Rachelle Lefevre is on screen for all the right reasons. Whether digging into the core and consequence of human trauma, honoring her ancestors, or tearing through the jungle with a machete and a med kit, the flaming-haired heavy hitter mines the medium for all it’s worth. As the seductive, damaged, malicious first wife of Paul Giamatti’s Barney Panofsky in Barney’s Version (2010), Lefevre channeled a perverse spitefulness as she emotionally gutted her costar. She called the Feds on Kevin Spacey’s Jack Abramoff as a scorned girlfriend in Casino Jack (2010), and sang in Yiddish in Fugitive Pieces (2007), a beautiful and little known ode to survivors of the Holocaust, starring Stephen Dillane. Now co-starring on “Off the Map,” the new ABC series that’s equal parts medical drama and bushwhacking, cliff-diving tropical adventure, Lefevre plays Dr. Ryan Clark, a born-and-bred traveler who’s as at home in an operating room as she is in a makeshift lean-to. Set in a remote town in South America — and shot in Hawaii — the show follows a group of young doctors who have pulled up stakes in an attempt to escape their respective pasts.
Giamatti — who referred to Barney’s costars Lefevre, Minnie Driver, and Rosamund Pike as “a trifecta of hotties” in his Golden Globes acceptance speech — speaks well of the versatile, kinetic actor. “Rachelle is a piece of work, that’s for sure,” he grins. “She’s amazing. She’s one of the smartest people and actresses I’ve ever met. In this amazing, beautiful body and face you have this complete eccentric weirdo who’s incredibly smart. She was great; I really loved working with her.” Hailing from Montreal, Lefevre got her start on the Canadian TV series, “Big Wolf on Campus,” in 1999, and then landed the role of Tuvia, Chuck Barris’ fantasy girl in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002). “I had this one little scene with Sam Rockwell,” she recalls, “but my God, what a first way to make a movie. George Clooney was my director and Sam Rockwell was the other person in the scene with me!” After several guest-star television gigs, she was cast as a regular on the sitcom, “Life on a Stick,” and as a grieving private- school student in the murder mystery, The River King, starring Edward Burns, both of which premiered in 2005. Though the show was short-lived, the film role and the steady job provided the perfect opportunity for Lefevre to move to Los Angeles. She went on to appear on such series as “Bones,” “How I Met Your Mother,” and “Boston Legal” before being cast as the villainous Victoria in the first two installments of the Twilight series (2008 and 2009). Coming up for the rising star is the psychological thriller, The Caller, co-starring “True Blood”’s Stephen Moyer.
“Rachelle is a trooper,” Moyer relates. “She came on to the job with no notice. One night she gets a call, reads the script, gets on three planes the next morning to Puerto Rico. Arrives late afternoon and was on set that evening on an all-nighter. She was utterly committed — funny and unbelievably dedicated. She also introduced me to Bananagrams, for which I am eternally indebted. She’s also a bloody good actress.” Having earned the admiration of fans and colleagues alike, Lefevre takes some time with Venice to discuss the work that’s brought her here.
Venice: “Off the Map” is a great escape. Are you enjoying your time in Hawaii?
Rachelle Lefevre: On our first day of work we went snorkeling with giant sea turtles. It really was a case of life imitating art. That moment when we all realized that we had a job where we lived in Hawaii, we were working with people who were all clearly going to get along, and our job entailed snorkeling with giant sea turtles, that has to be a moment that is as big as you would write it. Because if you’re not going to hoot and holler and scream, “I love my life!” then you should just go home and let somebody else do it who will.
I like the show’s focus on the darkness that these characters are running from.
I think what our show addresses accurately is that old adage, “Wherever you go, there you are.” The idea that you can’t go and start over, because whatever you’re running from follows you wherever you go. You’re still the common denominator.
Do you enjoy the idea of taking the audience on this adventure with you?
It’s meant to be pure escapism on some level. Obviously, you’re going to feel things, and it’s going to ask questions, and it’s going to be about character — but if you feel like instead of shoveling your car out of eight centimeters of snow in January, you got to spend an hour in the jungle trying to find the right tree sap to heal a wound, then I really feel like we’ve done our job!
Tell us about the medical procedures you had to do while SCUBA diving.
We filmed at the Pacific Beach Hotel and they have one of these tanks in the restaurant; it’s like an oceanarium and the restaurant is designed around it. We filmed in that, and they didn’t close the restaurant! So we were filming all these weird doctor close-ups and inserts while people were eating their eggs and toast and watching us. It was underwater theater in the round! [laughs]
What was your reaction when you knew you would be auditioning with Paul Giamatti for the role of Clara in Barney’s Version?
