Sergio Di Zio

Self Isolated Artists' Series

David Leyes

Joe Szekeres

From 2008-2012, CTV premiered what I would call one of its most seminal television shows in history. ‘Flashpoint’, in its five-season run from 2008-2012, followed a fictional elite tactical unit, the Strategic Response Unit (SRU) within a Canadian metropolitan police force which was Toronto even though the city was rarely mentioned. The sometimes gritty, raw, visceral characters on ‘Flashpoint’ dealt in resolving extreme situations that on the beat/regular police officers were not trained to handle which included hostage-taking, bomb threats and heavily armed criminals.

Toronto based actor Sergio Di Zio, who played Spike for the entire run, was one who developed a believable character arc throughout the series. Along with his success in ‘Flashpoint’, Di Zio has also been kept busy in film work once the series concluded. He appears in the Netflix series ‘The Queen’s Gambit’.

Sergio has also shown tremendous versatility on many of the Toronto stages. Most recently, I saw him in December 2019 at Coal Mine Theatre’s production of an extraordinarily wonderful ‘Between Riverside and Crazy’ by Stephen Adly Guirguis.

He is a recipient of the 2015 Outstanding Performance Dora Mavor Moore Award (Independent Theatre Division) for Stephen Adly Guirguis’s ‘The Motherfucker with the Hat’ which was performed at Coal Mine Theatre. I was grateful to him and a former student of mine, Justin Landry, when they both came to my school to speak to students about careers in the performing arts several years ago.

And yes, I was also thankful that Sergio took the time to speak to me via Zoom. You can follow him on
Twitter and Instagram @elisasboy72.

It has been just over two months right now that we have been under this lockdown. How have you been doing during this period of isolation and quarantine?

I’ve been helping to care for my father who was hospitalized for three weeks during the pandemic (non-Covid related). I’m now helping to care for him in his home everyday which is harder to do when there are auditions. I’m relieved my dad’s at home even though he’s not well as he’s in decline. To have something like this personal family situation coincide with the world being sick is strange but a mixed blessing. Thanks for asking.

Were you involved or being considered for any projects before the pandemic was declared and everything was shut down?

Yes. I was looking to break even. The first week of the lockdown I had an offer for a play which I’ve never been happier to get an offer. It’s supposed to be further along after Covid for as far as we know. I’m excited that it should happen. I broke even as another play which was going to happen but fell apart last week.

It’s a strange time. It’s always like this for actors. It’s on point.

What has been the most difficult and/or challenging element of this period of isolation?

Nights are hard. You’re forced to be in the moment because there’s no future or past right now. It can get a little heavy for nights as you can wake up at 4 am but don’t know why, but knowing everyone is in the same boat, and you think, ok this is what we’re going through. We’re all feeling it. When it hits you at 2 am in the morning, it’s harder to settle down but you do it. You go to bed and start again in the morning.

What have all of you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time of lockdown?

I’ve been busy in a good way in a more intentional way. Three of my friends have sent me plays to read or to workshop over ZOOM or to workshop in a social distanced way. I’ve been working on stuff with people to dig deep into their work right now as there is time to do it. A couple of friends, my creative partners, we are working on a project that has turned into a pilot. That’s more meetings through What’s App and Zoom.

Although it might seem bad, but there is something great about this time. There is the time to reflect, to work, and to dig deeper than we did in regular life, whatever that was, where we were distracted by a whole bunch of things that weren’t necessary.

Any words of wisdom or sage advice you would give to other performing artists who are concerned about the impact of COVID-19? What about to the new theatre graduates who are just out of school and may have been hit hard? Why is it important for them not to lose sight of their dreams?

Our phones pretend to be things that help us from our loneliness but there’s big proof that it’s not. Just like everyone else at nightfall, yes, I’ll reach for my phone, but I’ve been trying to put the phone down more and do more basic stuff. I’ve been writing a lot more, journaling a lot more, reading more books. It’s a good time to work on our craft. It’s time to feed yourself internally and to listen more than to have to put out stuff.

Before all this, we were getting caught up in self promotion because of the tech we have. We put stuff out there before we have any time to work on it. I have to listen to this same advice as well – stay away from talking too much. Try to listen more, to read a bit more, to reflect, to be thoughtful. Be precious with your time because there’s a lot of it now. It’s so important.

