Los Angeles, CA

Better Call Saul Actress Cara Pifko: "Find the people that make you feel great in the process; Community is everything"

Yitzi Weiner @ Authority Magazine

Authority Magazine
… Find the people that make you feel great in the process, the people who are willing to puzzle it through with a positive attitude of, “We’re going to figure this out. We’re going to navigate this”, both the highs and the lows. Those are the same people you want with you. Fame is no joke. Fame is no arrival. Fame is no kickback hands-behind-the-head. … Those same people who are struggling with you but with a positive outlook are the ones that you want on your team. They become the shared mutual posse that helps get you through the challenges and successes of fame, as well. Community is everything.

I had the distinct pleasure to talk to Cara Pifko. Cara is a certified Master Life Coach for her own business and also with the team at The Coaching Institute. As a Creativity Coach, she has coached 100s of actors in writing/performing successfully, original Fringe shows, winning competitions and roles for the last 13 years. She also coaches Voice Over at Great Big Voices for auditions, career training and demos.

Cara’s continuing role as “Paige Novick” can be found in seasons 2–5 on AMC’s Better Call Saul. She was cast by Steven Spielberg for Ready Player One, Steve Martin for Picasso at the Lapin Agile, has worked in leading roles for Paramount Studios, Warner Bros, Lucas Arts, Electronic Arts, CBS, CBC, NBC and many others.

She won a Gemini award for her series lead on This is Wonderland, a Stage Raw Award for O Rejane and has had recurring roles in General Hospital, Heartland, Road to Avonlea, Monday Mornings, The Fosters and The Elephant Show. List available at IMDB.

Her voice can be heard in numerous video games and cartoons including Star Wars Clone Wars and Bad Batch, Final Fantasy, Mass Effect 2 and 3, Sailor Moon, Final Fantasy, Angela Anaconda and Franny’s Feet.

No stranger to the stage she has played leading roles in numerous productions with Tarragon Theatre, Canadian Stage, SoulPepper Theatre, Crow’s Theatre and Bootleg Theatre after training at the National Theatre School of Canada.

Most currently, her poetry will be published in the international anthology Poems From the Heart through Radhaa Publishing House.

To learn more about Cara and her programs and coaching, go to www.carapifko.com

Cara, thank you so much for joining us. Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you share with us your origin story, the story of how you grew up?

I was born off of the stage. My mother was in a Purim presentation in a Sunday school (a secular Jewish Sunday school in Toronto) and she was playing Esther, which ironically is her name. She left from that stage to the hospital. I was born and raised in Toronto. I went to arts schools, an arts junior school, Claude Watson School of the Arts, and then Earl Haig. I was interested in music as a major. I played the saxophone and the flute and then moved over to my true love, which was theater and performance. For me, that is more of a full-bodied avenue of creative expression. At the end of the day, I’m a theater animal- television and film are fabulous avenues. I love those as well and each has their benefits, but I’m a creative expressor regardless of the medium.

Then I went to Montreal for the National Theater School of Canada for official training, which condenses about 10 years of just working in the field into three years of what might have been a cult-but not entirely. It was very valuable and I loved my experience there, in spite of its challenges and possible cult-like leanings. [Laughs] But it’s a very reputable school and I don’t mean to knock it. That was just the joke that we had because they controlled what you ate and when you slept. I’m like, “Okay, it cut me off from my family, not enough sleep… Hang on a second… This is feeling a bit like a cult!”

Really, it was a fabulous theatrical training ground and some of my best friends and creative collaborative partners come directly from that experience.

Then, sort of jumping around in narrative timelines because I have trouble walking a straight line even though I’m completely sober, is that I started in television at the age of seven. I was on records at the age of three with Sharon, Lois, and Bram, the children’s folk singers. I did their records from age three and was invited to audition for their TV show, The Elephant Show, at age seven. I did their show for five years, and at that point, I wanted to do more of that so we started asking around. I got the opportunity to work with my first agent at the age of 12 and that’s when I really started working professionally in commercials, television, and TV movies. I worked my way up and ended up doing the lead of a series, Our Hero, for CBC in Toronto. Then, This is Wonderland was sort of my big break, you could say, and I got a Gemini award, the Canadian Emmy. After that, during my Wonderland time, I made applications to broaden my horizons and come to the US with the intention of more choice in my career trajectory. So I moved here about 18 years ago, somewhat starting over, and found my way into fabulous partnerships of representation here. I continued on with voiceover, television, film, movies, and theater in the US- culminating in your interest in the reason I’m here, Better Call Saul. [Laughs]

Amazing. So you probably have a lot of fascinating and varied experiences. Can you share with us one of the most interesting, stories that have occurred to you since you began your career?

