Post-Second World War Canada became an important training ground for many future “American” actors and directors, not unlike the minor leagues in professional baseball. Unlike earlier generations, there was an established television industry and the beginnings of a film industry. Actors and directors built their resumes in dramas or sitcoms on CBC, CTV and Global networks, indie Canadian features or the NFB, which they then used to their advantage in pursuing their careers in Hollywood. The best example of this route to fame and fortune in the U.S. is almost the entire original cast of SCTV – Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Rick Moranis and the late John Candy. In fact, because there are so many Canadian actors, directors, producers and animators working in the American film and television industry today – as the Northernstars database amply demonstrates – I have narrowed the focus to 50 of the most prominent names for a sampling of the Canuck-born talent that has infiltrated the beating, money-grubbing heart of Hollywood since the late 1970s.
Anna Paquin’s (Winnipeg, 1982) family moved to Wellington, New Zealand, when she was just four. Her riveting portrayal of the articulate, emotionally complicated young daughter of Holly Hunter in Jane Campion’s The Piano won her an Oscar for best supporting actress in 1984. One of the youngest performers to have received the honour, Paquin is also the first Canadian-born actress to win an Academy Award since Deanna Durbin in 1939. She has since become a fanboy favourite with her role as the mutant Rogue in the three X-Men movies, and a lead in the vampire television series True Blood. Four other Canadian actresses have been nominated for an Oscar: Kate Nelligan, Ellen Page, Meg Tilly and her older sister, Jennifer.
Kate Nelligan (London, Ont., 1951) began her varied and justly celebrated international career on the London stage in the 1970s with the National Theatre of Great Britain and the Royal Shakespeare Company. A performer of passion and intelligence, she won the best supporting actress award at the 1992 BAFTAs for Gary Marshall’s Frankie and Johnny with Michelle Pheiffer and Al Pacino, the same year she was nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actress in Prince of Tides with Barbara Streisand and Nick Nolte. She captured the supporting actress Genie Award for her performance as the tough-as-nails mother in Mort Ransen’s Margaret’s Museum in 1996. One of Canada’s hottest young stars, Ellen Page (Halifax, 1987) has been accumulating glowing reviews ever since her first appearance in the CBC drama Pit Pony at 10 years old. But it was her riveting performance as the revengeful “victim” of an Internet stalker in Hard Candy (2005) that established her as an acting force to be reckoned with. Her funny, touching performance as a pregnant teen in Jason Reitman’s Juno earned her an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress in 2008. She had a prominent role in Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster Inception, and was part of the ensemble cast in Woody Allen’s From Rome with Love.
Born in California (Harbor City, 1958) and brought up on a hippie commune on B.C.’s Texada Island, Jennifer Tilly has worked consistently in movies since 1984. A sensual, comic actress, she received an Oscar nomination in 1995 for her star turn as the ditz actresses who gets bumped off in Woody Allen’s Bullets over Broadway. In 1996, she starred in Bound, a neo-noir thriller where she played the mistress of a money launderer who falls for an ex-con (Gina Gershon). The film became a cult classic in no small part because of the steamy lesbian affair between Tilly and Gershon. She has appeared in Canadian films such as Shadow of the Wolf, Saint Ralph, The Wrong Guy, Deluxe Combo Platter, Bailey’s Billions and the co-production, Terry Gilliam’s Tideland. Sister Meg (Long Beach, 1960) began her career as a dancer but switched to film after a back injury. She arrived in New York at age 16 and made her screen debut as a dancer in Fame in 1980. She appeared in the popular Big Chill, and received the 1986 Golden Globe for best actress and an Oscar nomination for her portrait of a possessed nun in Norman Jewison’s Agnes of God, which was filmed in Quebec. In 2013, she received a Canadian Screen Award for best performance by an actress in a continuing leading dramatic role in Global’s Second World War drama series Bomb Girls.
Three Canadian-born actors have been nominated for an Oscar in post Star-Wars Hollywood: Dan Aykroyd, Graham Greene and Ryan Gosling. Aykroyd (Ottawa, 1952) embarked on a stand-up career that included a stint with thefamed Chicago Second City comedy troupe. While in Toronto, he came to know John Belushi, and in 1975 both were chosen by producer Lorne Michaels to appear in the first season of Saturday Night Live, where he shared a Primetime Emmy Award for writing the hugely popular series. Since then Aykroyd has had considerable success in films such as The Blues Brothers with Belushi, Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters, which he co-wrote with Harold Ramis, and Driving Miss Daisy with Jessica Tandy, for which he earned an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor in 1990.
