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Natasha Calis, star of the new Canadian medical drama SkyMed (premiering in Canada July 10 on CBC and CBC Gem, Paramount+ in the U.S.), brings the popular TV genre to the Canadian North, inspired by real-life experiences of air ambulance nurses and pilots.
“I just really like the whole hands-on aspect of really sinking my teeth into this role, and being out in the elements and being in the airplanes, and the physicality of all of that,” Calis told Yahoo Canada. “The sights and the locations that we were able to film on, in Manitoba, were so beautiful, and we were filming throughout the winter so we really got to face the cold.”
SkyMed recreates critical, high stakes rescue journeys air ambulance nurses and pilots go through in the remote Canadian North, based on the experiences of showrunner Julie Puckrin’s sister and brother-in-law.
Calis stars alongside other Canadian talents in this ensemble cast, including Aaron Ashmore, Ace (Aason) Nadjiwon, Morgan Holmstrom, Praneet Akilla, Thomas Elms, Mercedes Morris, Kheon Clarke, Rebecca Kwan and Braeden Clarke.
Calis plays Hayley, who is a new member joining this team of nurses and pilots.
“Hayley is new to the SkyMed team, she was a labour and delivery nurse in the city and packs up and moves to Thompson to join the summit team, in hopes of sort of running from some of her demons and escaping a bit of her past,” Calis teased. “Throughout the season you see her really not only prove to herself how strong and capable she is, but to the others around her.”
The actor did get to meet the person who inspired her character and showrunner, Puckrin, shared stories from her sister about what really happened in several of the situations that were recreated on the show.
“Julie would pull us aside and be like, 'so I was talking to my sister and this is actually a scenario that happened,' and it had a lot to do with the the medical side and the medical stories that we're telling, and the challenges that come with being in the North and not having all of the proper supplies and equipment,” Calis explained.
'I was really naive to the whole world of people who live in the North'
Based in Vancouver, Natasha Calis admits that she really didn’t know anything about the barriers to healthcare access in these more remote areas of Canada.
“I'm from the city, I grew up in the city, and so I think I was really naive to the whole world of people who live in the North and don't have hospitals or doctors available,” Calis said. “It was pretty amazing and humbling educating myself on this world, and it really made me appreciate where I live and the healthcare that's available to me, just out my back door.”
“I'm super excited that this gets to be showcased. These people are amazing… It's so unpredictable, anything can happen, it's literally life and death at 20,000 feet... I'm really honoured and excited for people to watch the show and to realize that this is a real job that people do and hopefully we showcase it in a way that makes all of them proud and excited.”
For Calis, who coincidentally has worked on two medical dramas back-to-back after playing Ashley Collins on the Global/NBC show Nurses, action-packed stories have always appealed to her, and she’s hoping to one day bring her own version of Lara Croft to the screen.
“Ever since I was a little kid I was always really obsessed with Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, those were my favourite movies growing up and I remember being a little kid and totally reenacting the whole movie,” Calis said. “I remember attaching a skipping rope to my parents staircase and repelling down the skipping rope, and I had a bunch of spy gear."
“So quite honestly, Lara Croft, that sort of role, has been a dream of mine ever since I can remember.”
While we'll wait and see if Calis gets her Tomb Raider moment, SkyMed is certainly an adventure-filled step for the Canadian actor.