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Actress Malin Åkerman has never been one to settle for the easy way out – and it’s paying off in a big way.

Whenever Canadians chat matter-of-factly about pop culture, there’s one topic that’s bound to crop up: Hollywood actors who “just happen to be Canadian.” Although the more patriotic among us would like to think national identity makes these actors easily discernible, Canadian performers are just as eclectic and adaptable a bunch as are, well, regular Canadians.

Case in point? Malin Åkerman, an actress born in Stockholm, raised in Toronto and Niagara-on-the-Lake, and now based in L.A. The cosmopolitan performer has quickly ascended the ranks of show business, attaining the level of success that comes with scores of online shrines and devoted fan communities. Her part in superhero smash Watchmen as Silk Spectre II, the sole female in a cast of crime-fighting vigilantes, might have something to do with that.

But really, what’s not to love? Åkerman, who won the Ford Supermodel of Canada search at 17, treads a fine line between gorgeousness and goofiness, and she has shown a knack for broad physical comedy. Her on-screen antics have many hailing her as the next Cameron Diaz.

Lately, she’s played Katherine Heigl’s bride-to-be sister in 27 Dresses, Ben Stiller’s nutty girlfriend in The Heartbreak Kid, and Vince Vaughn’s wife in Couples Retreat. Her two fall releases, The Romantics and happythankyoumoreplease, were both Sundance charmers, with Åkerman already garnering stellar reviews for the latter, in which she portrays a young New Yorker looking for love while dealing with alopecia, a condition that results in complete hair loss.

Naked Eye reached out to Åkerman while she was on location in Louisiana, shooting the indie crime drama Catch .44 with Bruce Willis. Talking with the lovely actress, it’s clear that none of the industry praise or fan devotion aimed her way has distorted her outlook on the future.

Perhaps that’s how Hollywood actors who “just happen to be Canadian” are discernible – by a grounded worldview that stands in stark contrast to all the smoke-and-mirrors hoopla that beset so many aspiring stars.

Åkerman, in fine Canuck fashion, is as grounded as can be.

How’s the shoot going down there in Louisiana? Just bakin’ over here! It’s really hot and humid, but luckily we’re doing mostly night shoots. It feels like tropical nights. The days get a little crazy if you’re somewhere full of concrete, as you’re outside in the blazing sun and humidity.

Sweltering enough to make you long for the Canadian chill? [Laughs] Well, I do miss Canada a lot… Not the winters, though! I have grown to love the weather in L.A. I miss my friends. There was such a community feeling in Toronto and Niagara. You could always go to a certain bar or restaurant and run into someone you knew.

Growing up, your mother was a model. Did you ever aspire to follow in her footsteps? Not necessarily. We moved to Toronto when I was two and my mom took modelling jobs for money because we didn’t have much. I’d accompany her on some of the modelling gigs, and they’d sometimes throw me in shots for Sears catalogues and stuff like that.

At one point her agent said, “Why don’t you have her do some stuff too?” We needed money, so this was a good way for my parents to save up for me to go to university. Every other month, I’d get a job for a catalogue, sometimes a TV commercial. But it was never something that was to become a career.

At six, I started figure skating and I thought I would go to the Olympics. I competed nationally, up until about 14 years old when I discovered boys and parties.

Which I’m guessing put an abrupt end to all figure skating aspirations? Yeah, I was like, I don’t wanna go skate every morning and afternoon when my friends are going to hang out. No way! How am I ever gonna get a boyfriend that way?

Clear Skin and School Ties

It’s ironic that you modelled to save up for university, but then your acting career took off so quickly that you were never able to complete your BA in child psychology. Is it something you’d eventually want to go back to? I don’t know if I’ll go back to school, but I’ve been doing a lot of stuff on my own. I’ve gotten involved with the US school system. I was just at the White House talking with policy-maker Roberto Rodriguez [Special Assistant to President Obama on Education], figuring out a way to better the schools over here, and so I’m working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who’ve gotten together with Viacom for this program called Get Schooled.

Who says getting an education means you have to go through conventional academia? Exactly. Of course, if you want a certificate to open your own practice, then definitely. But I just got a little overwhelmed with all of these acting jobs coming in at the same time. I wanted to have my own practice and that’s a seven-year process. Like, oh my god, why don’t I give this acting thing a shot! Sounds a lot more fun when you’re 19–20. [Laughs]

Those late-90s Noxzema commercials must have been a lot of fun. It was cool to be part of that! But that Noxzema commercial where I’m at the drive-thru was so popular that it ran for a good year and a half, and my poor boyfriend at the time would get called “Noxzema Boy” when we’d walk down the halls at school. And they’d call me “Fish Witch,” because that guy in the commercial would say that to me.

Were some film people initially reluctant to take you seriously because of that model-turned-actor label? No, because I never had any notoriety as a model. It was just a cash cow for me. Nobody knew that I had done a single modelling job, so I never felt that made things difficult for me. It’s weird when you read articles that say “Malin Åkerman: model turned actress” because I never thought of myself as a model. I find that it’s generally a downfall for professional models, who are used to learning exactly how to stand all the time and how to pose.

Right, because when you act, don’t you have to let all of that go? Exactly. Sometimes they say that can work against you if you’ve done too much modelling, but I’ve always been such a klutz. I had braces for most of my teenage years. I was a stick figure and all the guys were always after the voluptuous girls. So it wasn’t like, here comes Malin, she’s that hot model. More like, here’s our buddy, that little stick figure! The modelling was wonderful moneywise, but it was Sears and The Bay… Not that exciting for people! [Laughs]

Anthemic Swedish Pride

Something that seems really exciting to many people is your Swedish background. Does that ever get tiresome, answering the same questions about the few formative years you spent there? It’s probably the least annoying question among so many other questions that are so much more annoying. [Laughs] It’s such a well-known fact by now that I don’t really see the point of asking, because it really is out there on the internet. But Sweden was part of my life, of course. I was born there, so if people want to know about it and I can tell them how great it is, then I will!

