TORONTO -- Innocence: It is writ large in the fresh face, sparkling blue eyes and child-like words of 19-year-old Jessica Pare, the star of Denys Arcand's Stardom.
Montrealer Pare will be in the spotlight tomorrow night because Stardom, a whimsical comedy about a Cornwall supermodel's inglorious rise and fall, officially opens the 25th Toronto International Film Festival at Roy Thomson Hall.
The film officially closed the Cannes Film Festival in May, generating mixed reviews and dividing the audience, some of whom thought it breezy fun, others who dismissed it as a trifle.
As for Pare, she is a child, especially when compared to the hardened, cynical, Hollywood superstars who will attend this year's Toronto festival, actors such as Richard Gere and Al Pacino. Pare, a five-foot-nine-inch beauty who was cast precisely because she was innocent and unproven and unknown and malleable, is now just trying to keep her feet on the ground.
Dubbed as "a clueless beauty" by a dismissive Saturday Night writer this summer, Pare says simply of her sudden movie stardom: "It is surreal."
Actually, it is just like what happens to her character in the movie, a Cornwall hockey star who is discovered by a modelling agency and propelled to international stardom. In Pare's case, she is an inexperienced youngster who actually showed up to audition for a brief cameo role in Arcand's movie.
"You don't think about being the lead of a film when you have no experience," Pare offers in a Sun interview. "That's why I can't take it too seriously because it wouldn't be fun anymore.
"It's like in the film, fame doesn't last forever. It will all go away. I don't have a great ambition anyway. It's not like I have to get to the top. I think maybe that's because I'm Canadian. But I think that, as long as I keep being able to do roles in films that interest me, that I'll be perfectly happy.
"When the time comes when nobody cares about me anymore and nobody wants to see my face anymore, then that is fine, too. It's totally normal."
Instead of grasping for movie stardom, says Pare, she has her film cameraman boyfriend, Danny Racine, and her family, including three brothers and close relationships with an extended family of aunts, uncles and grandparents.
Her father, Anthony Pare, is chair of the Department of Educational Studies at McGill University. Her mother is Louise Mercier, a translator. The family is bilingual. And they're close.
"That's all very important to me and I'm not willing to jeopardize any of that to be 'a big star' in movies."
Pare has pursued acting for two years, after dropping out of a fine-arts program at a Montreal college. She has never heard of actor Michael Pare, a B-movie actor who also hails from Montreal. She doubts if they are at all related.
Getting cast in Stardom was a lark. Arcand had already cast a 26-year-old, five-foot-three experienced actress for the role, despite feeling she wasn't right -- too old, too short and probably too well-trained to play the character.
Then Pare came in to audition for a bit role as a crazed TV interviewer.
Arcand says he instantly knew he wanted her, needed her, for the main role.
The other still unnamed actress was bought out of her contract. Pare was astounded.
"When they asked me to come back and read for a bigger part, I totally flipped," she says.
"At that point, it was totally not real for me. There was no way I was getting this role. It was not ever conceivable."
Once it happened and all the fuss started, Pare went along for the rush. "I'm in it for the ride. It should be fun."