Christmas came early for Jessica McLeod this year. Just a few weeks ago, the Claremont Secondary School student found herself singing Christmas carols, opening gifts and having snowball fights with former Baywatch star David Hasselhoff in Maple Ridge.
"The Hoff," as she affectionately calls him, plays the title character who helps a family prepare for the holidays in The Christmas Consultant, a comedy airing later this year on Lifetime in the U.S. and W network. Jessica, 15, plays Anna Fletcher, a cynical, wisecracking teenager who's more crazy about a cute pizza delivery boy than Christmas.
"He talks like a radio announcer and it's just so funny," said the plucky Grade 10 student, who made her screen debut as a little princess in a Lotto 6/49 commercial at age 6.
"He's really down to earth. He's like a huge kid and loves to act like a 10-year-old."
Hasselhoff, a social media buff, swiftly endeared himself to Jessica when he suggested they follow each other on Twitter.
It wasn't the first time Jessica has celebrated Christmas off-season. She also played Sarah, eldest daughter of a Texas farmer played by country singer Billy Ray Cyrus, in the 2009 Hallmark movie Christmas in Canaan.
Indeed, the dynamic honours student has worked with a respectable number of leading men for an actress of her age who works in film and television part-time for the sake of her education.
Fond memories include working with the late Leslie Nielsen in Scary Movie 4 as the schoolgirl reading My Pet Duck to the American president. In the classic sketch, the Canuck cut-up amusingly spoofed former U.S. President George W.
Bush's delayed response when he received reports of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack while visiting a Florida elementary school.
"I'll handle that in a minute, but right now, I have to see what's happening with the duck," deadpans Nielsen.
"I didn't understand the gravity of that situation at the time," laughs Jessica, who was eight when it was filmed.
Nielsen was a "really funny, very sweet man," she said, lamenting that they weren't able to reconnect later.
While filming Things We Lost in the Fire, Jessica also befriended Benicio Del Toro, an actor who defied her expectations. To her relief, he wasn't the dark, brooding individual she expected based on some of the addicted characters he's played.
"He's very gentle, a very kindred spirit," she said, recalling he often jokingly asked: "Who's your favourite actor?"
While splashing in a pool with kids on set in Shaughnessy, Del Toro seemed impressed by how far Jessica could swim. He was initially unaware that she was a competitive swimmer for seven years until she chose to focus on her showbiz career instead.
When they wrapped, he gave her a now prized possession - a photo of them together, signed: "To my favourite actor."
As easy as it can be to become starstruck, Jessica's priorities are elsewhere.
"I don't care about fame," she says. "The best feeling for me is to be on set, working. That's when I'm happiest."
Carrie Ann Fleming, who plays her aunt Peggy in The Christmas Consultant, says Jessica has a real head on her shoulders.
"When you talk to her, it's not like talking to a 15-year-old," said Fleming (Good Luck Chuck, Supernatural).
"She talks like a professional and asks all the right questions. And on set, she really knows how to take care of herself."
Fleming's such a fan, she came to Victoria to see Jessica's sparkling performance as the Guard in Claremont Musical Theatre's lively and inventive production of The Wizard of Oz.
Jessica is so devoted to Claremont's Focus on Fine Arts program, she passed up a chance to fly to Los Angeles for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's Young Artist Awards ceremonies Sunday. She was nominated for her performance as an insatiable alien in Alien Candy, an episode of R.L. Stine's The Haunting Hour.
Her acting dream was inspired in part by the achievements of American actress and former teen star Amanda Bynes, she said.
"I said, 'I totally want to do that,'" recalled Jessica, whose mother, Teresa, has supported her despite some initial trepidation.
"It was more a case of me begging and pleading," laughs Jessica, noting her mom insisted she get a good education.
Theatre instructor Colin Plant describes Jessica, who skipped a grade and plans to graduate early next year, as "one of the hardest working students I've ever had."
He said Jessica, who also played starlet Lorraine Sheldon in Claremont's The Man Who Came to Dinner, has a work ethic, personality and humility with her peers that should stand her in good stead.
"She's got that proverbial 'it,'" Plant said.
"What makes Jessica amazing is she's socially aware of what's needed in a situation."
He said it was an indication of her range that for a musical-theatre-camp audition he helped her with, she chose a dramatic monologue as Clarissa from Silence of the Lambs.
A "triple-threat with boundless energy," Jessica is also easy to coach, said choreographer Chelsea Giordano.
Adds Plant: "We're going to be happy to say we knew her when."
Check out Jessica's performance with Leslie Nielson
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