Alessia Cara practically willed ‘The Willoughbys’ role into being

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TORONTO — Alessia Cara is a big believer in the “Fake it ’til you make it” mantra — and for good reason.

Ever since she was young, the Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter from Brampton, Ont., has found that whenever she pretends to be something or wishes for it, it often happens.

“My whole career was that,” the down-to-earth 23-year-old said in a recent phone interview from her family’s home.

“Since I was a kid I would pretend to already be a musician. I would do pretend interviews in my shower and in my bedroom, and acceptance speeches for songs that didn’t exist yet and all kinds of things like that. I would just believe it so much.

“Obviously, coming from Brampton, I would never actually think that that would happen. But I would still pretend it had. And I guess something happened in the universe and it believed me.”

Cara’s manifestation trend is unfolding once again.

On April 22, she’ll make her acting debut with the star-studded animated film “The Willoughbys” on Netflix, in a role she practically willed into being.

Based on the Lois Lowry children’s book of the same name, the film sees neglected siblings trick their selfish parents into going on a globe-trotting expedition so they can raise themselves.

Cara voices the sister Jane in a cast that also includes Martin Short, Jane Krakowski, Maya Rudolph, Ricky Gervais, Will Forte, Terry Crews and Sean Cullen.

She also performs the song “I Choose” in the film.

“I remember I was on (‘The Tonight Show Starring’) Jimmy Fallon, and he asked me if there’s any dream I had or anything else I wanted to do with my life, and I said that I wanted to do an animated film,” Cara recalled.

“Bron Studios, who were planning on creating the movie, saw that and emailed me shortly after being like, ‘Hey, we heard your wish on Fallon and would love for you to play Jane.’

“I was like, ‘What?’ It was crazy. I couldn’t believe that they even asked. I’d never acted before, so the fact that they would trust me enough to ask is so great. And I immediately said, ‘Yes.'”

Even that appearance on Fallon several years ago seemed to be an example of cause and effect.

“I was on a field trip in school with my drama class when I was I believe 16 years old, and they took us to the Fallon set and I remember saying, ‘I’m going to be on this show one day,'” said Cara, who won a Grammy for best new artist in 2018 and is known for hits including “Scars to Your Beautiful” and “Here.”

“Everybody was like, ‘Yeah, whatever,’ and it actually happened! I didn’t actually believe it. You’ve just gotta fake it ’til you make it.”

Kris Pearn directed and co-wrote the film, which was made at Bron Studios in Burnaby, B.C.

Cara voiced her parts in different cities over a three-year period while on tour. She had in-person and virtual sessions with Pearn and other members of the filmmaking team but never got to meet her castmates in person.

“We were relying on the premiere, or I was, to get to meet them for the first time,” she said, noting that can’t happen now due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s strange to be able to talk to them in the film, but know that I didn’t actually get to talk to them. I’m such a huge fan of Maya Rudolph and Ricky Gervais and Will Forte. So many amazing people in that movie and I couldn’t actually talk to them, but hopefully after this all blows over.”

Cara said she has “moments of panic” during the pandemic but for the most part she’s getting into a groove.

“I’ve been trying to write and figure out how to get better at producing, and learning how to cook more and just trying to make light of this time in whatever way I can,” she said.

“I’ve been making different dishes for dinner, like wings, I made ribs one night, lots of pasta.”

She’s also done several livestreams, including an acoustic set for “MTV Unplugged At Home” from her bathroom on YouTube, and a cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie” with singer-songwriter H.E.R. on Instagram.

Cara was supposed to host the Juno Awards in Saskatoon last month, but the event was cancelled at the last minute due to the pandemic.

Organizers have decided to hold off indefinitely on announcing the winners.

“I think everything is still up in the air,” Cara said. “We just don’t know how long this is going to last, so we’re all kind of in the same boat, waiting it out, figuring it out.

“I would love to do something for the fans and for the artists who were nominated.”

Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press