“A Day in the Life” with Actor and Stunt Performer Avaah Blackwell

There is a familial atmosphere on the set of Star Trek: Discovery as Avaah Blackwell arrives, sipping peppermint and ginger tea, greeting the cast and crew in her quintessentially good-humoured manner as she makes her way through Pinewood Studios Toronto. After a small breakfast and meditation in her trailer she heads to hair and make-up while reviewing her lines. On days when he’s directing, Jonathan Frakes, known to Star Trek fans as Captain William T. Striker from Star Trek: The Next Generation, pops his head in as he makes his rounds greeting the cast and crew at the start of a fresh production day. Depending on the role, Ms. Blackwell will spend between 10 minutes and 3 hours in prosthetics before embarking on a 12 to 13-hour shooting day. She remains fixated on the tasks before her, her eyes at once piercing and exuding warmth, perhaps the inheritance of patient focus through a long train of struggles and uncertainties overcome through hard work and more than a generous amount of risk-taking.

Since its inception, the Star Trek franchise has connected to audiences around the world through continually breaking new ground in television and film. The franchise is also as much a celebration of courageous individuals who continually push beyond physical and sometimes cerebral boundaries, driven by faith that there are always new frontiers to explore. Ms. Blackwell’s journey from the streets of Prague to the Holodek of the Starship Discovery is one such a journey.

Born in Calgary, Alberta, Ms. Blackwell took her first leap into the unknown by heading to the Prague Film School at age 19. She was promptly propelled into desperation, as while sorting visa issues she was flung into homelessness. “I didn’t tell my parents (or anyone else for that matter) for fear of being brought home immediately. I also didn’t want to worry my father, who was away at the time on active duty in Afghanistan with the Canadian Armed Forces and NATO”.

She began to work her way out. While still homeless, she worked as an actor at the Fringe Festival in Prague, which led to more work as an actor in several short films. After working as a theatre performer in several productions, she landed a job as a reader and casting associate for the short-lived ABC television series Missing, finally finding an apartment, which she offered to clean in exchange for a few months of free rent.

“It was an artist commune with a vacant spot- essentially an ex-speed junkie space that they couldn’t otherwise rent out because it was in such bad shape!” She notes that once cleaned, it was one of the most beautiful places she’s ever lived, with a 15 ft ceiling right in the heart of Prague.

Upon returning home to Calgary, she felt herself drawn to the wilderness: “I grew up in a wild part of the country, near mountains, rivers and prairies. (The wild) allows me to be alone with my thoughts, to realize that we are all connected to a larger mystery than ourselves”.

She worked a series of jobs, first for Holt Renfrew as one of their top sales advisors with NARS Cosmetics before moving to Toronto in 2014. There, she began a successful modelling career, working at the famed Toronto Fashion Week, and for brands and designers like Versace, Amato Couture and others.

Though based in Toronto, she is still very much an intrepid artist, shuttling back and forth via bus, train or car between Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, often finishing one role then quickly scuttling to the next set in another city the following morning. Her acting career also began to blossom, landing roles in action films and AAA video games, which usually entailed wearing either heavy prosthetics or motion-capture suits for alien and creature work. “Think Andy Serkis, but female and lankier”, says Ms. Blackwell with a grin.

It was from there that she first entered the Star Trek Universe. “I started as a background performer for one day, then kept being brought back. Eventually I was moved up to being an actor on the show, which then lead to recurring, principal roles- this happened because of the special people involved in the show. They really cheered me on and always gave me support and encouragement. When a role became available, they put me forward for it- I mean really pushed for me to succeed, and I am forever grateful”.

These days, Avaah is keeping herself busy, expanding into martial arts and stunt performing. Aside from having worked as a performer and stunt double on a number of series (Jupiter’s Legacy, EFC movie, and her current duties on Star Trek: Discovery (Season 3 is set to premiere on October 15th), she will soon be seen doing creature work and prosthetics performance for a big-budget zombie film currently shooting in Toronto, performing as various aliens and and doing stunt work for action sequences in another Sci Fi project, as well as doubling for the lead of a female-driven mystery series, though she remains tight-lipped about each project.

Though she has made a life in the big city, the wilderness is still very much a part of herself, as seen when she mounts her motorbike to depart Pinewood Studios Toronto. An active environmental advocate, she is teaming up with her sister Mickenzie Plemel-Stronks to stop a plan to open the Grassy Mountain Pit Coal Mines from going forward near Blairmore, Alberta, located at the headwaters of the South Saskatchewan River. “These mines will have devastating, irreversible and wide-reaching effects on much of the surrounding geographical region and pollute rivers across the prairies”.

That reverence for nature, Ms. Blackwell notes, comes from a gratitude for the world in which she has explored. Her journey has been far and riddled with uncertainty, but she remains charged with passion, beckoned by the many frontiers yet to come.

-Benjamin Dooley

Getting a life cast done to play a fun alien!
Getting a life cast done to play a fun alien!
 Sneaky sound booth selfie, doing a voice over for a video game
Sneaky sound booth selfie, doing a voice over for a video game
Pre-pandemic set selfie after a long day in prosthetics. in my Festival de Cannes shirt (low key one of my fave shirts)
Pre-pandemic set selfie after a long day in prosthetics. in my Festival de Cannes shirt (low key one of my fave shirts)
Checking the playback on a fun self tape
Checking the playback on a fun self tape
Lining up the shot with Asante Tracey and Roman Gubin
Lining up the shot with Asante Tracey and Roman Gubin
Out for a ride
Out for a ride
Fencing rehearsal for a stunt doubling gig
Fencing rehearsal for a stunt doubling gig
Taking in some Art at the AGO
Taking in some Art at the AGO

What ‘hood are you in?

Wychwood – Close to the Artscape Barns, I love the area!! If you’re ever up that way, try Oakwood Espresso!

What do you do?

I am an Actor, Stunt Performer and Model. In a nutshell I pretend to punch people, fly spaceships and rock runways for a living.

What are you currently working on?

I have several projects I’m working on at the moment, including a great sci-fi feature and Mystery series, unfortunately I can’t release the names at the moment, but I’m having a blast between acting and stunt doubling.

Where can we find your work?

Currently, you can catch me in season three of “Star Trek: Discovery” on Crave, CBS All Access and Netflix.
Watch out for me in “Jupiter’s Legacy” on Netflix early 2021 and you can find me as Doreen Madison on Lifetime TV”s “Deadly Influencer”.

You can also find me on instagram @therealavaahblackwell and Twitter and Facebook: Avaah Blackwell

 

 

 

About Joel Levy 2131 Articles
Editor-In-Chief at Toronto Guardian. Photographer and Writer for Toronto Guardian and Joel Levy Photography