Sheila McCarthy | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Sheila McCarthy

Sheila McCarthy in Patricia Rozema's film I've Heard the Mermaids Singing (courtesy Toronto International Film Festival Group).

Sheila McCarthy

  Sheila Catherine McCarthy, actor, singer, dancer (b at Toronto 1 Jan 1956). Sheila McCarthy, one of the hardest-working performers in Canadian film, television and on stage, began as a self-described "lovely little dancer girl" at the Thornhill Free School north of Toronto. Her first appearance on stage was at Toronto's Elgin Theatre in Peter Pan at 6 years old. She attended the University of Victoria and spent a year studying with the influential acting teacher Uta Hagen at her HB Studio in New York City, and also workshopped with the Second City troupe in Toronto.

She won a Dora Mavor Moore Award for Really Rosie (1983) at Young People's Theatre (now Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People) and worked extensively across the country, appearing at the SHAW FESTIVAL and as part of Robin PHILLIPS' Grand Theatre Company, where she appeared in Waiting for the Parade (which was taped and shown on the CBC), Godspell and Timon of Athens. In 1990, McCarthy played Ophelia in Hamlet at Toronto Free Theatre. At the STRATFORD FESTIVAL, she starred as Sally Bowles in Cabaret, appeared in School for Scandal, and played the roles of Adelaide in Guys and Dolls and Irma in Anything Goes. In 1992 she played Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream. She returned to the Stratford stage in 2002 to take the role of Mrs. Peachum in a well-received revival of the Brecht-Weill musical The Threepenny Opera.

With some television work under her belt, she secured a role in the made-for-television movie A Nest of Singing Birds (1987), receiving early recognition for her talent with a GEMINI Award nomination for best performance by a lead actress in a dramatic program. That year she made her first notable impression on the Canadian movie scene as Polly, the quirky, "organizationally challenged girl Friday" in Patricia ROZEMA's I've Heard the Mermaids Singing. She won a GENIE Award for best actress in the wildly popular film, which won many international and domestic awards and was acknowledged by critics as an instant Canadian classic.

Sheila McCarthy received a second Gemini nomination for best guest performance by an actress in a series for Mount Royal (1989), then worked with Rozema again on the director's sophomore feature, White Room (1990). McCarthy continued to work at a steady pace with varied roles in conventional Hollywood pictures such as Die Hard 2 (1990), Pacific Heights (1990), Stepping Out (1991), and low-budget Canadian films such as George's Island (1989) and The Lotus Eaters (1993; which brought her a second Genie Award for best actress).

In the series "Emily of New Moon" (1998-2000), based on the novels by Lucy Maud MONTGOMERY, McCarthy played Emily's aunt Laura and received 2 more Gemini Award nominations for best performance by an actress in a continuing leading dramatic role, winning in 1999. In 2000 she was nominated for a Gemini for her performance in the miniseries "The City," and she wrote, produced and starred in the Nickelodeon film Virtual Mom. As a guest star on "Sesame Park" she won the Gemini Award in 2000 for best performance in a pre-school program or series. In 2001 she was in the short-lived series "The Endless Grind" as well as appearing in the last season of "Picket Fences." In 2007 she secured a supporting role in the popular CBC series "Little Mosque on the Prairie," which garnered McCarthy a Gemini nomination for best comedy actress.

Sheila McCarthy's films and made-for-television movies include Beautiful Dreamers (1990), Desperanto (Rozema's contribution to Montréal vu par... 1991), Disney's Paradise (1991), The Awakening (TV, 1993), Menendez: A Killing in Beverly Hills (TV, 1994), The Possession of Michael D. (TV, 1995), The Marriage Bed (TV, 1996), House Arrest (1996), More Tales of the City (miniseries, 1998), Haven (TV, 2000), I Was a Rat (miniseries, 2001), Red Green's Duct Tape Forever (2002), Rare Birds (2002), Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (2004), The Day after Tomorrow (2004), Being Julia (2004), Geraldine's Fortune (2004), Bailey's Billions (2005), Breakfast with Scot (2007), The Stone Angel (2007), Year of the Carnivore (2009) and Love Letters (2010).

Sheila McCarthy is active as a spokesperson for The Quilt Project, a support group for families affected by breast cancer, and Canadian Feed the Children.