O Canada! 'FJI' celebrates influential Canadian stars and directors
As ShowCanada kicks off today in St. John’s, Newfoundland, it’s a good time to salute Canada’s major contribution to motion picture history. From pioneers of the silent-movie era to today’s roster of bright stars, the steady flow of talent from up north has energized some of the world’s favorite movies. O Canada!
Pioneers & Golden Age Stars
One of the first superstars of the silent era, Toronto-born Mary Pickford first gained fame as “The Girl with the Golden Curls” in a series of Biograph films in 1910. Pickford signed with studio head Adolph Zukor in 1912 and went on to star in 52 feature films, playing innocent young girls in movies like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Daddy Long-Legs and Pollyanna and more sophisticated parts in hits like Rosita and Coquette, which won her the Oscar for Best Actress of 1929. Pickford married the equally famous film star Douglas Fairbanks in 1920, cementing their status as Hollywood royalty. Dinners at their Beverly Hills mansion Pickfair attracted guests ranging from Albert Einstein to Helen Keller to George Bernard Shaw.
A true king of comedy, Mack Sennett founded Keystone Studios in 1912 and helped make stars of Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. A master of frenetic slapstick chases, the Quebec native also created the hilariously reckless Keystone Kops. In 1917 he formed Mack Sennett Comedies (distributed by Paramount) and made another great comedy discovery, Harry Langdon. Sennett was awarded an honorary Oscar in 1937 “for his lasting contribution to the comedy technique of the screen.”
Toronto native Allan Dwan was a leading silent-film director who made his final picture in 1961. Among his best-known credits are Robin Hood (1922), starring Douglas Fairbanks; the Shirley Temple hits Heidi and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm; the Oscar-nominated World War II drama Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), and Cattle Queen of Montana (1954), co-starring Barbara Stanwyck and Ronald Reagan.
Montreal-born Norma Shearer was “the Queen of MGM” in the 1930s. Married to legendary MGM production head Irving Thalberg in 1927, she won the 1930 Oscar for Best Actress for her daring role in the pre-Code drama The Divorcee. The screen beauty received five additional nominations for Their Own Desire, A Free Soul, The Barretts of Wimpole Street, Romeo and Juliet and Marie Antoinette. Her last major success was among the star ensemble of The Women in 1939.
An immensely popular early comedy star, Marie Dressler had top billing over Charlie Chaplin in her first hit, 1914’s Tillie’s Punctured Romance, directed by Sennett. The homely, plump but endearing Ontario native made a highly successful transition to the sound era, winning the 1931 Best Actress Oscar for Min and Bill and co-starring with John Barrymore and Jean Harlow in the 1933 comedy classic Dinner at Eight before succumbing to cancer one year later.
The patriarch of a legendary show-business family that now spans four generations, Toronto-born Walter Huston was a major Broadway star in the 1920s whose first high-profile film assignment was the title role in D.W. Griffith’s Abraham Lincoln (1930). His four Oscar nominations include the classics Dodsworth, The Devil and Daniel Webster, Yankee Doodle Dandy, and finally a win in 1948’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, directed by his son, the equally formidable John Huston. The Huston dynasty continues today with granddaughter Anjelica and great-grandson Jack, a star of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.”
Alberta’s Fay Wray will be forever be linked with one of the most iconic creatures in movie history, the giant ape known as King Kong. Along with that 1933 fantasy-adventure classic, Wray also starred in Erich von Stroheim’s The Wedding March (1927) and appeared on many 1960s television series.
Deanna Durbin, who passed away this April at the age of 91, was one of the most beloved young actresses of the 1930s. The girl known as “Winnipeg’s Sweetheart” had a beautiful singing voice and became the highest-paid female star in the world by the age of 21, saving Universal Pictures from bankruptcy with such hits as Three Smart Girls, That Certain Age and Mad About Music. Durbin was honored with a special Juvenile Academy Award for the year 1938.
With combined experience of over 150 years in the business, Christopher Plummer, William Shatner and Donald Sutherland form the old guard of Canada’s film stars. Sutherland went not to Hollywood, but the U.K., to break into the entertainment business. After the success of The Dirty Dozen, he moved to Hollywood and took up with fellow actor Jane Fonda and protested the Vietnam War. His many credits include M*A*S*H, Kelly’s Heroes, Klute, Don’t Look Now, Fellini’s Casanova, the Oscar-winning Ordinary People, JFK, Six Degrees of Separation, Cold Mountain, Pride & Prejudice and more recently as President Snow in the Hunger Games franchise. His son, Kiefer Sutherland, is also in the business, playing terrorist-fighter Jack Bauer on the Emmy-winning “24” and recently taking on an indie role in The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
For many, William Shatner will always be Captain James Kirk. He played the space commander in the original “Star Trek” TV show and its accompanying movies, from Star Trek: The Movie in 1979 to Star Trek: Generations in 1994. Younger people may be more familiar with his jokey ads as the face of Priceline, which take advantage of the memorable timbre of his voice and his laid-back sense of authority. Besides the Quebec native’s many roles in television, he also appeared in a few notable dramas early in his career, including The Brothers Karamazov and Judgment at Nuremberg.
