Ford Focus Was Perfect When She Was Sixteen

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Globe and Mail Oct 29, 2009
by Petrina Gentile

She’s only 23, but has appeared in some of Hollywood’s hottest flicks with top actors such as Catherine Zeta-Jones in the Oscar-wining movie Chicago, Hilary Swank and Richard Gere in Amelia, Lindsay Lohan in Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen and Julie Andrews in Eloise at the Plaza.

Now, actress and singer Brittany Gray is gearing up for The Toxic Avenger musical, based on the 1984 cult classic film by the same name.

She’ll be driving to the Toronto premiere on Halloween night in a 2000 Ford Focus SE Sport.

It’s Gray’s first car; she bought it used in 2002, after her debut in Chicago when she was only 15; she named her car Roxie after lead character Roxie Hart.

“Chicago was my first professional job. It was such a good gig I ended up buying a car from it! Prior to that, I danced at shows at Wonderland – it didn’t even compare to Chicago.”

It was her first big purchase. “My parents didn’t help me pay for it at all. It was my purchase.

“It felt really liberating. I had been dancing and singing my whole life – taking dance lessons 25 hours a week. It was payoff for working so hard,” says Gray, who appeared in the Tony Award-winning musical The Producers, the Queen musical We Will Rock You and the TV show Deal or No Deal as Howie Mandel’s Case Model No. 5. She has just landed another gig in the TV series Aaron Stone on Disney.

She liked the Focus for several reasons. “The price point was right. I liked how sporty it looked on the outside. I like that it had a spoiler on the back.

“I also liked that it was a Ford. My parents had Fords before and it just seemed like a good choice.”

Her only big decision was the colour – red or green. “Just because of Chicago, I thought red is the perfect purchase. At that point red was my favourite colour. I love it.”

“My particular car is nothing fancy, it’s very economical. The gas per week isn’t too high.

“It was a really good starter car for me especially when I was 16 years old.

“I got into a couple of fender benders and scratches on it when I was younger. It was a good car to learn the ropes on.”

Parking and speeding set her back initially. “Parking and hitting my fender on a stone garbage can and then denting my car – silly things where you think, ‘I can’t believe I did that!’

“But it’s all a learning process. It takes a little while to be fully comfortable in the car when you’re young …

“I used to drive fast, but I got a few speeding tickets which made me realize it’s not the coolest thing to drive fast.

“Usually on the highway I’ll do nothing more than 120 – I don’t want to get pulled over. It’s not worth it.”

Gray got her licence at 16 on the first try. “As soon as I turned 16, I started getting weekly car lessons.

“When I turned 17, I got The Producers and I had to drive myself back and forth every night so I needed a car or I’d have to take the train. At 17, taking the train or subway at night isn’t the best thing.

“Having that car helped me out a lot,” says the single actress, who lives at home with her parents in Pickering, Ont.

But it wasn’t just a commuter car; she also took a few road trips.

“The year I graduated high school, I drove a bunch of my friends to the cottage.

“I really loved taking the responsibility to drive our friends. We stopped in a whole bunch of different places.

“Without the car I wouldn’t be able to do that. It was a good memory. It was a cool thing to do.”

She shares an embarrassing moment as a passenger with her friend at wheel. “We were 16. It was her new car and she’s driving stick. She was pulling up to the movie theatre outside the mall, which is the coolest hangout spot ever, and she’s like ‘Let’s roll down the windows and turn up the music so people can see our cool car!’

“And all of a sudden she started stalling. We were shaking back and forth in front of everyone as we were pulling up,” she laughs.

Behind the wheel, Gray rehearses. “I’ll listen to the Toxic Avenger soundtrack. If I’m auditioning for something new, I’ll listen to that.

“If I’m going to rehearsals, I’ll pop in the CD from Elaine Overholt, she’s a singing teacher. I’ll do vocal warm-ups.

“I don’t listen to the radio. I really like silence in the car after a show. If I’m driving a long distance it’s my quiet time. It’s the time when I can get all my thoughts together and just think and process everything that’s going on in my life.

“I find the road really calming when there’s no music.”

Gray hopes her new gig will pay off like her first flick. Afterwards, maybe she’ll buy her dream car – it’s a toss-up between a white Mercedes-Benz E550 coupe and a white Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG roadster.

“I’ve always dreamed of a part in Toxic Avenger. So if I bought it in this contract, it would be representative of fulfilling my dream.”