Laura Vandervoort has a lot of fans. Merely mentioning her name on social media attracts attention.
After chatting with her, it's easy to understand why.
Laura is insightful and kind, eager to share her thoughts on her latest projects, whether as an actor or, now, as a director, too.
This Saturday, you can catch Laura starring in a new Valentine's Day-themed movie called Playing Cupid.
In the film, she plays a woman named Kerri, who uproots her life to move closer to the man she loves, only to discover they do not see the relationship in a similar fashion.
Her move is hardly a total loss, though. As a teacher, Kerri connects with her students in ways that make fellow teachers envious. And one student, in particular, Clara (Mia Quaranta De La Rosa), sets her sites on a very special connection for Kerri -- her dad, David (Nicholas Gonzalez).
Laura, who recently talked with us about Playing Cupid, said that she found Kerri's circumstances identifiable for many reasons.
"Without going into too much detail, [Kerri] found herself heartbroken and was really just focusing on her career. And when she wasn't really truly looking for it, ends up finding love. And I just personally related to her, as a woman who just decided to just focus on what was best for her and her career."
Kerri's strength of character also spoke to Laura, who appreciated that Kerri "wasn't distracted by the finer things in life" at a time when it would have been easy for her to choose safety and comfort in a man's arms, even when he was choosing his career.
"All he focuses on is his career and isn't nurturing the relationship. Some of us have been there before," Laura said. Relishing her bond with her new students, Kerri leans into an ABC finals project she's working on with her students and chooses to focus on them, encouraging their success.
Kerri's realigned focus led her to find love when she's least expecting it. The angle of their story felt fresh to Laura.
"I really liked that the script was an ensemble. It wasn't just about Kerri and her journey. It was about Nicholas' character and Mia's character. And I hadn't really worked with kids like that before. I mean, she really carries the movie, and she does a fantastic job. And this was one of her first projects.
"So Nicholas and I took it on as our own job to help her out. She was learning as we went, and you could just see, she was eager to understand and learn. So Nicholas and I would often pull her aside, and talk about the scene, and try to help her and explain marks."
Laura may not have worked with children much in the past, but she understands it from a different perspective. "I started acting when I was 12. And I believe Mia's about 11 or 12. I can't remember her exact age. But there were a lot of parallels with that as well for me.
"I was sitting back, watching her, remembering when I was that little girl on set, trying to understand what was happening. But she's such a phenomenal little actress. And I was so thrilled to be working with her and to experience that journey with her."
Nurturing Mia's set experience parallels Kerri's experience with her students. "Kerri is very much focused on the entrepreneurship of the ABC project, trying to get her kids to think outside of the box. I know she says that several times to them.
"For their future endeavors, you have to really be creative and think outside the box. And she also was doing that herself for the first time. She thought she knew what her life would be, and everything sort of went upside down, and she had to reset herself and find her new path."
While Laura never had that kind of career guidance while she was in school, some interactions with teachers left lasting impressions. "I remember there was a teacher named Mrs. Palander who was always very patient with me. Mrs. Glick, who ... I mean, I was sort of a solo kid. So at lunchtime, she would let me sit with her in her classroom and eat my lunch.
"It's those relationships. I mean, it wasn't necessarily on the educational front, but it was female teachers that comforted me or were just there for me when I didn't know where I belonged or what to do."
Laura agrees that those life lessons are just as important to the educational process as traditional classroom activities.
"They taught me quite a bit. Just sitting with Ms. Glick at lunchtime and having not adult conversations, but she talked to me like a human being. It wasn't in class. It wasn't during a lesson, it was just kind of a heart-to-heart, and she was great about that."
Showing that same kind of care for their young costar was also important to Laura and Nicholas.
"It's important for Nicholas and me that Nia would see how everyone respects one another. She needs to see what a proper set should feel like and that everyone's working hard for one common goal, and afterward, respect every crew member. So that was really important for us to have her see."
Working with Nicholas on set was a wonderful experience, as well. "We'd never met before, but as we were filming, we realized we had a lot of mutual friends back in LA. Going into this, we didn't know how much fun we would have with it. After day one, we were very comfortable with one another, and we would rehearse and discuss scenes and try to work them a little bit.
