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'Degrassi' alum use real-life experiences for comedy 'Zero Recognition'

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Ben Lewis and Lauren Collins pose for a photo at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Friday, Sept. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Diana Mehta

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Ben Lewis and Lauren Collins pose for a photo at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Friday, Sept. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Diana Mehta

TORONTO - When "Degrassi" actors Lauren Collins and Ben Lewis set out to make their first film, they decided to expand on a topic they knew a little bit about.

"Zero Recognition" is a tongue-in-cheek short film which follows a young actress's attempts to lead a normal life after starring in successful TV show.

"The star system here in Canada does not exist like it does in the U.S., or even in the U.K. ... I do think it's absolutely a uniquely Canadian experience," Collins said in an interview Friday at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the movie is screening.

"Being a recognizable person but not a huge famous star, on a daily basis I have funny interactions with people, whether it's I'm thinking that they know me or them giving me a strange back-handed compliment like, 'are you still an actor? do you still work?'"

Collins — who is perhaps best known for her years playing Paige Michalchuk on TV teen drama "Degrassi: The Next Generation" — co-wrote the script for the film directed by Lewis, and also plays the main character.

While the events that play out on screen have been somewhat exaggerated for comedic purposes, they were still motivated by real-life interactions, said Collins, citing a moment in the film where her character worries about being candidly photographed.

"So often people hide behind their phone and all of a sudden I realize 'oh that person is taking a photo of me, or a video' and I certainly don't want to sound like I'm complaining but it does feel invasive," she said.

"The flip side of it, and ultimately why I'm so happy that I grew up here and was able to work here, is I look at how often we're seeing child stars in Hollywood completely lose their minds and we're fortunate that we're kind of in a bubble up here and we don't have to experience that."

That quintessentially Canadian experience is something the film hopes to bring to its audiences, said Lewis, who played recurring character Bobby Beckonridge on "Degrassi" and has also appeared on legal TV drama "Suits."

"It was something I felt like I had never seen explored at that specific niche level," he said. "We just really wanted to write what we knew."

In addition to providing plenty of fodder for the film's punch lines, the Canuck-style of celebrity experienced by young budding actors is something both Collins and Lewis said they were ultimately grateful for.

"Canada is good at keeping their actors' feet on the ground," Lewis said.

"I think it makes Canadians in the industry have to work that much harder, which is not a bad thing. I think that if we felt things were handed to us more then you wouldn't have to go out of your way to try news things or develop your own work, which is what we're trying to do with this project."

The Toronto International Film Festival runs until Sept. 14.

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