Anne “Cleo” Evanoff: Success Fueled by Determination
In our interview section, we usually have articles featuring a back-and-forth with our featured guest. Today, we have a special circumstance. When we approached Anne “Cleo” Evanoff, she decided to truly seize the moment with flying colours. We sent her questions, and we received a full story. This makes sense, given Evanoff’s perseverance as an actress and a voice artist. Evanoff immerses herself in the acting community in Toronto, including running the Smart Artists Smart Choices Facebook group (which unites local budding artists chasing the same dream). Since Evanoff has detailed her career so effectively, we will allow her own words to paint a magnificent portrait of a dreamer that never gave up.
Anne Evanoff’s official website can be found here.
So who is Anne “Cleo” Evanoff?
Anne “Cleo” Evanoff was born with the bug. When she was just a kid, Anne regularly invited neighborhood friends to come and enjoy “playtime” on the veranda of her family home near the Mattagami River in Timmins, Ontario. They would spend hours “acting out” various fairly tales and stories often changing endings and adding characters. Anne believes that magic happens when you play with the imagination and tune your ear to the music of language. It is not surprising that Anne Evanoff started acting in a serious way as a youngster with the Timmins Drama Club and over the years, she often performed lead roles in many productions that won awards in the Mid-Northern Ontario Drama Competitions.
As an adolescent, Anne bemoaned the fact that her parents did not give her a middle name but after playing "Cleopatra" in a stage play, her director, Chester Jury, started calling her “Cleo”. So she adopted that name and delights in using the acronym, ‘ACE,’ on her calling card and social media.
Two of her childhood friends speak to her passion for acting:
“During Anne Evanoff's secondary school years, she was a well-known member of the Timmins Drama Club directed by Chester Jury, a well respected drama coach. Anne was highly regarded for her stage presence and it is doubtful there was a play the Drama Club presented that she did not star in. She was able to project her voice - so distinct and clear - that audience members sitting in the back row of a huge auditorium could hear every word. Anne could seemingly play any role, although the more dramatic roles suited her strong and vibrant personality. Recall her playing Cleopatra on stage and it was unbelievable that a girl with red hair and freckles who looked more like Anne Shirley than Cleopatra could pull it off, but pull it off she did! Anne is just one of those natural actors. She loves the stage. She works hard at everything she does whether that be acting or ballroom dancing or playing the ukulele.”
-Renee Levesque, North Bay, Ontario, Writer & Editor of Northern Wildlife Magazine
“Went all through junior high and high school with Anne Evanoff, and, even though many years have passed, there are still lasting memories of the many dramatic productions in which she was engaged. It was amazing to see how Anne could transform herself from the quiet, studious student in many of our classes into a completely different person on stage - a person who could no longer be recognized as that Anne! It was a frightening talent! It is really a shame that she didn't pursue a professional career as an actor right from the start. What I would like to say is that when Anne sets her mind to do something, there is nothing that she cannot do and cannot do without excelling at it. She is warm, friendly, loves people and is tons of fun.”
-Philip Kreiner, Author, Shizuoka City, Japan/Nominated for a Governor General's Award
Anne's parents had concerns about her preoccupation with becoming an actress and diverted her attention to Toronto Teachers' College. She excelled academically and obtained a Master's Degree in Curriculum Development & Sociology from the University of Toronto. Her ability to adapt to different situations and her ability "to get on board quickly" created many opportunities for her in the field of education. Anne was a teacher, a system diagnostician, a school principal and an Education Officer with the Ontario Ministry of Education as well as an International School Inspector and School Improvement Officer. She is adept at identifying what kind of instruction makes for great training and is able to articulate those elements for the benefit of others.
Her posts in a Facebook Group - Smart Artists Smart Choices - are based on decades of her experience as a school improvement officer and a keen awareness of what good training/teaching/learning looks like. Many actors message her for recommendations and she is generous in sharing what components to look for in any training program that makes a difference. Anne also believes that no matter what community you belong to - we should each find our own way of “giving back” and Smart Artists Smart Choices is her way of doing just that.
