Born in St. Thomas, Ontario, the fifth of six daughters, Helen began acting in high school. Her first role in Elaine May’s play Not Enough Rope garnered Best Actress awards and a scholarship to the Banff School of Fine Arts. From age 5 to 13, Helen had rheumatic fever and spent a lot of time confined to bed in the hospital, but while there her imagination flourished as it was her way out. In her work onstage, her imagination finally found an expression and affirmation. One thing led to another, and in 1977, after receiving the Best Actress Award when In Praise of Older Women (1978) debuted at TIFF, Hollywood responded and Helen began doing international work.
The original Amityville Horror (1979) was her first studio film, followed by United States for CBS. Over the years, Helen flowed between film and television, embodying memorable characters in a variety of projects including: Sam Peckinpah’s The Osterman Weekend (1983), Hill Street Blues, Martin Scorsese’s Amazing Stories and The Color of Money (1986), John Schlesinger’s The Believers (1987), The Land Before Time (1988) and The Craft (1996), to name but a few. Helen also starred in Neil Simon’s critically acclaimed play Jake’s Women, opposite Alan Alda, on Broadway in 1991.
DESERT HEARTS (1985) was a watershed moment in Helen’s life, both professionally and personally. Donna Deitch was the first female director she’d ever worked with and as they say, ‘If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.’ Helen credits Donna for not only directing/producing this important, beautiful and groundbreaking film but also for her inspirational trailblazing. Steve Smith, the film’s key grip, and Helen fell in love while making DESERT HEARTS. Their son Mackenzie is 28 now and their love story continues.
In 1997, Helen took her understanding of storytelling, character and the power of framing, and began building a second career as a director. She’s received multiple nominations and awards for both acting and directing, such as: CSA, Etrogg, Genie, Gemini, DGC, Ace, Emmy, Theatre World Award, Bronze Leopard and the Win Award. In 2000, Helen’s first film, the Showtime feature Summer’s End (1999), garnered multiple Emmy nominations including Best Director, Writer and Actor. Both James Earl Jones and the film took home statues. Summers End went on to win the Best Picture Award at the Chicago Film Festival.
In the ensuing years, Helen has directed multiple episodes of Vikings, Orphan Black, Person of Interest, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, The Unit, Travellers, 13 Reasons Why, Anne With an E and Sneaky Pete, to name a few. Most recently Helen has completed the series Snowpiercer for TNT and Dietland for AMC. Helen will direct her feature Happy Place in Spring 2019.