By Julia Lawrence
On top of her lead role in the new CBC Gem series Macy Murdoch, second-year performance acting student Shailyn Pierre-Dixon is still a regular student practicing scenes with classmates.
Macy Murdoch is a new CBC Gem original tween series, where Pierre-Dixon plays William Murdoch’s great-great-great-granddaughter, Macy Murdoch, who gets involved in solving a century-old mystery. The show is a spin-off of the longtime-running series, Murdoch Mysteries.
Pierre-Dixon’s studies as a performance student are different from most programs at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU). Some days, she stays on campus from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. with classmates working on studio and movement-based assignments.
“I am running on adrenaline at this point,” she says. On top of class assignments where she’s instructed to dig deep into a character, Pierre-Dixon also has to do that in her new role, which she says can be physically and mentally draining.
At the end of the day though, Pierre-Dixon is enjoying her time at TMU. “I also have my electives which are very essay-based. I’m doing all the things at once—I’m just tired but I love it.”
“I hope other young Black women will see me and be like, ‘I understand what this character is going through’”
When Pierre-Dixon came to TMU, she didn’t expect to learn much because she already had experience on sets as an actor. But she says her goal has always been to get an education—no matter how her acting career went.
Although she went to school for the atmosphere, Pierre-Dixon has learned how to connect to a character while separating her personal life and the role in school.
“I feel like I’ve learned how to safely connect to specific emotions that I might need to access in a scene without going into trauma and having to take from my own personal life and apply that to the character,” she says.
During Pierre-Dixon’s first year at TMU, she had to act while wearing a mask due to COVID-19 protocols at the time.
It was difficult for her as she says she was unable to see half of her scene partner’s face, making facial expressions hard to read.
“It definitely made us work harder to connect with one another. It was sad but also a good learning moment,” Pierre-Dixon says. “You could connect so much with just the eyes. It doesn’t have to be a whole facial expression you’re connecting with.”
“I’m doing all the things at once—I’m just tired but I love it”
Pierre-Dixon’s first on-set acting experience was when she followed her mother—and now manager—one day to watch her act.
The crew needed a background child and she immediately fell in love with acting through the experience. Since then, she’s worked with her mother to prepare for auditions and acting coaching.
“I’m constantly being inspired by her work, what she’s doing and her drive when it comes to acting because it’s her dream that I’ve also taken on,” she says. “I think she’s definitely my main inspiration for everything I do but acting especially.”
During Pierre-Dixon’s acting dry period in high school, she felt frustrated after facing multiple rejections during auditions.
She remembers her mother telling her that auditions are all a part of the process and that she should enjoy it as it’s a chance to act.
“That shaped the way in which I saw auditioning and it became less of a chore and less of this dreadful thing where it’s, ‘What if they say no?’” she says.
“It became more of an opportunity for me to really explore the different characters I can play and explore my love for acting more than anything.”
“It definitely made us work harder to connect with one another”
She recalls being so excited to find out she would be getting the lead role in Macy Murdoch. “It was my first time being number one on the call sheet, which is a big deal and I’ve never had a show based around me.”
The actor previously finished filming her role as Willow on Life with Luca, which came out on Disney last month. Afterwards, she heard from Shaftesbury, the same production company behind Life with Luca, that they’d like to meet her for an audition for the character Macy Murdoch.
“I was at home and I got a message from the producer,” Pierre-Dixon recalls. “It felt more like a formality than anything because right after, it was, ‘We already know what kind of work you do and we were hoping that you’d be available for the role of Macy Murdoch.’”
In Shaftesbury’s October press release, it said the show “will engage young viewers on CBC Gem with fresh, relatable teen characters and an all-new mystery set in the hit Murdoch Mysteries universe.”
Throughout Pierre-Dixon’s career as an actor, she hopes her audience can see her as a Black woman on screen. “I hope other young Black women will see me and be like, ‘I understand what this character is going through. I can also do this. I can also be an actor.’”
“I think she’s definitely my main inspiration for everything I do but acting especially”
To Pierre-Dixon, the future of her career as an actor is full of possibilities. She says she’d like to explore playing roles that reflect the human experience that also have an otherworldly aspect to them.
“With acting, my main thing is I want others to connect to what I’m doing. I want them to feel seen.”