Writer: Sarah Eskandarpour
We rarely carry things from our preteen years into our adult lives. Memories and childhood relics, sure. Hobbies, interests and jobs? Well, those change. They’re fluid and subject to the transition of growing up and getting older. In the case of Torri Webster, her interests only got more intense. As a young girl she was an entertainer in need of an outlet. Cue her dancing. As a young teenager, that passion turned her to musical theatre. Today, the performer in her finds home in her ongoing film-acting career. We sat down with Torri to discuss her journey through the arts, how it has shaped her to be the young woman she is today and how acting fits in with the rest of her identity.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m 20 years old, born and raised in Toronto. I started dancing when I was 2 and got into musical theatre when I was 7. I ended up following that passion until high school. Somewhere in between theatre and high school, I fell into film when I found my agent after she saw me perform onstage. I was probably 12 at the time. I got lucky with that and booked Life with Boys, which is what everyone sort of recognizes me for. After high school I was gonna go to NYU for musical theatre but I decided against it at the last second. I wanted a business background and different experiences so instead I did the summer program at NYU and went to ryerson for Creative Industries. Since then, I’ve had different experiences as a result of my different interests. Be it doing a PR internship at a fashion showroom, doing branded social media or booking another show on Nickelodeon, it has all been very random and all over the place. I wear a lot of hats.
Explain Creative Industries.
It’s an interdisciplinary business program for the creative industry, basically. It’s a fine balance of marketing, finance and communications mixed with the art of film and the music industry. That sort of interdisciplinary study is what I wanted in university so I’m so happy I ended up pursuing it rather than musical theatre.
Why did you start dance so young? Was it one of those things that you were just thrown into or did you want to do it yourself?
I was such a character from the time I could speak. All I would do was blast ABBA and sing along to every song. I think my parents just needed to get me out of the house so I could let out some of that energy. I thrived there. I just wanted to dance. It was wonderful and was probably half the reason I gained the confidence to create the stage presence that I did. It was a really hard decision when I finally had to quit in high school. I was in a performance dance class, I was auditioning and I was also on set. Something had to give so I ended up quitting dance.
Is that something you’ve constantly had to do in your career - compromise other parts of your life?
Yeah, that’s the biggest thing about film-acting that people don’t realize - there is always some sort of sacrifice. You always have to give up something else and it’s not always that glamorous lifestyle it’s made out to be. I missed so many of those high school rites of passage. In retrospect I don’t care that I missed that semiformal but in the moment, it can seem like you’re giving up a lot.
How was the balance in high school vs. how it is now?
In high school it was really easy to enjoy because nothing else was happening. I had my school on set and I had a tutor on set just like everybody else. We’d have school for two hours, hand whatever it was we needed to hand in and spend the rest of the time on everything else.
In university, once you’re on set, school is no longer a thing. It becomes really challenging because it’s all about time management and prioritizing. Once you’re over 16 or 18 and you’re in your adult career, you can start work as early as 4am. When I was filming The Other Kingdom, sometimes I ran off set at 5pm to go write exams at Ryerson. It was definitely a lot, but it was worth it. I think I may have bitten off more than I could chew but it was great. It was a fabulous crew.
What’s something you think people would find surprising about acting or the acting industry itself?
I think that the biggest fallacy around it is that everyone books a job in a snap. It’s just not the reality. Some people do get really lucky and that does happen to them but they’ve done their share of prep too. There’s this quote that my business professor says and it’s “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” so getting the opportunity is one thing but if you’re not prepared, then you won’t get “lucky”. It can be really challenging to take on an episodic TV show and be doing 14 hour days. You don’t know what you’re getting into. A lot of people don’t see that.
What has been the most memorable part of your career?
I think the people I’ve met along the way. For me it’s always been about making connections, making new friends and networking with different people who come from various backgrounds. That’s something really awesome about the entertainment industry. It’s not the same team for 10 years. You’re with a crew for 6 months at a time, you become a family and then you move onto the next show. The industry is so small in Toronto that it feels so nice when you go on a different set and you see familiar faces. That can feel really nice especially in my current years because I’ll run into people I worked with at 13 or 14 whom I hadn’t seen since. It’s nice to see that those connections are still there.
