Arriving on a sultry August day for a Globe Style photo shoot, 28-year-old Sophie Desmarais is dressed in a vintage gingham dress and straw hat complete with stampede string, looking cool and collected considering she's about to embark on one of the glitziest weeks of her life. As a TIFF Rising Star, the Quebec-born actor will make a slew of prearranged public appearances at the festival and rub elbows with the industry's elite. The program (sponsored this year by Topshop, coincidently one of Desmarais's favourite brands) serves as a launch pad for emerging talent; among its notable alumni are Tatiana Maslany and Sarah Gadon. Yet Desmarais is no stranger to the spotlight. She appeared in two films at Cannes last year (Sarah Prefers to Run and Le Démentélement), making a splash with her edgy-yet-gamine approach to fashion.
Whether she's taking a risk in a sequined mini-dress or appearing in a demure, lacy frock, there seem to be no rules that bind Desmarais's sensibilities; instead, she knows what she likes and wears it well. In conversation, the actor notes the distinction between her glamorous public appearances and her daily routine, one that makes her intriguing red-carpet persona that much more impressive. "I'm way more laid back in my day-today life – almost boring. I do lots of fitness training like yoga, running and Zumba each week, so I'm always in sweats, leggings and running shoes, with no makeup. Even if I go to rehearsal at the theatre or I'm on set, I need to be comfortable. Some would say I go for the normcore style, but I'm not that much of a hipster."
Trend-conscious or not, Desmarais's blend of quirky sophistication stands out. "I love elegance and simple lines, so I will go with a refined and interesting quality of fabric that has a nice cut. I like to mix classics with vintage pieces, whether it's a pretty dress or an old-fashioned blouse. And I prefer to not wear too much jewellery. As the great writer Jean Cocteau wrote, 'Elegance ceases to exist when it is noticed.' "
How would you describe your personal style?
As a teenager, it was a real issue to define myself by my style or by the books I was reading. I always wanted to look different and I think that it was important to me to be noticed by people in general. But now, because I'm older and more confident, it's the opposite. I want my clothes to show my personality and not camouflage it.
Do you work with a stylist before walking the red carpet?
Absolutely. Her name is Olivia Leblanc and she is the best; she's very creative. I met her before [appearing at] the Cannes Festival last year. During those events, we have too many things to concentrate on, so working with a stylist is a lifesaver.
Who are your favourite designers?
Lots of European ones, but I would like to name some Canadian designers that I love: Pavoni [now Mikael D]; they dressed me for the Cannes Festival last year and were very generous with me. Their dresses are elaborate and very feminine. I have a big crush on Xavier Laruelle – he's an up-and-coming Quebecois designer. He is so talented and we love to collaborate together. I'm very lucky. I also really like Christian l'Enfant Roi; he's doing mostly men's clothing, unfortunately, but I'm in awe of his work.
What's the most difficult thing about getting dressed for a red-carpet event?
It's very stressful. I always bother all my friends with my insecurities and [send them] pictures of all the possibilities. I hate to be uncertain, but I hesitate and don't make decisions until the very last minute. This is why I prefer to work with a stylist.
What has been your favourite red-carpet look that you have worn so far?
The beautiful wool two-piece that Xavier Laruelle made for me for the Jutra Awards Gala this year.
What are you most looking forward to during TIFF?
I'm trying to have no expectations. I feel very lucky to be chosen as a Rising Star. I just want to enjoy this opportunity and learn as much as I can from this experience. It's a huge opportunity that TIFF is offering me, and I feel very grateful for it. A gift like this feels like a vote of confidence that bolsters my own self-confidence in this very challenging and competitive profession. And because I come from a French-Quebec background, I appreciate the challenges of working in English and meeting new people and the possibility of working in a different environment. C'est l'inconnu total – the complete unknown! That's very exciting!
This interview has been edited and condensed.