Graham Greene (Six Nations Reserve, Ont., 1952), a member of the Oneida First Nations, is perhaps best known for his 1990 Oscar-nominated performance as Kicking Bird in Dances with Wolves, starring Kevin Costner. An actor of uncommon intensity, Greene gave an astonishing performance in Richard Bugajski’s seldom seen Clearcut (1991), and he appears regularly on Canadian television. Currently, he has over 120 acting credits, including Powwow Highway, Thunderheart, Mavrick, Camilla, Die Hard: With a Vengeance, Grey Owl, The Green Mile, Red Green: Duct Tape Forever, The Twilight Saga: New Moon and Gunless.
The multi-talented, red-hot Ryan Gosling (London, Ont., 1980) began his career as a member of Disney’s The Mickey Mouse Club. He appeared in Canadian television fare such as Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Road to Avonlea until he got a break with a small role in Remember the Titans starring Denzel Washington. In 2002, Gosling was nominated for best male lead at the Independent Spirit Awards for his striking performance as a neo-Nazi thug in The Believer. He earned more solid reviews in 2004 for his part as the young lover in The Notebook, and was nominated for an Academy Award in 2007 for best actor for his heartfelt portrayal as a troubled teacher in Half Nelson. He has received four Golden Globe nominations, for Lars and the Real Girl, Blue Valentine with Michelle Williams, Crazy, Stupid Love with Steve Carell and Julianne Moore and George Clooney’s The Ides of March.
Given the funhouse gallery of characters he created, it’s fitting that John Candy (Toronto, 1950; d. 1994) was born on Halloween. From SCTV’s Tommy Shanks and Johnny LaRue to Uncle Buck and the twisted Louisiana hood in Oliver Stone’s JFK, Candy’s affable and malleable personality made him one of the most popular performers to emerge out of the comedy scene in Toronto in the late 1970s. He found fame on the big screen with a succession of hits in the 1980s, including Splash with Tom Hanks, Planes, Trains and Automobiles with Steve Martin and Only the Lonely with Maureen O’Hara. Before his untimely death at age 43, Candy played out a boyhood dream by being a part owner of the Toronto Argonauts football club.
Catherine O’Hara (Toronto, 1954) came from the Toronto suburbs to land a job as a hatcheck girl for Toronto’s Second City Revue in 1974. After four seasons with SCTV and SCTV Network 90, O’Hara launched her film career in Martin Scorsese’s After Hours in 1985. She has appeared in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, played the harried mother in Chris Columbus’s megahit Home Alone and its sequel, and won a Genie Award from her performance in The Life before This. Along with SCTV partner Eugene Levy, she has appeared in the films of Christopher Guest, Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration. Indisputably, she is one of the funniest female comedians of her generation. Originally interested in singing, Levy (Hamilton, Ont., 1946) gained attention as a writer and comedian on SCTV. In 1996, his script for Waiting for Guffman won an Independent Spirit Award for best screenplay and led to a fruitful collaboration with Christopher Guest over three more films, resulting in some of sharpest satire seen in recent American movies. In 2004, Guest and Levy won a Grammy Award for best song in a motion picture for “A Mighty Wind.” Levy’s Hollywood star rose when he appeared as the un-hip father in the popular teenage sex romp American Pie and its many sequels.
Martin Short (Hamilton, 1950) began performing at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, where he majored in social work. He joined the Toronto branch of Second City in 1977 and later SCTV. He has made some dreadful comedies, but he did do his annoying best as Franck, the wedding coordinator from Hell in the Steve Martin/Diane Keaton remake of Father of the Bride, and he won a Tony Award for his central role in the revival of Little Me on Broadway in 1999. Recently he hosted the first edition of the Canadian Screen Awards. Rick Moranis (Toronto, 1953) started in show business as a radio deejay. He joined the cast of SCTV in 1980 and teamed up with Dave Thomas to create the endearing, tuque-wearing, beer-swilling McKenzie brothers in “The Great White North”; their antics spawned the Canadian box office hit Strange Brew. Moranis successfully transposed his comic nerd character to the big time in 1984 in the smash hit Ghostbusters. He starred in Disney’s hit Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Parenthood, L.A. Story and The Flintstones. Since the death of his wife from cancer in 1991, he has withdrawn from public life.
