Off the Map, but thinking of home

There are few professions more demanding than medicine. Actress and former McGill student Rachelle Lefevre recently discovered that being a pretend doctor isn't all that easy either.

Former McGill student Rachelle Lefevre proudly describes herself as a “high-energy” person. She didn’t even bat an eye when she found out that her character on ABC’s new medical adventure TV series, Off the Map, would spend the season scuba diving, revving up dirt bikes, and dashing through the rainforest, saving lives.

But once Lefevre arrived on the show’s set in Hawaii, she was confronted by an unexpected challenge: fake surgery.

Rachelle Lefevre studied English and secondary education at McGill (ABC/Bob D'Amico)

“I’m always in awe when I hear about doctors performing surgeries for 10 or 12 hours,” she notes. “But that’s also how long it takes to film a surgery. There are so many close-ups of intricate procedures – using the scalpel or injecting something – that it takes a long time to get it right. So you’re standing in one place, in a hot room, doing very, very specific and choreographed maneuvers. I didn’t know how hard it would be.”

Off the Map, the latest project from the creative team behind the hit series Grey’s Anatomy, follows a group of dreamy and altruistic physicians who run an understaffed and under-stocked medical clinic in the South American jungle. (Think: Doctors Without Borders and frequently without clothes.)

Lefevre’s character, Dr. Ryan Clark, first appears bathing in a waterfall, quickly establishing her as a sexy, free-spirited veteran of the trying environment. Raised by missionaries, she is multilingual, passionate about her calling, and a tough, but fair, mentor to the doctors who recently joined the team. She also carries some mysterious burden that will only be revealed as the series progresses.

It’s a demanding emotional role for Lefevre, despite Off the Map’s unabashed escapist slant. She gets to show off the language skills she acquired growing up in Quebec, while sorting out a complicated relationship with the lead hunk. And, let’s be honest, delivering lines like “Saving a life was the easy part!” with the right balance of sex-symbol vulnerability and action-hero earnestness takes talent.

“The role is both physical and cerebral,” Lefevre explains. “It was the perfect combination for me.”

Over the past few years, Lefevre has had plenty of opportunities to tackle high-profile projects. The most notable examples are her roles as the villainous Victoria in the first two Twilight movies and as Clara (aka the first wife) in the critically acclaimed film adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s Barney’s Version.

When you speak with Lefevre, though, it’s immediately apparent that all the fangs and fame haven’t changed her.

Born and raised in Montreal, she studied English, with an emphasis on theatre studies, and secondary education at McGill. She spent three full years at the University but, because she had trouble deciding on a major, the credits never added up to an actual degree. Then Hollywood came calling.

Today Lefevre remains a self-proclaimed “patriotic Canadian” and tries to do at least one project from her home and native land per year. And whether she’s speaking French on set with fellow Montrealer and Off the Map co-star Caroline Dhavernas, or compiling a three-page list of places to eat in her hometown to prepare her Barney’s Version co-star Paul Giamatti for the time he spent filming in Montreal, she loves serving as an unofficial ambassador for her country, province and city.

“I really do believe that Canadians have a unique voice,” she says. “And where I grew up definitely shaped who I am, my worldviews and my interest in other cultures. Montreal, specifically, is so beautifully multicultural. And then, I got to go to McGill, where the people are so diverse, too. I really love everything about where I’m from.”

by Brett Hooton, BA'02, MA'05

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