Actress Mag Ruffman is speaking about Olivia King Dale, the character she portrays on Road to Avonlea. After seven seasons on the series, Ruffman is very familiar and comfortable with the warm self-contained persona of her character.
As Olivia, Ruffman is the picture of Victorian charm, sensitive and restrained, yet she puts across some strong, confrontational scenes as well. Her delivery is fast-pased, lively and believable. Just as fans tune in weekly to watch Aunt Hetty (Jackie Burroughs) emote with soapy irresistible melodrama, so do they expect Olivia to continually convey her loving, perky and commedic charms, since comedy is definitely her forte.
But how much of Olivia Dale is truly Mag Ruffman? "There are times when something weirdly metaphysical happens," she explains. "There's you, and there's your character. Somewhere in between there is this ghostly area where somebody else lives who isn't quite you and isn't quite your character. I find myself stepping into that persona more and more, which is really odd. I've gotten into things like cooking and quilting. I've been reading poetry and literature, which I was never interested in before. My interests have gone in a direction I don't think they every would have had I not played this character. I just feel there's a mystical process where you absorb some of the truth and the qualities of the person that you're playing, especially after seven years!"
Sitting opposite Ruffman in her cosy home, it's hard to believe that this quite oasis she and her husband Daniel have created is nestled about a half hour away from bustling San Francisco. Set among dense greenery at the end of a quaint residential street, her home (which she refers to as "Rose Cottage West") is warm and charming and very much a physical extension of its vivid occupant.
A dancer, singer and musician, Ruffman decided after her graduation from University of Toronto to audition for a role in the Limelight Dinner Theatre's production of Hello Dolly. She then became a finalist and the winner of The Du Maurier Search For Stars. Since then, she has appeared on Smith & Smith's Comedy Mill, Looking For Miracles, Anne of Green Gables and its sequal, and Alex: The Life of a Child.
Modest to the end, Ruffman maintains that she has far less technique and artistic style than her bevy of fine co-actors on Road to Avonlea. "It's taken me years to actually address my limitations as an actress. I've never taken classes or anything. When I look back at the show's early episodes, it's so obvious that I don't know what I'm doing! And they put me in there with Jackie Burroughs, who is Canada's pre-eminent stage name! It was horrifying! I didn't know any of the tricks the others knew. I didn't know any other way to approadch Olivia except to use my imagination."
Nevertheless, Ruffman has acted her scenes as Olivia with a compelling sincerity that has endeared her to fans the world over. It is perhaps her humble and self-effacing attitude, coupled with a complete lack of ego, that allows her to be as earnest, supportive, gentle, womanly and compassionate as any of her co-workers.
Ruffman's Olivia appeals to us all, especially to those of us who have far to go before fulfilling our full potential. She reminds us that courage of the heart, beauty of the soul and an abiding ambition can be their own rewards, even in the face of insurmountable obstacles
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