Had life's unpredictable crosswinds blown a different way, Caroline Dhavernas could have seen herself in La Sportiva hiking boots, toiling in a jungle medical clinic like her idealistic Off the Map character, physician Lily Brenner, instead of working the indie-festival circuit and Hollywood red carpet as one of Quebec's breakout crossover artists - as fluent an actor in American English as she is in her native French Canadian.
Dhavernas, last seen in a weekly television drama series as headstrong slacker Jaye Tyler in the short-lived, critically acclaimed Wonderfalls, has landed a key role in Off the Map, the new ensemble drama from Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice-creator Shonda Rhimes. Off the Map, about an overworked, understaffed and under-equipped medical clinic in a fictional jungle town in an unnamed South American country, co-stars fellow Montrealer Rachelle Lefevre and Zach Gilford (Friday Night Lights).
While the series debuts Jan. 12 in one of the most high-profile - and competitive - time periods in television, Dhavernas isn't fretting about early ratings or numbers at this point. Instead, her mind is focused on her character, and learning the ins and outs of playing a doctor who, like her fellow Off the Map characters, is running away from something in her personal life.
On this day, Dhavernas is about to jump on a plane to Hawaii and the series' jungle set - not off the map exactly, but worlds removed from her upbringing in Montreal and an acting career that has seen her appear in everything from the feature films La belle bete and Hollywoodland to the HBO miniseries The Pacific, in which she was directed by fellow Canadian Jeremy Podeswa.
If Dhavernas is feeling tired on this day, she doesn't let it show. Her voice is quiet and still, but her jade eyes bright and alert as she sits down to a quick private conversation with Postmedia News.
She hasn't planned her career - "I don't have a recipe for what I do," she says - but, as an actor in Canada, you learn to be versatile and move between different fields and disciplines if you expect to keep doing it for a living.
"I've been doing this since I was 11-years-old, and I love it. Both my parents are actors, still in the business. To me, it's freeing not to have to choose any one thing: I enjoy exploring different characters, playing different people and living those experiences. It's about living life in the moment."
Yes, Wonderfalls' demise was heartbreaking, but that was a long time ago, Dhavernas reasons. The irony, she says softly, is that her Off the Map character could not be more different than her Wonderfalls character. Lily Brenner is idealistic where Jaye Tyler was cynical. Lily, ironically, is young and experienced and a little naive, where Jaye was old-before-her-time, hard-edged, bitter and worldly. Lily sees things for what they are, while Jaye saw inanimate objects come to life. As a career actor, Dhavernas is challenged and excited at the same time.
Off the Map could last just four episodes - unlikely, as it hails from the creator of Grey's Anatomy - but Dhavernas is philosophical about its chances. Off the Map has already been a potentially life-changing experience for her. Filming in Hawaii will get her outdoors, in the jungle, where she's unafraid to get down and dirty.
Besides, as much as Dhavernas loves Montreal - she divides her off-time between her native town and New York City - it's hard to argue with Hawaii in January.
"It's really interesting the way things work out," Dhavernas said. "I'm more similar to Lily than Jaye in my own life. She's trying the best she can to make the world a better place. She has to learn to practice medicine in a place where there's no medical equipment. She has a way of doing things, and she has to learn there's no way to do things the way she's used to. And I think I'm like that. I think I'm very open to new experiences, but I do have to re-learn certain ways of doing things on occasion."
Not exactly adapt-or-die, but close.
Dhavernas laughed brightly. She assumed she would be trapped for 18-hour-days in a hot, sweltering studio, for instance, but making Off the Map has proven to be anything but. Most days are filmed outdoors, under the tropical sun and in tropical cloudbursts - come what may.
Dhavernas isn't about to trade January in Hawaii for a Montreal winter, but the city she grew up in is part of her blood: She will never leave it behind.
"All my friends are there. My family are there. My house is there. It's where I come from. It's where I feel at home. But right now, Hawaii is a piece of heaven. I went back to Montreal for the holidays and it was like - brrrr, never - but I'll always go back to Montreal. It has such a different culture. I love it; it's where I belong."
Off the Map premieres Wednesday, Jan. 12 on Global and ABC at 10 ET/PT.