Cristine Prosperi – Young And Beautiful
Canadian actress Cristine Prosperi opens up on life in the limelight
“I feel like I’m on an HGTV show,” laughs Cristine Prosperi, an elated glow warming her face. “This place is amazing.” Wearing breezy black overalls and a basic T-shirt, the young Canadian actress is in full relaxation mode after wrapping up an hour-long shoot in a penthouse suite on the 55th floor of the Trump Residences Toronto. Outside and down below, the Bay Street Corridor bustles with people and cars as we stretch our legs out on a black, velvety couch in the suite’s great room, where a cascade of crystal pendants and Italian mouth-blown glass hangs impressively above a gleaming grand piano. Moments prior to our sit-down interview, Prosperi was jumping up and down on a plush bed, her dark tresses splayed wildly, her contagious laugh floating down a marbled passageway branching off into brocade silk and pop art rooms. But despite the camera’s attention and the prestige of a residence set high above an infinite Toronto skyline, the bubbly brown-eyed girl from Newmarket, Ont., remains grounded. “Starting out in the Canadian acting industry and having close family and friends here kind of keep you down-to-earth,” she says. “It’s just really easy, actually. Toronto’s a great city to be in.”
Best known for playing the role of Imogen Moreno on Degrassi, Prosperi spent six months of each year, from 2011 to 2014, shooting scenes for the long-running teen drama, which follows a group of high school students dealing with hard-hitting issues such as parenthood, mental disorders, alcoholism and violence. Boldly stepping into the scripted world of adolescent woes and complicated relationships, Prosperi, who landed the breakout role when she was 17, nimbly executed the nuances of the quirky and eccentric outsider, earning a Young Artist Award for Best Actress in a TV Drama Series in 2012.
“I would never tell people that I would go out for auditions because I didn’t want to jinx it or have bad energy around it,” says the now 22-year-old, who got her start in a Unico commercial at the tender age of three. “I was actually at school when I got the role. My phone rang and I saw it was my agent and I said, ‘Oh no, this is important.’ So I went to the bathroom, answered the phone and he said, ‘you got it.’ My friends could hear me screaming and crying and they were like, ‘what’s wrong?’ And I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I got Degrassi!’”
Over the course of 120 episodes, Prosperi grew into the role of Imogen as she became less gawky and eccentric upon the discovery of her dad’s dementia and her friendship with fellow classmate Fiona, who she ends up dating romantically before crushing on Adam, a female-to-male transgender teen who perishes from injuries in a car accident caused while texting and driving. What she gained from the experience of playing Imogen, says Prosperi, was the closest feeling she’s had to living the life of a tiger that doesn’t lose sleep over the opinions of sheep. “Imogen taught me to be myself and not care so much about what other people think. I know that that’s a cliché answer, but I do wish I could be more like that. I wish I wasn’t so nitpicky,” says Prosperi, who admits to treading cautiously on social media to uphold her responsibility as a role model to young girls.
As the pansexual Imogen, and other roles like Tiara on the Family Channel series Really Me, Aria in Totally Amp’d and a minor role in the Rob Lowe thriller Stir of Echoes: The Homecoming, Prosperi has over the years developed a strong and loyal fan base, which includes over 67,000 Twitter and 98,000 Instagram followers —many of whom have praised her efforts in portraying a character bringing awareness to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. “I was at an event and this girl came up to me and said, ‘you know, you and Fiona were the reason I came out,’” recalls Prosperi, who describes the encounter as her proudest moment yet as an actress. “You forget that you have that kind of impact on people, especially young people, so I thought, wow, my work is actually affecting someone’s life in a good way. Nowadays we are giving the LGBT community the attention it needs but there’s always room for more. I just think it’s so cool that I got to be involved in a topic that will make parents think, ‘OK, maybe my son or daughter is in this predicament. Let’s watch the show to see what we can do and learn,’ which is the most important thing. It was amazing to be a part of that.”
When her breakout role came to an end, Prosperi quickly stepped into the glossy shoes of Mikayla Walker, an effervescent and fashionable hospital volunteer in the new mystery series Open Heart, now airing in the U.S. and on YTV and ABC Spark in Canada. A departure from Imogen’s pigtails and glasses, the role of Mikayla presented Prosperi with the opportunity to delve into a character and her trendy wardrobe that was quite similiar to her own personality and fashion sense. Regardless, Prosperi laid out the same groundwork she applies to every role she prepares for before letting it all go once the curtain comes up. “I read scripts thoroughly because you can find a lot of different things each time you read it. I also do research to really connect with the character. But when I leave set I know it’s my job, I don’t think, ‘Oh, I’m this person when I finish.’ I just become Cristine again, I’m me.”