Other Canadian Baby Boomers in Hollywood
Years as a stand-up comic on the comedy-club circuit landed Jim Carrey (Newmarket, Ont., 1962) a part in the short-lived American sitcom The Duck Factory and small parts in several films. However, it wasn’t until his rubbery face, manic energy and general goofiness in the sketch comedy series In Living Color (1990–94) landed him the lead in the low-budget comedy Ace Ventura: Pet Detective that he became an “overnight” sensation. With the huge success of films such as The Mask, Dumb and Dumber, Dr. Suess’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events Carrey has become one the world’s highest-paid actors, with more clout in Hollywood than any other Canadian-born actor since Mary Pickford ruled the silent screen in the 1920s. He won Golden Globes for best actor in The Truman Show and as comedian Andy Kaufman in Milos Forman’s Man on the Moon.
A graduate of Toronto’s comedy clubs and the Second City Revue, Mike Myers (Toronto, 1963) was picked by producer Lorne Michaels to write skits for the long-running Saturday Night Live, for which he shared a Primetime Emmy for writing in a variety program in 1980. He soon became a regular on-camera player and extended his popular skit about two suburban dudes with their own local cable show into the hugely successful Wayne’s World and its sequel. In 1997, Myers created the character of Austin Powers, the randy, buck-toothed spy in three films, and has voiced the loveable green ogre Shrek in four instalments of that very successful animated franchise. Michael J. Fox (Edmonton, 1961) grew up in Vancouver and began performing on television when he was 15. After appearing in Disney’s first PG-rated film, Midnight Madness, Fox was cast as the irrepressible yuppie-in-training in the highly successful television sitcom Family Ties, for which he won three consecutive Emmy Awards (1986–88). He was asked to replace Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly in Robert Zemeckis’s Back to the Future, which was a worldwide box office hit and led to two sequels. In 2000, Parkinson’s disease forced him to leave his top-rated television series Spin City, for which he received three consecutive Golden Globes (1998–2000).
The hard-working character actor Saul Rubinek (Wolfrathausen, Germany, 1948) was born in a German refugee camp and grew up in Toronto, where he co-founded Toronto Free Theatre in the 1970s. He made his Canadian film debut in 1980 in Agency and won a Genie Award in 1982 for his standout performance in Ticket to Heaven. He has had many supporting roles in major U.S. movies, including Alan Alda’s Sweet Liberty, Tony Scott’s True Romance, Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven and Oliver Stone’s Nixon. He had a recurring character role in 16 episodes of the popular television series Frasier, and directed his first feature, Jerry and Tom, in 1998. He has a recurring starring role in the U.S. cable series Warehouse 13 (2009–).
Colm Feore (Boston, 1959) attended the National Theatre School in Montreal and began his acting career at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in 1983. He played the lead in François Girard’s critically acclaimed Thirty-Two Short Films about Glenn Gould, and now divides his time between Canada and the U.S., appearing in John Woo’s Face/Off, Girard’s The Red Violin and Michael Mann’s The Insider with Al Pacino and Russell Crowe. He turned in a striking performance as the sinister villain in The Chronicles of Riddick. In 2006, Feore shared the lead in Bon Cop, Bad Cop with Quebec star Patrick Huard, a bilingual buddy cop movie that is now the highest-grossing Canadian movie at the domestic box office. He has had recurring roles in the series 24, The Listener and The Borgias.
Also classically trained in Shakespearean theatre, Henry Czerny (Toronto, 1959) caught the world’s attention with his mesmerizing performance as a sexual predator in John N. Smith’s The Boys of St. Vincent, the realistic story of abuse at a boy’s orphanage. His chilling portrayal of the pedophiliac Catholic brother won him accolades worldwide, and landed him coveted roles as the White House weasel opposite Harrison Ford in Clear and Present Danger and as Tom Cruise’s boss in the first Mission Impossible. Victor Garber (London, Ont., 1949), an accomplished stage actor and singer, played Jesus in the original stage version of Godspell, a role that he repeated in the 1973 film version. In 1997, the Screen Actors Guild nominated him for his part as the ship’s designer in James Cameron’s megahit Titanic. In 2001 he played Sidney Luft, Judy Garland’s third husband in the television movie Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows, for which he received an Emmy nomination for outstanding supporting actor. His other film appearances include Sleepless in Seattle, The First Wives Club, Milk and Atom Egoyan’s Exotica. He had a recurring role in the popular U.S. series Alias (2001–06), and played Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor in Ben Afflect’s Oscar-winning Argo.
