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Kelli Fox: Pride and Prejudice’s Mrs. Bennet

March 18, 2013

In some respects, the invitation to join the cast of Pride And Prejudice is a “sign post” in the career path of the distinguished Canadian stage actress Kelli Fox, a bow to her veteran status, a curtsy to her knowledge and experience. “My goodness, they’ve asked me to play Mrs. Bennet,” she says, recalling her initial reaction. “I’m going to be the woman with five grownup daughters!”

Yes, the woman with five grownup daughters, the woman whose mission in life is inextricably linked to “that beautifully clear first line” in the Jane Austen novel, the line that reads: “It was a truth universally acknowledgedKelli Fox that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” A product of the period, Mrs. Bennet is in want of husbands for daughters. It is her responsibility and she takes it seriously, with very comic effects.

“The things she says and does are largely instinctive, and she believes in her heart that she’s doing the right thing,” Fox says. “She is a piece of work, that lady. But she’s also a lot of fun.”

In the Globe production, due to a preparation period of only three weeks, the role of Mrs. Bennet is difficult, but it gets easier with every performance. “It helps to have a young cast and such energetic people,” Fox says, and now that the show is in the final week of its run, momentum is a positive factor. The cast is relaxed and having fun.

There was a time not so long ago when it must have seemed more like work, what with elaborate costumes to get into, and out of, plus the additional responsibility of having to carry furniture pieces on and off the stage in a show that has frequent scene changes. “Through most of our tech week, we were just trying to figure it out,” Fox says. “It’s a complicated production. But now, all of that is in the past.”

The opening scene reminds Fox of the overture in a musical. It starts the ball rolling, and the momentum continues for some two and a half hours. “The pace is very important,” she says. “You have to keep it lively, and you have to keep it going.

Fox speaks of it now with descriptive words such as “alive,” “crackling,” “sharp,” and she says: “We’re going to have quite a different show by the end of the run. Not a different show than the one the director (Marti Maraden) wants, but a stronger show, certainly, because we have all learned so much.”

Fox is in “the third decade” of a career that was launched in a high school in Burnaby, by a drama teacher named Ross Jones, who cast her in a show that he himself had written, Grandpa Disco. “It was my very first time on stage, and it happened weirdly by accident,” she says, explaining that she had merely “tagged along to auditions” at the request of a friend.

Fox spoke the opening line in that show. Her voice carried across the room to the far wall, and when it bounced back to her, it hit her squarely in the heart. The emotion she felt at that moment was “ecstasy.”

This same drama teacher had earlier worked his magic, with similar results, on Kelli Fox’s older brother. You may have heard of him. Michael J. Fox. The two are the youngest of five siblings, and Kelli was merely following Michael’s lead. “Were it not for that example,” she says, “I’m not sure it would have occurred.”

Kelli does not hide the fact that she is Michael’s younger sister, but she doesn’t advertise it, either. “It’s as likely to hurt me as help me,” she says, noting that she and her brother have lived and worked in “two worlds far apart,” Michael in television and movies in the United States, and Kelli in Canadian theatre.

Kelli Fox has appeared onstage at the Stratford Festival, but she is known primarily for her seasons at the Shaw. “That was my first goal, and I worked very hard to get there. It took me the first decade of my career,” she says. “Now I’m in the third decade, and it’s time to see what else is out there. I don’t want to be a career Edwardian.”

More specifically, Fox is collaboration now with a writer (Susanna Fournier) and an actress (Sarah Kitz) on a project inspired by the American lyrical poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay. The piece will be a three-hander, in ballad style, with Fox directing. If all goes according to plan, a first draft will emerge from a workshop in July, with a public reading to follow in Toronto in September.

This project has brought Fox to a transition phase. She is an actress in the process of becoming a director, and it’s almost like starting over. “It’s scary,” she says, “but it’s thrilling.”

Pride and Prejudice runs from March 6 – 24, 2013. Visit the Globe Theatre website for more details, cast information, and to purchase tickets.

Nick Miliokas is a freelance writer and editor based in Regina. You can reach him by email at

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