What: Open Heart
When: Premières tonight, Tuesdays 9 p.m.
As unlikely as it might sound, having been born and raised in Tofino has its advantages when you’re shooting a TV series set at a bustling, big-city hospital, says Karis Cameron.
The Tofino teenager was a competitive synchronized swimmer growing up on Vancouver Island’s west coast, and she says her aquatic experience came in handy while shooting Open Heart, the new teen drama series premièring tonight at 9 on YTV. She stars as Dylan Blake, a rebellious 16-year-old who is arrested after falling in with the wrong crowd and is ordered to perform community service at Open Heart Memorial Hospital.
Complicating matters is that Dylan’s mother and sister are influential doctors there, and her grandparents are board members frustrated by her covert investigation of her father’s mysterious disappearance there.
“Hey, I’m from Tofino! I was born in the water,” laughed Cameron, 19, recalling her response when the show’s producers asked if she’d be OK doing a swimming-pool sequence in the series première.
It helped that the teenager was once one of 50 local schoolchildren who appeared in Missoula Children’s Theatre’s production of The Little Mermaid staged in Tofino seven years ago.
“My mom put me into those early on. They used to come to Tofino each year,” said the actor, who counts Keira Knightley among her influences.
Playing a “seasider” in The Little Mermaid piqued Cameron’s interest in acting, leading to roles in an episode of R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour, and Hallmark’s Signed, Sealed, Delivered mystery series.
To her relief, her first days shooting Open Heart weren’t as stressful as when she was suddenly stricken with a nasty cold before filming exteriors for The Haunting Hour during downpours in Vancouver in 2010.
“It was an excited, but nervous feeling,” she said, recalling her first shooting experience. “I met the actors and director and then after the first day on set, I got super sick. I was taking medicine and performing as best I could.”
Like many emerging actors her age, Cameron has had to travel to Vancouver for auditions with her family’s support, but her Open Heart callback was done via Skype, she recalled.
“It was very glitchy but cool, and fun,” said Cameron, who was invited to screen-test for the role of the tenacious teen in Toronto two weeks later.
Moving from Tofino to Toronto for the summertime shoot “was kind of super-scary, because I was on my own for the first time,” she recalled, thankful Epitome Pictures was so “welcoming and helpful.”
Contrary to Dylan’s headstrong, loyal character whose trouble-making streak distracts her from the pain of coping with the fact her father vanished without a trace, Cameron says she isn’t rebellious by nature.
“I’m such a good person, always following the rules,” she said. “I’m so cautious I stay in the lines. I only got into trouble when me and my brother would fight.”
The teenager, who stays in shape by hitting the gym regularly and doing yoga, has one big thing in common with her character, who recruits her friends, including gossipy brainiac Mikayla (Cristine Prosperi) and charmer Wes (Justin Kelly), to help her find her missing dad (Jeff Douglas).
“I am such a daddy’s girl. I love my dad so much,” says Cameron. “For her to lose her dad and be that close to him. I can’t even imagine losing my own dad.”
She said she’s grateful that her mother, who works at the local post office, and her father, a home inspector who runs his own construction business, “are so insanely proud” of her achievements.
Another difference between her and her character, Cameron admitted with a laugh, is that unlike Dylan, who doesn’t have much time for overtly flirtatious admirers, “I always have time for boys.”
Filming Open Heart from August through October last year, mostly on a big-city hospital set at Epitome’s North York studio, taught her more than just how to up her acting game, she added.
“I probably never could become a doctor or nurse,” she said. “I can handle blood and gore because I like scary movies, but I don’t think my brain could retain that much information.”
More recently, Cameron got her first taste of big-time promotion after being flown to New York for the first time to participate in press junkets prior to the show’s concurrent release on Nickelodeon in the U.S.
The social-media junkie is particularly excited about Open Heart Locked, an app for mobile devices “that gives you total access to Dylan’s phone and her ‘pinboard’ where she puts clues to track her dad.”