Yeah, for sure. I guess I’ll bring it to the focus of my work in terms of Better call Saul. Let me see about just focusing on that for a moment. [Laughs] Well, it was my move to the states. That was an interesting shift because by that point I had worked so much that I understood the machine of television, which is what my work has been primarily in. So when I got my first job in the US, it was on CSI. I got onto that set and realized that it was the same machine. It’s just better craft service. [Laughs]

And that was very comforting. So cut back to when I was on This is Wonderland and I played Alice number one on the call sheet. I took on the role of captain of the acting team, helping people feel comfortable, navigating them through, and helping them with the quirks of our set versus other sets. We had a lot of theater actors, so helping some of those people transition from theater to television for the first time in their long careers. So, it was very comforting and somewhat surprising because, by the time I came to Better Call Saul, I had been on a number of US shows. So, I really had the experience to recognize how unique it was that Rhea Seehorn was the same kind of team captain that I had been on This is Wonderland.

I did a lot of my scenes on Better Call Saul with Rex Linn. Rex Linn, Texan Teddy Bear, we became very close friends. We traveled together. We did so much work together and we’re dear friends to this day. When we came on that set, Rhea showed us around; where this was, where that was, made sure we were comfortable as if we were coming to her house for an early dinner, and made sure we were settled before the main event occurred. She came over to our hotel to rehearse after she’d had long days of filming for days and days and days. She would come over and we would do goofy rehearsals as if we’ve got ants in our pants. Or as if there’s a fire coming behind us, like ridiculous playful rehearsals, as well as diving into the text, answering whatever questions, and calling the writers because it was that kind of show where the writers were available for that.

So, culminating with arriving on set on this one day, I can think of where Peter Gould was directing, and he brought us in for a rehearsal. Not all shows even do that, a lot of shows just skip the rehearsal entirely, and I just remember going through this rehearsal and watching Peter Gould’s face, he was so happy. He looked like a five-year-old child in his joy of seeing this scene up on its feet for the first time. So that combination- Rhea Seehorn as the acting team captain, and then that Peter Gould piece, just to sort of demonstrate how it comes down from the top in terms of the mood and the vibe of the set. It was a beautiful experience. I don’t know if it was interesting, but [laughs]…

It’s been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about a funny mistake that you made when you were first starting and the lesson you learned from it?

Sure. I think we sometimes inadvertently shoot ourselves in the foot by creating the actualization of limiting beliefs unnecessarily. So, when I was making the move to the States… I come from practical people. I come from logical, pragmatic people. The story I had inherited was to dream big, but be careful. Have a plan B. It’s almost like waiting for the other shoe to drop and then preparing for that shoe to drop. So coming to the US, I very much had this idea of, “Okay, I’m coming, I’m doing it. But it’s going to take me five years to build anything like what I had in Canada”. That, I believe in retrospect, was a mistake. I have since seen that when people come to Los Angeles- in particular- there’s this honeymoon period, which I did receive, where people are supportive, generous, and really open with their contacts and connecting you to the right people.

Because, I don’t know if this percentage is accurate and you can do the research, but it is something like 80% of people who live in Los Angeles, don’t come from there! It’s the city of dreams. It’s the city of angels. It’s people who come there for the gold and Beverly Hills, right? And people come there with their dreams, their backpacks, and their $17 to live on [laughs] until they figure themselves out and they do. They figure themselves out. We all remember what that experience was like and we love to help. It’s part of the LA culture, helping out people who are arriving. LA culture, as I know it, is a big city with lots of different perspectives.

