|Happy Birthday Super Sleuth
Shirley Holmes star turns sweet 16
By Maureen Littlejohn
ACTRESS MEREDITH HENDERSON turns sweet 16 on Wednesday and she's celebrating with one of the best presents of her life. The striking star of the Winnipeg-produced The Adventures of Shirley Holmes received a shiny new Gemini Award for Best Performance in a Children's or Youth Program or Series three weeks ago at the annual TV industry event in Toronto. Not a bad way to wrap the fourth, and perhaps final, season of the show.
"I was so in shock, it was the last thing I expected. I had to try and control my heart rate. I didn't want to make an ass of myself," she confided over the phone from her Vancouver home earlier this week.
Henderson was 12 when she came to Winnipeg to debut as Shirley, the brainy great grandniece of Britain's most famous detective. She knew from the age of five she wanted to be an actress, after attending a lunch-time drama program run by her mother, a teacher at the time. By nine she had an agent and at 11 she landed her first paying job in the movie Song Spinner with Brent Carver. Her early adolescence has been a public affair. How does she feel about growing up in the public eye? "It just kind of happened. It's cool, but when I see myself in the first season I end up grimacing at my baby face and acting abilities," she admitted. Working on the TV show, produced by Credo Entertainment, during her formative years has had a strengthening, if not downright strong-arming, effect on her. "I've become more aggressive. I've learned there's two ways to deal with guys, with charm or with violence," she said.
She's not exactly talking about a punch in the head for a pesky boy, but close.
"If a guy gets on my nerves I won't break his arm, but I'll give him a bruise. Lots of people on the set are guys. I think there were four girls in total. I became not very feminine. That's a definite change I see in myself." Co-star John White, who plays Bo, is three years her senior. He became Henderson's favourite play-fight partner on set.
"John is like a brother to me, but if I let him, he'll make life as difficult for me as possible. One time I ripped up one of the signed pictures of him that he gives out to fans. He started tackling me and of course, I won," she said with a deep chuckle.
Similar to the character of Shirley, Henderson does not see herself as a stereotypical teen.
"Between the ages of 12 and 15 is when you decide to be a ditz or not. No offence to some teens, but lots of them aren't interesting. They just talk about boys and shopping. I have no interest in dating. Going out with guys only creates stress. With me away all the time, what's the point?"
Not that she's completely anti-boyfriend.
"If the right guy comes along, sure, I'll date, but I don't feel like I have to go out to the malls looking for a boyfriend," she explained.
Henderson's spare time is spent watching and collecting movies. She and her dad, who lives in Ottawa, have amassed 700 titles. Her faves are Gone With The Wind, My Fair Lady and anything with Shirley Temple. Recent flick choices include Stigmata and The Negotiator. As for stars, she admires Shirley Temple Black's jump from child star to politician, and in the male department, she noted that "Kevin Spacey rocks."
School is also important. She takes correspondence courses in English, French, math, biology and social studies. Every second day, she attends a Vancouver public school for creative writing, film studies and textile studies.
"I can do things a lot faster on my own," she said, explaining why she decided to keep up the correspondence classes after Credo Entertainment first introduced her to the idea four years ago. She doesn't miss the all-important social scene of regular high school?
"I don't have 50 billion friends. I'm a bookworm, I'm happy to take the phone off the hook and read," she said. Anne Rice is a favourite author and she's close to completing The Celestine Prophecy.
Born in Ottawa, Henderson, her parents and three siblings moved to Aylmer, Que., where she stayed until she was 12. The family moved back to Ottawa for two years, and then she and her mother, Laura Parsons, moved to Vancouver. Today, her sisters Becki, 17, Elizabeth, 18, and brother Noah, 21, are in a pop-rock band called Tangleroot and have released a self-titled CD, available at HMV. Meredith got to squeeze in some back-up vocals for them on off days while shooting The Adventures of Shirley Holmes.
Creative blood runs in the family. Her father Mark Henderson, 50, is a computer expert who is also in Tangleroot. Her mother Laura Parsons, 45, is a budding actress, having appeared in an episode of Shirley Holmes called The Case of the Falling Star (fourth season), while sister Becki has appeared on The Adventures of Shirley Holmes and Goosebumps.
"It's been an interesting, fun and intense ride. I have the obvious worries for Meredith about show business. She needs to have a childhood, so she gets chores like cooking dinner and taught about managing her money. She gets an allowance, but I let her buy one big thing a year. Last year it was a nice bike. The rest of her money is put away for her future," explained Parsons, over the phone from Vancouver. How does Meredith feel about retiring from detective work, since the show might not be renewed? "Sad. It's like saying goodbye to a family. Four years is an amazing time for a Canadian children's show to last, though, and I'm damn happy with the way it's gone," she said. Will she miss coming to Winnipeg?
"It's like a second home to me. I love The Forks and the fetuccini alfredo at Grapes. I've lived there about a year when you add it up. I'm glad I didn't have to stay for the winter, though, and I think the national bird there must be the mosquito. They're mean and vindictive," she said.