'The L.A. Complex': Jewel Staite makes the move back TV stateside

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Call it "Melrose Place" meets "Fame" ... meets Canada.

Young showbiz hopefuls from up north make their way to Los Angeles to seek stardom, while occupying neighboring apartments, as The CW gives the seriocomic Canadian series "The L.A. Complex" its American premiere Tuesday, April 24. The initial six stories already have aired in the show's native country, where a 13-episode second season has been ordered.

Some of the ensemble cast will be familiar to U.S. viewers, including Cassie Steele, who worked with the same producers on the youth-oriented "Degrassi" franchise. She now plays Abby, who goes on acting auditions while resisting her boyfriend's pleas to return home. Jewel Staite ( "Firefly," "Stargate Atlantis") also stars as Raquel, who's been there and back -- and wants to get there again, to the point of boldly suggesting that a producer change a character's ethnicity to accommodate her.

Chelan Simmons ( "Kyle XY") calls her own dance background into play in portraying dancer Alicia. And Jonathan Patrick Moore, Joe Dinicol and Benjamin Charles Watson respectively appear as Connor, Nick and Tariq, whose experiences range from suffering a witheringly snide critique from actress Mary-Lynn Rajskub ( "24") to assisting established talents whose behavior borders on disillusioning.

jewel-staite-the-la-complex.jpgNot only is Staite glad the spirited approach of "The L.A. Complex" lets her have comedic 
moments far from the sci-fi mode she's known for, she's also enjoying the chance to represent those who refuse to give up on their Hollywood dreams. In fact, she was surprised to find many of her newest alter ego's experiences are based on her own.

"I'm really good friends with Martin Gero, the creator of the series," Staite tells Zap2it. "He told me he was writing it, but he didn't say a whole lot about it, and he didn't say there was anything in it for me. Then my manager came across the script and said, 'You should read for this. You'd be really good for it.' And when I read it, I realized that [Gero] was using a lot of stories from my life, as well as the lives of mutual friends who are in the entertainment business.

"I called him and said, 'Uh ... hello? What's going on?' And he was like, 'OK. I was going to talk to you about this, but I didn't know if it was something you'd want to do.' And I was like, 'Yeah, of course I want to do it!' So I went in and met with the rest of the producers, and they gave me the role."

It also helped Simmons to have a prior basis for the part she ultimately landed in "The L.A. Complex." She recalls, "They were debating whether to hire a dancer who could act or an actor who could dance, and they went with the actor. I did a TV movie called 'Sorority Wars' where we did a little dance, and that was about it for my dancing on-screen."

Not anymore. Simmons often is seen dancing her heart out in "The L.A. Complex," and she says the job has required "four hours of rehearsal a day. It is a TV show, so a lot of the dancing I did got cut down, but it got me in shape. I'd go from the set to dance rehearsals, and I actually really enjoyed it. I danced for 13 years, so I liked getting back into it."

Staite is quick to stress that the show's Raquel is not entirely her, and vice versa.

"I've never thrown up on a piano, and I'm not as ruthless and cutthroat as she is," she says, "but there are definite similarities that make it a lot easier to relate when you're playing that kind of role. I've definitely been in her shoes. Raquel is very conniving and manipulative, and she'll do anything to get the job. She just goes for it, if she needs to."

The atmosphere of "The L.A. Complex" also has a familiar feel for Simmons. "When you are a Canadian and you come down to L.A. for auditions, you stay in housing like that," she says. "I was here with a bunch of Canadian actors, and we all became friends, and we partied at night and auditioned during the day. I think it's great that this shows how hard it is, sort of the darker side of the industry. It can be heartbreaking and make you jaded. It's so real."

Indeed, Staite knows just how real. "I've been in this business since I was little kid," she says, "and a lot of (the show's stars) are relatively fresh and had stars in their eyes. They were talking a lot about a Season 2, and I was like, 'Guys, guys. Let's settle down. Let's not jinx things.' I wouldn't say I'm bitter, but I definitely have more of a real outlook on the industry than some people do."

"The L.A. Complex" is the latest in a wave of Canadian-produced series picked up by American broadcast television. "Flashpoint," first aired on CBS, now is shown on ION; "Rookie Blue" returns soon to ABC (which also had Canada's 'Combat Hospital' last year) for its third season; and after running the Toronto-based "The Firm" lately, NBC will offer the medical drama "Saving Hope" with "Smallville" alum Erica Durance this summer.

"It's not something you ever expect when you're starting a Canadian series," Staite maintains, "especially something with a relatively small budget. We didn't even fathom that The CW would be interested, so it came as a really pleasant surprise ... and a reward for all the hard work we put into it."
Photo/Video credit: The CW