North York actor is a hit in Hollywood

[attach]3362[/attach]Liane Balaban is busy.

On the phone from Los Angeles, the young actress is trying desperately to cram info about all her current projects into a half-hour phone interview, including her latest: judging a film contest for the Toronto International Film Festival.

“I think it’s such an amazing event to promote Canadian cinema so it needs all the coverage it can get,” she says of “Canada’s Top Ten 2010” contest.

The contest isn’t about her, but it’s an example of the sort of project that makes the 30-year-old Balaban tick. Her route to a successful acting career began more than a decade ago when a family friend invited her to try out for the lead in 1999’s New Waterford Girl.

She landed the role of Moonie Pottie, a disgruntled Nova Scotia teen with big dreams. Though she was just 18 at the time, Hollywood took notice. Since then she’s had numerous roles, including Dustin Hoffman’s daughter in Last Chance Harvey and Joshua Jackson’s fiancé in the all-Canadian One Week.

But acting has been a turn in the road for Balaban. Growing up in North Toronto, attending Lawrence Park and Northview Secondary and hanging out at Belly Buster Submarines on Yonge Street, she didn’t picture herself as an actress.

“It’s surreal on the one hand because I never planned on it,” she says of her life now.

She even studied journalism for a year at Ryerson University. She switched to a political science program at Concordia after first year and she continued to study even as the acting jobs kept coming.

“My intention was always to get a university degree,” Balaban says. “I thought it was an important thing for my life, so I stuck to it. Periodically I worked … but my focus was on my education.”

Nearly 12 years down the line, Balaban now splits her time between L.A., Montreal and Toronto and says she now sees herself as a professional actress, in it for the long haul. With at least a couple of film projects in the works, she recently wrapped up voice work for the character of villainess Lucrezia Borgia in the hit video game, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.

“It was some of the most fun I’ve had acting – ever,” Balaban says. “Lucrezia Borgia is a crazy, bloodthirsty villain. It was a lot of fun… It’s just pure enjoyment—going for it and being over the top.”

She’ll also soon be making live stage appearances downtown in Michael Ondaatje’s new play, Divisadero. Set to open in February at Theatre Passe Muraille, Balaban plays a sibling in a dysfunctional family living in Southern California.

Directed by Michael Brooks, the tale of tragedy and recovery is Ondaatje’s first play in over two decades.

Though her schedule might sound daunting, Balaban says it’s important to remember acting is a job.

“You should think about your career as nine to five,” she says. “I think it’s important to believe in what you’re doing or to feel that your work is connected to a larger context because otherwise we get bogged down by the to-do list.”

With an ambitious to-do list, Balaban has yet another project in the works—Cranky Town. It’s an interactive website themed around menstruation and menopause.

“I had PMS last year and instead of jumping off a bridge, I wrote a poem,” Balaban explains. “It made me feel so much better and I was inspired to ask my female friends to write me poems about their periods. And the response was so overwhelming I concluded that women need a forum to discuss menstruation and don’t have one.”

After scoring a National Film Board grant and bringing some friends on board, Cranky Town took off.

Recently launched, Camp Cranky is the first part of the project. It’s a virtual sleepover camp where girls can learn about menstruation in an entertaining way, as well as sponsor menstruation supplies for girls in Africa.

“We have huge plans for it,” says Balaban who writes short stories in her spare time. “Ultimately we want to inspire (girls) to be creative and to… contribute short films inspired by their first periods.”

Though she says she feels privileged to be able to act for a living, Balaban asserts she’d be involved in the creative arts if not acting.
“An acting career happened to me… In life you just have to go with the flow.”