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On location at North

While a student at North Medford High School, Katie O'Grady used to daydream about being an actress.

Sixteen years later, O'Grady, now an actress and producer, is using her former high school as the backdrop for a scene in the black comedy, "Rid of Me," co-produced by O'Grady and written, directed and co-produced by Portland independent filmmaker James Westby.

"There is something good about having been here as a student dreaming of being an actress and shooting the first film I'm producing here," O'Grady says.

Filming at North Medford began Saturday and will wrap up today.

In the film, O'Grady stars as Meris Canfield, an awkward misfit whose husband leaves her because she obsesses over his friends.

Meris, who detested high school, returns to her husband's high school in fictional Laurelwood, Ore., a small, conservative town with a small imagination, and looks up pictures of her husband's friends and ex-girlfriends in old yearbooks in the library, Westby says.

The scene was filmed Saturday in North Medford's library. Teenagers from Southern Oregon and Northern California who were cast in the film through Medford's Imaging & Modeling Development (IMD) serve as extras.

In another scene, where Meris is searching for the library, she stumbles into a math classroom that has a banner on the wall with menacing black and red letters that say, "Welcome to the Wonderland of Math."

"We popped into this classroom (which belongs to North Medford math teacher Dorine Moore) when we were scouting out the campus and saw that math sign," O'Grady says. "Math was a nightmare of mine, so it was perfect."

North Medford counselor Ralph Burrelle, who was O'Grady's high school counselor, plays the math teacher. In the movie, he is reading a lesson as Meris steps into the doorway with an expression of intermingling horror and confusion on her face.

"Can I help you?" he asks, before she stutters and stumbles away.

"I loved high school here, the opposite of my character," O'Grady says. "I got along with all the staff and students, especially Ralph Burrelle. He was my favorite. I told him all my problems."

Burrelle says O'Grady often was on stage when she attended North, either in theater or music performances.

"She was always a credit to North," Burrelle says. "It's great she has come back here and given local kids an opportunity for a real-world experience."

After high school, O'Grady became an entertainment reporter for Fox Broadcasting for two years in Los Angeles.

"One day I was talking to Jennifer Lopez, and I thought, 'I could do this. I don't care if she's engaged to Ben Affleck.' "

She decided to use her contacts in entertainment to pursue acting, and during the past six years she has had parts in 16 films, including "Untraceable," in which she played a reporter.

She recently worked opposite Jennifer Aniston and Steven Zahn, playing the part of "Corporate Bliss Receptionist" in "Management," due out in theaters May 15.

She met Westby when she played "Front Desk Molly" in Westby's film, "The Auteur," a comedy about a porn director.

Westby was looking for someone to play Meris but was doubtful that O'Grady's fetching good looks would fit the part.

O'Grady had Ashland photographer Melissa Rae Olsen take some shots of her in an old abandoned house in Ruch.

"She looked forlorn and lost (in the photo), which is her character," Olsen says. "Meris doesn't know her place in the world. Katie is a very strong woman, so it's hard to imagine her in that part."

To play the part, O'Grady had to dye her hair brown and lose a few pounds to take on Meris's slight appearance.

"She has revealed herself as a real chameleon," Westby says.

"Rid of Me" is expected to travel the independent film festival circuit beginning in the fall. It may also be aired in theaters.

For more information about "Rid of Me," check out the Meris Canfield profile on Facebook.com. More about O'Grady is at katieogrady.net.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.

Medford native Katie O'Grady, left, Morgan Hobart, and Director James Westby film a scene to the movie titled 'Rid of Me 'at North Medford High School Saturday. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch