Karine Vanasse doesn’t just walk into a room; she glides in with poise, her step sprightly and sure. There’s something effortless about the way she carries herself, and it speaks to the quiet confidence she has found within, which allows the Canadian talent to take every role she’s had and embody it like no one else can—no mean feat for someone who’s been in the industry for more than 25 years.

Initially, it’s her warm expression that draws you in—something I noticed the first time we met, which was over Zoom a year ago, when she was promoting her lead role in the CBC series Plan B. This time, she suggests we meet in person at a café nestled in the heart of Knowlton, Que., where she lives. The quaint town is known for its historic charm thanks to white-clapboard cottages and Victorian-era homes with wraparound porches set amid rolling hills and glassy lakes and is just an hour’s drive east of Montreal. When I arrive, the café is nearly empty, its wooden furnishings, snug seating nooks and natural light creating a relaxed country vibe. It’s the perfect spot to catch up with an old friend, and when Vanasse enters—clad in Helmut Lang cargo pants, an oversized T-shirt printed with a “last pickle in a jar” graphic and a pair of Reeboks—that’s exactly how she treats me.

Max Abadian/ JACKET, SKIRT AND SHOES (LOUIS VUITTON) AND TIGHTS (SIMONS)

Since she last appeared in the pages of this magazine, Vanasse has been busy adding to her many onscreen credits with the film Ru (adapted from Quebec author Kim Thúy’s acclaimed 2009 novel of the same name) and the award-winning series Avant le Crash (Before the Crash), a drama about the clash between materialistic values, relentless productivity and human connection. She has been hosting both the Canadian and the Quebec versions of the hit reality-TV series The Traitors and most recently travelled to Berlin and Senegal to film a documentary series for French-Canadian network TV5Unis that’s set to be released next spring. The show, about fashion designers who are not afraid to take chances, has allowed Vanasse to delve into the worlds of these inspiring innovators. It’s obvious that she’s genuinely excited about this project, and she has relished the chance to connect with a fresh new wave of creators who don’t hold back when it comes to their art form. What excites her even more is that they work in a different industry from her. “It feels good to meet people who are real—who aren’t just following the crowd,” she says. “It’s not about extreme nonconformity; it’s simply about doing what you damn well please. They’re the kind [of people] who don’t fear judgment, are proud of their identity and confidently own the quirks that define who they are.” Vanasse sees their work as a major coup in our current social climate, in which conformity dominates and individuality is frequently quashed because it’s perceived as weird or different. “It’s important to not fear what’s strange because at the end of the day, everything holds an element of strangeness,” she says.

It’s the 40-year-old actor’s eagerness to do new—and what some might see as strange—things that prompted her to host The Traitors Canada, a murder-mystery competition show in which contestants must complete a series of tasks while trying to suss out the secret traitors among them. Like its American and U.K. counterparts, the show has been a hit; the first season earned 1.2 million viewers each week, making it the most-watched Canadian series last fall. Vanasse’s role is to guide contestants through the challenges with wit and style. She’s enigmatic and authoritative and often at the centre of pivotal moments and plot twists. She has managed to elevate the show to thrilling heights, keeping the audience on the edge of their seat with her nuanced performance and magnetic presence—not to mention her avant-garde outfits.

Max Abadian/ DRESS (ALBERTA FERRETTI), UNDERWEAR (SIMONS), BOOTS (LOUIS VUITTON) AND NECKLACE (MARINE SERRE AT SSENSE)

The Traitors has exploded in popularity because of its compelling format—familiar faces like MuchMusic VJs compete alongside everyday Canadians—and because of how much it feels like a social experiment. Challenges are built around lies and manipulation, creating opportunities to explore the intricate dynamics of human nature. What’s captivating about the series to Vanasse is also what draws her to acting. “I love projects that bring out the truth,” she says. “Even when they’re presented as entertainment, there’s still something that rings true. And whether it’s beautiful or sad, the truth feels good, no matter how it’s conveyed.”

Max Abadian/ BODYSUIT (BALENCIAGA) AND HAIRBAND (HAIRSTYLIST'S OWN)

Hosting The Traitors in both English and, more recently, French came naturally for Vanasse; having starred in more than 20 movies and over a dozen TV shows, she has long been a trusted figure on Canadian screens. But she almost feels shy about admitting that she was still nervous. Her apprehension about doing the reality show stemmed from stepping into a role that diverges from her usual onscreen image—that of a vulnerable, complex, independent woman with a neat and precise air—and a fear of the potential scrutiny from her more familiar Québécois audience.