What are you most excited about in the years to come?
I still have one more year of school after this one but I don’t know what comes after. On different days I believe different things about my future but I’ll definitely always be a performer. Whether that means just simply public speaking or being a lead on a TV show, the entertainer/performer in me will always be a part of what I’m doing.
"I’ve learned that when something should happen, it will happen."
How has acting shaped who you are today? Or vice versa
It’s given me so many different opportunities. The thing that has been a constant throughout my life is my effort to be creative. That’s why my program has been great because it forces me to always push myself to make cooler and more creative decisions about my career.
What’s something you’d be doing if you weren’t doing acting?
If I hadn’t done film when I was younger, the decision could have been really different and I could have gone to NYU for theatre. It would’ve been my comfort zone and I wouldn’t have had the experience in the film industry that then inspired me to learn the producing side of things. It was such a chain effect in my life so if that part of it was taken away, I honestly would probably be living a completely different life right now.
Is there anything you wish you knew when you were just starting out that you know now?
There’s this underlying stress of being an actor because there’s a genuine concern about whether you’ll work the next day or ever again. That stressed me out when I was younger so I think I would tell myself not to worry about what’s coming next. I was always thinking of where I should go and what decision I should make about something so I think I needed to chill out. I’ve learned that when something should happen, it will happen. You’ll have a feeling and you will make the decision and it will always be okay.
What advice would you give someone who wants to be in this industry?
My advice is to just recognize that it’s not always glamorous. You put in a lot of work and a lot of time with auditions that sometimes don’t work out.
But the other side of it is that it’s awesome and a lot of fun. If you love it it’s incredible. The opportunities only come because of the work you put in so the highs can feel so high but you also need to remember that there are low periods. There are times where you need to face the fact that you’re not working. It’s this constant battle of reminding yourself that you have value. Whether you’re working in that moment doesn’t mean you’re never gonna have another cool gig.
So do you think it’s important to keep yourself separate from your professional self?
I don’t know.. To be fair I don’t keep them separate. I am my brand. I know a lot of people aren’t. There are people on social media that I’ll meet in real life and my mind is blown. They’re completely separate people. If someone met me and they scrolled through my instagram, they’d see the same. It’s all there. It’s just a highlight reel.
"The thing that has been a constant throughout my life is my effort to be creative."
What inspires you and keeps you driven?
I don’t know if it’s one thing specifically but there’s definitely a combination. I’m very driven and inspired by pop culture. I wanna see what goes on in the world, what’s new and what’s happening so I’ll watch things like The Social. It’s also just doing things that take me back to my roots. I’ll watch Sex and The City because it just reminds me of high school. I can think, I can chill, I can be my inner Carrie Bradshaw and then I can get my life together again. Sometimes random things like going to yoga and spending time with family are the things that keep me grounded and out of my head.
Do you have other siblings?
Yes, I have two other siblings. I have an older sister and younger brother. We’re all very different in terms of our interests so it was a lot for my parents. One would be on set with me and the other would be doing things with my siblings. My dad was the coach of my sister’s hockey team. I have no idea what they did the last 20 years, honestly.
What was your parents’ take on you acting when you were younger?
My dad is a straight business man so when I initially started to get into it he actually wasn’t super thrilled with the idea. From their perspective, they never wanted to stop me from pursuing something that I loved even if it was a little bit scary and totally new. They were always so supportive of my dance and musical theatre so it was sort of the same. They started to fall in love with it the same way I did. They became really close with all the people on set because they were there so much. It was also nice because usually at that age you spend the least amount of time with your parents but I was with them all the time.
If Seneca had it right when he said luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, then Torri is on her way to being the most lucky person in Toronto. Sitting down with this 20 year old in the midst of a flourishing creative industry, it’s clear that she has ensured she’s ready for everything to come. Just like a tree that doesn’t budge in the face of the harshest wind, it’s very clear that Torri has built the roots that will push her to hit new highs no matter where her career takes her.