Carolina Bartczak has had a whirlwind year.
The actress has been stacking up the air miles: Halifax, Montreal, Newfoundland and Whistler, back to Montreal, over to LA and finally a stint in Sudbury.
“I’ve been home for three weeks since September,” admits Bartczak.
Home is a two-floor flat at the top of a cozy, light-filled house with a large deck off the master bedroom that overlooks the tree-lined streets of Little Portugal. Bartczak shares the space with her boyfriend, Dave, who moved from Scotland to be with the actress and their cats.
Best known for a small but plot-crucial role in 2016’s X-Men Apocalypse, Bartczak played Magda Lehnsherr, the wife of Magneto (Michael Fassbender). When she and the couple’s daughter are killed, Magneto gives up on trying to live a normal life in the European countryside and goes back to using his mutant superpowers.
Bartczak, 33, has a unique way of dealing with what she calls “the incredible ups and downs” of a life in show business: she turns to carpentry. Her attraction to making things that are solid and tangible, things that last, is an appealing metaphor. It is also a soothing, solitary tonic for an outward-facing day job.
“Home is my place of stability. My career is itinerant, so I like to have everything at home just so, in order. Safe and organized: the opposite of a life in the arts.”
And Dave, who she says is “committed to private life, and “anti’ social media,” as she puts it–hence his first-name-only presence here–is another counterbalance. “He works in ad tech, an entirely different industry,” says Bartczak. “With him, I can observe [Hollywood] from the outside.”
The pair have known each other since they were 21 years old when they were both foreign exchange students in France. They reconnected when a movie premiere took her to London.
And Bartczak herself had a somewhat circuitous route to performing. She was a travel writer and photographer in Croatia before she caught the acting bug in Montreal. She then moved to New York City to study at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre.
Today she calls herself “Canadian-ish,” because she has always felt like a bit of an outsider. Bartczak was born in Germany to Polish parents, both engineers, who were refugees from martial law. The family landed in Kitchener, where, she says, schoolmates would tell her, “Your parents talk funny, your parents eat different food, your house smells funny.”
Consequently, she didn’t pick up a taste for Eastern European cuisine (she prefers farmer’s market veggies), but she did absorb a desire to take things apart and put them back together again.
“My father is an amazing carpenter,” Bartczak says. “He built everything: all our kitchen furniture, the units in all of our bathrooms with cool little nooks and specialized drawers.
“His workroom was magical and fascinating, filled with tools, boxes, and all sorts of colourful gadgets. I loved sorting through the specialized nails and screws and messing them up for him.”
Unsurprisingly, she adds, “He didn’t like that!”
To this day, visiting the hardware store is still a source of joy for Bartczak. And she and Dave are also really into the new container stores popping up in their west-end ‘hood. They take their mason jars, and soap and shampoo dispensers down to Unboxed, a block away on Dundas West, to refill.
Bartczak has built her own nooks and crannies and secret drawers to house everything. The couple shares a mutual ‘spare’ style, leaning toward Scandinavian mid-century. And clutter is kept to a strict minimum.
“After living in New York,” says Bartczak, “I learned to keep possessions down to only things we are currently using.”
Today she steals decorating ideas and carpentry tips from Etsy and makes it an environmentally aware lifestyle habit to reuse found objects and repurpose pieces. She made all the hooks for her front hall, bathroom and kitchen, and installed floating shelves in each room.
“I like to hide the inner workings, and where things are attached to the wall, for a cleaner look,” she says.
She ages the pieces of wood with various crafty methods, including rubbing them with espresso grounds, or dry bristling the pieces with white paint she then sands down. And she finishes each piece with varnish in the best colour for the light in each room.
A great secret solution is the cat litter box, crafted from a dresser she found on the side of the road. It sits in the entryway hall, but you’d never know its true purpose, as a discreet, hidden doorway contains mess inside, and out of sight.
Another street find is an old wooden ladder that Bartczak cut in two and uses propped against the wall in the master bedroom and a spare bedroom to store the couple’s collection of blankets: some from Scotland, some from her childhood, and some sourced from PEI cult blanket company MacAusland.
As for her approach to art, that is also all in the wood. Of a Dali print featuring what she calls a “fecund woman,” Bartczak says, “I learned you don’t have to buy expensive art. You just have to spend time and money on expensive framing.”
But the piece de resistance in the bright, white-walled apartment is a bay-window bench Bartczak built (with Dave holding up the pieces for her to level off).
“I found an old wooden door on the side of the road and sanded and painted it and turned it into the base of the banquette,” she says. “I used some wood left over from a bookshelf to make the top of it.”
Built from all-recycled wood, it also functions as a storage space when you lift the top off. And because the place is a rental, she deliberately made only four holes in the wall, so it can be easily removed and patched.
The sunny, southern-facing window nook is her favourite place to curl up and read on the sheepskin blanket. She is now gathering back her energy after working, 15 to 16 hour days, she says, filming an emotionally gruelling film entitled An Audience of Chairs. It had a theatrical release in March and is slated for air on CBC in the fall. Bartczak has already received rave reviews for her performance as the lead, a woman who doesn’t know she is bipolar.
Shot on location in Newfoundland, the film is set in the ‘90s, “Back when we didn’t know as much about mental illness,” she says. “There were whales swimming by as we filmed! It was so beautiful.” And intense, with both the subject matter and the tight shooting schedule. “We really bonded,” she says of the cast. “It was like a masterclass in the lives of everyone on the crew.”
She then shot a horror film in Montreal, where she again plays the lead in the as-yet-unnamed project. “I can’t tell you what happens, of course,” she says. “But my character’s motivation was to survive as long as possible!”
Now that she is back in town, the carpentry projects, too, may take a back seat to her next project. Bartczak is writing her first screenplay, so she’ll be putting that window seat and the big picnic table in the spare dining room to good use.
And there will be no whales swimming by to distract her from her task.