Storytelling is in Clark Backo’s blood. Her father, Njacko Backo, is a creative in the strongest sense of the word, choreographing, writing books, and releasing 12 albums. “I didn’t really even realize until a few years ago that I had him showing that it’s possible to do that my whole life. And he does it so completely in his own unique way,” the 28-year-old actress says. “He truly always says he will be making music until the day he dies. And I think if I’ve learned anything from him, it’s just to continue to fuel your own passion.” Still, Backo, known for roles in Letterkenny, Supernatural, Outsiders, Designated Survivor, and Happy Place, which earned her an ACTRA Toronto nomination, amongst others, didn’t dream of a career behind the camera growing up in Toronto.
When a love of acting did emerge, it was through osmosis. She was auditing an acting class at Straeon Studios in Toronto “just to give it one more try” because past classes hadn’t excited her, when another student, now one of her best friends, did a scene. “I just felt the spark, I guess, watching her. And I just remember walking away from that class thinking to myself that I just hope that I could be as brave as she was that day to do what she did, which was just come to the class with complete openness and vulnerability and courage. And so I took the class, and I guess the rest is history.”
Her first gig was in 2012 on the CW’s The Beauty and the Beast playing Decked Out Twenty-Something. Since then, Backo has carved out a name for herself as an actor, diving into a wide variety of roles with grace and gumption, bringing dimension to characters with exercises like in-character journaling and reading books that mirror their arcs. In her own life, she describes her background as an amalgamation of the diverse roots and experiences she’s had.
“Of course, people always point out that my dad is from Cameroon, but I think it’s not just that my dad is from Cameroon but the contrast of my mom being from little London, Ontario,” she says. “So I’m mixed. And that’s been very positive and very seemingly lonely at times.” Backo was born in Montreal but moved to Toronto when she was young. “Toronto being as diverse of a city as it is definitely made growing up very fun and interesting. And despite my journey of figuring out where I belong in this world, I always saw people like me around, but I would say it was really in moving to L.A. that I really started diving deeper into my roots and becoming less afraid of my own Blackness.”
While her home base is Los Angeles, Backo is grateful for a life and career that keep her on the move. It seemed almost inevitable, given her parents’ affinity for travel: her mother travelled frequently for work, while her father left his small village at 17 for Nigeria and then Europe before settling in Canada in the late 1980s. “Even with my move to L.A., it didn’t feel so daunting. It felt necessary and fluid. I don’t think I was ever meant to stay in Toronto forever,” Backo says. “I feel like I would’ve been disappointing my parents somehow. Even though I’m sure they’d love to have me closer to home, I wouldn’t be their daughter if I didn’t have an itch to experience something else. Something new.”
“That’s what it’s all about, just believing that if you care about something, someone else might care about that something too.” —Clark Backo
One of Backo’s earliest and most iconic claims to fame was in Jared Keeso’s beloved sitcom Letterkenny, which comedically follows life in small-town Canada. “I love talking about Letterkenny,” she says when I ask her about the show. “Truly one of the most special cast and crews I have ever experienced, and I’m sure will ever experience.” Backo first appeared on the last episode of Season 2, released in 2016, as Rosie, the straight shootin’ love interest of Keeso’s character, and has been weaving in and out of the show as her schedule allows throughout the 10 seasons, appearing in 26 episodes total. “Letterkenny provided me such a beautiful safe place to discover what type of actor I want to be, what type of actor I want to show up on a set as.”
The show pays homage to the unabashedly Canadian, winning numerous Canadian Screen Awards for its quick wit and clever dialogue laced with local idioms and slang. For Backo, representing something of such high quality that is 100 per cent Canadian makes her proud. “I really say it’s a testament to Jared Keeso just believing that a web series that then turned into a TV series based on his hometown of Listowel, Ontario, that people would be interested in that,” she says. “That’s what it’s all about, just believing that if you care about something, someone else might care about that something too. And with Letterkenny people really do care.”
Backo recently finished filming on Season 11 of Letterkenny, her last with the show. But she’s far from slowing down. “I’m working more than I’ve ever worked,” she says. “And I’m telling stories that I care to tell.” She has a number of projects on the go. She plays Ginny alongside Charlie Day, Jenny Slate, Scott Eastwood, and Manny Jacinto in Amazon’s hilarious rom com I Want You Back, released earlier this year, and she starred in the crime thriller Confession, as a young assistant district attorney working to get to the bottom of a murder.
When we talk on the phone on her day off, she’s in Toronto finishing filming a new Apple TV+ series called The Changeling, a horror-fantasy set in an alternate New York City. Based on the book by Victor LaValle, the series is directed by Melina Matsoukas and Backo stars alongside LaKeith Stanfield.
When we speak, it’s clear Backo approaches her life and work with a quiet self-assuredness, choosing her words with care and allowing genuine vulnerability to shine through. Equally apparent is her seemingly unrelenting devotion to the craft of storytelling, no doubt a result of being a self-described “Daddy’s girl.” I ask if she has any advice for the girl she was when she first booked Beauty and the Beast 10 years ago. “You’re exactly where you’re meant to be. So just keep going.” There’s a pause on the line. “No, I don’t think I’d want to give anything away.” Later, after we get off the phone, she texts me a quote from The Alchemist that she thinks of in response to the question: “No heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.”
Styling: Jaclyn Bonavota. Hair: Janet Jackson. Makeup: Aniya Nandy. Assistant photographers: Josh Meek and Sara Fleiszig. Assistant stylist: Megan Shantz. Retoucher: ValLali.