"So there was a lot of prep that went into it for him and me, off-camera. Then, on camera, we just kind of threw some of that away and had fun with it. And I think the chemistry was great. He's a wonderful actor. I couldn't stop laughing, which was a bit of an issue, but we got there."
Like many others, Laura doesn't consider herself a Valentine's Day kind of girl, not giving it any specific importance. "Oftentimes, it's just watching a good classic romance movie, or just being myself, I guess. That's probably terrible to say, but a nice, quiet time."
When it comes to the classics, she enjoys Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail, and The Holiday -- the new classics, even if she also enjoys Gone With the Wind, finally admitting, "I would say Sleepless in Seattle is everything for me."
But it wasn't Meg Ryan who lit her fuse for acting. It was Anna Chlumsky's performance in My Girl that started it all for Laura. "I'd never seen a young actress onscreen that was my age, portraying those emotions. I'd never seen an actress my age cry and go through loss, and it really impacted me. And that's what made me want to give this a go and started my career."
Anyone who saw My Girl knows what a powerhouse actor Anna Chlumsky was, and that performance had a profound impact on Laura. "I was a tomboy, and I grew up doing martial arts. I wasn't super into showing my emotions. I was quiet, and I loved school. I loved just getting straight A's and studying.
"And so, I think when I saw that movie, it unlocked something in me that it's okay to show emotions. And she did it, and I felt what she felt. I was crying. And I think that was just like an epiphany of, 'I want to do this for other people. I want to show them it's okay to feel things. I want to make them feel things.'
"And I think that's sort of what propelled me into doing this. And cut to 22 years later, not to age myself, but I've now just directed my first film that I wrote. I'm producing films. I'm sort of transitioning my career now a little bit as well."
While it might be fun to imagine Laura meeting up with her Bitten castmates, many of whom have also found themselves in front of the camera with various Hallmark films, hearing about how Laura came to this new place in her career is inspirational.
"In 2020, the year we all want to forget, I was doing my first quarantine since I had just come back from LA. And I kind of was in a very dark place. Like, what's the world going to be like? When are we be able to hug again? It was tough.
"And I wasn't falling asleep, having trouble sleeping. I downloaded a sleep app. And the voice on the other side of the sleep app was so creepy that I started thinking about the possibilities of what he was trying to get out of me. Instead of falling asleep, I'm like, 'What does he want from me?'
"So I, of course, got up and started writing down ideas for a film. I wrote my film during my quarantine, and we just wrapped it before Christmas. And we're now in post-production.
"And, lo and behold, I had an incredible crew here in Toronto, all of which did solid favors for me. Having known me for so long in this industry, people were willing to come out in the cold. They loved the script.
"It was a nice full-circle moment, that first time I was on set, and I had to yell, 'Action.' I had goosebumps because I'd never thought I'd get to that place. And it never occurred to me until five years ago that women could direct because I had never been on set with a female director until recently. It just wasn't in front of me. It wasn't a possibility."
Laura continued, "Now I have so many role models and inspiration, in terms of producing and writing and directing, as a woman, that I had a lot of female crewmembers and producers that held my hand through the process, and it was just really beautiful. So after that experience, I'm in quarantine again, and I think I have another film idea."
Laura's film, a short, will be submitted to festivals in the upcoming months. It defies a specific category, she thinks. "I'm not sure how to label it. It's a short film that we're going to be submitting to festivals hopefully in the upcoming months. It's called My Soul To Take, and I would categorize it as soft thriller drama, with a pinch of supernatural."
Laura feels blessed in light of the less-than-stellar year we all survived together. She's got a hush-hush role in Handmaid's Tale Season 4, as well as other starring roles in films on tap, as well as her burgeoning career behind the camera.
"I've been lucky with 2020. It's been one of my busiest years. I'm not sure why, but I am so grateful because it was one of the hardest personal years. And it transitioned for me, that having what I do for a living and what I love to do be possible throughout that terrible year was really what got me through and being able to create and express myself."
You can't ask for much more than that.
Playing Cupid premieres on Hallmark Channel on Saturday, February 13 at 9/8c, so prepare to spend some of your Valentine's Day celebration by including Laura in your plans.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.