Michael Wincott (Toronto, 1958) appeared in a handful of Canadian films, including Ticket to Heaven, before moving south of the border where he got a break when he was cast in Oliver Stone’s Talk Radio. The director liked him so much he cast him in his next two films, Born On the Fourth of July and The Doors, as the legendary band’s producer. With dark, brooding good looks and a raspy voice, Wincott has often been cast as the villain – Guy of Gisbourne in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves; a corrupt Spanish nobleman in 1492: Conquest of Paradise; and in the 1993 remake of The Three Musketeers as Captain Rochefort. He was in Alien: Resurrection and the 2002 remake of The Count of Monte Cristo. Elias Koteas (Montreal, 1961) studied at Vanier College in Montreal then left for the U.S. to pursue an acting career. He appeared in two Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle mall movies and earned recognition for his work in Exotica. Subsequently, David Cronenberg cast him as the collision-obsessed Vaughn in the highly vaunted Crash. That film, combined with a compelling screen gravitas akin to that of Robert DeNiro, established Koteas in the industry, garnering him a variety of roles in Gattaca, The Thin Red Line, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Shutter’s Island. He won the best supporting actor Genie Award for his performance in Egoyan’s Ararat.
Margot Kidder (Yellowknife, NWT, 1948), one of the most interesting leading ladies of the 1970s, toiled on the television assembly line before making audiences sit up and take notice with her eerie interpretation of separated Siamese twins in Brian De Palma’s Sisters. She is best known as Lois Lane in Christopher Reeve’s four Superman films from 1978–87. In 1981, she won a Genie Award for her standout performance in Don Shebib’s Heartaches, but her career since the Superman films has been plagued with uneven performances. A near-fatal car accident in 1990 left her with a permanent back injury, and childhood mental problems – she has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder – resulted in a very public meltdown in 1996.
Nia Vardalos (Winnipeg, 1962), who attended acting classes at Toronto’s Ryerson University and spent time with the Second City comedy troupe, wrote her one-woman play My Big Fat Greek Wedding while in Chicago with her actor husband. The couple moved to Los Angeles, where Vardalos remounted the play and it was seen by Rita Wilson, Tom Hanks’s wife, who saw its potential as a film. The $5-million 2002 production, shot in Toronto and starring Vardalos, went on to secure over $240 million at the worldwide box office, making it one of the most successful independent films ever made in the history of cinema.
Gen-Xers and Beyond
The son of Donald Sutherland and Shirley Douglas, and the grandson of former Saskatchewan premier Tommy Douglas, Kiefer Sutherland (London, U.K., 1966) appears to have taken the same approach to his chosen profession as his father. Following an impressive performance opposite Liv Ullmann in Daniel Petrie’s 1984 coming-of-age story The Bay Boy, he has taken on an eclectic range of roles and has become one of his generation’s most consistent performers. He achieved stardom with films such as The Lost Boys, Flatliners, Young Guns and its sequel, Stand by Me, A Few Good Men, A Time to Kill and the hit television series 24.
Bearing talent and a cool sophisticated beauty in equal measure, Deborah Kara Unger (Vancouver, 1966) distinguished herself as the first Canadian to be accepted to the prestigious Australian National Institute of Dramatic Art and made her professional debut in the television miniseries Bangkok Hilton with Nicole Kidman. Unger first made an impression on film audiences with her role as a hypersexual patient in Whispers in the Dark (1992). Since then she has appeared with Mel Gibson in Payback, Denzel Washington in The Hurricane, Michael Douglas in The Game, and Canadian movies such as Crash, Sunshine, White Noise, Silent Hill and its 2012 sequel. Named by her parents after the 1967 hit song by The Hollies, Carrie-Anne Moss (Vancouver, 1967) developed a passion for acting at a very young age. Her big break came in 1999 with The Matrix, co-starring Keanu Reeves. And although she only had a small part in Lasse Hallström’s critically praised Chocolat, she held her own against the established acting heavyweights Juliette Binoche and Dame Judi Dench. Moss reprised her Trinity character in The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. Her Canadian films include Snow Cake (Genie Award for best supporting actress), Normal, Fido and Silent Hill: Revelation.