I told them that I was busy, that I had to wash my hair. They knew I was joking but there was this moment in the air for a second, and then I was like, “What time? Where? Do I have to drive to the ends of the earth and then take a ferry to Istanbul? What do I have to do?” So I went in to read and I said to [Paul], “If it’s okay, in the scene I may or may not crawl all over you.” [laughs] He gave me this smile, and he went, “Do whatever you want, baby!” We had this instant, hilarious, wink-wink [connection]. When it was over I said to him, “Look, I know this is going to sound really cheesy but whether I get this part or not, I got to act with you for five minutes and that was so great for me, and that’s totally what I’m taking away from this, so thank you.” Then we went to Rome and he lived up to that first moment and he’s never, ever faltered from it.
Did you enjoy spending time in Rome?
I was playing a character who was pregnant so I just ate everything in sight. [laughs] I was the anti-actress. I was like, “I’ll have extra pasta, please!” Which was fantastic.
You said this terrible thing to Paul’s character in the hospital scene in Barney’s Version. What was it again?
It’s my favorite line in the movie. “Oh, Barney, you really do wear your heart on your sleeve. Now put it away, it’s disgusting to look at.” I fucking love that line.
How did you feel playing such a nasty character?
I loved it. She’s nasty and horrible from a place of being so terrified. Every single thing that she does or says, for me, is one of those things that comes from a place of, “I know you’re going to hurt me, hit me, or leave me, so I’m going to do it first.” That’s her experience of the world. People abandon you, people hurt you, physically and emotionally. She was so traumatized... Mordecai Richler [the author of the novel] created a person who was a product of their experience, and he created her fully. I loved it because I think that she goes farther, certainly, than the average person, but we all protect ourselves in very unattractive ways. We’re not honest with ourselves about the lengths we will go to protect ourselves from being hurt in any capacity, or being vulnerable to other people. She just takes it to the extreme.
Tell us about your time with Kevin Spacey on Casino Jack.
I spent a lot of time working with Kevin Spacey and getting to pick his brain a little bit, and then we would all go out for drinks with the cast, and with [director] George [Hickenlooper] — may he rest in peace, who I miss so dearly — and Kevin’s a really good storyteller. And like Jack Abramoff, a fantastic impressionist. I really did just try to drink all that up.
Can you tell us a little about working with George Hickenlooper?
He just was so great to all of us. He loved making that movie. He was so political. There was no shutting him up about it. And he was so smart and so well informed, and I just really wanted his name associated with that film for all the right reasons. We all did.
Fugitive Pieces is a really beautiful movie.
I’m Jewish and I lost my great-grandfather, who was shot down in a pogrom, and I lost great-grandparents in the Holocaust. When Fugitive Pieces came along, it was just one of those things where I read it and I thought, “I have to be in this.” And I said that in my audition. I grew up with a grandmother who was never quite right in the mind, who was traumatized by her experience, and would talk about her father being shot down in front of her in the street. My stepfather is a rabbi; I’m not a religious Jew, but I’m certainly well informed. And I just said, “This speaks to me and I will do whatever it takes. What do you need me to do?”
Twilight fans really missed you in the third installment.
They really were the light in the darkness. Playing a role that was not that prominent in size, I had no idea that the fans would care as much as they did and would be that vocal about it. That was pretty amazing.
I understand you were brought in last minute for your role in The Caller with Stephen Moyer.
I had gotten the call at 8 o’clock at night and flown through the night. By the time I had wrapped that night, I think I had been awake for 48 hours. I had to buy a pair of shorts and a tank top in the gift shop, so I showed up for my first day of work to meet the whole crew wearing the only shorts from the gift shop that fit, which were these blue hot pants that said “Puerto Rico” in bright colored letters across the ass. [laughs] It was just the most humiliating, surreal way to show up to work. So I showed up and the producer said, “Oh, you’ve got to meet Moyer!” I went up to him and he gave me the biggest hug ever. And he had the warmest smile, and he looked at me and said, “Welcome. I’m so happy you’re here.” I didn’t know him from Adam; we’d never even crossed paths in an audition room. Nothing. And I just knew this was going to be a great experience. He was like the warm apple pie when you move to a new neighborhood.
What keeps you moving forward?
I love movies, I love to be entertained, I grew up going to the theater. I just love the idea of storytelling. Humans are complicated but we’re all the same. We’re really complex so we think that we’re all unique, but in fact we’re all just dealing with different versions of the same struggles. So [it’s] the idea of storytelling as the unifier, as making people feel a part of something. Like their joys and their sorrows are related to other people’s joys and sorrows. I just love being a part of that. And exploring the darker impulses of being human, or how we interact with each other, or the things that break [our] hearts, or the things that are so beautiful they move us to do extraordinary things. All of those colors. I have a job that allows me, truly, the luxury of being able to roll around in it every day. ▼
Barney’s Version is now in theaters. “Off the Map” airs Wednesdays at 10PM on ABC.