TORONTO – As she played a high school student who hangs out with a pack of bullies in the new Canadian film “Blackbird,” Vancouver-raised rising star Alexia Fast was all too familiar with the pain of the victim.
“I was like, ‘Oh, I remember this,'” Fast, who plays pretty in-crowd member Deanna, said in a recent interview.
“Deanna is popular and she kind of conforms and I kind of modelled her after some of the people that bullied me in high school.”
Jason Buxton wrote and directed “Blackbird,” winner of numerous honours, including the Claude Jutra Award from the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, and best Canadian first feature at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Toronto native Connor Jessup (TNT’s “Falling Skies”) stars as 16-year-old Sean, a punk-loving “goth” who struggles with a fractured family and verbal and physical attacks from the popular kids in small-town school.
When Sean starts to form a bond with Deanna, her boyfriend (Craig Arnold) gets jealous and the escalating tension results in Sean being jailed on false accusations he planned a Columbine-style attack on students.
Fast, 20, said unlike Deanna, she was considered “very strange” in high school and didn’t care about fitting in.
“I was kind of like Sean — I wasn’t goth but I was very kind of different and I wasn’t conforming and that bothered people.”
The film highlights the perils of social media (Sean’s arrest is the result of an online missive).
It’s a lesson Fast learned in high school, when she used the Facebook application Honesty Box, in which users could send anonymous messages to those on their “Friends” list.
“I had a bunch of people on my friends list just writing terrible things to me and since then I kind of realized, ‘OK, maybe I’m not going to have the Honesty Box and maybe I’ll be careful who I’m friends with and pay more attention to that sort of thing,'” said the poised, five-foot-nine Fast.
“I don’t think I ever really mentioned it to my parents. I kind of just dealt with it on my own. I never really stuck up for myself, because I didn’t know what to say or how to say that, so I just kind of continued on throughout high school.”
Fast attended a Vancouver school that had a special program in which she could take time off for her acting career, as long as she kept a certain grade-point average.
She started in the performing arts at age seven, when she wrote, directed and starred in the short film “The Red Bridge” that premiered at the 2002 Atlantic Film Festival and was based on a short story she wrote for school.
She’s since appeared in a slew of TV series and films, from “Helen” alongside Ashley Judd to “Fido” with Carrie-Anne Moss and last December’s “Jack Reacher” with Tom Cruise.
Cruise was a producer on “Jack Reacher” and Fast said he was very involved with the development of her character, a seductive young siren.
“He’s really happy all of the time and really positive,” she said. “And he works SO hard and he’s just nice to everyone, and he’s very involved in every aspect of the film. He was just lovely.”
Fast said she wants to focus on “dark roles” and “complex characters” as she splits her time between Vancouver and Los Angeles.
Her upcoming projects including a starring role in Atom Egoyan’s “Queen of the Night” alongside Ryan Reynolds, Scott Speedman and Rosario Dawson. She plays a teen who’s abducted by a pedophile and held captive in his basement.
Fast said she read a lot of books about girls who had gone through those experiences, including one on Jaycee Lee Dugard, who was kidnapped when she was 11 and reunited with her mother 18 years later in South Lake Tahoe, Calif.
“It was hard to read those books,” said Fast, who made the media rounds earlier this week just as news was breaking of three women who’d escaped years of captivity in Cleveland.
“I would have to read them very slowly because I couldn’t read them too fast because it was overwhelming, the information and what they were talking about is heartbreaking.”
“Blackbird” opens on Friday in Toronto, Vancouver, Halifax and Montreal, and in Calgary on May 17.