October 12, 2016 - 10:17 AM
TORONTO - Budding actress Hannah Gross shrinks from any mention of the possibility of fame.
She's not entirely comfortable with the world of showbiz, she insists, despite the fact she comes from Canadian acting royalty.
The slight brunette is the daughter of Paul Gross and Martha Burns, the husband-and-wife team whose string of stage and screen titles read like a laundry list of some of this country's biggest hits, including their joint stint on the acclaimed TV series "Slings and Arrows."
But the younger Gross admits to feeling a bit awkward as she makes her own foray into film with her debut "Unless," an adaptation of the Carol Shields book.
"I certainly would call myself a novice, verging on inept," Gross says of handling the media and promotions drill that comes with her profession.
Co-star Catherine Keener vehemently disagrees, calling the 26-year-old "unbelievable" and jokes that there'd be hell to pay from Gross's famous parents if she didn't nail her performance.
"She has to really just (be good) otherwise her parents would go (smacks one hand onto the other)," says Keener, chuckling with Gross beside her during the recent Toronto International Film Festival.
"No, she would endure everything, anything, anybody. Anything that was thrown at her she was remarkable."
Keener stars in the Irish/Canadian production as Reta, a novelist and translator who is the mother of three nearly grown daughters.
Her idyllic life unravels when eldest daughter Norah — played by Gross — inexplicably drops out of school and turns up panhandling on a busy Toronto street corner, refusing to speak and holding a sign that reads "goodness."
Keener was not familiar with the CanLit legend before this project, but says she's since become a fan. She read Shields's book after receiving writer/director Alan Gilsenan's script.
"I really was (thinking), 'Oh man, this stuff's heavy.' But beautiful at the same time," Keener says of Shields's final novel, released in 2002, a year before she died.
Much of the film was shot outdoors in frigid February temperatures. Gross says hidden cameras made it unclear to passersby that they were wandering through a film shoot, and that some strangers even stopped to ask if she needed food or help.
"It was completely heartening for any level of cynic," she says, adding that blurring the lines really helped her performance.
"I think that's the real beauty of Alan's filmmaking ... is this allowing as much as you can — with a camera crew around —allowing real life to bleed into the story that you're telling. And certainly for me it made it so much easier to be in the scene when I could react to real things that were happening around me and things that you don't expect."
Gross heaps praise on Keener for being a matriarch both on- and off-screen, crediting the "Capote" and "Being John Malkovich" star with organizing a "family" road trip for the cast to Niagara Falls, Ont. Other excursions included a hockey game, ski trip and skating.
"We got very close," admits Keener. "We did a lot of dumb things together."
As for her real-life parents, the Toronto-bred Gross says "they're very supportive but in an off-handed way."
She logged a few minor roles in high school plays and when she snagged the title role in a production of "The Duchess of Malfi," she sheepishly admits to shrugging off any tips her seasoned parents tried to offer.
"I was not very responsive," says Gross.
As such, she didn't decide to pursue acting until she was 18 and it was time to apply to university.
She trained at the New York University Tisch School of the Arts and now her star would appear to be on the rise.
Gross spent much of the year working in Pittsburgh on the upcoming Netflix series "Mindhunter." Set in the '70s and produced by Hollywood heavyweights David Fincher and Charlize Theron, the show is about the first FBI agent to start profiling serial killers.
Gross plays the lead character's girlfriend.
"It's cool. Hopefully it would chronicle his whole career trajectory, starting from when he births this unit to the '90s when he leaves it," says Gross.
Where that leads is anyone's guess.
"That's the crazy thing, about feeling most of the time you don't have any particular agency over anything that's happening," she says.
"It does feel like luck and a fluke. I feel very, very lucky."
"Unless" opens in Toronto and Vancouver on Friday. It heads to Edmonton, London, Ont., Saskatoon and Victoria on Oct. 28, to Ottawa on Nov. 4, and to Regina on Dec. 15.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016