Her career in education took her to many different places in the world - New York City, Washington DC, Bermuda, Trinidad, England, Hawaii and India to mention a few - where she fed her curiosity about different cultures and customs and deepened her love of the arts. She spent some time in Ireland and was thrilled to attend performances at Cork’s Firkin Crane and Everyman’s Theatre run by Patrick Talbot, whom she met in New York City at a Harold Pinter play on Broadway.
Anne has no regrets that her parents diverted her in another direction and is grateful for the life she lived. She was fortunate enough to retire early with the intention of returning to her first love: acting. Anne devotes herself full time to training and auditioning for various roles in film, tv, plays, commercials and web series. She feels fortunate to be able to live out this second life and to have the opportunity to work with other creatives in the industry. Recently, she discovered that she might have relatives in the film industry in Bulgaria and is planning a trip there in the future to meet some of the artists in her family lineage.
Anne believes that when it comes to acting in TV, film & theatre - the learning never stops. What helps prepare her is finding the right training to hone her craft. In the Toronto area, she credits professionals like Ron Leach, Tony Babcock, and Robert Bellissimo, with his Meisner roots, in providing her with a skillset that enhances her natural ability to be real when she takes on a character under imaginary circumstances; although she admits, doing that takes a lot of practice. Every winter, she spends a few months in Florida and is also active in the theatre arts community there working with creatives such as Camille Likes, Dean Corbett and Shauna Bartel!
She has had roles in a webseries, full length films and a variety of short films as well as student films. She has worked on film festival projects and shared the lead in a major recent stage play, “Trouble in the Bubble”, in Lady Lake, Florida. Anne also has well-honed writing skills and has worked on scripts and screenplays with a few directors and filmwriters in Toronto.
Have there been any stumbling blocks or challenges? Anne readily admits that she is a 50+ actor - “just look at me!” She notes that on occasion, she faces the judgement of naysayers in the acting community but has learned to ignore those voices. Some of those so called “pundits” have told her things like: “you’re too old”; “you wear glasses”; “you should stick to the theatre”; “you have the wrong look for tv and film”; and “you need to dye your hair gray and never wear make-up again”. Anne stands tall in the face of stereotypes for older women that reflect another era in filmmaking.
Anne enjoys showing up at auditions as herself and savors the opportunity to practise her craft! She is keenly aware that it is not her job to judge others and so she tries to walk the talk by treating everyone she meets along the way with kindness and respect but at the same time, she is courageous enough to stand up for herself. She likes to listen to Ashley McBryde’s song, “Girl Goin Nowhere”, which pretty much sums up the kind of determination an artist needs to work in the industry.
She also notes that there is usually a backstory to someone’s negativity. She has lived long enough to know the difference between projection and truth. Her preference is to find satisfaction in working with proactive artists who want to collaborate and create meaningful relationships. Her acting ‘family’ circle is made up of people who are positive, proactive and supportive. Keywords for survival! If you want to have fun, then hang out with other actors who share the same belief system. It is also important to have a life outside of show business: Anne is a golfer, photographer, ballroom dancer, bird watcher, avid reader (historical fiction) and enjoys exotic travel. She practises yoga/mindful meditation on a regular basis.
Anne realizes that few people discuss the dark side of the industry out of fear of rejection. “Never admit there is an elephant in the room!” is the mantra of many. I respect that practice especially with young actors who are doing their best to get noticed. “In reality, the majority of casting directors want you to succeed. And that is why it is so important to develop a positive network in Toronto.” states Anne. She gets it that auditioning is the real work of actors - the place where you grow your knowledge of how to be present stay focussed and make some interesting discoveries about yourself as you are “doing” your role.
