TORONTO – When former MuchMusic personality Hannah Simone left the station three years ago to make a bid for stardom in Los Angeles, all she had was an agent.
It was a “crazy thing” to do, Simone says now, but the risk paid off with a series of breaks that led to a co-starring role on one of the fall’s hottest new sitcoms, “New Girl.”
“It still feels so surreal, like, pinch-me-dream-come-true,” Simone said during a round of interviews Monday that included a stop at her old home, Much headquarters.
“It just seemed like an unattainable dream to go down to Los Angeles and to land a professional working, acting gig on a show that you really love with a character you really connect with. That doesn’t seem possible, that seems insane.”
“And it’s worked out, which felt like the biggest blessing.”
Simone, a U.K.-born beauty who grew up in Saudi Arabia, Cyprus, India and Canada, co-stars as the cool-as-ice fashion model Cece, best friend to the kooky Jess, played by hipster poster child Zooey Deschanel.
Simone says she’s blown away by critical raves that have embraced the Fox series, which airs on Citytv in Canada, but admits that effusive reviews make her nervous as the show seeks a general audience.
“New Girl,” about an offbeat 20-something (Deschanel) who moves in with three guys after a bad breakup, introduced Simone to the rigours of network television, but she says she thrives on the long hours and intense routine.
“It’s a big learning curve,” says Simone, who adds she’s been acting onstage since age nine.
“Everything I’ve done I’ve always kind of jumped in headfirst and it’s been a learning curve. Even MuchMusic, I had never done live television before and all of a sudden you show up and they’re like, ‘You ready kid? Let’s go.’ “
Simone’s brief tenure at the music station ran from 2006 to 2008, when she presented the news and hosted the magazine series, “The New Music.”
Her first U.S. break came soon after she moved to L.A. in 2008, when she scored a gig as host of the Syfy gaming series, “WCG Ultimate Gamer,” which she did for two seasons.
Then there was a lull, she admits, involving audition after audition and Second City classes to beef up her resume. But she says L.A. is not as cut-throat as many people make it out to be.
“It’s definitely intense,” she allows.
“But I’ve had so many auditions because girlfriends of mine who have a similar look were up for similar roles call me and say, ‘Hey I just went in for this spot. Get your agent to send you in, I think you’d be great for it.’ Which is phenomenal, like really supportive. I think everybody understands the fact that the right person will be cast for the role. So it’s not theirs really to lose, they’re just trying to find the right person.”
Simone says her next gig was a digital series shot in Santiago, Chile as a “barefoot, pregnant, poor Indian girl.” Just as it ended February, she got a call to do a chemistry read with Deschanel for “New Girl.”
She says she was drawn to the tough-girl undercurrent of Cece, who’s travelled the world and “seen some things.”
A sure sign that “New Girl” has struck a chord with viewers is that it’s already sparked fervid speculation on where the characters are headed. Simone says she’s inundated with “will-they-or-won’t-they” questions over sentimental Jess and her lovelorn roommate Nick, played by Jake Johnson.
“Even though you kind of hope for it, you want to see the kiss…I always preferred the carrot on the stick,” says Simone, joking that she hopes they end up together in Season 10.
“I like to know that it could happen. So we’ll see what happens. Justin Long shows up in our Thanksgiving episode and is a love interest for Jess so she might fall in love somewhere else.”
Long, best known for starring in a series of Apple commercials, sticks around for at least three episodes, she says.
Other guests set to appear include Natasha Lyonne (“American Pie 2”), Lake Bell (“Boston Legal”), and Katie Cassidy (“Gossip Girl”).
Simone’s adventures in L.A. follow those of fellow former VJ Amanda Walsh, a baby-faced blond who parlayed her MuchMusic experience into a role on the short-lived series “Sons & Daughters” and bit parts in films including “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” and “Disturbia.”
“We never worked together on MuchMusic but it’s really funny because I feel like her and I are always one degree of separation away from each other – because so many people I work with know her and I think it’s vice-versa, we’re like in a bigger circle together of Canadians down there just trying to work,” Simone says of Walsh.
“There is a little Canadian posse. I remember when I went to the upfronts in New York, when we found out the show got picked up one of the first people to come over and congratulate me and welcome me to the Fox family and to kind of fill me in on everything was Cory Monteith who’s on ‘Glee.’ The nicest person in the entire world.”
“The Canadians kind of look out for each other a little bit.”
“New Girl” airs Tuesday on Citytv and Fox.