For a fledgling star aiming to rise above the ranks of the Canadian acting industry, Prosperi is acutely aware that landing her first big role on Degrassi, a show known to have launched the careers of former cast members like Aubrey Graham, a.k.a. Drake, now an international rapper; and Nina Dobrev, the former series lead of The Vampire Diaries, was a major coup for her career. And yet, like any aspiring professional with laser-eye focus on success, Prosperi knew it would take that much more to prove her versatility and relevancy in an industry known for being fiercely competitive. To keep her feet in the long game, Prosperi has guest-starred on The Buzz and appeared in the 2013 teen movie Nicky Deuce starring the late James Gandolfini in between seasons of Degrassi. Last year she launched a lifestyle blog called Style Prosperity, where she connects with her fans while offering advice on beauty and fashion. Applying an optimistic outlook while continuing to stretch her exposure in small yet vital moves, Prosperi is determined to light up screens over the years to come and maybe, just maybe, be the next Rachel McAdams. “Success is definitely a goal that I strive for and I think positive thinking helps. The secret is to envision it and visualize,” she says. “When I go to an audition I’ll tell people, ‘Oh, call me …’ (and this is really silly) ‘call me Alison,’ because that’s the name of the character I’m auditioning for, so that’ll be the part that I get.”
Eager to expand her résumé, Prosperi is currently living in Los Angeles, where she attends auditions and creates self-tapes for half the year before flying back to spend quality time with her close-knit family and friends in Toronto. Blessed with natural beauty and raw talent, Prosperi displays a certain type of level-headedness that is rare in an industry glazed by superficiality and temptation. Her parents, says Prosperi, have played a key role in building up a will and drive that is needed to overcome the walls every young actor climbs for a shot at stardom. Throughout the ups and downs, the thousands of “no”s and all the closed doors, Prosperi’s parents have always been there to help her find a window. The unrelenting familial support has undoubtedly prepared her to face the good days and the bad. “People think working as an actress might be a little easier or fun. It is fun, but it’s a lot of hard work. You wake up at 6 a.m. and get to set at 6:30 for hair and makeup, which can last an hour or two. And then all day you’re on set, sometimes until 7 o’clock at night. Sometimes you go to work and it’s dark in the morning and then it’s dark at night. But it’s an amazing job and I’m so lucky. It’s just a dream job.”
As our interview draws to a close, I’m reminded of the quick chat I had with Prosperi’s mother in the suite while her daughter was slipping in and out of wardrobe changes for her shoot with City Life. With the same open smile and kind eyes, she revealed what it’s like behind the scenes for a mom of a young actress. “When it comes to this industry, it’s not for the faint of heart — you have to have developed a very strong character,” says Elizabeth Prosperi, whose presence solidifies the bond she shares with her daughter. “We’ve both had the model of going in there and doing your best and just leaving it to the universe to decide if it comes back to you. It’s not always been easy, it’s very cutthroat at times, and it can be hard on the psyche. But if you have a passion for what you do, you keep plugging away and those nos turn into yeses. As a mother I’m so proud of her character and who she’s become. She’s just a really good kid with a beautiful soul.”
ON GIRL POWER
“I want girls to feel strong and opinionated and unafraid to stand their ground. Hopefully with all the strong female characters we’re seeing on TV girls will feel more comfortable being themselves and speaking their mind, which is really important when you’re growing up.”
“In high school I used to post every picture, every event, every party on Facebook. When I see my little cousins doing that now I think, ‘well, maybe you shouldn’t post a picture where you’re doing this or that.’”
ON TORONTO VS. L.A.
“Actors in Toronto are lucky because it’s such a small community and we all know each other. I just feel like I’m at home and doing my thing. In L.A., it’s a little more nerve-wracking because you don’t know any of the casting directors. You’re just a small fish in a big pond.”
WARDROBE STYLIST: KIRSTEN READER / HAIR & MAKEUP ARTIST: RITA STIRPE
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JESSE MILNS