While Sutherland and Shatner have Golden Globes, Plummer is the only one to have also won an Oscar. The octogenarian took home the statuette for his role as a widower who comes out as gay in 2010’s Beginners. The classically trained actor has played many of the great Shakespearean roles; his work with the Stratford Shakespeare Festival spans from playing Henry V in 1956 to Prospero in The Tempest in 2010. The Toronto native starred opposite Julie Andrews as Captain Von Trapp in 1965’s The Sound of Music, and his many film roles include Rudyard Kipling in The Man Who Would Be King, Sherlock Holmes in Murder by Decree, a ruthless Klingon opposite Shatner in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, “60 Minutes” correspondent Mike Wallace in The Insider, the voice of the villainous Charles Muntz in Pixar’s Up, an Oscar-nominated Leo Tolstoy in The Last Station, and Henrik Vanger in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Sutherland: 2 Golden Globes, 1 Emmy
Shatner: 1 Golden Globe, 2 Emmys
Plummer: 1 Oscar, 1 Golden Globe, 2 Emmys
Donald Sutherland was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland, the site of this year’s ShowCanada
James Cameron’s phenomenal career includes directing the number one and number two top-grossing films of all time: Avatar earned $2.78 billion worldwide, and the Oscar-winning Titanic tallied $2.18 billion. His earlier hits include The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and True Lies. The Ontario native has also directed the underwater documentaries Ghosts of the Abyss and Aliens of the Deep. Throughout his career, he has pioneered many innovations in visual effects, with Avatar still considered one of the most masterful 3D productions ever. He is currently at work on Avatar 2, which will take advantage of the latest high-frame-rate technology.
Toronto’s David Cronenberg began his career with unsettling low-budget horror films like They Came from Within, The Brood and Scanners. In 1986, his re-imagining of the ’50s horror classic The Fly was a major hit and took his career to a new level. Subsequent films like Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch, Crash and Spider combine horror elements with visual elegance, while thrillers like A History of Violence and Eastern Promises blend mayhem and intellectual sophistication. Cronenberg continues to expand his range with recent films like the Freud-Jung drama A Dangerous Method and the surreal Cosmopolis.
London, Ontario-born Paul Haggis is the only screenwriter in history to win back-to-back Oscars for the Best Picture of the Year: 2005’s Million Dollar Baby and 2006’s Crash, which he also directed. His other screenwriting credits include Clint Eastwood’s World War II companion pieces Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima and the James Bond films Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. Haggis also wrote and directed the drama In the Valley of Elah and The Next Three Days.
The 1999 winner of the Motion Picture Academy’s Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, Norman Jewison was also nominated for seven Oscars during his long and distinguished career. The Toronto native directed TV specials starring Judy Garland and Harry Belafonte before graduating to feature films in 1962. His best-known movies include the groundbreaking Oscar winner In the Heat of the Night, The Cincinnati Kid, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, The Thomas Crown Affair, Fiddler on the Roof, Jesus Christ Superstar, Rollerball, …And Justice for All, A Soldier’s Story, Moonstruck and The Hurricane. In 1986, Jewison founded the Canadian Centre for Advanced Film Studies in Toronto.
Born in Czechoslovakia but settled in Canada by age four, Ivan Reitman directed some of the most popular comedies of the modern era, including Meatballs, Stripes, Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters II, Kindergarten Cop and Dave; he also produced the immortal National Lampoon’s Animal House. Reitman’s family donated the land where the Toronto International Film Festival’s Bell Lightbox was built in 2010; the corner of King and John Streets in Toronto is now known as Reitman Square.
Ivan’s son Jason Reitman has emerged as an acclaimed, successful film director in his own right. He made his feature debut in 2005 with the clever satire Thank You for Smoking, followed in 2007 by the hit comedy Juno, which co-starred Canadians Ellen Page and Michael Cera and earned an Oscar nomination for his direction. Reitman received Best Picture and Best Director Oscar nominations in 2009 for the George Clooney starrer Up in the Air, and Charlize Theron won raves as a comic anti-heroine in his 2011 feature Young Adult. Reitman’s next picture is Labor Day, co-starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin.
