‘Juno’ actress finding happiness in research

Ashley Whillans, the graduating UBC student and actress who cracked-up audiences in the hit movie Juno, has landed the perfect role.

She is set to play an award-winning research scientist working to advance global happiness. However, this time there will be no scripts or cameras. After 15 years acting, she is playing herself.

The 23-year-old will be doing her Master’s degree with UBC Dept. of Psychology happiness researcher Elizabeth Dunn to explore the benefits of volunteering.

“What excites me about psychology is how it can improve people’s lives,” says Whillans, a native of Coquitlam, B.C. “With acting you can bring people happiness for the length of a movie or a TV show, but as a happiness researcher, I feel like I have the chance to help make the world a fundamentally better place.”

Whillans’ best-known role was in the 2007 comedy Juno. During auditions, she was asked to show her best “stink eye,” to be directed at co-star Ellen Page, whose character was competing for the affection of indie it-boy Michael Cera. She left the room in stitches.

“It was a small part, so I actually thought it might get cut,” says Whillans. “But then a friend posted the trailer on Facebook with me in it. I still get recognized for it and have even had professors play the YouTube clip in meetings. I’m sure my gravestone will include something about the ‘stink-eye girl,’” she says laughing.

Accepted by several international acting schools, Whillans spent 2008 at London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. She returned and devoted her time to auditioning and acting in Vancouver’s “Hollywood North.”

After enrolling in UBC’s acting program, she says “something finally clicked” in a psychology course. She switched to honours psychology and has flourished, recently being named a Wesbrook Scholar as one of UBC’s top 20 senior students, and earning more than $15,000 in awards and scholarships in the past two years.

“If you follow your interests and work hard to create opportunities, life has a funny way of putting you on the right path,” says Whillans. “If a class excites you, ask the professor for advice, maybe you can work in their lab. There are so many opportunities once you really start looking for them.”

Learn more about UBC’s Dept. of Psychology at: www.psych.ubc.ca

Watch Ashley Whillans’ “stink-eye” scene in the 2007 movie Juno.

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UBC Reports | Vol. 58 | No. 5 | May. 2, 2012

UBC psychology student Ashley Whillans is trading movie sets for happiness research. Justin Beckett Photograph

UBC psychology student Ashley Whillans is trading movie sets for happiness research. Justin Beckett Photograph

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“If you follow your interests and work hard to create opportunities, life has a funny way of putting you on the right path.”

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