The groundbreaking CBC and HBO Max series Sort Of has earned lots of critical love; it leads this year’s Canadian Screen Awards nominations with 13 nods, and made several best-of lists in 2021, including NOW’s. But co-star Amanda Cordner is most excited about how young people are responding to the show’s approach to queerness, gender and race.
“I’m not on TikTok, but people have floated videos to me, and these kids are saying things like, ‘I’ve never seen a show where I feel so seen – they’re talking about me and my friends.’ A server at a Toronto restaurant came up to me and was almost in tears saying what it was like to see queer Toronto onscreen, unabashed and uninhibited. That’s huge. Sometimes you forget the effect art has on people.”
Toronto theatre lovers have known about Cordner – who was born and raised in Schomberg, Ontario, and went to school in Thornhill – for years. The actor’s intelligence and electric intensity have dominated stage shows like Featherweight and The Penelopiad. Body So Fluorescent – one of two shows she created with David di Giovanni, along with Ring The Roses – won her the Jon Kaplan Spotlight Award at SummerWorks.
So when Sort Of premiered last fall, it was gratifying to see Cordner break through to a larger audiences playing 7ven, a hip, queer art gallery owner and bestie to Sabi (co-creator Bilal Baig), a gender-fluid Pakistani-Canadian millennial who’s at a crossroads in their life.
Cordner, who knew Baig from the indie theatre scene, almost said no to the project.
“Bilal reached out to me in November 2019 and said, ‘Hey, do you want to play the best friend of my lead character in a pilot?’ and I said no. I was tired and burnt out. I was just about to jump into rehearsals for Theatre Rusticle’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and I felt like I didn’t have time. That night, I went to bed and thought, ‘Are you crazy, Amanda?’ So I called Bilal the next day and told them I was in. I shot for a couple of hours on a Saturday, and was thrilled because six months later, Bilal told me the show got picked up.”
While series creators Baig and Fab Filippo based the character of 7ven on certain aspects of Cordner, the actor herself says there are key differences.
“I think 7ven is younger than me, and a bit more naive,” she says. “But I think we’re both hilarious and have a hunger for life. What I love about 7ven is that she lives outward. That is her mantra and way of being. She’s in love with the friendship she has with Sabi but can see the pain in Sabi not living their fully expressed self. And I think that brings out pain to her too.”
Two months ago, CBC announced Sort Of’s renewal. Where would Cordner like to see 7ven end up?
“I’d love to explore more of her softness,” she says. She lives outwardly, but I think she hides behind a tough shell of jokes. I’d like to see more vulnerability.”
In the meantime, she’s continuing to work with di Giovanni, whom she met at 14 when they were students in Vaughan. They’d like to remount Body So Fluorescent in a bigger production (a 10-minute film prequel to the play won an award and screened at Inside Out), and they’re currently developing a piece about Roman emperor Nero set in contemporary times.
While Cordner says she will happily join a workshop or cast, if she’s creating something new she needs to speak her mind.
“I don’t want to tiptoe around feelings,” she says. “I want to be able to say, ‘This is what it is’ and move on. I have that with Dave. I can’t get into collective creations. Bells shut down if I have to navigate politeness and the messiness of creation. I speak like this – there’s fire behind my voice.”