Interview With Little Mosque on the Prairie’s Sheila McCarthy
Actress Sheila McCarthy has been leading a distinguished career within the Canadian entertainment industry as an experienced singer and a talented film, stage and television actress.Sheila’s credits include a wide range of credits ,including her roles of films such as I’ve Heard The Mermaids Singing and The Lotus Eaters, for which the actress was bestowed two individual Gemini awards . Additionally, Sheila has appeared in a variety of other Canadian films, including, Being Julia, Confessions Of A Teenage Drama Queen, The Day After Tomorrow and Die Hard.Sheila’s television credits include shows such as Picket Fences, I Was A Rat, Roxana, Missing, Wonderland and Road To Avonlea.
Sheila has now been starring in CBC’s hit sitcom, Little Mosque on the Prairie as the empathetic and spontaneous Muslim convert, Sarah Hamoudi.
With Sheila being kind enough to participate in a interview with us and Little Mosque on the Prairie currently under production for its sixth and final season we took the opportunity to chat with Sheila about her initial appointment to the role of Sarah, how the actress has related to her character, what is in store for the sixth and final season, Sheila’s thoughts on the show’s impact on Canadian culture and her view on why it resonates well with viewers , Sheila’s exciting plans for the future of her acting career and much more!
Abbas Karimjee: Lets discuss your initial appointment to the role of Sarah. Were you contacted for the role of Sarah or did you audition for the role? Could you please walk is through this initial process and any challenges which were involved?
Sheila McCarthy:I was offered the role of Sarah without auditioning which was a gift. The producers originally thought of me for the role of the MAYOR ANN POPOWITZ but my agent, Perry Zimel, recommended they cast me as SARAH and they did
AK: How are you similar to the character of Sarah?
SM:The original role of SARAH was quite a straight ahead sort of part. The serious wife, a foil for the goofy husband. I had a lot of conversations with the original writers suggesting if they were going to really use me, perhaps they might beef up SARAH’s foibles and comedy so that she would become a more three dimensional part and so much more fun to play. We had a very inclusive writing team that first season and the collaboration was wonderful. SARAH and I are similar in many ways really. A little disorganized but well meaning and optimistic for sure! She is probably a tad more organizationally impaired than me but not much!
AK:What challenges are associated with playing the Sarah and how have you overcome these challenges?
SM:I was not versed at all in the MUSLIM world so my learning curve was enormous. Having been raised a Catholic as a child , I really had my eyes opened to a whole new world of Islamic rules and tradition. It is one of the many perks of my business to learn new things and I loved immersing myself into this universe that was so foreign to me. I read a lot of material, we visited a mosque in Regina and I picked the brains of Muslims on set. I have also taken a much greater interest now in world affairs because of being a part of this special cutting edge show.
AK:How do you think the character of Sarah has developed over the course of the series and what aspirations do you have for the character , with the show drawing to a close?
SM:SARAH has grown immeasurably over the last five seasons. From her marriage, to her new jobs, her daughter’s marriage, her new arc this season being on her own, SARAH has really matured in many ways. She is still a lovable under dog and very sweet, but maybe more vulnerable now as she faces a new life of singledom. My challenge has been to bring dignity to her even as she screws up again and again. it is a fine line and I love the process. I would hope that now SARAH will move on in her life, stand up for herself with even more strength and maybe even find love again.
AK:Could you please give us an idea as to what is in store for the sixth season of Little Mosque on the Prairie , in terms of the overall direction and general storylines which the series will pursue this season?
SM:This season the marriage of my daughter RAYAN and AMAAR will be put under the telescope as well as SARAH’S own newly found independence. Everyone will have a bit of closure as we know it is the final season. A rare thing indeed in television land! SARAH will long for YASIR and her marriage and probably also long for the pitter patter of little grand children. Whether or not that will happen is up the writers! SARAH will grow up and realize she can stand on her own two feet and probably discover a strength she didn’t know she had!
AK :What challenges will the character of Sarah are in store for Sarah this season, both in terms of her relationship with her family as well as a resident of Mercy?
SM :As I said above, SARAH will find herself in many ways and also probably find a newly won respect for her married daughter and her best friend Ann. That friendship will deepen after a lot of fun and dates and mishaps I am sure!