Equally adapt at playing comedy and drama, Sandra Oh’s (Nepean, Ont., 1971) break came when she was cast as the lead in the 1993 CBC movie The Diary of Evelyn Lau, about a young streetwalker who became a best-selling author. Following Lau, Oh was cast in Mina Shum’s Double Happiness, a part that secured her a Genie Award for best actress. She won a second Genie for her performance in Don McKellar’s Last Night and has established herself in Hollywood with standout performances in Under the Tuscan Sun and the Oscar-nominated Sideways, and as Dr. Christina Yang in all the episodes of the primetime television medical drama Grey’s Anatomy (2005–).
Neve Campbell’s (Guelph, Ont., 1973) early career was rocket fuelled. At nine she was accepted in the National Ballet School of Canada; at 14 she joined the Toronto production of The Phantom of the Opera; and at 20 she moved to Los Angeles where she was cast as Julia in the popular teen drama Party of Five (1994–2000). Her sexy physical beauty, combined with a touch of vulnerability made her a star in Wes Craven’s 1996 horror megahit Scream and its sequels, and by the age of 24 she was on the cover of Time magazine. Her Canadian films include Vic Sarin’s Partition and Richard Attenborough’s Closing the Ring. At the age of four, Rachel McAdams (London, Ont., 1976) took up figure skating and skated competitively throughout high school. On her first trip to Los Angeles, she landed a starring role in a major studio comedy, The Hot Chick (2002), opposite Rob Schneider. She received good notices as one of the young lovers in The Notebook, opposite Ryan Gosling, and in 2005 McAdams appeared in the box-office hit Wedding Crashers and the ensemble family drama The Family Stone, alongside Diane Keaton and Kevin Costner. She played the sultry temptress Irene Adler in the two Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. Best known for her role of Victoria in the hugely popular 2008 teen vampire movie Twilight, Rachelle Lefevre’s (Montreal, 1979) acting break was one season in the Canadian series Big Wolf on Campus. Working steadily ever since, she has appeared in George Clooney’s Confessions of a Dangerous Mind in 2002 and numerous American television series. In Canada she had a lead in Jeremy Podeswa’s Fugitive Pieces and was Barney’s first wife in Barney’s Version. In 2010, she reprised ‘Victoria’ in The Twilight Saga: New Moon.
Barry Pepper (Campbell River, B.C., 1970) had small roles in television and movie bit parts in the 1990s, but his career wasn’t going anywhere until he made an impression as the Bible-quoting sniper in Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. In 2004 he starred in and was the executive producer on the Canadian Artic drama The Snow Walker. In 2011, he won a Primetime Emmy for outstanding lead actor in a mini-series for his remarkable portrayal of Bobby Kennedy in The Kennedys. Other films include The Green Mile, We Were Soldiers, the Coen brothers’ remake of True Grit, and Pepper will be seen in the upcoming The Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. At an early age, Scott Speedman (London, U.K., 1975) appeared in Canadian television before roles in My Life without Me with Sarah Polley and Duets with Gwyneth Paltrow caught the attention of moviegoers. His career took off with a lead in the popular sci-fi thriller Underworld in 2003 and its sequel in 2006. He was Barney’s best friend in Barney’s Version, and was in Atom Egoyan’s Adoration. Speedman has the lead in Egoyan’s latest project, Queen of the Night, which will be released in 2014. Ryan Reynolds (Vancouver, 1976) has been on a fast track to stardom ever since he appeared in the American series Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place (1998–2001) and National Lampoon’s Van Wilder in 2002. He outshone Wesley Snipes in the third Blade movie and was pegged a ‘rising star’ with the release of The Amityville Horror remake in 2005. He starred opposite Sandra Bullock in 2009’s The Proposal, and played the comic book hero in the disappointing Green Lantern.
When Hayden Christensen (Vancouver, 1981) was only 12 years old he landed a continuing role in the first Canadian television soap opera, Family Passions. He worked steadily in the business, but was headed for a career in television when he was chosen by George Lucas to play Anakin Skywalker as he approaches becoming Darth Vadar in Star Wars Episodes II and III, making Christensen an instant worldwide celebrity.
