Shift’s tough but caring floor matron Lorna Corbett (Meg Tilly) butts heads with Marco Moretti (Antonio Cupo), an Italian-born worker at the factory. Having been away from acting for a while, it took Tilly a little bit of time to re-acclimate herself to the process and get comfortable in Lorna’s shoes.

“Before filming began on Bomb Girls, we had a read-through of the first script,” says the actress. “We have a huge cast, and a number of people already knew each other from having worked together on other projects. I had been away from acting for 17 years being a mom, so I felt kind of shy, especially having to say my lines out loud for the first time in a long time.

“You work on the script as well as your character, but you don’t know if it’s going to sound right or ‘feel right’ in your belly. So the read-through is always the most heart-pounding. Some people get nervous on the first day of shooting, but for me, it’s that first time you sit down with all the other actors and get a sense of the faces and the personalities along with the flow of things.

“As far as Lorna, when I read the first script, I didn’t really get her,” continues Tilly. “She does some things that make you think, ‘Wow, That’s not very nice.’ However, when I began working with Adrienne Mitchell, I saw the various layers to Lorna emerge and discovered the beauty of this character that Michael MacLennan had created.

“What I love about Lorna is that she’s human and a mix of things. She’s not black and white. Sometimes she behaves quite honorably and heroically, and other times she behaves badly. It’s just that humanness in her that we all have. Lorna is learning and growing and falling down and picking herself up, and along the way she’s finding out who she is.

“That’s kind of an ongoing process that all of us as humans do in real life. You try to be the best person you can be and try to work in the truest way you can, but there are times when you’re blindsided by a less-than charitable action, thought or realization that you’re being different. You thought you were behaving honorably and well, but in hindsight that really wasn’t the case. That happens with Lorna as well, and again, I think that’s what I love about her. It’s what I love about all the characters in the show, the fact that they’re all human and there’s no one who’s the good guy or the bad guy.”

A nit-picker when it comes to how Blue Shift does its job at Victory Munitions, Lorna is also the first person who will stick up for the rights of the women working under her and with her. On the home front, she is married to Bob (Peter Outerbridge) a World War I veteran who was left a cripple and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The couple have three children, a daughter who works as a nurse’s aide, and twin sons, both of whom are fighting in the war.

Bob’s medical issues have put a strain on his and Lorna’s marriage, especially with regard to intimacy. Much to her surprise, Lorna finds herself attracted to Marco, which results in an affair as well as pregnancy that ends, sadly, in a miscarriage when Bob learns of her affair.

“There are going to be big changes for US viewers in season two of Bomb Girls,” reveals Tilly. “There were shifts with these characters in season one, but I don’t think Lorna ever expected to fall for Marco. After all, she was prejudiced against him in the beginning and rather rabid-doggish about the whole thing. We never know what’s going to happen until we get the next new script, but my concern during the first season — and this actually kept me awake at night — was that my character had made a mistake with Marco and in judging him. She discovered, though, that she was wrong and felt bad about it.

“The nice thing about Lorna is that, yes, she does not-so-nice things sometimes, but once she realizes or discovers that she was wrong, she tries to make amends and correct things. Lorna is a compassionate person as well, and when she tried to made amends with Marco, she became attracted to and enamored of him. Again, at the start of the series you never would have thought that could happen, but it did and those feelings grew. Lorna couldn’t help but be drawn towards Marco. It had been many, many years of no intimacy with her husband, and Bob was so trapped in his own pain that all he could do was flail out and try to control as well as criticize her. Lorna’s boys were away, so she wasn’t getting hugs from them, either.

“Lorna used to work on the line in the bomb factory, but was then promoted to floor matron. That position earns her more money, which she needs because she supports her whole family. However, it’s also a position that’s isolating and makes her an outsider with the other girls. So instead of being one of them, having chats as they do and working shoulder to shoulder on the line, now my character is the one who has to say, ‘Speed it up.’ She kind of has to be the person who cracks the whip a little bit.

“So Lorna had a very lonely life and she just kept trying to put one foot in front of the other and shore up. Suddenly it appears that Marco is noticing her, and to be seen by him when she couldn’t even ‘see’ herself, was so heady. It made her feel things she hadn’t felt in a while. At the same time, I, Meg, was worried for Lorna because I didn’t know if Marco was playing her. Was he a ladies’ man and someone who was going to hurt her irrevocably? At the end of season one, Lorna made the decision that that was it. She had ‘fallen,’ but wasn’t going to continue down that road and was going to stay with her husband.

“As I mentioned earlier, Lorna’s and Bob’s relationship and Lorna’s and Marco’s relationship changes a lot this season. As events take place with the war overseas as well as back home, everyone changes, as life naturally changes in challenging times, it just does. And because of what happened in season one, I think in season two Lorna starts off seeing the world very differently.”

Tilly speaks with great enthusiasm about some of her favorite scenes she has shared with her Bomb Girls costars. “There’s a scene I did with Jodi Balfour — I think it may have been halfway through this season — where she just knocked it out of the park,” says the actress. “It was so beautiful and she was so connected to the material. There was another scene I did with her where our characters are in the shower room. We eventually changed how Lorna was interacting with Gladys and it became more about the other girls when we actually went to shoot it. Again, though, in rehearsing of scene, there was that same connection and I just feel so proud of how Jodi is blossoming into this amazing actress and woman.

“There’s a young man named Brett Dier who joined our cast for a few shows this season [playing one of Lorna’s and Bob’s sons, Eugene “Gene” Corbett], and I was floored by the complexity as well as detail and focus that he brought to his character. Once again, I felt so honored to be on the other side of the camera and working with a fellow actor like Brett. I tend to remember scenes where someone else has done amazing work. It makes my heart sing because they’re so easy to be with. I’ve noticed all the characters along with the actors doing such beautiful work, and I guess those are the moments that stick in my heart.