Spoiler: As an actor, you’re always going to ask, “Did I choose the right career path?” right until your dying day. I remember as a young actor how important it is to get yourself out there. I feel for them. It’s so hard to trust but you have to just trust and get the work out there. The work will come to you. That’s what people will get excited about.

Do you see anything positive stemming from this pandemic?

Yah, this time for whatever it is, the stuff we don’t really do in regular time, just accept what is. Feel what you’re feeling in that moment. Covid has been a time for us to cherish those we love. I take a lot of walks and listen to podcasts. I think it was Bob Rae’s and Ralph Benmurgui’s podcasts talked about Covid not necessarily being the equalizer but the great revealer. That made a lot of sense to me. If anything, we need to take stock and see how unfair the world has been. We’re being taught through this to just look at our own lives and see how we can fix what we feel needs to be fixed personally. I appreciate some of the gifts that have been given to me at this time.

In your estimation and informed opinion, will the Canadian performing arts scene somehow be changed or impacted as a result of COVID – 19?

Yes! Short answer! Everything is! This is gonna change everything. If we can just accept that and not know how it’s going to change it. Maybe theatre and film will bounce back in a big spurt starting in the summer. It’s uncomfortable to live with the uncertainty but it’s always the case, it’s always the case.

Many artists are turning to streaming/online performances to showcase/highlight/share their work. What are your thoughts about this format presentation? Any advantages to doing this? Disadvantages? Are you participating or will you be participating in this presentation format soon?

There’s a lot of people who feel the need to do it and that’s great. It’s different. You’re going to see some brilliant stuff. But it’s somewhere between theatre and film. Streaming is its own thing. I did a test Meisner class with a couple of friends who teach it (all about the moment) seeing how the class would work on screen. You’re looking at another face on the screen It’s fascinating to make that that connection on screen.

I’m not watching a lot of screen time as that it is getting depressing so I’m mindful of that. There’s a lot more birds in my life, more robins. They’re everywhere. They’re having their day.

Yes, there are disadvantages to streaming. The immediacy of our tech in giving stuff out is amazing for certain things. For art, I wonder if time can be better spent working on stuff until it’s ready to be seen or read instead of providing the immediacy. Stuff takes times to create art. Trust that time by yourself is going to help your art. Work on that until it’s ready.

What is it about performing you still love given all the change, the confusion and the drama surrounding our world now?

You nailed it in the question – the turmoil, the confusion, the drama. Actors are funny that way. We’re attracted to that. Is it childhood trauma? We see people going through things. Rather than turn away, I want to explore that emotion of human condition.

I’ve been very lucky. You get this chance to explore the human condition in auditions, classes, film. When you’re showing these emotions, you’re convinced you’ve chosen the right profession.

With a respectful nod to ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton, here are the 10 questions he asked his guests at the conclusion of his interviews:

What is your favourite word?

Nuance. I love nuance. It’s a very attractive word

What is your least favourite word?

Selfie.

What turns you on?

I love people who are passionate about what they do. It’s beautiful. It’s a life force.

What turns you off?

Self-pity, unless you’re a young child and skinned your knee.

What sound or noise do you love?

Ocean waves at night.

What sound or noise bothers you?

Vacuum cleaners. I’m just like a pet. I want to get out of the room. I want no part of it even if I’m the one doing the vacuuming.

What is your favourite curse word?

I’ve got access to many languages. I’m a pretty big fan of putana, stronzo. Italian is a wonderful language for curse words. All Italian words are translatable. Anybody who wants to learn Italian wants to know how to swear.

What profession, other than your own, would you have liked to attempt?

I’ve always romanticized about journalism same thing as I thought about acting. It’s a lot of work, journalism, just like acting.

What profession would you not like to do?

Leader of the opposition. When your job description sound like everything the current government is trying to do is wrong, but you have to point it out. God, just shut up, will ya? I know it’s part of the job, but I wouldn’t want to do it.

If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates?

I like that question – “Everybody’s here. They’re all out back, they’re all waiting for you… Unless you want to go again. But I’ll figure it out on that day.”

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