And let’s not forget: Bob Clark (A Christmas Story, Porky’s), Edward Dmytryk (Murder My Sweet, Crossfire, The Caine Mutiny), Sidney J. Furie (The Ipcress File, Lady Sings the Blues), Arthur Hiller (Love Story, The Hospital, The In-Laws), Ted Kotcheff (First Blood, North Dallas Forty, Weekend at Bernie’s), Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum, Real Steel), Daniel Petrie (A Raisin in the Sun, Fort Apache The Bronx), Mark Robson (The Seventh Victim, Champion, Valley of the Dolls), Roger Spottiswoode (Turner & Hooch, Tomorrow Never Dies)
Heartthrobs, Heroes & Heroines
One of America’s biggest heartthrobs, Ryan Gosling, actually bleeds Canadian maple red. The former Mouseketeer and Ontario native won over females with his performances in The Notebook and critics with his Oscar-nominated work in Half Nelson. Since then, he’s oscillated between heartthrob roles, like in Crazy, Stupid, Love, and darker parts in such indies as Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines.
Fellow Canadian Rachel McAdams starred opposite Gosling in The Notebook, and her career has had almost as steep as a rise. The year before her swoon-worthy role with Gosling, she played Regina George in Mean Girls, a comedy that became a cultural touchstone. She’s balanced roles in commercial studio fare like Wedding Crashers and Sherlock Holmes with parts in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris and Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder.
For young actors today, it seems like the road to the top involves both blockbusters and indies. After a breakout role as a pregnant teen in Juno, Ellen Page had a splashy part in Christopher Nolan’s Inception. The Nova Scotia resident then followed McAdams’ path with a role in Allen’s film To Rome with Love. Her next major appearance will be in X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Taylor Kitsch has an unproven track record, starring in the big-budget flops Battleship and John Carter, as well as the underperforming Savages. But the “Friday Night Lights” star and Kelowna, British Columbia native will have at least one more chance to prove his box-office power with his part in the upcoming war movie Lone Survivor.
In The Proposal, Ryan Reynolds’ character pretends to be engaged to his Canadian boss, who needs to marry him to obtain American citizenship. But in real life, Reynolds is the one who lives north of the U.S. border. The handsome star, who grew up in Vancouver, has risen in fame from his comedy breakthrough in Van Wilder, to action parts in Blade: Trinity and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, to leading roles in The Green Lantern and Safe House. Reynolds will be seen this summer in the undead-cop-comedy R.I.P.D. and voices the title character in DreamWorks Animation’s Turbo.
An original cast member on “Saturday Night Live,” Dan Aykroyd parlayed the Blues Brothers characters he created with John Belushi into a successful movie, The Blues Brothers. The Ottawa native traded one iconic ride, the Bluesmobile, for another, the wagon Ecto-1, in Ghostbusters. The well-connected star can always be counted on for a memorable bit part in his fellow comedians’ films, including a role as fast-talking auto-parts mogul Zalinsky in Tommy Boy. All that, and an Oscar nomination for Driving Miss Daisy.
Mike Myers followed a similar path to Aykroyd. He turned his “SNL” sketch about a basement-dwelling, rock-loving teen into the feature Wayne’s World, his first big hit. He followed that by playing multiple roles in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, including the improbably alluring titular spy. He also voiced the title character in all the Shrek films. Born in Ottawa to British parents, he now holds three citizenships, in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.
Although he was a slightly older than Aykroyd, John Candy’s career took off a bit later. After rising to fame at Second City in Toronto and its TV spinoff “SCTV,” he landed a supporting role in The Blues Brothers. The comedian then brought his slapstick skills to Ron Howard’s Splash, Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs, and John Hughes’ Uncle Buck and Planes, Trains & Automobiles. He died with two unreleased comedies, including the diverting Canadian Bacon, which makes fun of U.S.-Canada border relations.
Leslie Nielsen was once known as a dramatic actor, including the lead in the 1950s sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet, a prime example of the post-war interest in the genre. Later in his career, he turned to zany comedy, playing the pilot in Airplane! while in his 50s and toting a pistol in the Naked Gun series while he was in his 60s. Nielsen passed away in 2010, and by then the Saskatchewan native had become a naturalized American citizen.
For Edmonton resident Michael J. Fox, fame came quickly. While in his 20s, he earned three Emmy Awards as young conservative Alex P. Keaton on the top-rated NBC comedy series “Family Ties.” In the middle of his TV gig, he made the transition to major movie star in 1985’s Back to the Future and its two sequels. Fox’s other film credits include Teen Wolf, The Secret of My Success, Casualties of War, Doc Hollywood, The American President and Mars Attacks! and he scored another hit TV sitcom in 1996 with “Spin City.” He is also a prominent advocate for a cure for Parkinson’s disease, a condition he has lived with for over two decades.
