The lights are on, the cameras are rolling, and actress-turned-politician Jessica Van der Veen is showing little fear of the spotlight in the run-up to the May 14 election.
Auditions over the past two-and-a-half decades have seen the 53-year-old mother, wife and community activist secure spots in about 20 movies , including "Scary Movie," and television series like "Highlander," "MacGyver," and "Wiseguy."
Yet, it's the current tryout for the role of NDP MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head that may be the longest, most-important of Van der Veen's life.
Four years ago, Van der Veen narrowly missed securing the riding's lead role, losing out to Liberal Ida Chong, who went on to star as minister of aboriginal relations and reconciliation in the Christy Clark government, by just 561 votes.
But Van der Veen's back and she wants to remove Chong from the plot, and bump Conservative and Green candidates from the production, too.
"It's a very long audition with a lot of prep," said Van der Veen, with a chuckle. "I would say the other thing you get from an acting career that helps in politics is an extraordinary work ethic.
"You know there's no limits to the hours in a day, there never were, in my life as an actor and an artist. So I am used to working this hard."
She'll need the work ethic: the competition this time around is fierce.
Besides Chong, Van der Veen faces Green candidate Andrew Weaver, a high-profile University of Victoria professor, who wants to play more than just the anti-hero.
A fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Weaver is the Canada Research Chair in Climate Modelling and Analysis and has been appointed to the Order of B.C. He has also authored or co-authored more than 200 peer-reviewed papers during his academic career.
The fourth hopeful, Conservative candidate Greg Kazakoff, has worked as a chartered accountant for the past 25 years.
When asked what acting skills are transferable to politics, Van der Veen said she has learned about competition and compassion, adding every time she has played a part, she's had to walked a mile in somebody else's shoes without judgment.
"You need every kind of person in government," she added. "You need economists and you need lawyers, and you need all of these kinds of people, business people. But what you really don't want is you don't want a government that has no one creative in it."
After moving to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with her family at the age of eight and travelling through Asia and Africa, Van der Veen returned to Vancouver, the city of her birth, at the age of 16 to finish high school at University Hill secondary.
That's when she fell in live with acting, said Van der Veen.
She then studied at the Banff School of Performing Arts and earned a BA in theatre from UBC in 1987.<
While working as an actor in Vancouver, she coached students and worked as the director of part-time studies at the Gastown Actors' studio, overseeing 17 staff and 200 students.
Along the way, she married and raised a daughter who has just finished her first year at the University of Victoria, where her husband of 33 years teaches sculpture.
Van der Veen said the turning point in her professional career, when she decided to focus on politics instead of acting, came in 2007 while the Liberals were selling off public-school lands to balance their budget.
"It hit me in the gut in a few ways," she said. "First of all, financially, it was so short-term thinking and unsustainable. Secondly, we need to steward the urban green spaces and public lands for future generations."
Van der Veen said she then began working with activists across the province to stop the practice.
Van der Veen is also a member of the Rotary Club of Oak Bay and contributes to non-partisan efforts as well, said president Joan Peggs.
Peggs said Van der Veen is congenial and doesn't wear her politics on her sleeve.
"She's been a good member of the club," said Peggs, adding she hopes the campaign is competitive but not contentious.
Van der Veen said living abroad gave her a profound understanding of the effects of extremes in wealth and poverty and a profound understanding of the importance of education, health care, and the need for an environmentally sound future.
"If we have those things in place, then the economy will be stable," she said.
"What I learned, what I saw in Africa, in Asia, in India, is that if you do not have a stable society, you cannot have a stable economy."
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