Don’t stereotype Andrea Brooks.
Sure, the Earl Marriott grad’s fresh, wholesome good looks have won her film and television roles as the All-American cheerleader.
But the 22-year-old actress has put all the downtime between scenes to good use, gaining her BA in English Literature and Film Studies from UBC this spring.
“On set is actually one of the best places to study,” she said. “It keeps me grounded – I’m never really bored.”
Off-screen Brooks loves to discuss the edgiest modern French filmmakers and what she describes as “really hard-core film philosophy.”
And even though she plans to move to L.A. in February to further her on-screen opportunities, the Brantford, Ont. native will continue to study for her master’s degree in film studies through UBC.
“(The university) has been really understanding, and I’ve really been able to balance my studies with my career,” she said.
That career seems to be blossoming with three current supporting actress roles – in the Disney Channel movie Geek Charming, the high school drama TV movie Shrinking Violet and, most prestigiously, a small but key appearance in The Company You Keep, directed by and starring Robert Redford.
Brooks plays Susan Sarandon’s daughter in the gritty locally-lensed production, which also stars Stanley Tucci and Shia LaBoeuf.
“I was only on it for two days, but it was kind of a dream come true,” said Brooks. “I loved watching Susan Sarandon at work. She is just so incredibly creative, always throwing out suggestions. She would improvise a whole scene with me off camera just to get the background to her character.
“And Robert Redford is just so relaxed and professional – not doing all the extra takes a less-experienced director would.
“He was just like ‘that’s it, now we move on’.”
Brooks is hopeful she can continue the current momentum, and find a few similar challenges, with the move to L.A.
“I’d like to be comfortable working there,” she said. “I have a lot of contacts, but right now, whenever I’m there I feel like the little girl lost in the city.”
It helps that Brooks’ parents were focused on raising her as a grounded individual.
Her mom, Leslie, is an academic who has helped keep her interested in that side of life as well as supporting her acting ambitions, while her dad, Steve gives her the benefit of his experience as a businessman.
“He’ll go over contracts with me, and he’s helped me with taxes and the HST, since I’m an independent contractor. He’s very supportive in that way.”
Brother Matt, now studying at UVic, is supportive too, she said.
But much of the focus and discipline in Brooks’ life can be traced to the fact that she was in music, skating and highland dance classes on the Semiahmoo Peninsula from a very early age.
She had a background in figure skating when she met XBa Dance Studio founder and artistic director Nela Hallwas 10 years ago.
She became one of the studio’s star dancers, responding naturally to Hallwas’ boundary-pushing, experimental, film and video-oriented approach to dance.
“XBa taught me to open my mind, showed me how to break the mould and showed me how not to be afraid,” she said.
But the principal force driving her career and her studies is her love of the film medium, she said.
“I love it to death. I have since I was five years old. When the credits would roll at the end of a movie, I would cry because it was over. I wanted to be part of it any way I could.”
At age 15, after gaining stage experience in productions with Susan Pendleton’s Surrey Youth Theatre Company, she signed with Vancouver agent Dylan Collingwood, and has worked steadily since in a variety of television series roles, including episodes of The Troop and The Haunting Hour.
Brooks is aware that her look lends itself to typecasting. And while she’d be the last person to knock the kind of roles that have been her bread-and-butter, she said she is careful in managing her image.
“That’s why I never got the bright blonde hair and the tan,” she said.
“I’ve been playing the All-American 16-year-old teenager for an insanely long time now. I know that character well, but I don’t want that to be everything I do.”
As someone who has appeared in a lot of shows that are watched by young people, she also feels she has some responsibility to understand the way film can shape people’s concepts of life.
That’s why her master’s thesis will probably be on the way movies influence body-image, she said.
While casting agents have never told her to lose weight, she knows the industry as a whole is inclined to praise actresses whenever they have dropped a few pounds.
It’s an insidious trend that can end in a very bad result , she said.
“You wind up having a sick person on-screen making vulnerable people sick – it’s completely messed up.”