Touring Toronto: On Location With 'Between' Star Jennette McCurdy

Andrew Evans
·Editor

Jennette McCurdy is in love no "obsessed" with Canadian potato chips. So much so, in fact, that she says it's becoming "something of a problem."

"I try to eat healthy when I can," says the former star of Nickelodeon's Sam & Cat, "and then I discover these ketchup chips, and, well you have to try one, because it's a Canadian thing… I tried 300 of them in my first sitting. I devoured a whole bag and I didn't know what happened." (If you've never gone north of the border and tried this fairly humble Canadian delicacy, imagine the tang of a salt-and-vinegar chip and then add tomato. Alternatively, just imagine ketchup.)

McCurdy came to the land of magically delicious chips to shoot Between, an upcoming Netflix drama that marks the long-time Nickelodeon star's move to weightier, dramatic material. A co-production with Canadian TV network CityTV, it tells the story of the small town of Pretty Lake as it copes with a mysterious disease that has wiped out all of the adults, leaving the young residents to fend for themselves. McCurdy plays Wiley Day, the teenaged daughter of a minister, and a girl about to give birth in the wake of a deadly epidemic.

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The material is obviously a far cry from the colorful slapstick of iCarly and Sam & Cat, but it's a challenge McCurdy wanted to take on. "I wasn't so fixated on doing something different so much as I was on doing something I was excited about," she says. By her own admission, after meeting with creator Michael McGowan and Netflix, she went after the part aggressively. "Hearing what they had to say about it just got that passion fired up in me."

The part has clearly required the kind of performance she's not accustomed to giving. "I think one of the first scenes I read initially was a scene that wasn't too serious, and Michael [McGowan] told me, 'Your natural instinct is to go for the joke,'" McCurdy recalls. "I know that about myself, I just want to make people laugh, in real life that's kind of my goal. So Michael worked with me to pull me back and make me find the seriousness in the humor that Wiley innately has. The lines are funny, but I'm not playing them funny," she continues, and throwing up a pair of finger guns, clarifies: "There's no time when I'm snapping and giving a shooter to the camera."

Jennette McCurdy and Cat Ariana Grande in 'Sam & Cat'
Jennette McCurdy and Cat Ariana Grande in 'Sam & Cat'

Between came along at the end of a strange, gossip-y 2014 for McCurdy, one that included rumors of a feud with friend and Sam & Cat co-star Ariana Grande and the show's eventual cancellation, as well as the publication of some of her private photos on the Internet. She also launched a quasi-autobiographical web series called What's Next for Sarah? about an actress whose hit teen show gets canceled.

Sitting in a dusty workroom of a decidedly-unglamorous location in the outer reaches of Toronto, deep, fresh snow outside the window, she seemed, and literally was, far from all of the Hollywood gossip. While she didn't reference it, she was surprisingly candid about the effect that filming Between had on her. "I've tapped into certain emotions that I'd actually shoved aside or internalized for a while, and as odd as it sounds, it's been like a weird therapy session. There were some personal issues that I'd been coping with, or at least trying to, that dissecting these scenes and these emotions, and where these characters are coming from, has really helped me to figure out."

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Even as the worst of winter was setting in, McCurdy wasn't ready to leave Toronto and its wildly diverse neighborhoods behind. She sings the praises of the city's eccentric, bohemian Kensington Market, the glitzy fashion of Yorkville, and the famously-hip Queen Street West, lined with many of the city's best bars and restaurants and recently named the world's second-coolest 'hood. "I'm definitely going to miss the people that I've met here, and the way that Toronto makes me feel," she says. "It has a very powerful energy. New York City's my favorite city in the States, and Toronto reminds me of that in the way that it feels like people walk with purpose."

Between will premiere on Netflix in 2015.