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Former Cold Squad star Julie Stewart treads the Halifax boards for the first time this week. Kate Watson catches up with her.

Practically any evening of channel-surfing will reveal an abundance of forensic crime dramas. But before CSI (in any city), before Bones, certainly before Cold Case, there was CTV’s Cold Squad, helmed by the spunky Sgt. Ali McCormick, AKA Julie Stewart. Stewart—the only cast member to work all of the show’s seven seasons—has been looking for new challenges since Cold Squad closed up shop in 2004. As a result, she is in Halifax performing in Neptune Theatre’s current production of The Little Years.

When asked what she misses most about being involved with a series, she shakes her head ruefully. “The steady paycheque,” she says. “And the people. I worked with some pretty terrific people. And I miss working regularly. Too much time can get a little dangerous.”

It’s possible the paycheque may not be an issue soon, although Stewart isn’t sure exactly what it means for her pocketbook yet—Cold Squad has just gone into syndication in the US as part of Program Partners’ “Crime Watch.” As for the free time, she spends some of it training for marathons. “I run a lot so I can drink beer,” she says.

She also lends her voice and celebrity to the battle for more Canadian content in television. It is when she’s speaking about this issue that Stewart most closely resembles Cold Squad’s feisty and outspoken Ali McCormick.

“The Conservative government shows contempt for arts and culture,” she says. She uses an example of a meeting that she and other ACTRA members set up this past spring with Bev Oda, minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women. The ACTRA contingent arrived with a chart that clearly illustrated the preponderance of American shows, represented by blue time-slots, over Canadian shows, represented by red time-slots. “The chart was mostly blue,” Stewart declares grimly.

Oda’s response? She made it very clear that her department did not need help identifying the problem and did not want representatives from the arts arriving every year with their “beggar bowls.”

“Beggar bowls!” Stewart says, snorting. “Can you get more contemptuous than that?”

Television work and political involvement aside, theatre is really Stewart’s first love. She attended the National Theatre School in Montreal. “Having a live audience is one of my favourite things,” she says. She is excited about her role in The Little Years. It marks her first turn on the Neptune stage as well as the National Arts Centre stage, where the show will open in November.

The play, written by Canadian playwright John Mighton, gives glimpses into the life of Kate, a brilliant mathematician and scientific philosopher whose ambition is suppressed by the gender politics of the 1950s. Stewart plays Kate’s caring and sympathetic sister-in-law, Grace. “The play is analytical yet full of feeling. It sounds like it might be dry, but it isn’t…it’s beautiful.”

Stewart says that when she first started out in acting, she “looked down her nose at television.” Now, after her years on Cold Squad, she has respect and admiration for the medium. She sees the value of people working together as a team, knowing their jobs and trusting others to fulfill theirs. That said, she was happy to try out a new job by stepping behind the camera for several episodes of Cold Squad. She hopes that there will be more chances to direct in her future. “It was nice to be on the other side of the camera. I got to make some choices that I don’t usually get to make as an actor.”

The big screen is also inviting, says Stewart. She recently had a small role in the Atlantic Film Festival entry Snow Cake, which stars Alan Rickman and Sigourney Weaver. That experience left her eager to do more film work. Somehow, taking into account her winning combination of experience, passion and talent, it seems likely that Julie Stewart will be coming soon to a cineplex near you.

The little years, until November 4 at Neptune Theatre, 1593 Argyle, 8pm (Tue-Fri), 4pm & 8:30pm (Sat) and 2pm & 7:30pm (sun), $15-$40, 429-7070.

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