BEVERLY HILLS - Italia Ricci is at the fun stage of fame.
“I got recognized in the airport recently, it was the first time ever,” Ricci said. “And I was like, 'Do you want to come over for dinner?'"
Ricci's modesty aside, the Canadian actress is turning plenty of heads with her deft and delicate performance in the TV series Chasing Life, which is airing its first season Tuesdays on ABC Spark in Canada and on ABC Family in the United States.
Set in Boston but adapted from a Mexican series, Chasing Life follows April (Ricci), an aspiring journalist who suddenly gets the devastating news that she has cancer. The series has done well in the ratings since its debut last month and has received strong reviews, many of which can be attributed to Ricci's handling of the material.
“I'm an actor, so I'm never going to feel like I've done enough,” said Ricci, who was born in Richmond Hill, Ont., raised in Newmarket, Ont., and attended Queen's University in Kingston, Ont. “So I was terrified that I wasn't going to be able to do these people's stories justice. Now that the fans are appreciating it and really responding well to it, I feel like I did okay.
“When I first got the role, I was thinking that I wanted to talk to everybody, I wanted to become an expert. But then I realized that April is not that person. She doesn't know everything, and I didn't want to anticipate what she was going to feel in my performance.”
It's that kind of thoughtfulness that has allowed Chasing Life to connect with viewers, and Ricci has heard from many who are battling cancer themselves. The series takes the subject seriously, yes. But it also takes into account the ability of human beings to live in denial, and laugh in the face of danger, and get angry, and rise to occasions.
Ricci's path to this point in her career has all the ups and downs you might anticipate. She got a degree in drama at Queen's, but decided entertainment law would be a more stable way to earn a living in showbiz, rather than slogging it out in acting.
“So I was on my way to law school when a friend of mine at an extras agency said, 'Do you want to come to this movie set and get paid $100 bucks a day to pretend you're at a party?'" Ricci said. "And I was like, 'Yeah, summer holiday, let's do it.' So I went, and on lunch the writer asked me to audition for a role, and I got it. Then he wrote me into the next one, and it all just started to snowball.
“It's 90% luck. You can be the hardest-working, most talented person in Hollywood and never book a job. Or you can not be able to act your way out of a box and be making $20 million a year. It's just about being the right person in the right role in the right place in front of the right people.
"I've been out here (in Los Angeles) for six years, and at times I was closer to booking a plane ticket home than booking a job. As a Canadian, I couldn't work down here as anything other than an actor, and there was a point where I was like, 'I just can't do this.' But my friends and family convinced me to stick it out, and I'm forever grateful.”
Ricci's role in Chasing Hope makes her grateful for a lot of things these days.
“I feel so guilty when I get to come home at night and not have cancer,” Ricci said. “I feel so guilty for the people who don't get to just turn it off on weekends and be healthy and care-free.
“On a strictly professional level, I wake up sometimes and giggle, because I still can't believe I got this job and I'm doing it. But more important than that, I'm so proud of this. Even if only two people watched, I'm so proud to be part of making this story exist.”
A lot more than two people are watching, Italia Ricci. Getting recognized by someone at the airport is just the beginning.