What makes people happy?
As an actress, Ashley Whillans’ brought happiness to movie-goers with her roles in movies like Juno and What Goes Up.
But the 23-year-old Coquitlam resident is finding new ways of bringing smiles to people’s faces.
Whillans has begun her master’s degree, working with the University of British Columbia’s happiness researcher Elizabeth Dunn to learn more about the benefits of volunteering.
“What excites me about psychology is how it can improve people’s lives,” she said. “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 make the world a fundamentally better place.”
Whillans is best known for her role in Juno, where she played Katrina De Voort, a high school girl competing for the affection’s of Michael Cera opposite co-star Ellen Page. During the audition De Voort was asked to give her best stink eye, a moment in the film that was later featured in the movie trailers.
“It was a small part, so I actually thought it might get cut,” said 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.”
Whillans was accepted by several international acting school and spent 2008 at London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. She returned to Vancouver and devoted most of her time to auditioning and acting.
After enrolling in UBC’s acting program, she switched to honours psychology after taking several courses in the field.
Since then, she 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.