So I think that belief system kept something inside me on hold, in slow motion, putting on the breaks of- careful, not too fast, too soon, make wise decisions. Now, when I advise people who are coming to Los Angeles or who are making any leap in their life, into their next big dream, the big step toward their dream, any leap of faith, I advise them more about what I learned in retrospect, which is- go full on, put your heart in it as well. Is there a benefit to having a plan B? Yeah, but you can also figure that out if necessary [laughs], and that full steam ahead, clear vision into the fulfilling of the vision, is really how the world works. That’s the co-creation of it all. That’s working with the universe to bring your vision into reality. When I have one foot behind me and when I have a tail with a brick on it, that affects the vision. It flaws the vision, in my opinion.

Authority Magazine

None of us have achieved success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you are grateful to, who helped you achieve the success that you currently have? Can you share a story about that?

So many. Well, I agree with the heart of your question. My mother and her father look at legacy as what lives on in the people who you have loved and who have loved you, or the image that we are standing on the shoulders of all of those who came before us- and I do believe those things. So specifically, I remember a couple of years ago, there was a Deepak Chopra, 21 days of Abundance program going around, and I got invited into one of those, and on one of the days, day seven let’s say. It asked you to write a list of 50 people who were important influences in your life. I wrote this list- and 50 is a lot to get to. So, it was exhaustive. I highly recommend it for everybody. That’s a really good exercise but then on day eight, they said- now call one of them.

And I was like, “Whoa, I didn’t expect that when I was writing the list, you hoodwinked me, Deepak. I thought you had my back!”

But it was a beautiful encouragement, and the person that I called was George F. Walker. He is the writer, director, producer, and creator. One of the creators of This is Wonderland- that TV show that I did in Toronto. I reached out to him and we reconnected and it was beautiful. I think of him as my creative dad, my father inside the industry. My own father is supportive and has always been there for me, and a lot of the emotional beingness of who I am comes from my own dad, and he’s not in the industry. George…even just saying his name, my heart gets bigger. Tears come to my eyes because he helped bring me over the edge of young woman to woman in the creative field. My callback or my final meeting for This is Wonderland- It wasn’t even a callback. It was a lunch, and the only reason he wanted to meet with me was to see if I was willing to give up the ingenue role I had played in the series that I had recently completed. My voice was a little bit higher and I was still kind of riding on the “cute thing”, and he wanted to know if I was willing to give that up. Then he worked with me on set, after hours, in the courtrooms with nobody else on set, to work the scenes, work the script, find the rhythm, prepare me for the day, ask questions, and work the material. He also said, you know how on television there’s frequently, at the end of the scene, there’s that moment where the actor hangs in the frame thinking about something before it cuts? He said, “Just go! You’ve got places to be, don’t hang in the lens. You’ve got places to go.”

So, the show had movement. It was always connected to the driving intention of the character that didn’t stop at the end so that we could hang in that moment- which is sometimes technically necessary; I get it, cut to commercial and cut to the next scene. It’s technically required and I do it a lot of the time, but inside I’ve got George driving me. So even in those moments when I have to do them, I’ve still got his voice saying, “Come on, you’ve got places to go!” One more George thing- I remember coming up to him because he was the producer for hair approval. We had done something different with my hair that day and I walked up to him and I said, “I’m here for hair approval.” He looked at me with this almost cross-eyed face and said, after an extremely long pause, “It’s your head,” and then he walked away. [Laughs]

I could go on with George stories, but that probably does it. Okay, one more brief one! He said to me much later, “I never got the opportunity inside the machinery of that show to really open your anger.” Shortly thereafter, he gave me a play to work on called Fierce and invited me to go work on this with Kathryn Winslow. She was on This is Wonderland and became a very dear friend once we moved to LA. I asked if he wanted to direct it which he did not but connected us to the person who did, Max Mayer (The West Wing, Alias, founder of New York Stage and Film) and that was our pandemic passion project. We’ve got this play ready to put up on its feet, take to rehearsals, and we’re looking for producers and locations. Theater producers, call me if you’re interested! It was just such a beautiful inspiration or impetus for him to give me that play. I love George.

You have been blessed with great success in a career that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on a similar path, but are intimidated by the prospect of constant rejection?

