Kacey Rohl makes you root for a lying undergrad who’s faking cancer.

Film by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

White Lie
Now available on VOD

You may have crossed paths with Kacey Rohl in Arrow, Wayward Pines or The Magicians. But most likely you remember her from her pivotal role in Hannibal as Lecter’s protegee, Abigail Hobbs.

Rohl’s ability to go back and forth between the light and the dark has served her well in her career. Her latest role as Katie, a young undergrad pretending to have cancer, is a good example. We meet Katie at the peak of her social media popularity, but as she rides high, the lies sustaining her fame become increasingly difficult to manage.

Written and directed by Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas, White Lie is reminiscent of Breaking Bad and other antihero dramas by having a morally unraveling individual at the center of the action, someone willing to use those who love her to keep the deception going.

Committed to the role, Kacey shaved her head to play Katie, a decision that let the character sneak into the actor’s daily life.

Despite both being Vancouverites, Kacey and I connected over the phone. Such is social distancing.

Katie, your character in White Lie seems difficult to empathize with. Is there a particular trait of hers you connected with?

My approach to playing someone like Katie is to think of it as going for lunch with someone very challenging. What would I focus on? With Katie, I thought of how someone would end up in a place in which [faking cancer] is the most effective way to get themselves loved. I connected with times in my younger life when I looked for attention in not the healthiest ways. I also came into her through dance and movement. I wanted to feel what her body would feel carrying all that tension.

I appreciated the character’s ability to think on her feet.

Yeah, and Katie never thinks that she’s lying. She says, does and keeps moving forward, knowing that eventually she’s going to trip and fall on her ass.

Were you concerned about the character’s likeability from the audience’s perspective?

I wasn’t. My job was just to be as loving and compassionate to this human as I could and hope for the best. I think Calvin and Jonah had more of a responsibility to deal with that potential problem. I’m never super concerned with being likeable. If we’re really honest, we have all been an antihero at some point in our lives. We’re not all puppies and roses.

Was it hard to let Katie go?

There’s always a transition period for me when I shed the skin of the person I’ve been living in. With Katie it took a great deal of time. She was pretty gunky. Maybe part of that was because of the hair. That became an anthropological experiment on its own.

Please, elaborate.

People assumed I was unwell, gave me a very wide berth. Straight men looked directly through me as if I didn’t exist which, won’t lie, I sort of loved. It’s not like I was behaving erratically, but the sight of a bald lady threw people for a loop. Also, nobody wanted to ask me about it. I understand the trepidation.

How do you think White Lie is relevant today?

In the age of social media there’s a huge disparity between the lives people represent online and the one they’re actually living. We’re told there’s value in keeping a façade, as opposed to being honest about who you are and what you’re experiencing. Now, we’re seeing that crumbling in parts of the world and I think that’s wonderful.

Is there a project of yours that you’re fond of and feel didn’t get a fair shake?

I did a series for CBC — Fortunate Son — it took place in the 60’s and dealt with the social unrest. It didn’t get as many eyeballs as I thought it would. I loved making it because it resonates with the world we’re living in. It encouraged uprising, political discussion, boldness and belief.

Is it complicated to be part of a cult hit with a fan base as intense as Hannibal?

It’s quite beautiful to see people rally around a piece of art we made so many years ago. I don’t know if it’s particularly intense for me, maybe more so the boys. I don’t encounter much fandom in my day-to-day life, but everything that comes from the fannibals towards me is overwhelmingly positive. I’m just so grateful.

You were 21 when you shot the first season of Hannibal. Mads Mikkelsen had just won the Palme d’Or for The Hunt. Was it intimidating?

It was probably a good thing I didn’t know that fact going in. I knew him as Le Chiffre [from Casino Royale], which was wonderful and campy. Being thrust into the fray — with those actors, and expected to hold my own — it became my theatre school. I observed how these guys (Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy) worked and how they occupied space on set. I just sponged that entire show.

Last year you were among TIFF’s Rising Stars. Did that translate into anything concrete or did the pandemic get in the way?

The pandemic has thrown everything into a different mode, but also I had no idea what to expect. Maybe it would have been the same either way. Who’s to say?

Do you have anything on the back burner?

I don’t. I’m freewheeling it for now. Reading what comes my way and remaining open. The prospect of going back to work is both exciting and terrifying. I’m also excited to see what people have been cooking up in isolation. Our brains all went to a funny place.