Jim Carrey started out as a stand-up comic before breaking out on TV’s “In Living Color” and delighting moviegoers with his hilarious yet juvenile comedies Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask and Dumb & Dumber. The star has since balanced serious turns in The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with roles in movies like Liar Liar, Bruce Almighty and the upcoming Kick-Ass 2. The Ontario native now holds citizenship in the U.S. and Canada.
The Second City connection
The Second City improvisational comedy theatre opened in Toronto in 1973, an offshoot of the original Chicago venue which was founded in 1959. Within two years, the nightly training in think-on-your-feet comedy skills that the theatre refined paid off big-time, as members Dan Aykroyd and American Gilda Radner became part of the founding cast of “Saturday Night Live” and two of its most valuable players. In 1976, Canada launched its own sketch-comedy show, “SCTV,” tapping Second City members John Candy, Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Joe Flaherty, Andrea Martin and Dave Thomas (and later Rick Moranis and Martin Short). Along with Candy and Aykroyd, many of these brilliant comedians are familiar movie faces, from Levy’s well-meaning dad in the American Pie franchise to O’Hara’s frantic mom in Home Alone, from Moranis’ brief stardom in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids to Short’s appearances in Father of the Bride and Three Amigos.
The young Canadian mafia
Young, funny Canadian actors Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and Michael Cera have all crossed paths with the same person: Judd Apatow, Hollywood’s comedy heavyweight. The shlubby but likeable Rogen was cast in Apatow’s brilliant but cancelled shows “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared” before starring in Apatow’s hit Knocked Up. He also had supporting roles in Apatow’s The 40-Year-OId Virgin and Funny People. Rogen received acclaim for producing and starring in the Oscar-nominated cancer comedy 50/50. He also has indie cred, with a role in Take This Waltz, directed by fellow Canadian Sarah Polley.
The gawky Baruchel also had a part in Knocked Up, along with roles in Tropic Thunder and a star turn in She’s Out of My League. For How to Train Your Dragon, he voiced the lead, Hiccup. Next up for him include roles in RoboCop and the sequels to How to Train Your Dragon.
Cera’s “Arrested Development” character was recently resurrected by Netflix, which is producing a new season, but the actor also has a strong slate of acting credits. After breakout roles in both Superbad and Juno, he continued to play nervous-teen roles in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Youth in Revolt and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
This summer, all three stars will be in the same place at the same time. Rogen wrote, produced and stars in the apocalyptic comedy This Is The End. Rogen, who is also making his directorial debut, cast Cera and Baruchel, who play themselves in the satirical feature set in Hollywood.
An Armenian born in Egypt but raised in British Columbia, Atom Egoyan is one of Canada’s most acclaimed film auteurs. He earned a cult following with provocative early works like Family Viewing, Speaking Parts, The Adjuster and Exotica, and found a larger audience in 1998 with the heartbreaking drama The Sweet Hereafter, which earned him Academy Award nominations for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. His subsequent films include Ararat, about the Armenian genocide; Where the Truth Lies, a show-biz tale starring Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth; and the thriller Chloe, featuring Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore and Amanda Seyfried.
Winnipeg’s Guy Maddin has carved out a unique niche for himself in Canada’s film world, creating eccentric, slyly amusing, melodramatic tales that often play with the conventions of classic silent movies. His films include the moody and surreal Tales of the Gimli Hospital; Careful, about an Alpine village with a paralyzing fear of avalanches; The Saddest Music in the World, about a most unusual international contest; and the striking dance film Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary. Maddin also directed a wonderfully offbeat tribute to his hometown, My Winnipeg.
Canadian audiences first encountered Sarah Polley as a child star in the TV series “Ramona” and “Avonlea.” Her feature films as an actor include Go, Dawn of the Dead, David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ, and Atom Egoyan’s Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter. The Toronto native made her feature directing debut in 2006 with Away from Her, guiding Julie Christie to an Oscar nomination as an Alzheimer’s victim. Next up was the comedy Take This Waltz, starring Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen. Her third directing project, about to open in theatres, is the documentary Stories We Tell, in which she explores her own family’s startling secrets.
And let’s not forget: Denys Arcand (Jesus of Montreal), Xavier Dolan (Laurence Anyways), Mary Harron (American Psycho, I Shot Andy Warhol), Claude Jutra (Mon Oncle Antoine), Norman McLaren (Neighbors, Pas de Deux), Deepa Mehta (Midnight’s Children, Water), Patricia Rozema (Mansfield Park), Michael Snow (Wavelength), Denis Villeneuve (Incendies, Prisoners)