Partway through your question, the word that came strongly into my head was “diversify.” Having the multiple streams of, voiceover, commercial theater, film, television and then in my case, I also have life coaching, creativity coaching, teaching voiceover to kids and adults, so that I am constantly restocking, refilling, and giving back. That for me, is how I balance things.

The latter part of your question was actually about rejection. Hmm. Give me a second on that one. Rejection is a huge part of the process. I think the approach that I would offer in terms of guidance or mentorship would be let’s shift the word of rejection from not booking a gig to that audition being a part of the process of booking, of being a working actor. It comes up and you’re not alone in it. In sales training, they say every “no” brings you closer to a “yes”. In our case, it’s not even just a cold call on a telephone and somebody saying no to buying our vacuum cleaner, it’s an opportunity to play a role. So, that opportunity to play a role can be used, if we rethink it, as a reminder of why we do this; we get to inhabit somebody who isn’t us. We get to amplify parts of ourselves that aren’t naturally part of the whole package we normally identify as, we get to increase our empathy. We get to understand another human being’s point of view.

So that’s part one. Part two would be a practice that I developed for the ones that hurt, those auditions, where you put so much into it and at the end of it there’s nothing tangible. You worked so hard to build something. Where’s the chair? How come I can’t sit on the thing that I just created? So for those ones, I have a practice that I really like, where I take clay and I make a little figurine that represents the essence of who that character is or what that experience is or was for me, just so that I can hold something. Creating that little figurine gives me somewhere to put energy that got built inside myself. That feels like, forgive the harshness of this image, but feels like a creative abortion. Like- where’s the baby? So it gives me some place to put it and then I redirect it into my coaching, my parenting, or my other creative works because that energy has been stirred. It just now needs to be redirected into a poem, song, the coaching, the next role, parenting or whatever fill-in-the-blank is for this audience, you the reader. That thing that is a passion for you, that thing that is an outlet for you.

So wise, I never heard that before.

I have a lot of gray hair. [Laughs]

Cara, you have such impressive work. Can you share with our readers some of the most interesting products you’re working on now and, and what you hope to be releasing working on in the near future?

Sure. Thank you. I’m working on an independent film that will be filming in Costa Rica with Dmitry Chepovetsky and Alex Catona. Alex Catona is a composer, director, and writer. He was born in Romania and grew up in Canada where I met him, currently living in Costa Rica. Dmitry Chepovetsky is a celebrated actor, based in Toronto, he’s fantastic, we’ve always wanted to work together. I’m really excited about it. So that’s capital “l” Indie project. There’s also, a documentary called Let’s Talk About It about the Polish identity regarding the Holocaust then vs now. I’m on the international development team for that and will be conducting the interviews. My family comes from this history so it’s a personal coming home journey for me to do this project.

Then, I recently launched two programs, 1) Table Reads for Scriptwriters and 2) Acting for Directors, and I’m really excited about it. People can find them on my website, www.carapifko.com, and sign up there. Acting for Directors came forward because I was sitting at a poolside with a dad who had a daughter about the same age as mine. He’s a director in Los Angeles and we were basically playing fetch with our kids, throwing rocks into the pool, and we were sharing what we do, blah, blah, blah. He said, “ Have you ever taught an acting class for directors?” And for me it was this like slow motion, head turn and a “nooooo”, and in those extended moments, I’m getting like all these downloads and visions of what that would look like and why I should do it- even before hearing his story. He’d taken a couple of acting classes, trying to understand what the actor experience was, what language they use, and how to talk to them better. They were not good experiences. One was, all very serious actors and he felt his questions were too basic. In the other, the acting teacher had just this bizarre, awful, cruel approach. I built this program for him, knowing that if he wanted it others would as well. I just completed its first run.

I’m really excited to grow Acting for Directors, because my vision behind it is to create better communication on set through the understanding of what this other part of that machine does! So that we can focus on the creative work rather than getting lost in any kind of conflict of communication. The program has a lot of dialogue between actors and directors. So, just that round table part of it ended up being one of the fruitful surprises. One of the most rewarding parts was watching my actors laughing and smirking as a director is realizing how hard it is to do a one-liner kind of a role. My actors were like “mm-hmm.. yeah”. There were many examples of vice versa where these two camps were communicating so well, because they were having this shared experience and all under the container of how to learn and how to be an actor. So, it’s kind of an Acting Training 101 course with the focus being geared for directors.

