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Star On The Rise

How Tatiana Maslany became a big-deal movie actor

by Stephen LaRose

This isn’t the way Tatiana Maslany wants to spend the next phase of her career. The weekend before this interview, her cell phone and passport were stolen. Then, just before the 24-year-old Regina product was set to fly from Toronto to London for her Next Big Break, a volcano erupted in Iceland and grounded her.
For a lot of young actors in her situation, this would be the stuff of tabloid fodder. Just imagine if Megan Fox or Robert Pattinson had had that happen to them. We’d all be reading about it in line at the grocery store. But unlike them, Maslany is famous more for the body of work she’s done than, well, merely being famous.
Well, in Regina she’s famous enough.
Maslany got her start on SCN’s The Incredible Story Studio while still in elementary school, and following her graduation from LeBoldus High School she became a regular member of the General Fools improv comedy troupe. She was on the cover of prairie dog in 2003 when she starred in the Globe Theatre’s Secret Garden. Last winter she made a few appearances on television, including CBC’s Heartland and CTV’s Flashpoint.
Then came Grown Up Movie Star. Directed by Adriana Maggs, the film gave Maslany the type of exposure most Canadian actors can only dream of. A true break-out role, something that might come only once in a career if you’re lucky and talented enough to make the most of the situation.
Grown Up Movie Star is probably the bleakest “coming of age” movie one could imagine, starting with the location: winter in a Newfoundland coastal outport. Mom has left before your butt warms the seat, either for Hollywood or a new boyfriend. Dad is an alcoholic, in-the-closet ex-pro hockey player and small-time drug dealer who blows off a birthday party his two daughters throw for him so he can steal and torch a car with his best buddy, who’s in a wheelchair from an accident he doesn’t want to talk about.
Ruby (Maslany) is under the age of consent, dresses in her mother’s clothes, and is, uh … keen to explore her sexuality.
Ruby is 15 years old and she feels abandoned,” says Maslany. “She’s wanting to feel that she’s the centre of attention, wanting love, but her father is on a journey of his own that’s consuming him.”
For most people, the idea of teens — especially girls — being sexually active provokes a lot of discomfort.
But the movie deals with the reality of teens and sexuality, says Maslany.
For the better part of a generation, children have been force-fed the idea of youth as an ideal and sexuality as a marketable commodity in a world where the dollar is king.
If sex can be used to attract eyeballs to products, and looking “sexy” is prized as an attribute above everything else, shouldn’t teens investigating what kind of power sex has over other people be considered the logical result?
Grown Up Movie Star premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah in January.
One of the neatest things about premiering the film at Sundance was the feedback from parents of young boys and young girls who recognized the struggle, the sexualization of children at a young age, especially girls,” Maslany says.
Kids are fed these images of celebrity: how to dress, how to look, how to act. It’s as if they’re being made into a character they’re being told to play, and I think young girls are quite susceptible to that. Ruby is lonely and looking for attention, and she’s not getting it from her dad, so she’s getting attention the only way she knows how,” Maslany adds.
Nobody’s a bad guy; nobody’s a good guy. There are no black-and-white issues; everybody is in shades of grey.”
In the hands of a less practiced actor or a less accomplished director than Maggs, Ruby’s character could have made a mess of the movie. But Maslany’s performance was good enough to receive positive reviews — and a few raves — from almost all the film critics at the festival.
Bigger headlines were written when she was given a Rising Star Award (the only one awarded to a Canadian actor this year).
No worries about typecasting: Maslany’s next acting job is about as far away from Ruby and rural Newfoundland as even the entertainment industry could imagine. Once the threat posed to air travel by the volcano was over, she was to fly to London for two weeks’ worth of prep work for a month-long shoot in Morocco. There, she’ll star in a BBC/CBC co-production on the life of Joseph and Mary, the terrestrial parents of Jesus Christ.
Right now, Maslany seems on the verge of accomplishing the improbable — success as an actor, while choosing, at least for now, to remain based in Canada. Trappings of fame might await, but that’s not really her style, she says. Working actors, well, work. And attracting attention to yourself isn’t the same as attracting attention to your body of work.
It’s hard to say that I’m an artist, but I would like to say that,” she concludes. “I just want to be able to grow as an actor without having to worry about all that other stuff.”
Stolen passports and sputtering volcanoes notwithstanding.