TORONTO - Ongoing comparisons to a young Tom Cruise are "not the end of the world," says 24-year-old Tyler Johnston, whose uncanny similarities to the veteran action star have dogged him for years.

And so the B.C.-bred actor has prepared himself for the strong likelihood that analogies will only intensify with the debut of his Vancouver-set gambling thriller "The Odds."

"People keep saying that and it's very flattering," Johnston said at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, when the feature premiered.

"I mean, he's a great actor who's had a great career and done some great movies and produced some great movies. So it's not the end of the world."

"And I do see it sometimes myself, actually. When I watch myself I see little glimpses of Tom Cruise. I'm OK with that."

The resemblance is not obvious in face-to-face encounters with the slim, baby-faced Johnston, a regular on the HBO Canada comedy "Less Than Kind."

But it emerges undeniably when the clean-cut performer steps in front of the camera, said writer-director Simon Davidson, seated next to Johnston for a round of interviews.

"I did not see Tom Cruise until I put him on film," insisted Davidson, who notes the similarities are subtle and hard to pin down.

"I can see it physically in his jaw and stuff but it's just the way he finds the angles, it's the way the camera loves him, it's the way he has presence, it's the eyes."

"The Odds"' action-tinged plot only serves to highlight any parallels that might be drawn -- Johnston appears in nearly every frame as the cocky teen Desson, a charismatic ladies man who is inadvertently drawn into an underground gambling ring.

When his best friend turns up dead, the guilt-ridden and increasingly desperate teen mounts a one-man mission to expose what he believes is a murder cover-up.

The young cast is bolstered by Julia Maxwell ("Hot Tub Time Machine") as love interest Colleen and Calum Worthy ("Daydream Nation") as classmate Barry.

Davidson said he was inspired by a news article about a Singapore teen who bilked his classmates in a betting scheme.

But he also drew on his own experiences as a 16-year-old delinquent growing up in tiny Wetaskiwin, Alta., just south of Edmonton.

"We would break into cars and when we were really young one of our big things was getting chased," he confessed, adding he's not proud of his past.

"One night we got caught (by police). Which was good."

He said the bust was a life-changing wake-up call that helped set him on the right path. In subsequent years Davidson moved to Calgary for university and later to Vancouver to attend film school.

"I've thought about that moment a lot," Davidson said of the night he was stopped by police, also crediting his parents with helping him go straight.

"I think that's why I wanted to tell a story about a kid who ... comes to a point where he has a choice to make of whether he's going to go this way or that way."

Getting his first feature off the ground came with several challenges, not the least of which was casting the conflicted lead character.

Davidson needed someone who could play a jerk but still be sympathetic.

"I was just writing and I thought, 'OK, we're probably going to do a lot of casting and cast our net wide and go in search and hunt.' And then Tyler just walked in the room ... and laid it out and just put himself in my mind," he said.

"I was very intrigued by him, I was very intrigued by his read, by his voice and his, just sitting behind a table, just intrigued by the way he kind of thought about stuff and just talked. And so we didn't audition, we just cast Tyler."

Shooting presented more challenges. Davidson said he had just 20 days and $1 million to make the movie. That meant no second unit to help speed up the schedule and no trailers for the cast.

"He just didn't have a place to sit sometimes," Davidson said of Johnston, whose upcoming gigs include an appearance on AMC's "The Killing."

Davidson joked that his next project should be a "Freaky Friday"-style script that would star Cruise and Johnston as body-swapping father and son.

Johnston admitted to having had similar fantasies himself, noting they typically arise whenever Cruise crosses the border to film one of his big-budget projects.

Still, he was wary of getting swept up by all the comparisons.

"As an actor sometimes it's really hard to take those compliments because that's all you hear -- even when that may not be the case," Johnston said.

"At this point I'm just enjoying my experience and having some fun. I'm trying not to take myself too seriously."

"The Odds" opens in Toronto on Friday.