I was talking to a nurse and she said that this is a major problem between the social workers and the nurses. Different occupation, same problem. You cannot accomplish the goal of sending a patient back out into the world without working together- but little things like, don’t call us before the file has arrived in our inbox, they need to create better communication. I also have a lot of facilitator training, because I work for the Coaching Institute, running large groups on a regular basis. That’s exactly where I want to take it, where I can be the group facilitator for other multi-department occupations. I certainly wouldn’t be the expert of the content but I could help organize, facilitate, run the concept, create the template with the experts, and then run it in their field. So, anything and that’s trademark [Laughs].

As you know, Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul have been one of the most popular television shows over the past decades. In your opinion, as an insider, what do you think it was that captured people’s attention around the series?

I think the foundational idea of taking one of the most despicable characters we’ve seen on television and looking at how he got to be that way and then making the choice to go back far enough before the great shift was brilliant. Asking the question, what was he like before he got that way? And then choosing to roll it out in this almost seductively slow rhythm- is genius! I think it appeals to wide audiences because aren’t we all in some aspect of navigating? “Oops, I went wrong with that thing that time- and that set me on a path that sent me down this way.” Well, Saul takes it to the extreme! Poor Jimmy never intended to go off the way that he did. So, I think it ends up being a recalling to our own humanity, to have an opportunity to redirect by watching this cautionary tale.

Why it was so successful? It’s just so beautiful! The care that they take with these shots… there was one which I didn’t even realize what I was in until I watched it. I knew my mark was specific but it wasn’t until I saw it afterwards- the sun coming through, glinting through the horse on the statue… it was sublime. That was one that I was involved in, and there are so many of these gorgeous posters shots that the cinematography pulls off with Better Call Saul.

Are there lessons that you think our society can take from Better Call Saul?

Yeah. I think part of what we’re watching is the demise or actualization of the relationship between Kim and Jimmy, it’s another version of the cautionary tale of what we do for love, what relationships look like over time, how we get lost in the hope of what a relationship could or should be, and we navigate that along a parallel path. What’s actually exciting about a relationship, even if it’s taking us off our moral center, but it ends up being just an exploration of- what is my moral center really versus how I was raised? Or- what do I think being a good girl, good guy or, a model citizen is? So, I think it takes us into a questioning of who we are and what’s important to us. We get the joy of watching it in an exaggerated form on television to really help it hit home.

Beautiful. So, this is our signature question. Looking back, are there five things you wish somebody told you or advised you when you first started your career, as an actor and why?

Think long-term; longevity. There’s a lot of excitement about starting a career. People tend to think in terms of short goals but a career is so much longer. Thinking of the marathon versus the sprint will help ease all of the short-term bruises.

I’ve got a number two- community. Find the people that make you feel great in the process, the people who are willing to puzzle it through with a positive attitude of, “We’re going to figure this out. We’re going to navigate this”, both the highs and the lows. Those are the same people you want with you. Fame is no joke. Fame is no arrival. Fame is no kickback hands-behind-the-head. This is also true with the people that I’ve worked with, coached with, who have really launched that transition. I can think of one client in particular, who went from absolutely zero professional experience. I helped him understand how to slate and just some basics about being on camera. Then worked with him for a while before he made this transition from a regular kid into a successful, leading man, good-looking guy. That’s not easy. So, those same people who are struggling with you but with a positive outlook are the ones that you want on your team. They become the shared mutual posse that helps get you through the challenges and successes of fame, as well. Community is everything.

So, three left. Good God, go on, please!

Authority Magazine

Cara, because of the role you play and the platform that you embody, you’re a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Because you never know what your idea can inspire.

Hmm. Well, building on the concept of Acting for Directors, which is tailored to my history and my expertise, I would love for that to expand into humanity for all professions. The idea that we could reach across the aisle, use active powerful listening and communication while maintaining the awareness of how short a time we’re here, and how valuable relationships and love are. If we could stay in touch with our beingness as paramount, then utilize our professions and our belief systems to experience common ground- I believe that would move the needle on how the world works and send us in a better direction.

What is the best way our readers can continue to follow your work online?

