Young actress takes reins on CBC's Heartland
It’s never easy coming in as the new kid on a hit television show — and harder still when the scripts call for intense interactions with unpredictable co-stars such as dogs and horses. But since joining the cast of CBC’s Heartland in 2012, 11-year-old Vancouverite Alisha Newton has tackled every challenge with the grace of an old pro.
She’s clearly impressed her human co-stars.
“One of the first things I did with Alisha, we were supposed to be watching her in the round pen working with a horse,” said Graham Wardle (Ty), who sat beside Newton— admittedly to provide moral support — during a recent interview at CBC Vancouver. “[Her character]’s supposed to be really upset and she’s supposed to be doing all this stunt work with the horse, and the horse kept doing something else, and I was going, ‘if that was me in there, I’d be having a really hard time getting into that emotional headspace while trying to remember all these things,’ but Alisha nailed it every time.”
Now in its sixth season, Heartland has been a big hit for the national broadcaster; the family-friendly series will celebrate its 100th episode in March 2013, a rare milestone for a Canadian television show.
Alisha portrays Georgie Crawley, a jaded veteran of the foster system who finds a nurturing home at the sprawling Alberta ranch (the Heartland of the title) operated by Jack (Shaun Johnston), a gruff, big-hearted rancher, and his intuitive granddaughter, Amy (Amber Marshall). Georgie arrives at Heartland angry and rough around the edges, but she immediately softens in the presence of the animals and, as the season progresses, bonds with Heartland’s human inhabitants.
“I like that she’s spunky and she’s very hard, but on the inside she’s all mushy,” Alisha says.
Where Georgie is tomboyish and surly, Alisha impresses people with her eloquence and poise. “Georgie would never wear this,” Alisha said with a laugh, motioning to the pink and purple sequined dress she wore to the interview.
But Georgie and Newton overlap in one critical area — one that has served Newton well during her tenure on the show. “I just love all animals and horses are definitely one of my favourites,” said Alisha, who, prior to her time on Heartland, had very little experience with horses, and now identifies horseback riding as her go-to hobby.
Newton has been working steadily for more than half of her life. Her first job was in a Little Mommy commercial, and to date she has numerous commercials, short films, and television shows under her belt. As a child actress, Alisha is expected to maneuver seamlessly between work and school. Heartland films on location in Alberta (two episodes every 15 days in order to film a single season over the course of eight months) and Alisha splits her classroom time between a Vancouver public school and an on-set trailer.
“I think she’s mastered being able to be professional but still be a kid, still have fun and that really shows on set,” said Heartland co-star (and additional source of moral support) Jessica Amlee (Mallory). “That’s a good skill to have.”
It might seem like there’s a lot on her plate, but Newton insists there’s nothing else she’d rather be doing. “I love being able to be someone else, to feel what you don’t feel every day in your normal life,” said Newton. “I really like crying on TV. I don’t know what it is, but I love it. It’s awesome. I think crying in front of [another actor] that you don’t know as well, it brings you closer.”
This statement clearly fascinated her older co-stars. “This is getting really deep right now,” said Wardle, while Amlee leaned forward in her seat. “Wow, Alisha. In what ways do you feel that that happens?”
Alisha flashed a winning smile. “I open up to them, they open up to me,” she replied, and both Wardle and Amlee nodded thoughtfully.
Alisha’s advice for child actors eager to break into show business: don’t take no for an answer.
“What if your mom tells you that you can’t have another cookie?” Wardle teased.
The winning smile returns brighter than before. “Then take ‘no’ for an answer.”
Heartland airs Sundays at 7pm on CBC.