Karine Vanasse refers to herself as “lucky” quite a bit. While most actors struggle to establish themselves in one market, Vanasse has found success in her native Quebec, as well as the U.S. and Europe.
Quebec is a fairly sizable island (peninsula, really) of French speakers surrounded by a sea of English speakers as well as actual sea. As such, the local film and television industry doesn’t have to compete with American productions, as is the case across English-speaking Canada. The prolific indigenous industry produces content tailored solely for les Québecois. “I was really lucky to develop my career here first,” she says. “The audience here is really supportive of our productions. It’s quite unique.”
Vanasse began landing film and television roles in her early teens, the most prominent of which was a hosting gig for a show she describes as “a little like Popular Mechanics for kids.” That job led to her being offered the lead in a film called “Emporte-Moi” (“Set Me Free”), and her career took off from there. By her late teens, she had established herself in her native country to a degree that made her reluctant to seek opportunities elsewhere. “I was getting to the point where I knew that my name here in Quebec was something that I could use to work on movies that I really cared for,” she says. She points in particular to the 2009 film “Polytechnique,” directed by Denis Villeneuve, which she produced and in which she starred. “I chose that instead of coming to the States or trying to make it in Europe because I knew that it was something that I could do only in Quebec,” she says. “The fact that I was able to learn more about the production side and the creative side of movies I think was really helpful.”
When she finally decided to cross the border, it didn’t take long for her to land a major role. Her first audition for an American production was for the part of French stewardess Colette Valois on last fall’s ABC drama “Pan Am.” She nailed it. “I was really, really lucky,” she says (there’s that word again). “It was really the perfect part. I didn’t have to hide my accent. I just had to make it even more European. It was great because it’s not often on U.S. TV that you have Francophone characters. And not only was [Colette] one of the four main characters, but she had something to say. She had really great story lines.”
Despite all that, Vanasse says that she probably wouldn’t have auditioned for the role in Quebec, since people there “haven’t seen me, really, playing playful characters.” So she was surprised that the American casting directors saw her as such a good fit for the role. It was encouraging, she says, “just to see that I can do much more than I thought I could.”
Once reluctant to leave Quebec, Vanasse now says that traveling is one of the things she most enjoys about her profession. Aside from “Pan Am,” she’s recently shot projects in Paris and Berlin. She finds working outside Quebec comes with fewer distractions and affords new opportunities for growth. But no matter where she goes, she’s discovered that one thing remains constant. Her Twitter bio reads “Actrice or Actress...peu importe la langue, le travail est le même.” “Actrice” is French for “actress.” The rest translates to “Whatever the language, the work is the same.”