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Emerging Canadian Star is a Happy "Half-Breed"

Reprinted with permission of the Canadian Jewish News. Originally published under the title "Jewish-Ojibwa Singer-Actor Talks About Her Mixed Heritage."

March 22, 2007

Tamara Podemski proudly refers to herself as a "fully functional half-breed."

But the driven Toronto singer/actor/dancer does nothing in half measures.

Tamara Podemski as Miri Smallhill in Four Sheets To The Wind. Photo courtesy Four Sheets To The Wind

Born to an Israeli father and Ojibwa mother, Podemski has, so far, carved out as full a career as any 29-year-old could hope for.

To date, she's recorded three full-length albums (two in the Ojibwa language), starred on Canadian TV in the shows "Dance Me Outside," "The Rez," "Moose TV" and "Ready or Not," held a lead role in the Canadian and Broadway casts of "Rent," and last January, won the Special Jury Prize for Acting at the Sundance Film Festival for her part in the U.S. film Four Sheets To The Wind.

She was the first Canadian actress to receive this prize.

In 2006, Podemski also garnered two Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards for her latest album, the eponymous Tamara. One for best female artist and the other for best songwriter.

Podemski is also an in-demand choreographer and dance teacher, with classes around Toronto in various dance styles.

And according to her, she's just getting started.

Fresh off a local radio interview, Podemski sat down with The CJN last week to talk about her successes, losses and the allure of Hollywood, where she hopes to re-energize her acting career.

"Tamara," released in 2006, represents the end of an unhappy chapter in her life and the launching point for a new beginning, said Podemski.

The highly emotive, self-produced album was an outgrowth of personal and career hardships, and was written as she worked her way back from unhappy events in her life.

After feeling wronged by prior record deals, Podemski founded her own music label, Mukwa Music, in order to produce an album she had control over.

"It was a very dark time when no one was showing me their support," Podemski said. "So this album was me saving myself and saying, 'You didn't get me down or shut me up.' Even after everything that happened to me, I should have shut down and gone into a hole, but I didn't. I won."

Despite her recent cinematic and musical acclaim, Podemski had to search hard to find her happiness again.

"Everything after this album is a different woman," she explained. "I'm divorced. I've tackled my career again. I'm not feeling sorry for myself anymore or heartbroken and no longer depressed about the state of my life. I was losing hope… but even though I still have to fight against the demons, as we all do, it's becoming an easier fight."

Her joy at getting a "juicy" role to play in Four Sheets To The Wind, followed by the Sundance win and subsequent eager calls from Hollywood casting agents, finally convinced her that it was time to set out on a new artistic journey.

After nearly 30 years as a Torontonian, Podemski will move to Los Angeles this April in search of better acting prospects.

She's gone down there, found a place to stay, set up her management and legal teams and started going to auditions.

"I'd like some amazing scripts to come my way. I'd like to do a lot more acting," she said. "I think I left that world for too long. I forgot how much I loved it."

Though she's winding down the Toronto chapter of her life, she is mindful of her roots here.

"My cultures have only enriched my life," Podemski said. "It's deeply spiritual in terms of giving me faith to accomplish my dreams. Giving me the belief in a higher power. Giving me support by my understanding of how I fit into the world, that comes from both [cultures]."

Her will to succeed stems primarily from her family and the lessons she learned from their experiences, she said.

"I know exactly who I am. I am Jewish/Israeli, I am Ojibwa and everything that that means to me," she said with conviction. "My personal family history has been a huge presence in my life. When you come from survivors on both sides… I think you live your life differently."

Podemski has visited Poland's concentration camps with her paternal grandfather, been taught about her Native past and the struggles of her maternal family and has come away with a philosophy of life that she and her two sisters (artists in their own right), practice daily.

"[We] are overachievers because we live really hard and live life like if it ended tomorrow, we've lived our lives to the fullest," Podemski said. "I know my roots and I know that I have that blood inside of me that fights to survive."

Podemski said that being a "half-breed" often led people to think she and her siblings had no sense of place in the world. An assumption she utterly refuted.

"The only problems came when people didn't want to include us in whatever community event because we didn't fit into what their image of Jewish was or Native was. But that was their problem. We always had a great sense of self," she said. "We could go to any [reservation] in North America and be at home or go to any place in Israel and feel comfortable."

Which should make adjusting to Hollywood seem easy by comparison.

For more information or to purchase her albums visit, www.tamarapodemski.com.

Andy Levy-Ajzenkopf

Andy Levy-Ajzenkopf is a staff reporter for the Canadian Jewish News.

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