Gisèle Corinthios discusses a scene with TVOKids producer and director Paul Gardner.

Of all the times to be recognized as the character you play on TV…

Gisèle Corinthios, of TVOKids’ Gisèle’s Big Backyard, was in emergency labour at 2am with her then two-year-old daughter coincidentally having breathing problems when one of the paramedics dispatched to her Toronto home recognized her and said so.

“They sent two ambulances, one for me and one for my daughter,” she says, laughing. “The street was lit up like a Christmas tree.”

It might not have been the best time to be recognized, but Corinthios takes it all in stride, saying she really appreciates meeting the parents who recognize her every day.

“It’s rewarding and you appreciate it,” says Corinthios, who is mother to five-year-old Jade and two-year-old Evan. “I get to meet the kids who watch. One of the greatest things I hear is from parents who tell me they learned how to speak English watching me on TV. A lot of parents tell me that.”

After 13 years on TVO airwaves, Corinthios is now finding more than one generation of kids recognizing her when they meet her in the street. “That’s what happened to Mr. Dress-Up! That’s insane that that’s (happening to) me,” she says.

Started on The Nook

Parents know Corinthios best as the host of the Gemini Award-winning early learning programming block Gisèle’s Big Backyard. She first appeared on TVOKids in 1998 as the star of TVO’s first-ever weekday, hosted preschool block called The Nook. In 2004, The Nook evolved into Gisèle’s Big Backyard.

Pat Ellingson, creative head of TVOKids, says Corinthios’ value to TVOKids cannot be overstated. “She is our preschool brand,” she says. “TVO has two icons; one is Polkaroo, and the other is Gisèle.”

She’s the most recognized face in the Kids’ block, Ellingson says, and is a huge draw for kids and families at the many local performances and readings she does around the province. “Whatever it is we’re doing, every parent and every child just wants to be up there at the stage and hugging her.”

In addition to her hosting duties, Corinthios also performs a number of well-known characters in the block while writing, producing and developing shows and characters.

Kids' friends want playdate with her

Her children also watch her on TV, and for a while her daughter even thought her mother’s last name was ‘Big Backyard.’

“(My being on TV) is normal to them now, they are with me when I get recognized,” she says. “Their friends have asked me for playdates. They don’t want playdates with my kids; they want to have a playdate with me.”

And it hasn’t always been normal for her kids. After her daughter and her nephew saw her perform her stage show at the Word on the Street festival the first time, they both suddenly started treating her differently.

“It was kind of strange because I think I turned into ‘Gisèle’ to them,” she says. “One of them wanted to be holding my hand and the other offered me water and an apple. My daughter just looked at me differently. That lasted about ten minutes and then in the car she was back to normal.”

Her work has informed her mothering and her mothering has informed her work, she says.

“You can’t help referencing them in development (of shows),” she says. “It helps to know if we’re on target, what material works.”

It also makes her consider the parents who are watching all the more. Her characters on TV always have a fun and educational activity for kids to do, she says. “I wish I was as great… with my kids as I am on TV…  I often ask myself, ‘okay, what would Gisèle do?’ It’s a lot to live up to.”

Attended Montreal's Dome Theatre school

Born in Toronto, and raised in Montreal, Corinthios says she had wanted to be an actor for as long as she can remember.

After studying at Montreal’s Dome Theatre, she moved to Toronto to find work as an actor at the age of 22. “I did mostly theatre, for TV I did extra work,” she says. “Three years later, which seemed like forever, I could no longer take the rejection. I decided I didn’t want to be an actor anymore.”

With a love for kids, Corinthios decided to go to the University of Toronto to get her BA so she could enroll in teacher’s college. But just two months after her graduation with a degree in anthropology, a friend told her about an ad in the newspaper looking for hosts for TVOKids.

“He told me, ‘you need to do this; it was made for you,’” she says. “And it is perfect and I love it.”

“So I didn’t go into teaching after all; it was crazy perfect,” she says.

Saying she feels a bit like a kid herself, Corinthios says the job melds her love for acting with her passion for kids. “It’s a dream job because of my passions,” she says. “It’s fulfilling. I take a lot of pride in it. Kids grow up with me. ”