“Rosie O’Donnell came on the show this season to guest star in episode nine ["The Enemy Within"]. That was such a thrill because a lot of us know Rosie as a talk show host as well as an advocate for causes that she believes are important, including helping children and veterans, but I’m telling you, there’s one hell of an actress in there, too. When she played Dottie and I looked into her eyes, Rosie was gone. She was portraying this character and speaking those lines, but there were so many other layers going on of what Dottie was thinking and what Dottie was behind those eyes. It was another of those moments where I thought, ‘Wow.’

“I did a scene where I was standing in a doorway of the factory and Charlotte Hegele, who plays Kate, walks in, gives her name, signs in and just breezes by me. She was just so Kate, do you know what I mean? There’s another scene I did with Michael Seater [Ivan Buchinsky] where we were basically background action. He’s looking at this other guy and his jaw is slightly slack; I could ‘see’ his thoughts just by reading his face. It was so funny and so right that it snapped me out of the scene for a minute and made me want to laugh because it was so wonderfully rendered. It’s just a little thing that no one else will see, but those are the moments I live for and that make doing this show such a joy.”

Born on Valentine’s Day, 1960 to Patricia Ann Tilly and Harry Chan, Tilly dreamt since childhood of one day becoming a ballet dancer, and she began working early on towards eventually making that dream a reality.

“When I was 10 years old, I traveled with my family across the United States to immigrate to Canada, and in the summer we worked in the fields picking strawberries,” she recalls. “It was hard, brutal work, the sun was hot, you were on your hands and knees, and you weren’t allowed to eat any of the strawberries. I was always hungry, and the smell of these ripe, fresh, succulent strawberries kept wafting over you in waves. It was like the promise of a party in your mouth if you gave in, but I had to be honorable, even though I wanted so badly to eat even just one.

“Most of the money we earned went towards family expenses, but we were each allowed to keep a tiny portion of it. So I saved and saved and picked flats and flats of strawberries until I finally had enough to buy two tickets to the ballet. I went with my mom and we sat way in the back and watched the ballet. I’ll never forget it. When I was 14, we moved to the big city of Victoria [British Columbia], and it had ballet classes there. My grandmother said she would pay for the classes, and I got a job working in a restaurant on Fridays and Saturdays from six until two or three in the morning, and used my tips to buy my ballet clothes.

“I started studying ballet and worked extremely hard at it. I was terrible to begin with, but I stuck with it, and two years later I finally began winning scholarships. After graduating from high school, I bought a ticket on the Greyhound Bus and went to New York to become a ballet dancer. I arrived at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, which back in the late '70s was a very scary place. I didn’t know anyone and had no idea where I was going to study. I eventually found my way to Madame Gabriela Davash’s Ballet School and I was extremely fortunate because she offered me a full scholarship.

“While I was studying there, I got a job dancing in the movie Fame. When that finished filming, I studied on another full scholarship with Melissa Hayden. Unfortunately, I was dropped during a dance class and fractured my back. I couldn’t walk for a while, and that was when I began to think about acting. If I hadn’t danced in Fame, I’d have never gotten my SAG [Screen Actors Guild] card or even considered becoming an actress, because that was something my sister Jennifer [Tilly] did. Once I was able to walk again, I went out to Los Angeles where Jennifer showed me the ropes and helped me get started in acting.

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“So it was a wild and rocky ride, but it turned out okay. Sometimes you work so hard towards a goal and it seems to be going your way, but then something happens and it seems like a tragedy and that your life is over. It was, for me, though, one of the luckiest things that could have happened, because a ballet dancer has such a short [professional] life. You give everything to it, including your youth and body, and if you manage to work until your early 30s, that’s a long career. Here I am, 53, and I’m still able to act. I was able to have children in my 20s, which for me wouldn’t have been a possibility as a dancer. I was also able to save some money and have a bit of financial security. I was just so blessed, but I didn’t see it at the time, you know? It was pretty devastating, and then I picked myself up and thought, ‘Okay, what’s next?’”

The Big Chill, Agnes of God, Valmont and Leaving Normal are among the actress’s feature film credits. On TV, she has guest starred on such series as Hill Street Blues, Avonlea, Winnetka Road (multiple episodes) and Caprica as well as a handful of made-for-TV movies. Tilly is also a published author, having written five books, her most recent being A Taste of Heaven, which came out this past February.

“My writing started off as a need to acknowledge the truth of my life,” says the actress. “I began writing when I was 30; I had done The Big Chill, Agnes of God and Valmont, but I was selling a fairytale to the world that just wasn’t true about my happy, happy life and happy, happy childhood. To be able to find the words and then write them down about the truth of my childhood was a terrifying as well as incredibly freeing thing to do, but I didn’t know I was a writer. It’s only now after having had five books published that I’m able to see that.

“I love being given this opportunity to act again. It’s such a gift at my stage of life. I also love that I can write books from the heart and that I’m lucky enough to be able to find publishers who want to publish me. My big passion, though, is my family, my kids, my husband, my sister, and just kind of living life. I’m so very, very lucky and grateful for that.”

For more information about Meg Tilly, including her books, check out official website. Please note, all Bomb Girls photos copyright of The REELZ Channel.

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A native of Massachusetts, Steve Eramo has been a Sci-Fi fan since childhood, having been brought up on such TV shows as Star Trek and Space: 1999. He is also an Anglophile and lover of British TV. A writer for 35 years – 17 of those as a fulltime freelancer – Steve has had over 2,500 feature-length…

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