While her choice of profession invites it, Kristin Lehman’s personal life doesn’t inspire ink in the gossip rags. But there is one persistent rumour, fuelled by the Internet Movie Database, that she would like to clear up: New Westminster is her birthplace, not Toronto. “If you want to change it, you basically have to give them a vial of blood, sample of urine, your passport, and card,” she says. IMDB seems to be taking a page from her current acting credit as indefatigable Detective Angie Flynn on the unapologetically Canadian crime drama Motive, now in its second season on both CTV and ABC.
On the Burnaby set of Motive—a show that trades the traditional whodunit plot to deal in the why—Lehman flits between peppering perps with questions in the interrogation room as Flynn and fielding them in the conference room next door as herself, and she does so comfortably, convivially even. She could still be playing a part, perhaps of Miss Congeniality, but bona fide smile lines and an aura of authenticity suggest otherwise. There’s also an absence of ego in her discourse. She uses the word “lucky” a lot, and although she is now a prime-time star, she still refers to herself as journeyman actor. “I looked on a more micro scale, as opposed to the macro scale of ‘if you’re an actor, then it must be that you’re striving to be known by millions and make millions.’ At a certain point, I thought, I’m just so lucky that I’ve been able to participate and make a living in this industry for 18 years. What does that look like? What’s that called?” she says. “If I were in any other trade, I would be considered a journeyman. I have gone where the work is, for the most part.”
The road to journeyman came with a slight detour. Lehman always felt innately artistic, but she was the eldest child of two teachers, and more academic achievements were intimated; creativity didn’t equate to career. Despite receiving a small scholarship to pursue her BFA, Lehman chose instead to pursue a general arts undergrad degree at UBC. “I stopped acting in my first year of university and became deeply unhappy without theatre in my life.” She quit university in her third year and started working at the Gap as a manager. And that’s where she had her epiphany. “A girl who worked there, she said, ‘I’m going to need the day off because I’m an actress,’ and I remember running into an invisible wall,” Lehman says. “I thought, look, she’s self-identifying as an actress with pride and excitement. There is no weird conflict for her. She’s claiming this. In that moment I realized what I hadn’t done.” That same week, while wandering through Gastown, she looked up to see a sign for Jane Weitzel, at the time the top headshot photographer in Vancouver.
“I couldn’t be more lucky—I mean, it sounds lame, but it’s just always been that way. I dove in with vigour, and the jobs just tumbled out.”
Lehman wasn’t quixotic about what came next, though; she approached it with the pragmatism of a businessperson. She began taking scene study classes at the now-defunct Gastown Actors’ Studio, and she set her sights on commercials. Her first audition landed her a tiny part on The Commish (her first acting job), and she’s been working ever since. “I couldn’t be more lucky—I mean, it sounds lame, but it’s just always been that way,” she says, somewhat apologetically. “I dove in with vigour, and the jobs just tumbled out.” Shortly thereafter, she began stepping into larger recurring roles on shows filmed in Toronto, where she moved in 1995 before heading to Los Angeles in 1998 . “Ironically, in 1997, I relocated back to Vancouver to film Poltergeist and Strange World.” Lehman acknowledges that the acting landscape in early 1990s wasn’t what it is today, adding, “I was one of four actresses that I would see all the time at auditions.”
In 2007, Lehman took a three-year hiatus to have her son, and returned to Toronto from L.A. “My priority became family rather than acting,” she says. Just as Lehman was getting antsy to get back to work, the pilot script for AMC’s The Killing, filmed in Vancouver, came across her desk, and her luck picked up right where it left off. “It happened at a time when my husband and I wanted to come out west,” she recalls. “It was just this very fortuitous thing that I got to come back into the industry in a supporting way, so that I could still parent the way I wanted to, and also get my feet wet again.”
The role of Gwen Eaton, campaign advisor and paramour to Billy Campbell’s Darren Richmond on The Killing, was her toughest challenge yet. “I had a hard time with her being so tight emotionally. Everything was about being really contained, so it was an interesting exercise.” Conversely, she’s most at ease in the skin of Motive’s Angie Flynn. “I feel the most free and creative with her, which is so ironic, because I never thought I would feel that way on network television,” she says. “But I enjoy being proven wrong.”
“I think we have our own identity, and This Fair Land is sort of my way of exploring what that is. It’s not like I actually know, so it’s for me too. I just know that when I chose to stay in Canada, I chose it proudly.”
There’s some of Lehman in Detective Flynn; they share a spontaneous energy. The character has also rubbed off on her. “The thing that Angie has given me that is such a tremendous gift is that she is immensely satisfied with her place in the world. She really accepts herself, flaws and all,” she says. “I don’t think that she’s constantly comparing herself to a standard of beauty, professionalism, parenting, or emotional life that she’s not meeting. That, to me, was extremely emancipating, because I don’t feel that way myself, but I get to put those boots on here, and that was very enriching.”
Acting isn’t her solitary source of creative fulfillment. During the first season of Motive, Lehman, looking for another outlet for her interminable imagination, developed and launched This Fair Land, a lifestyle website that celebrates Canadian culture and talent. Currently self-financed, it is both a passion and patriotic project. “I think we have our own identity, and this is sort of my way of exploring what that is—it’s not like I actually know, so it’s for me too,” she explains. “I just know that when I chose to stay in Canada, I chose it proudly.” There are short documentary films on artists and craftspeople, Q&As on wellness, and even recipes for preserves and pies (Lehman loves to cook). With the site, she aims to educate as well as entertain, and the theme of living holistically and meaningfully is threaded throughout. “I’m hoping to give people an opportunity to have reflection of things that are moments of quality, as opposed to quantity and just constant cultural bombardment,” she says.
This Fair Land also lets her collaborate with her husband, filmmaker Adam Greydon Reid, whom she met in the most clichéd Canadian of ways: on the set of a beer commercial. “The worst beer commercial in Canadian history. It was the one and only commercial that I have ever done,” she says. “My eyebrows looked like man eyebrows, and I think he had a John Waters moustache.” That was the job that took the 23-year-old Lehman to Toronto, after which the TV roles rolled in, and it calls to mind one of her last days in Vancouver back then: “I was about to leave, and I was driving over the Lions Gate Bridge and the leaves in Stanley Park were changing. Traffic was thick, and I just sat on the bridge for a while looking at the ocean, the horizon, and the yellow leaves at the park, and I remember thinking, I better toughen my heart a little, because how am I ever going to leave this place—it’s just so beautiful. So I thought, I’ll take a picture in my mind of this, and I’ll remember it and it will be what keeps me going. And it worked—it anchored me for a long time. I knew I wasn’t going to come back for a while, but I was young, so I was happy to go and explore,” she says. “But I’m glad to be here now.”
Make-up: Negar with Lizbell Agency using MAC Cosmetics. Hair: Tania Becker for Moods Hair Salon and Nobasura. Photographer’s Assistant: Kerry Nylander. Stylist’s Assistant: Araceli Ogrinc.