Jay Baruchel (Ottawa, 1982) began appearing in Canadian television in 1995 and has worked his charming comic-nerd character through Knocked Up, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Tropic Thunder and Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. His Canadian films include Just Buried, The Trotsky, Good Neighbours, Cosmopolis and Goon, which he co-wrote with Evan Goldberg. Appearing on Canadian television since the age of 11, Michael Cera (Brampton, Ont., 1988) chose to pursue an acting career instead of college. His U.S. break came when he secured the part of Jason Bateman’s younger brother in the critically praised series Arrested Development (2003–13). In 2007, he had major roles in the Oscar-nominated Juno, opposite Ellen Page, Superbad with fellow expat Seth Rogen, and in 2010 he was the titular lead in Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World. Rogen (Vancouver, 1982) entered show business at the tender age of 13 doing stand-up comedy. With natural gifts for comedy writing, he was soon in Los Angeles and by 23 he was on the staff for Sacha Baron Cohen’s Da Ali G Show. He was in The 40 Year Old Virgin, a huge hit for comedian Steve Carell in 2005, and in 2007 Rogen served as the executive producer on the box-office hits Knocked Up (in which he also starred) and Superbad (which he co-wrote and starred in). He played Sarah Polley’s sad sack husband in Take This Waltz and co-wrote and was the lead in The Green Hornet.
Producers & Directors
James Cameron (Kapuskasing, Ont., 1954) studied physics at California State University, designed sets for Roger Corman, and cut his directorial teeth, so to speak, on Piranha II: Flying Killers, The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and True Lies. His Titanic (1997) earned over $1.5 billion in revenues worldwide and is one of the most popular films in recent memory. It won 11 Oscars, with Cameron for best picture, director and editor, the first time in the history of the awards that a Canadian-born director has been so honoured. His sci-fi 3D blockbuster Avatar (three Oscar nominations, including best picture and director), released at the end of 2009, is now the highest-grossing film of all time.
Two-time Oscar winner Paul Haggis (London, Ont., 1953) went to art school and studied photography. In Los Angeles, it was the legendary producer Norman Lear who gave him his first real job on the series Diff'rent Strokes, and a succession of writing jobs followed, including thirty-something and The Tracey Ullman Show. He returned to Canada to write and produce the first two seasons of Due South, then headed back to Los Angeles where he submitted his script for Million Dollar Baby to Clint Eastwood’s production company. To his surprise, the star wanted to direct and the movie went on to be a box office hit in 2004, securing an Oscar nomination for adapted screenplay. This was quickly followed by Crash, a multi-layered sleeper hit about racial tensions in L.A., which he wrote, directed and produced. It earned Oscars for best picture and screenplay in 2006. He is the first Canadian to win in that category. He secured a third nomination for Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima. Haggis was hired to work on the screenplays for two of the films in the Bond franchise: Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.
Ivan Reitman (Komarrno, Czechoslovakia, 1946) graduated from McMaster University with a major in music. He produced David Cronenberg’s first features, the animated Heavy Metal, and produced and directed Meatballs, still one of the highest-grossing Canadian films ever made. He has built an impressive career as one of the most reliable director/producers in Hollywood, with a string of hits including Ghostbusters, a big part of 1980s North American pop culture. He gave a comic twist to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Teutonic tough-guy image in a trio of films – Twins, Kindergarten Cop and Junior – and made the inevitable Ghostbusters II in 1989. His 1990 comedies are subtler, less vulgar and made withsome of the biggest stars in the business: Dave with Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver; Father’s Day with Billy Crystal and Robin Williams; and Six Days, Seven Nights with Harrison Ford. His son, Jason Reitman (Montreal, 1977), grew up in Hollywood. He had a hit with his debut feature, the satire Thank You for Smoking in 2006, followed by the teen pregnancy megahit Juno with Ellen Page in 2007. He received a best director Oscar nomination, and the film itself was nominated for best picture. In 2009, he directed and produced, with his father, Up in the Air with George Clooney, which was also nominated for best picture.
