NEW YORK — Who's hot? Caroline Dhavernas
Why now? The French-Canadian actress stars in her first American TV series, Wonderfalls. It premieres Friday on Fox (9 p.m. ET/PT).
The buzz: With her show already earning comparisons to Joan of Arcadia, Dhavernas could be poised to become the next Amber Tamblyn.
In Fox's new dramedy Wonderfalls, Caroline Dhavernas plays Jaye Tyler, a disaffected 24-year-old with a philosophy degree from Brown and a souvenir-shop job in Niagara Falls, a town, of course, that straddles the line between the USA and Canada.
These days Dhavernas, 25, also finds herself dipping into both cultures as the Montreal native plunges more deeply into the American acting scene, so much so that she has had to Americanize the pronunciation of her last name to da-VERNA. (It's better than having people mangle it, she explains.)
But the parallels between Dhavernas and Jaye stop there. Jaye is an underachieving slacker, either holed up in her genie bottle of an Airstream trailer or perched on her designated bar stool at the local watering hole. Her life veers from Gen Y ideal to surreal when inanimate animals — including a wax lion, brass monkey and plush chameleon — start talking to her, assigning her tasks for the benefit of strangers and, ultimately, herself.
"People have told me it's like Touched by an Angel on acid," Dhavernas says between sips of tea at Alice's Tea Cup, an Upper West Side establishment that pays homage to yet another heroine who tumbles into the world of the absurd. "I think that's a good description." Either that or "Joan of Arcadia gone wild."
The idea of Niagara Falls as a crossroads is "perfect for the premise of the show," says Dhavernas, a petite brunette wearing a ruched sage shirt that just about matches her eyes. Tourists — nearlyweds, honeymooners, fall gazers — pass in and out of town, but not before Jaye meddles in their lives, per the animals' orders.
"She can't really get attached to these people, and she doesn't want to, anyway," Dhavernas says. "The idea of helping others is just disgusting to Jaye because she's very self-centered. If she could just be lazy in her little store and do her thing, she'd be quite happy."
Dhavernas, on the other hand, is a rather accomplished twentysomething. She has been acting since she was 8, when her father encouraged his shy daughter to try the art of dubbing American movies into French. (More recently she applied her translation skills to American Pie and 10 Things I Hate About You.) By 12, Dhavernas was appearing in French-language TV series and movies. (Dhavernas' actor parents put her in an English school when she was 7.) She started working in English about six years ago and eventually landed a part in the 2001 Disney film Out Cold.
And unlike Jaye's fumbling forays into love, Dhavernas is newly engaged. (Her fiancé, also from Montreal, recently started a film production company.)
Dhavernas' transition into Americana has been smooth — nearly. Any trace of her former accent has been all but erased with help from a voice coach.
Still, when it's late on the set, like Friday at 2 a.m., and Dhavernas is tired, "that's when I have to be careful. That's when it can come out a little bit."