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Victoria's Rookie Blue star O'Brien credits free-spirited parents

Aliyah O’Brien’s life was joyful to begin with, but she’s been feeling that sensation even more since getting high praise from her Rookie Blue co-star and a lot of lesbian love.
Aliyah O'Brien stars in Rookie Blue.

Aliyah O’Brien’s life was joyful to begin with, but she’s been feeling that sensation even more since getting high praise from her Rookie Blue co-star and a lot of lesbian love.

“She’s the coolest chick on the planet,” is how Charlotte Sullivan described the Victoria-born actress to TV Guide. Sullivan was recalling a scene in which her character Gail Peck comes out of the closet by kissing Holly Stewart, the lesbian forensic pathologist O’Brien plays on the hit police drama.

The stunning revelation paved the way for a relationship that will evolve during its fifth season Mondays at 10 p.m. on Global.

“That was very sweet of her, but she is the coolest chick on the planet,” laughs O’Brien. “She plays this sexy, edgy character but she’s the loveliest, sweetest and geekiest person in the best way.”

O’Brien felt “proud and honoured” being able to participate in a realistic depiction of a same-sex romance, she said.

“So often they’re these gratuitous makeout scenes used to boost ratings,” she said. “But here it’s about two people who love each other.”

O’Brien, 33, has played a variety of roles since she moved to Vancouver in 2007, landing a role on Intelligence that led to appearances in Supernatural, Eureka, Smallville and Psych. She has also played a sexy vampire queen — Afina in SyFy’s Sanctuary — a bad-ass chick in the action flick Maximum Conviction with Stephen Seagal, curling club bartender Tannis in Paul Gross’s comedy series Men With Brooms, and Regina on Bates Motel, but Rookie Blue brought her a new audience.

“I have a lot of lesbian fans now,” she said. “The loveliest comments are about how thrilled the community is that they’re being portrayed in a real way.”

Laughingly acknowledging they had “great kissing chemistry,” the actor said Sullivan was probably more nervous than she was.

“I don’t think for either of us it was just about kissing a girl,” she said. “It’s the same thing kissing a guy. You hit your marks, find your lights. It’s not sexy. It’s contrived but you find some realism.”

She got another compliment when a forensic pathologist said he was impressed with her knowledge of bones.

While the former Spectrum Secondary School student was once actively involved in musical theatre and “sang and danced my heart out even though I was the worst singer ever,” her theatrical passion was upstaged by her interest in kinesiology, leading to studies at Camosun College and gigs as a personal trainer at Club Phoenix and the University of Victoria.

A spiritual, self-described adrenaline junkie who travelled to 30 countries after graduation, she credits her appetite for healthy living and zest for life to her parents.

“I grew up with hippie love,” said O’Brien, the oldest of three siblings whose father is a retired Times Colonist Circulation driver; her mother is a gardener and federal government worker.

“My parents were constantly encouraging joy. I’m so blessed to have that kind of amazing childhood.”

Her mother, whose philosophy was four-hugs-a-day, would sing to her each morning and her parents would make home-made fruit leathers for lunch.

Other fond memories include putting on plays in a friend’s basement and selling her beaded earrings and dream-catchers at Moss Street Market.

Propelled by such a spirit of optimism, it’s no wonder she jumped at the chance to be part of her friend Eyoalha Baker’s Jump for Joy international photo project.

The project that showcases “the beauty of the human spirit” through images of people jumping for joy worldwide, O’Brien appears mid-air in photos taken mostly in Vancouver’s West End.

“They were the most fun photo shoots ever,” she said. “It’s totally what I represent.”

Indeed, fun is as integral to O’Brien’s life as her work ethic, put to the test getting into character as Sanctuary vampire’s queen. “That was an acting challenge,” she recalled. “You’ve got contact lenses that make you basically blind, teeth that make it hard to speak, nails on your fingers so you can’t pick anything up, a costume that’s heavy and restrictive, and high-heeled boots while all this fight choreography is going on.”

O’Brien will also appear in Thursday night’s season-2 finale of Motive, the offbeat police procedural series airing at 10 p.m. on CTV.

“You do have to be a little careful about how you deliver things,” she said, referring to the ‘whydunnit’ format that reveals the killer and victim at the start, then flashes back to the motivation for the crime while detectives Angie Flynn (Kristin Lehman) and Oscar Vega (Louis Ferreira) investigate.

“They’re both fun and such professionals,” she said. “As soon as action is called — boom! — they are in it, so present.”

Working with Vera Farmiga on Bates Motel was also fulfilling, says O’Brien, who will also soon be seen in Monster Trucks, the Rob Lowe movie now shooting in Vancouver. “Vera is such an amazing director as well, and she’s a mother. We had awesome conversations about that. I’m blown away when a woman can do it all, and with such humbleness.”