We had the good fortune of connecting with Christopher Cornish and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Christopher, how do you think about risk?
I was just listening to Marc Maron’s interview with Frank Langella about his long acting career, and apparently he lives (and acts) by this phrase: “Leap empty-handed into the void.” Langella has a great way of unpacking that so I highly recommend you check out the interview but as someone who has a healthy fear of heights and is somewhat risk-averse by nature, this is a pretty intimidating statement for me. I might be more tempted to say “Inch carefully into the void with a safety rope, extra snacks, hand sanitizer, a surgical mask, a strong flashlight, extra batteries, and a back-up pair of underwear.” In fact, this is pretty much me leaving the apartment any given day lately (but isn’t that all of us now?). This has nothing to do with acting but I remember an adventure my friend Michael D. Cohen talked me into: rappelling into slot canyons near Zion National Park in Utah. It was just the two of us on a chilly day in November with a jovial guide driving a rickety jeep up muddy switchbacks to a plateau from which we would descend in a series of drops down to the Virgin river. The first rappel was a baby one, just 15 or 20 feet, so that we could get used to it (Michael had done this before but I hadn’t). You basically hang on to the rope and walk backwards over the edge, your face looking up at sky and your back to the wind and the drop below. I was pretty impressed that I overcame my fear and made it to the relatively near bottom. The rest of the trip had to be aborted due to weather, rapidly failing light, and having to improvise a different route. I have to admit that part of the decision to retreat to the safety of the jeep (passing fresh mountain lion tracks) was connected to my intense anxiety about all of the above. However, I learned that just being there and doing that first little drop was in fact huge for me. Though I haven’t tried rappelling since, in later adventures, I was able to push even further past my fear to hike up to new heights. I can be hard on myself but probably don’t give myself enough credit for simply saying yes and showing up. In life and career, there here have been many fallbacks and switchbacks, and it also took me forever to leap into the move from Toronto to Los Angeles, but here I am. In acting, everything feels like it can be a risk, exposing all of your vulnerabilities so that you can truly come alive in a scene. But with a good guide (my friend Michael is also an amazing actor and teacher) and baby steps, I feel like I’m inching my way there!
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
In third grade, my teacher Ms. Vondracek interviewed each student in the class to find out what we wanted to be when we grew up. Without hesitating, I answered “comedian.” Not long after, she put me in the school play in a comic relief role and outside of doing shows for my mom, this was the first time my dream was supported. She also recognized that I had some early talent for writing and assigned me an individual project to write a story, which she laminated and bound so that I could see it as a published book. It was an extremely limited circulation of one but still exciting to see it “in print”. My life and career have been marked by such moments, big or small, when the right teacher at the right time shared an insight or encouragement that shifted my direction or my entire mindset. The rest of the long journey to this point includes: a lot of high school plays; community/fringe theatre; the conservatory program at Second City Toronto; sketch comedy festivals in Toronto and Montreal; a few forays into stand-up and voice-over work; loads of acting classes in LA with Michael D. Cohen, The Groundlings, Upright Citizen’s Brigade; doing indie short films; and a lot of background/extra work. None of this is entirely out of the ordinary for an average performer in the early stages. What perhaps sets me apart are the long gaps between all of the above things, in which I also worked several years as a child and youth care worker and then as an adjunct professor teaching literature and communication (which I’m still doing today). Though it sometimes feels like a lack of focus and clear direction, I see it as a deep well of experiences from which to draw. Those jobs, including caring for a mentally ill parent for many years, have often put me in positions where I have served the needs of others. I think that mindset comes in handy when you have to think about what serves a character, a story, and a crew on a film set, not to mention the audience. Having a diverse career has made progress slower and more challenging in many ways because my own creative needs/interests can sometimes get back-burnered. I wouldn’t quite call myself a late bloomer (I’m not even sure if I’ve fully flowered yet!) but maybe you could just call me a “slow cooker.” The last couple years, I’ve been excited to a lot of background jobs on films/tv shows set in earlier time periods such as the 1930’s and 60’s. Dressing up in the clothes of that time, and going to locations and sets made to match, is like being transported back in time. Among my favorites were shooting scenes downtown LA at city hall and Angel’s Flight, a court room set at Paramount studios, and a small airport converted into a 1960’s racetrack. On this last filmset, I made friends and as it turned out future collaborators when we started writing/acting/shooting our own comedy short films (“Pit 32 Films”). The biggest challenge for me in pursuing a creative path is the inner negativity that dogs many of us. On my wall, I have the poem “Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann and I try to remember what he advises: “Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.” It can be a lonely pursuit sometimes, especially in LA, but that’s why I find it so important to get outside of myself to work with other people despite being a natural introvert. Though a lot of creative work is still done alone, it’s good to know there is a supportive community of people around you and with you.