Western society is geared to the belief that aging, especially for women, is a negative factor. Anne is encouraged that more 50+ female actors are beginning to challenge that perception. Many young women are either seeking out opportunites or creating them collaboratively by taking the lead in casting, directing and producing. WIFT is a great example of how that initiative is being promoted with the next generation. She is delighted to be able to support young people who have the bug and want to succeed.
What Anne also finds refreshing is that some casting directors and producers seem to be more aware of the double standard for men and women and are more open to inviting a variety of actors to participate and collaborate regardless of age and gender. The stereotype of a grandmother with gray hair in a bun and wire glasses is slowly being eroded for mature women who look great regardless of their age and are proud of every wrinkle!
If filmmakers want to capture the reality of what it means to be human then eventually more roles will be created for older women without the judgement of how they look as the predominant factor. For Anne, age is just a number and living out one’s passion is important no matter what stage of life you are at. Everyone has a story to tell. For the most part, she has no desire to go to Hollywood, or LA or Broadway. She loves what she is doing right where she is! It is thrilling for her to play in the sandbox with other creatives! And she truly enjoys delighting in other artists!
In the meantime, Anne views every opportunity to “act” as an opportunity to feed the bug. And for her, that means no role is too small and has experienced how one role can lead to another. Anne started off doing background work. It was there that lead actors and directors remarked that “Anne was one of the best background actors they had encountered” and that recognition inspired her to reach out for speaking roles. See what a supportive community can do for you!
What is Anne like on set? Nyaradzo Jowa/Author & Executive Producer, “Molly’s Love Story” has this to say about her work: “Anne Evanoff played her role as Joyce Polowski very well. She was there for us - no matter what - even when things got difficult. That is huge! It is worth more than a million dollars to have someone stand by you through thick and thin. That is who she is - a pillar of the family - both on and off set.”
The ACE is also involved in the world of voiceover - another source of delight and fun. Anne has had the privilege of collaborating and training with people like Caroly Larson, Elley Ray Hennessey, Micheline Carone, Joanne Boreham and Natalie Thoriel. Anne notes that playing “Oreo Cookie”, one of her favourite animation characters, was inspired by Elley Ray Hennessey at a week long bootcamp in Stratford.
Voice reels can be found here.
What does the world of voiceover say about Anne’s voice?
"Working with Anne on my short film was a great pleasure. Not only was she incredibly professional, but creativity shone through everything she did. The choices she made for her character were not just interesting but they were bold as well. She was willing to take risks as an actor and engage fully in her choices. Most actors are faced with the challenge of going out of their comfort zone, and for Anne it was almost as if the comfort zone wasn't there. We had zero issues getting the best performance out of Anne, and her participation will most definitely bring our film to the next level.”
-Kelly Harvey-Mykula, Writer/Producer of "Silent Alarm”
"I met Anne Cleo Evanoff at Actors’ Studio in The Villages, Florida. As a writer, director and producer, I couldn’t help but notice that she is a wiz at improv and her voice has an unmistakable texture. As an actor, Anne has the versatility to be guileless, vile or seductive - and always memorable. I noted inherent style, wit and intelligence in her acting and an amazing ability to use her voice effectively in a variety of different contexts.”
-Camille Likes, Writer, Director, Producer/ The Villages, Florida
"Anne was registered in the Naturality Teacher Training Course in Hamilton, Ontario and travelled to Rishekesh, India to build her awareness with some very talented teachers. She is a Certified Mindful Meditation /Yoga Instructor. I was one of the instructors and responsible for the mindfulness meditation portion of the program. I was fortunate to have an opportunity to work very closely with her. She did an amazing job with the practical part of the course delivering a wonderful Loving Kindness Meditation to the class. The tone of her voice, content of the meditation, pacing and energy with which she delivered the meditation were all excellent. Anne has a wonderful way about her and incredible ability to connect with people.”
