Way to tap the zeitgeist. How could Toronto-based writer/director Rob Stefaniuk have known years ago---when conceiving of his new rock 'n' roll vampire movie Suck---that in 2009 bloodsuckers would be pop culture fixtures, more adored than even zombies? He was ahead of the bloody wave, but he got the picture made with actual rock stars: Henry Rollins, Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, Alex Lifeson, Carole Pope and famous vegan Moby, playing a Rob Halford-esque leader of a Buffalo rock act called Secretaries of Steak.
The plot concerns a struggling Canadian rock band called The Winners going on tour and seeing some unexpected success coinciding with the increasingly vampiric tendencies of its members, while escaping from a vampire hunter named Eddie Van Helsing, played by sterling British character actor Malcolm McDowell. Stefaniuk acts in the picture, while composing and playing all the band's songs, with the help of former Doughboy John Kastner.
But the real star of Stefaniuk's Suck is Montreal-born Jessica Paré, playing Jennifer, The Winners' bass player and the first to enjoy the nocturnal pleasures of the undead. Pare, well-known from her roles in features Stardom, Lost and Delirious and on TV in the miniseries Lives of the Saints, is gloriously gothic in the part. It sure looks like she's having fun.
"It's kind of a girl's dream to play a rock star and vampire at the same time," says Paré, calling from the midst of a busy press schedule at the Toronto International Film Festival where Suck is showing. "The thing that I loved about Jennifer is she's an addict...but unlike other addicts she has to murder people to fill her need. She's just a nice girl with a big problem."
Learning how to play bass guitar for the role, Paré rehearsed with the other actors in advance of the cameras rolling, though it's her good friend Sara Johnston of Bran Van 3000 whose voice and playing we hear on the soundtrack. Paré had no trouble hanging with the boys in the band. "I grew up with three brothers, so it was [the other actors] who had to put up with fart and penis jokes," she says, laughing.
Paré signed up for Suck before she even knew the stature of the rock gods she'd be playing opposite. At age 11, living in Montreal, she received a mix tape from an uncle with Iggy Pop's songs on it, which she calls the basis for her taste in music.
"I have to tell you, I was a bit nervous" about meeting the Igster and other musicians, she says. "Sometimes you meet somebody you looked up to and admire and they're jerks and it's really disappointing. This was the complete opposite of that. Everybody was so great, everybody came to set with ideas about their character, and everybody wanted to improvise. They're performers. They're really good at what they do."
Like her first big role in Stardom, the pitfalls of fame are a big part of the subtext of Suck: vampirism as an allegory for both drug addiction and hollow celebrity. Paré lives in Los Angeles now, but clearly Hollywood isn't keeping her from showing up in Canadian pictures: She's also in Jacob Tierney's film The Trotsky, also showing at the Atlantic Film Fest, and will be in Halifax for the premieres of both movies. Nor has she done much soul-selling to make ends meet. Or, so it seems.
"Well, thanks," she says, when the observation is made. "I have been guilty of taking a job just 'cause I needed the money, but I don't feel bad about that. We all do it. I'm one of the very few actors I know who has been able to do this for 11 years and hasn't had to get a day job. I'm very fortunate and love what I do. For the most part I work on things I'm really proud of and excited about, with people I adore."
Paré admits that even though some say a Los Angeles home base is key for a thriving film-acting career, she'd like to move back to Canada. "There are more jobs [in Hollywood] but there's much more competition for parts. It's a trade-off."
And clearly Suck director Rob Stefaniuk features prominently on Paré's list of adorable Canadians. She's actually a bit melancholy talking about the movie as it finally comes out for people to see. "I'm still really sad that it's over. I wish I could go back to set tomorrow."