After a massively extensive question and now pulling myself back … www.carapifko.com would be the best place to find me. That’s my evolving website that has too many tabs [laughs] to represent the many aspects of who I am. I tend to be pretty active on Instagram. There are a lot of really great conversations that I’ve run there, just @ Carapifko. I also have my Facebook group formally known as Restart Your Art, but I was told to change it to Cara’s Creative Community. That is a living art gallery and growing into being more of a hub for my various programs so that people can be more active there, but historically that’s been active for about five years. It has become much more of a living art gallery that I’m proud of.

Authority Magazine

We are very blessed that prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the US that you would like to have a power lunch with, and maybe could take your ideas to the next level. We could tag them, maybe they’ll see it, and who knows if it’ll happen?

Ooph, my heart is pounding! The head of Mindvalley. Vishen Lakhiani. I would totally dig a power lunch with him. I’ve always felt like the square peg in the round hole in some ways. No, I feel like the round wooden toy trying to fit into the square hole of the airplane toy. Part of the reason for that is that I’m a multi-passionate and creative. I express in a number of different ways and what Lakhiani does at Mindvalley is so phenomenal. It feeds and supports the various aspects of what the human experience is. It doesn’t negate the expansion of spirituality. It doesn’t negate the value of ayahuasca. It brings in the high levels of intelligentsia, the medically backed value of how we think and how we process, the rebellion of how to hack the body system, and how to hack your own health, your own thinking.

His approach is clearly incredibly big picture. I think that is a lot closer to how we actually work in this life experience of human beingness, which is much more of the balancing of staying in touch with that omnipresent, large focus point of view, which is more eternal. Also, living this three-dimensional living is part of the experience. It’s not to be minimized, rather it’s to be experienced and navigated. The work that I do as a creative vessel, as someone who listens well on camera, as someone who communicates, enjoys not just communicating but enjoys pulling apart, understanding how we communicate, and what parts of ourselves are we experiencing as we communicate. I’ve been working for about 15 years in streamlining and integrating my performance world, my spiritual journey, and the coaching work. To me, it is integrated. Bringing that forward to a wider audience from the perspective of my acting professional background as leverage, would make me feel like I was on my path in a more helpful way and I would like that.

That’s, that’s amazing. Beautiful. I am going to do my best to connect you. Actually, we interviewed him last year.

Oh, my heart is going crazy! I did get a little nervous before this interview, I won’t lie. I’m like dancing and humming and singing, but that one, just the suggestion of that brings it to a whole new level! So I would have to collect myself but nervousness is just energy, as well! [Laughs]

I do the same thing. Once, we wrote an article that the reason why we shake when we’re nervous is because of the adrenaline running through. Adrenaline is like a superpower that gives you more strength, more awareness, and more concentration. That feeling makes us want to clam up, but really it should do the opposite. Actually, we have this boost of strength in every aspect. [Laughs]

Right. To be in opposition with that, even to attempt to be in opposition with that, just creates more of the shutdown. Lean into it, welcome what seems to be, what is perceived as a negative experience. Welcome it, exaggerate it. That’s the performance aspect, the body connected, and body performer aspect of it. Shake it all out just like animals do right after they have a fear-based experience.

That’s amazing. Okay. Cara, I want to thank you so much for the blessing of your time. I learned a lot. I’ve interviewed many people and this has been among the most interesting, the most informative, and the most uplifting interviews I have done.

I’m incredibly moved by what you just said, by your approach, and your history! I feel very honored to be virtually sitting opposite you and sharing this space and room for this level of conversation and communication. I really appreciate it. Thank you so much.

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Yitzi Weiner is a journalist, author, and the founder Authority Magazine. He is also the CEO of Authority Magazine's Thought Leader Incubator, which guides leaders to become prolific content creators. Yitzi is also the author of five books. In 2017, he created the popular, “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” series that highlights the empowering lessons learned from the experiences of high-profile entrepreneurs and public figures. This series has inspired a mini-movement among writers, with scores of writers worldwide profiling inspiring people to share their positive, empowering, and actionable stories. A trained Rabbi, Yitzi is also a dynamic educator, teacher and orator. He currently lives in Maryland with his wife and children.

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