Working for most of his career in the United States, Daniel Petrie (Glace Bay, N.S., 1920; d. 2004) achieved critical acclaim for his 1961 screen adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun, which starred Sidney Poitier. He directed many productions in Hollywood and on U.S. television, winning three Emmys. In 1984, Petrie captured the best screenplay Genie Award for The Bay Boy, a semi-autobiographical story about growing up in Cape Breton with Keifer Sutherland. Sidney J. Furie (Toronto, 1933) began his career as a writer for the CBC and directed two stylish, low-budget prescient teenage rebellion films at the end of the 1950s: A Dangerous Age and A Cool Sound from Hell. Since there was no infrastructure in place to make movies in Canada, Furie sought employment in England, where he directed The Young Ones, and The Ipcress File with Michael Caine. Later, perhaps inevitably, he moved to Hollywood where he made a number of stylish but insubstantial films, including The Lady Sings the Blues, Gable and Lombard and the Canadian/Israeli co-productions, Iron Eagle and Iron Eagle II.
Allan Moyle (Arvida, Que., 1947) had a small part in the hippie-era classic Joe, and in 1974 marked his screenwriting debut with Montreal Main. With The Rubber Gun in 1978, he became a director. Since that time Moyle has distinguished himself in the teen-film genre with Times Square in 1980, Pump Up the Volume in 1990 and Empire Records in 1995. He had a hit in Canadian with New Waterford Girl. Mary Harron (Bracebridge, Ont., 1953) was educated at Oxford University in England and began her career as a rock journalist in the 1970s. She wrote and directed her first feature, I Shot Andy Warhol, in 1996. The film won numerous awards and was invited to the Cannes Film Festival. She went on to direct American Psycho, based on the controversial novel by Bret Easton Ellis, and The Notorious Bettie Page, about the bondage/pinup queen from the 1950s. Her most recent film is the Canada/Ireland teen vampire co-production The Moth Diaries.
Montreal-born Shawn Levy (Montreal, 1968) studied acting in New York City and graduated cum lauda from Yale University in 1989. At first he pursued an acting career, but then in the late 1990s he began directing and producing episodic television. In 2002 he directed the teen comedy Big Fat Liar; since then he has directed some of the biggest box office comedies, including Cheaper by the Dozen and The Pink Panther with Steve Martin, Night at the Museum and its sequel with Ben Stiller, and in 2010 Date Night with Tina Fey and Steve Carell.
Lorne Michaels (Toronto, 1944) was the original producer of Saturday Night Live, launched in 1975, which has won a parcel of Emmy Awards and launched the careers of John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase, Phil Hartman and many others. In 1980, he wrote and produced Gilda Live, a film version of Radner’s Broadway show directed by Mike Nichols. In the 1990s, he scored major box-office hits with another SNL graduate, Mike Myers, in Wayne’s World and its sequel. Michaels also produced the Canadian movie Brain Candy, starring The Kids in the Hall, another of his discoveries. His long stint as head of one of the most successful shows ever produced for television has placed Michaels in the pantheon of the greatest TV producers in the history of the medium.
After a successful career as an engineer, then a Wall Street banker, Jake Eberts (Montreal, 1941; d. 2012) established Goldcrest Films in the U.K. in 1977. During the 1980s, Goldcrest produced numerous box office hits, including threeOscar winners: Chariots of Fire, Driving Miss Daisy and Dances with Wolves. In 1991, he won a Genie Award for best picture and the Golden Reel Award for the historical drama Black Robe, a Canada/Australia co-production starring Lothaire Bluteau.
Born in Canada, Jeff Skoll (Montreal, 1965) is now one of the richest men in America with a fortune of well over two billion. He was eBay’s first full-time employee and its first president, creating the business plan that the wildly successful Internet auction company still follows. In 2004, he turned his attention to the film business and founded Participant Productions, concentrating on producing films with a strong social message. In 2005 alone Participant released North Country with Charlize Theron and two films starring George Clooney: Good Night, and Good Luck and Syriana. In 2006 it was the Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth, and in 2007 Charlie Wilson’s War starring Tom Hanks. His recent productions include Lincoln and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
Also see: Biograph, Keystone and the Canadian Connection
Also see: Canucks in the Golden Era of Hollywood
Also see: Canucks in Post-War and the Second Golden Era of Hollywood
Wyndham Wise is the former publisher and editor-in-chief of Take One: Film in Canada. He is an Associate Editor at Northernstars.ca and consultant with The Canadian Encyclopedia online. Visit wyndhamsfilmguide.ca.