Wearing neon-orange
Louboutins was all it took for Liane Balaban to seduce reticent Londoners out of their shells. The Montreal-based actress was on the set of the movie
Abroad when she noticed the stilettos’ magical effect. “They were like people magnets,” she recalls. “Strangers came out of the corners to chat about my shoes.” It was a new experience for the committed “flat-soled girl,” who had tried suggesting — unsuccessfully — that her character wear
Marc Jacobs ballet slippers.

In the film, which is loosely based on Canadian writer Leah McLaren’s experiences living in London, Balaban plays a reporter who leaves Toronto to pursue her dreams in one of the world’s most competitive writing markets. Through connections (a Conrad Black-inspired character) at home, she lands a job at a racy, right-wing tabloid where she is assigned to its fluffy Post
Femme section. The film — a
Sex and the City-meets-
Bridget Jones’s Diary comedic drama — airs March 14 on CBC, but if all goes to plan it will be picked up as a series. While it’s not a biopic of McLaren’s life, it does open with the brouhaha the Toronto
Globe and Mail columnist ignited when she wrote that British men were “incomprehensible drunkards and first-date coke bingers.”

Read about Balaban’s cinematic crushes on the next page …

Behind the scenes video: Liane Balaban

Although Balaban’s character, Amy Pearce, dates a series of spectacular cads, the 29-year-old actress says that her off-screen encounters were beyond reproach. “I was fortunate to be around handsome, educated, gorgeous men,” she says. “They were prime specimens of the British male species.” Her character may have a weakness for dashing and aristocratic Mr. Darcy types, but Balaban says that her cinematic crushes are more eclectic. “When I was 14, I had a thing for Wiley Wiggins in
Dazed and Confused. Later on, I saw Alain Delon in
The Yellow Rolls-Royce and thought he was a beautiful and mischievous man. A few years ago, I saw the Metallica documentary [
Some Kind of Monster] and found Dave Mustaine strangely attractive. He was the only one who spoke from the heart — and he had great hair!” But, film fantasies aside, Balaban says that playing a single woman navigating London’s dating scene made her even more smitten with her fiancé, author Adam Gollner, and that playing a reporter only reinforced her decision made earlier in life not to pursue a career in that business. “It can be a dog-eat-dog world,” she explains. “Acting is competitive, but it’s different. I don’t mean to disparage writers, but actors aren’t as interchangeable because if you get a part, it’s a decision based on your essence: Are you the character or not?”

In Balaban’s case, her “essence” was first noticed when a family friend suggested that she audition for Allan Moyle’s 1999 film,
New Waterford Girl. After landing the role of the misfit Moonie Pottie, the then high school student set off on a new career path. But it would be close to a decade before Balaban felt comfortable calling herself an actress. “I used to think I got into acting by a fluke, but now I don’t think that’s true,” she says. “I always enjoyed performing. I was just lucky enough to land a great role that launched my career.”

Find out what Balaban thinks about her Hollywood profile on the next page …

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New Waterford Girl, Balaban starred in indie films (
7 Times Lucky,
One Week) and television shows (
Numb3rs). Then, thanks to casting director Laura Rosenthal, she appeared in her first mainstream films:
Definitely, Maybe (2008) and
Last Chance Harvey (2009). She answers cautiously when asked if these parts raised her profile in Hollywood. “Expectations can be deadly depressants,” she says. “You can’t predict how a role will impact your career.” Though Balaban hasn’t landed another major studio movie yet, Rosenthal recommended her for
Coach (an upcoming feature) and
The New Tenants (a 20- minute short live action film). The latter, which was shortlisted for this year’s Academy Awards, is about two men in an apartment who encounter dysfunctional neighbours — including Balaban, who plays a woman tripping on heroin-laced cinnamon buns. “It’s like the blockbuster of short films,” she says. “The director [Joachim Back] has done highly acclaimed commercial work.”

While Balaban won’t be attending the Academy Awards (“Actors in shorts aren’t invited — they ought to change that!”), she looks forward to the release of feature films
The Trotsky and
The Future Is Now. When asked about her next move, she laughs. “Big stars have a career strategy,” she says. “Most actors are in career-survival mode!” Balaban says she draws inspiration from the Chinese proverb “To be uncertain is to be uncomfortable, but to be certain is to be ridiculous.” She also takes to heart the tenets of improv comedy, which she learned at Théâtre Ste-Catherine in Montreal: “Be open, be positive and be present. They’re great principles to live by.”

Liane Balaban is also a video curator at ryeberg.com. Check out her work here.

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