-Greg Klym, Certified Meditation Instructor
In the winter months, Anne is an active member and huge fan of the Mulberry Centre Foreign Film Club in Lady Lake, Florida. She notes that in foreign filmmaking there seems to be less disparity based on age and gender when it comes to creating stories that touch the hearts of the audience and some of her favourite films come from that category. Anne has an extensive list of favourite films and below, mentions a few that stand out in her lifetime of “movie going”. She is, in fact, a big fan of all types of movies from all over the world.
1. Babette’s Feast, 1987
Babette’s Feast, based on a story by Isak Dineson, is about a sect of austere, severe religious people living on a remote Denmark coast in the 19th century. They are led by the elderly daughters of the sect’s founder, they view pleasures with suspicion, as a distraction from God, and so they eat only bland food. It is a classic Danish film and actually won an Oscar in 1988. Gabriel Axel’s film is not only a jubilant and heart wrenching movie, but also has “the best feast scene in cinematic history”.
It is my number one fav of all time.
2. My Brilliant Career, 1979
Growing up in the Australian outback, creative and headstrong Sybylla Melvyn (Judy Davis) dreams of becoming a famous writer despite long odds and the objections of her family. Forced by money problems to move in with her rich grandmother (Aileen Britton), she soon makes the acquaintance of a handsome landowner, Harry (Sam Neill), and wins him over despite their class differences. When Harry proposes, Sybylla must choose between romantic love and the brilliant career she craves.
This film’s director, producers, scriptwriter, first billed actor, production designer, costume designer, production supervisor, bookkeeper and accountant were all women. It is another example of how great storytelling that captures the challenge of a young woman trying to follow her dream can be turned into a amazing film.
3. The Marriage of Maria Braun, 1978
In this outstanding film, a World War II widow seeks to adjust to life in postwar Germany. This movie follows the life of a young German woman, married to a soldier in the waning days of WWII. Director Reiner Werner Fassbinder portrays the gritty life after the end of WWII and the turmoil of the people trapped in its wake.
This film fascinates me because of the way the characters portray the agony of living in this dark historical period - as only Fassbinder could do.
4. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, 1988
This American film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Milan Kundera published in 1984. Director Philip Kaufman and screenwriter Jean Claude Carriere portray Czechoslovakian artistic and intellectual life during the 1968 Prague Spring Liberalization period preceding the invasion by the SovietWarsaw Pact that introduced a period of communist repression.
I was mesmerized by this film on several different counts because as I watched it I was thrilled at the prospect of adding it to my best foreign film list. Turns out, it was made in America! The storytelling is brilliant but the film went nowhere in the American Film Industry because literally everyone in it was unknown in Hollywood.
5. Roma, & Shoplifters, 2018
Roma is a 2018 drama film written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón, who also produced, shot, and co-edited it. Cuarón poignantly captures what happens when Cleo falls hard in love - the story is embedded within another story - and Cuarón cleverly reveals the power imbalance in both worlds and the effect that has on women. Brilliant storytelling!
In this beautifully felt family drama, Shoplifters, Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda dives into the mess with a story about a household on the ragged edge. Again, outstanding storytelling that touches the heart and the soul!
When it comes to books, she enjoys science fiction a la Ursula LeGuin as well as historical fiction and biographies. Her all time favourite novel is a piece of historical fiction written by Margaret George, The Memoirs of Cleopatra. She recalls that this 1000 page novel got her into trouble when family members resorted to hiding it because she could not put it down. She especially enjoyed this story because Margaret George shares with her readers the effect writing about Cleopatra had on her personally - creating a wonderful backstory. Margaret and Anne have become collaborators of late and there may be some surprises waiting on the horizon!
“Margaret George has been meticulous in her research of this historical figure in order to get closer to the truth of who this woman was as a leader and commander-in-chief. It is perhaps the most accurate account of her life to date.” Anne Cleo Evanoff chuckles when she says she dreams of playing the role of Cleopatra’s mother someday or even the older Cleopatra! Denis Villeneuve - are you reading this?