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Astrid and Lilly Save the World, starring Victoria's Jana Morrison, premieres Wednesday night

Jana Morrison stars as a high-schooler who fights inter-galactic monsters and pressure from her peers in equal measure
Victoria actor Jana Morrison, left, co-stars alongside Samantha Aucoin in the Syfy series Astrid & Lilly Save the World, which premieres Wednesday night on Crave and CTV's Sci-Fi channel. Credit: Alex Stead/Blue Ice Pictures/SYFY

Two years of pandemic-related shutdowns have gutted the performing arts in Victoria. But few — if any — in the theatre community have sat idle.

Stage veteran Jana Morrison turned her attention to TV and film, formats that were able to continue production in compliance with provincial protocols. The Victoria actor signed on for classes with Hilary Jardine at Circus Actors Studio in Victoria, taking all the film-related workshops that were available. It didn’t take Morrison long to find her groove.

“Film is a lot like theatre,” she said. “The acting principles translate really well to one another.”

After booking several small roles, Morrison has landed the biggest part of her young career. She co-stars with Samantha Aucoin in the anticipated Syfy dramedy Astrid & Lilly Save the World, which premières Jan. 26 on Crave and CTV Sci-Fi amid a wave of advance publicity — much of which applauds the series' body-positive messaging.

“The message is really important,” Morrison said. “You can be a hero in any body. Why couldn’t someone who looks curvy or is dark-skinned be a hero also?”

Morrison, a Filipino-Canadian born and raised in Winnipeg, moved to Victoria a decade ago to attend the Canadian College of Performing Arts. She appeared in local productions by Puente Theatre, Kaleidoscope Theatre, Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre and Atomic Vaudeville (her lead turn as Jewish drag queen Yitzhak in Hedwig and the Angry Inch drew raves) before embarking on her current path.

She poured the entirety of her experience into the character of Astrid, a high-schooler who fights inter-galactic monsters and pressure from her peers in equal measure. “I called on a lot of experiences for this role,” Morrison said. “I never get cast as the lead.”

Movement classes with Visible Bodies Collective in Victoria were also instrumental, she said. Astrid & Lilly Save the World is new territory for both Morrison and the sci-fi genre as a whole. “These are two unlikely heroes that you don’t normally see on TV. You see Superman, or a beautiful Catwoman, something like that. Not two tubby teen girls saving the world. We’re really excited to have that.”

The series, which has been compared to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was shot over four months in St. John’s, Newfoundland, last year, capping a wild few months of high and lows for Morrison, who was asked to play a character several years her junior.

Following her Zoom audition for the Toronto casting directors in April, she did not hear back for over a month. Knowing that success rates in the film industry are notoriously low, Morrison assumed the part had gone to someone else. “You do an audition and don’t hear back, that’s fine. But you keep going.”

Producers eventually reached out, and cast her in the role of Astrid, a “feisty, confident, sex-positive teenage girl” Astrid. Cameras rolled in September on 10 hour-long episodes, shot over four months.

Morrison, who is now represented through talent agency APA, knows bigger roles lay ahead. She’s prepared for the journey, even if it requires her to leave Vancouver Island.

“Life has always brought me in different directions. I never like to stay in the same place for too long. As I grow as a person, my interests change. But I’ll be based in Victoria for now — it’s the best, most beautiful city and my whole family lives here. There’s no plan to leave yet, but life takes you random places.”

> Astrid & Lilly Save the World premieres Wednesday, Jan. 26, on Crave and CTV’s Sci-Fi channel.