AK: Little Mosque on the Prairie has achieved international success , airing in over 68 countries as well as in Canada, with the series premiere, earning a CBC record breaking viewership of 2. 1 million. What impact do you think Little Mosque on the Prairie has had on Canadian culture and why do you think the show has resonated with viewers so well?
SM :I think one of the most endearing and lasting impressions Little Mosque has had in Canada is our loyal fan base and also the audiences who love the show for it’s humour and sweetness. The politics are there but what I love is the relationships our audiences care about. It means people have somehow forgotten that it is about Muslims and Anglicans. It is just about people sharing a church and a community. Everyone snores! Everyone makes mistakes! Everyone loves and everyone has a community. The joy of people coming up to me every day to discuss our little show is overwhelming.
AK:What is your reaction to Little Mosque ending this season and how do you hope both the series and the character of Sarah, in particular, is remembered?
SM:I am always sad when a show ends but it is actually rare and wonderful to know it will be. Most often you shoot a TV series and you do not know that. This way, we can say goodbye to our little epic with a lot of fondness and love. I would hope that show has many more years of shelf life in reruns when future generations can tune in and get to know the town of MERCY!
AK:How has being a cast member on this series impacted your career and how has it influenced your personal perspective on the Muslim community?
SM:I have loved being part of this show. It has been so great to be known and recognized for it and I am so proud of every season. I decided to stay in Canada a long time ago to work and being a part of this success story has been indescribable. I am grateful for it. I am 55 now and a lot of my peers in this precarious business do not get the chance to work as much as I do. I feel very lucky. As for the Muslim community, I can only hope we have portrayed even a fraction of life behind and in front of the barrier with truth and humor. it was everyone’s intention from producers to cast to directors to writers to educate and entertain in the best possible way. if we have achieved this in even a small way then I am thrilled.
AK:What is your reaction to being a role model and what influence do you think the character of Sarah exerts towards Canadian culture?
SM:I don’t know how much of a role model I have been portraying SARAH. I suppose I have been a sort of window in the Muslim world in the sense that SARAH married into the culture and wasn’t born into it. She has always had one foot in the door as a Muslim and one foot out in the secular world. Perhaps people outside the Muslim world have been able to see through her eyes as it were with all her struggles to be Muslim and yet maintain her independence as well.
AK:Reflecting on your experiences as a cast member to date, what are some of your favourite moments working on the series, either on screen or off-screen, in production?
SM:I realize know that a great part of being on LITTLE MOSQUE was getting to know and love and work with Debra McGrath who plays my boss on the show, the mayor Ann Popowitz. Deb and I bonded the first day and have become fast friends through thick and thin. This does not always happen and believe me our giggles on set are legendary. I will certainly miss everyone involved in the show once we are finally done but there will be lasting friendships also because of it and six seasons of wonderful memories. I have also loved working and getting to know my daughter on the show Sitara Hewitt, through her marriage both on and off screen and motherhood in the wings. Her grace and compassion are unparalled and we will be friends forever as well.
AK:Have you been working on any other recent acting projects which you would like to share with viewers?
SM: I have been developing other projects with my co-writer Brendan Howley and we are working with WESTWIND right now on a future TV series that will bring back all of our favourites! I have two beautiful daughters and I am watching them launch into their futures with great love and hope.
AK: With Little Mosque on the Prairie drawing to a close this season, what message do you have for viewers of the series?
SM:I don’t have any messages really for the loyal viewers of our little show except to say THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart for watching us every week and following our little family through the years. I hope you have enjoyed the show and maybe , just maybe, learned a thing or two about the world we live in and how we are all here to live and work and play together. And for future audiences, I hope you will watch LITTLE MOSQUE ON THE PRAIRIE and do the same.
AK:What activities do you enjoy during your spare time?
SM:In my spare time I write, work out every day, read, travel, stay close to friends and family and try to keep working and learning new things! I may even learn to play the grand piano I just bought on a bit of a whim! I also lend my support to Canadian Feed The Children, Meagans Walk, and am planning to work with the Canadian Lung Association in some capacity this fall. I teach a film class at Humber College which I find extremely rewarding. Seeing young talent emerging is incredible.