Don’t you find it adds a touch of exoticism to your image? In a “not only is she Canadian, she’s also Swedish” sort of way… Yeah, I guess it becomes a little bit exotic. It’s different than the other girls from the States or Canada. There aren’t that many Swedes over here in Hollywood. Alexander Skarsgård, a friend of mine, is also Swedish and getting a lot of attention now, but beyond that, the Swedes kind of lay low in Hollywood!

Although in music, Swedes are everywhere to be seen. Yes, that they are! It’s a very musical country. I went to school there for one year in grade eight because I wanted to try living with my dad for a while, and being in the school choir was the cool thing to do. All the cool girls and boys were part of a choir.

You mean, it wasn’t like in Glee, where the outcasts are the ones signing up for school choir? No, it’s the total opposite! That was really fascinating. I think that breeds a really musical country, and that’s probably why there’s so much great music coming out of there. Lykke Li is great. The Knife is awesome. I’m just excited anytime I find a Swedish band. I’m always supportive.

L.A. Confidential

And you yourself are married to an L.A. musician, who performed with you in the band The Petalstones. Indeed, he’s a little drummer boy! [Laughs] The one thing that we love about L.A. is that you can go out on any given night and find some great indie bands playing. There’s a great music scene. Unfortunately, L.A. isn’t as appreciative of its music scene [as it could be]. I don’t think it really gets how special it is, because a lot of people come support the band they came to see, and then leave. They don’t make a night of it and check out all the bands, and hang out. It’s a little bit of a different vibe; it’s more of a business.

You had quite a memorable part in an episode of Entourage, a show that sends up the Hollywood lifestyle. Do you think that show really nails it? Yeah, it depends. There is that lifestyle, for sure. Does everybody live it? Not at all. It depends on what your values are and what you want out of life. I’ve definitely met people like that – big houses, entourages, agents like Jeremy Piven’s character.

My life is so far away from that. We live a very normal life. I have a husband, we often have friends over, we cook a lot, go for hikes – rarely will you see me out at a nightclub in L.A. I don’t have an entourage. I have best buddies, though! [Laughs]

Is it difficult to lead a normal life there and stay clear of the paparazzi?
It’s so easy. You know what areas to avoid, where the paparazzi hangs out. Sometimes they’re unavoidable because you have to go to an event, or you’ve been invited to lunch with a producer at a spot where you know the paparazzi will be. So you bump into it now and then, but we’ve chosen to live in an area that’s very low-key.

Unfortunately, your fellow castmate in The Proposal was recently thrust into the spotlight against her will. What’s your take on how the press handled Sandra Bullock’s marital woes? It’s horrible. I was on a red carpet once, and someone asked me about what David Letterman had done to his wife. And you know what? That’s nobody’s business. Unfortunately, they’re public figures, so their private lives are really scrutinized.

I really don’t appreciate the paparazzi and all these tabloid magazines. It’s so low. Sandra is one of the loveliest women I’ve ever met, such a hard worker, and it was awful to see her business spread all over the world. That should be between her and her husband.

Bringing Her “A” Game

Aside from Sandra Bullock, you’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the brightest minds in comedy, like Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn. What do you take away from working with those guys? It’s hard to be specific, but they’re amazing. The two that you’ve mentioned are very professional, and they really know their comedy well. Right now I’m shooting with Forest Whitaker. When I act with people like these, I feel like I can’t disappoint and I have to bring my game up 10 notches, because these are people that captivate you, lure you in. They really know what they are doing. And I always feel like I have no clue what I’m doing. [Laughs]

Can that be a little nerve-wracking, not knowing whether you’ll measure up? I love being nervous and having that challenge. That’s when we grow the most. You can always improve in this business, with every role. Sometimes you’ll find phenomenal actors who are cast in an odd role for them, and you know what? They’re really not that great! You never reach the end in this profession. There’s always a new challenge, new role, and it’s what makes it exciting.

It’s great to see you take these risks with roles that most would consider atypical for you – especially your recent Sundance projects The Romantics and, even more so, happythankyoumoreplease. Yeah, that was a big passion project of mine. Initially, I had been offered a different role which I declined, because I felt like I had already done something similar. I just loved the role of Annie, the woman with alopecia. But it had already been taken by someone else.

But then I got a phone call, while I was at Cannes, and my agent told me that the role had opened up again, so I jumped on a plane, flew to New York and sat with the director, reading through the script with him. He asked me if I thought I could do this, I said yes, and I had no idea if I could! But I really wanted to challenge myself. It’s a really beautiful film and I’m so excited that it’s coming out in theatres.

When it comes to playing these characters, do you ever have qualms about shaving off eyebrows or undergoing any other transformation the part might call for? Not at all! I mean, that’s what we do. Our job is to portray these people; that’s the fun of it. You get to be a chameleon, you get to change the way you look and experience the world. I mean, look at Charlize Theron in Monster… Did she ever impress me, she just went for it! That’s so inspiring to see.

The Romantics and happythankyoumoreplease hit theatres this fall.

Photography: Kayt Jones (Art + Commerce)
Creative direction:
Karine LaRocque
Lisa Michelle Boyd
John D (Starworks)
Robin Black for NARS Cosmetics (Starworks)
Photography assistants:
Naj Jamai, Richard Luong, Diana King
Digi tech:
Jen Britton
Styling assistant:
Jennifer Nunn-iwai
Creative consultant:
Chad Wilson
Smashbox Studios (Culver City)