She’s female. She acts. But don’t call her an actress. “There are so many negative connotations associated with that word. There’s that whole diva culture,” Sara Gadon says, while getting ready for her ANTENNA photo shoot. “I realize how ironic the situation is, to be telling you this while in hair and makeup.” Ironic, because her life alternates between two different worlds.

You see, Gadon, 24, is a part-time student at University of Toronto, where she takes courses like Feminist Approaches to Cinema. Which was an odd class to walk into after getting glammed-up and working numerous red carpets at film festivals in Venice and Toronto. She’s been busy promoting her first major film, A Dangerous Method, in which she plays Emma Jung, wife of psychiatrist Carl Jung, played by Michael Fassbender. The movie is directed by master of uneasy tension David Cronenberg (A History of Violence), a fellow Canadian, and he cast Gadon straight off tape, didn’t even meet her until the camera test. “He could’ve asked me to be a grip, and I would’ve done it,” she says about working with Cronenberg.

She started acting when she was only 10 years old, mostly in television, mostly in her native Canada. In a way, staying home preserved her; she didn’t prematurely thrust herself into the limelight, and she gained an outsider’s perspective of the Hollywood studio system. “If you have distance, you realize that you can take from it what you want and not necessarily steep your entire career there,” she says, before explaining that Canada’s public programs to fund art allow artists to be more experimental and smaller than, say, traditional studio-backed films that are pressured to make big returns on investment.

It’s obvious she’s thoughtful about her craft and her industry. She’s careful to select her roles. “I’m just trying to be patient. It’s about finding stories that are appealing to me as a woman,” she says. “I’m not interested in playing roles where the woman serves no function in the narrative other than to be that spectacle, to be that woman for the man. I’m interested in roles that go beyond that.” Being that her next big role is in Cronenberg’s next film, Cosmopolis, starring Robert Pattinson (yeah, that vampire guy), Gadon seems to be picking them just fine.

As she settles into the next phase of her ascending career, she’s still adjusting to what comes along with it: fame. “To be honest, it’s not something that I feel comfortable doing,” she says about red carpets. “I realize just how important that side of the industry actually is. I really want to represent the work in a positive way.” Post-interview, Gadon will head to Budapest to finish a miniseries produced by Ridley Scott, and at some point, she will be back on campus, clad in a hoodie, learning about all the great actors who came before her, just like everyone else in the classroom. Except, she’ll be the only one on her way to becoming one. —Hyun Kim

(This article originally appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of ANTENNA.)