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Interview With Little Mosque on the Prairie’s Sheila McCarthy

Friday, May 13, 2011 @ 05:05 PM
Abbas Karimjee[ Administrator/ Owner]

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.

6 Responses to “Interview With Little Mosque on the Prairie’s Sheila McCarthy”

  1. rolandQmtl says:

    What a beautiful interview, with a beautiful person, both as Sarah and Sheila. I have all the DVDs of the Little Mosque, and like Sarah/Sheila, I have learned much to increase my understanding of Islam. Little Mosque is lucky to have Sarah, and Sarah is lucky to have such a supporting cast. Yes, I will watch re-runs and the DVDs with nostalgia, but all good things must come to an end. I’m sure we’ll all see Sarah/Sheila again in quality programming. Will miss Sarah Hamoudi! Will miss Little Mosque on the Prairie. Will miss the LMOP family. 5 stars for Sarah/Sheila *****!

  2. Maaz H says:

    Nice One, This really is a wonderful Sitcom – Little Mosque also has viewers from Pakistan aswell. Great Job!!

  3. Khan says:

    Whao sheila is 55?? really? she looks 40-ish at best!

  4. nura says:

    I just discovered this show while living in Qatar-had to find and watch every episode online-the fourth season was a hard one to get sometimes. I love it and am sorry to know it is the last season (though they have said that about the last 3 seasons in various places). I hope they do a US version so I can keep enjoying it-I loved the characters and the setting and I think it is kind of true to the LTOTP premise-it shows us a different world but that people are the same, no matter what. It is a lesson I have definitely learned as an expat revert living in Qatar! I would probably be shocked at how liberal North American mosques are, but I hope I can function with the grace of the characters in the show(well, sometimes, and I hope that others will show the grace to me when I am being silly).

  5. Thank you for your comment, Nura and welcome to the blog!

    It is indeed unfortunate that the show is coming to an end after the conclusion of its sixth season!

    Though I am unaware of reports on the show’s end having been made in previous years,I can confirm that filming for the show has already wrapped.

    I particularly enjoyed reading that your experience as a revert has allowed you to resonate with one of the show’s main idea, that individuals, regardless of their faith, share many positive universal traits. Are there any insights about this , from your personal experience which would you like to share?

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and please feel free to keep doing so!

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