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I love touring visitors around and I’ve enjoyed refining this itinerary over the last few years and I’m always finding new things, so this is pretty close to what I’ve done when friends have visited (all of this is based on pre-pandemic times of course). One of my absolute favourite places to take people is Griffith Park and all its trails. A day of hiking might include a visit to the Bronson Caves where the 1960’s Batmobile used to emerge, the Hollywood sign, and little oases like Dante’s View. Of course the crown jewel is Griffith Observatory. The sunset view from there is spectacular and if you’re an amateur space nerd like me (and my Dad), all of the exhibits inside, the planetarium, and the free lectures in the Leonard Nimoy theatre are a real treat. If you ask one of the staff members at the little desk at the lower level, they’ll even let you hold a an actual meteorite. Another day would be built around Hollywood of course, a tour of the Chinese theatre, absorbing all the weirdness of the boulevard, scooting over to do a studio tour at Paramount studios (my favourite). We would maybe stop for lunch or dinner at the Gratitude Cafe (a unique vegan place where you have to order by saying things like “I am Radiant”….just go, you’ll see what I mean). Then perhaps we’d cap it off with a night on the lawn of the Hollywood Forever cemetery watching a classic movie projected onto one of the buildings. A day in downtown LA is a must. I like to get my culture fix at The Broad (free admission!) and if you like classical music, the LA Phil at the Disney Concert Hall is right next door. You can also get a free audio tour of the building, designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry. For theatre, the Ahmanson is just a little bit further and from there, you can see city hall and much of downtown spread out below. From there, you can take the Angel’s Flight funicular, an historic little railcar that takes you up and down the hill. I did background work on that funicular and when you ride it, you can imagine you’re in the 1930s. At the bottom, Grand Central Market is a chaotic neon food fest but if you’re feeling a bit fancier, there is a french rooftop restaurant called “The Perch” overlooking Pershing Square. If you’re looking for a fun place to get a drink or some club action, Clifton’s is an over-the-top experience that needs to be explored, with a giant indoor tree, a stuffed bear, a gothic bar, a 1920’s style ballroom, and a Tiki bar (almost) hidden behind a mirrored door. Though it’s rough around the edges sometimes, the history and architecture of downtown is gorgeous, including the unique interior of the Bradbury building and The Last Bookstore where the top floor has a tunnel made out of books (yes, I’m also a nerd for that kind of thing). There would be a day by the ocean, starting in Venice. Walking along the canals with all its unique houses (sometimes opulent, sometimes wacky, sometimes quaint) is one of my favourite things to do. The beach nearby is great and the boardwalk is a cultural experience that may accidentally get you high from second hand smoke. Santa Monica Pier and the nearby Promenade are a bit more tourist-intense but still lots of fun and my fave restaurant there is Hummus Express where you can get french fries in your pita. Hiking Temescal canyon in the nearby Pacific Palisades is a good way to walk off the french fries. If you’ve ever been to one of those old ruins in Italy and wondered what it might have looked like in its heyday, the Getty Villa is a wonderful recreation that’s also filled with amazing artefacts and antiquities. For dinner, Patrick’s Roadhouse seems from the outside like it might be tacky and touristy (and it kinda is) but is jammed full of interesting stuff and Americana, and the food is good. Further up the PCH, if we wanted some wonderful sunsets I like either Point Dume (where the famous ending of Planet of the Apes was shot) or El Matador beach with all its interesting rock outcroppings. I’ll stop there because this could go on and on. One thing I’ve learned about LA is that even though I’ve been here for 5 years, I feel like I’ve only explored about 5% of it! (OK, one last shoutout to my local Japanese restaurant Kashira at Wilshire/Western in Ktown, fab food including garlic edamame, great prices, and friendly staff )
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My very good friend, actor, and teacher, Michael D. Cohen deserves a lot of credit for my recent growth as a person and an actor. He is also the one who got me to move out to Los Angeles in the first place and I’m continually inspired by his courage, mentorship, and friendship. My buddy and comedian Jeremy Long already had a shoutout on this site but I owe a lot to him for encouraging me to stay in Los Angeles. He even got me to take the stage for some stand-up comedy at a few open mics! Bob Babish is also a great support, theatre companion, and cat-sitter in the building I currently call home. My supportive parents and friends in Canada who bear with the long absences are indispensable, as are my mentors and colleagues at York University (Dr. Gail Vanstone and Dr. Leslie Sanders) and Durham College. Also, my former troupe-mates in “Grade Eight Dance” and the Second City Toronto classes and teachers that guided us.
Instagram: @gingerpolaroid, @pit32films