The most challenging part for Vanasse was simply enjoying the experience of hosting the show instead of being afraid of being told “No, you’re not supposed to be doing that.” In this way, The Traitors makes perfect sense in the context of her career: Vanasse has been on a lifelong journey of learning not to be ashamed of what she does and who she is and letting go of the fear of being judged. “I’ve had times when it consumed me more, but now it’s minimal,” she says. “I believe that’s just life—choosing to tell yourself ‘Let them think what they want.’ It’s freeing.”

Max Abadian/ TOP AND SKIRT (A.W.A.K.E. MODE) AND SLEEVES (SIMONS)

That’s the guiding principle behind all of Vanasse’s work—she is committed to embracing freedom, exploring new endeavours and refusing to conform to others’ expectations. “Just because I host a docuseries on fashion or a reality show like The Traitors doesn’t mean I can’t have a role in Avant le Crash,” she says. With her unwavering resolve and unapologetic attitude, she believes that different pursuits can harmoniously coexist and that setbacks serve as valuable learning experiences.

It’s clear that Vanasse’s philosophy extends beyond her onscreen roles when we transition to a topic that people— especially mothers—are often asked about: balancing one’s personal and professional lives. As the parent of a two-year-old son myself, I’m all too familiar with the gendered nature of this conversation, but I also recognize the importance of addressing it candidly. “Luckily, my schedule is carefully arranged,” says Vanasse, who is the mother of a six-year-old. “I can spend quality time with my son, and when work periods are concentrated, my parents and sister step in. I’m truly grateful to have them by my side, but it’s not just about relying on them; it’s about the profound presence they have in my son’s life.”

Yes, I’m a mother, but I’m also a woman, a human being. And if I’m lucky enough, I find myself in a time and a social context where there’s room for exploration and the freedom to do so.

When it comes to getting it all done, Vanasse—with the help of her support system—simply finds a way. “When someone notices my unconventional schedule, they often ask, ‘How do you do it?’” she says. “But, honestly, what’s there to ‘do’? I just manage, like anyone else would. Yet, there’s [also] this unspoken assumption [that] my son will be at a disadvantage [because I’m in this line of work]. There’s an implicit judgment lingering behind the question that weighs heavily because it reflects a societal norm we’ve adopted.” Vanasse feels that we need to change the narrative, steer clear of guilt and celebrate mothers’ creativity and adaptability while also acknowledging that being a working parent can be hard at times. “It’s about [accepting] the reality that you can’t do it all,” she says. “Yet, it often feels like society expects us [women] to act as if this struggle doesn’t exist.”

The journey of motherhood isn’t an effortless one, and it has been crucial for Vanasse to accept that. “It necessitates rediscovering the pride in proclaiming ‘Yes, I’m a mother, but I’m also a woman, a human being,’” she says. “And if I’m lucky enough, I find myself in a time and a social context where there’s room for exploration and the freedom to do so.” Vanasse has come to the realization that she has a responsibility—toward both herself and her son—to always stay true to her values, maintain independence in various aspects of her life, find happiness and contentment in different pursuits and accept the unique qualities that make her who she is, however strange they might seem.

Max Abadian/ TOP AND SKIRT (FERRAGAMO), KNEE-HIGH SOCKS (SIMONS) AND HEELS (ALEXANDER VAULTHIER)

For Vanasse, both her life and her career are part of an ongoing process of rediscovery and realignment with her true self. That’s why her authenticity shines through, making her a captivating presence both onscreen and off-screen. She gives everything her all, seizing every moment and opportunity. She’s learned to bekind to herself, easing the pressure. Trying to meet society’s standards is a battle no one wins anyway. And perfection? It’s boring. It’s unattainable, unrealistic and utterly uninspiring. Vanasse would rather be real—which is what makes her so perfectly compelling.

Max Abadian

Karine Vanasse is wearing a bra top and jeans by Dion Lee and a necklace by Rabanne (at SSENSE). Editor-in-chief Joanna Fox Publisher Sophie Banford Photographer Max Abadian Creative director Olivia Leblanc Stylist Patrick Vimbor Makeup artist Leslie-Ann Thomson (The Project) Hairstylist David D’Amours (Kérastase) Manicurist Natalia Aracena (Ongles Natalia) Editorial producer Pénélope Lemay Photographer’s assistants Pascal Fréchette and Don Log Stylist’s assistant Joseph Schaffner Production assistants Eloïse Lemay and Florence Roigt Le Bel