Kristin Kreuk has one of those dazzling faces you can't help but notice, one that helped land the 19-year-old actress iconic roles as the teenage Clark Kent's heartthrob Lana Lang on the WB series "Smallville" and as the title character in "Snow White," an upcoming ABC movie based on the classic story.
Yet the growing ubiquity of Kreuk's face, which will receive additional exposure in a Neutrogena ad campaign, is also partly a creation of runaway production, a reminder of how the entertainment industry's global pursuit of low-cost labor and tax incentives carries with it various consequences, including the ability to launch a career.
That ready-for-prime-time face, you see, hides a small secret--namely, that its owner was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada, and has fast become a budding U.S. television star without having shot a single frame on this side of the Canadian border.
In that respect, Kreuk's story provides a snapshot of a larger picture and a new twist on an old show-biz fable, one in which getting "discovered" can just as easily mean being spotted at the right high school in Vancouver as being seen at the right drug store in Hollywood.
Canada has been a major beneficiary of efforts by American studios to reduce the cost of producing TV programs and feature films, but the impetus has been on finding less expensive crews and securing Canadian government tax credits. Usually, U.S. actors still fill the leading roles, with a preordained number of Canadians occupying smaller parts.
Occasionally, however, there is an unexpected discovery. In the case of Kreuk (her surname, pronounced "Krewk," is Dutch), it came when the producers of "Snow White"--which, like many made-for-TV movies, was filmed in Vancouver--agreed out of deference to the host country to audition some local talent for the part.
"It was kind of done with a wink-wink, nod-nod, that this was a courtesy," recalled writer-director Caroline Thompson, who said the network and producers looked at a number of better-known actresses for Snow White, in addition to casting Miranda Richardson as the evil queen.
In walked Kreuk, who at that point wasn't even sure she wanted to make acting a career. Having appeared in school plays as "a hobby," she landed a part in a Canadian series, "Edgemont," when a casting director called her high school. She didn't have an agent or manager before being cast and went to the "Snow White" audition only because her agent wanted her to meet the casting director. According to Thompson, Kreuk simply blasted away the field.
"She's just got that glow," Thompson said. "I was thrilled to find somebody who was right for the part, who could do it with sweetness but no sentimentality. Everyone was blown away by the screen test that she did."
Despite landing the role in "Snow White"--which ABC will broadcast in March--Kreuk, then all of 17, still wasn't committed to acting professionally. "After 'Snow White,' I wasn't sure. I thought I could still go to school in the fall. I didn't know," she said during an interview at the WB in Burbank.
Kreuk spent the next few months auditioning for Vancouver-based productions, and the pilot for "Smallville" happened to be one of them. (The series airs on the WB network, which is part-owned by Tribune Co., owner of the Los Angeles Times.)
There was some question, initially, whether the series would shift to Southern California, but the Warner Bros. production ultimately stayed north, meaning those glorious shots of the Kansas heartland where the young Superman comes of age are really captured in Canada; in fact, Kreuk has never been within 1,000 miles of where the show is ostensibly set.
"I've been to L.A. and New York," she said, laughing.
The trend toward runaway production, of course, is no laughing matter to those who feel their livelihoods being threatened, with various legislative initiatives being advanced hoping to right the perceived imbalance; still, the reality is that the allure of saving money has given rise to a mature film industry in Canada, both in front of and behind the camera.
Although such productions as "Smallville" work hard to mask their actual locations, that isn't to say lapses don't occur.
"They always have to watch my 'sorrys' and my 'abouts,' because I do speak Canadian," Kreuk said, noting that she occasionally is forced to rerecord dialogue to amend her pronunciation.
All this success has come rapidly for Kreuk, who lives with her family and is grateful to embark on her career while remaining close to home.
"If you want to be Julia Roberts, to have big starring roles, then you have to work on projects in L.A.," she said. "If you just want to work as an actor, there's a lot of opportunity just in Vancouver, from guest spots to parts in series."
Her representatives would doubtless like to be commissioning Julia Roberts-type fees, but that may have to wait. "They know I don't want to be down here all the time," Kreuk said. "I want to stay in Vancouver, because that's my home. My manager might have mentioned once or twice in passing that he'd love it if I was in L.A., but he doesn't ask me to do that.
"In the end, [Vancouver] is where I want my home to be, and that's where I want my roots to be.... In the meantime, I am more than willing to go other places, because there's so much to learn."
For the moment, however, there's no place like home for Kreuk, even if she's not really in Kansas.
"Smallville" airs Tuesday nights at 9 on the WB network. The network has rated tonight's episode TV-PG-DV (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14 with special advisories for suggestive dialogue and violence).