The Alias Grace and True Detective star reflects on how movies are fostering deeper connections in a time of social distancing.
When I was 14, come Friday night, I’d meet my best friend at the movies. We practically spent our entire weekends there. We weren’t particular about what was playing; like all teenagers, we just wanted to get out of our houses. We’d buy our tickets and then sneak into R rated movies, like American Psycho, Scream, or whatever would freak us out the most. A pack of milk duds later, with popcorn stuck to the bottom of our shoes, we’d ramble home dreaming of a future filled with a kind of freedom that comes only with being an adult. We knew there was a whole world out there, and the silver screen was the only way to catch a glimpse of it. For us restless teens, it was the fastest way to escape and feel some sense of autonomy. With time, I grew to learn that no matter how old you are, films can transport you, grant you access into worlds that you might never have known existed.
As I grew up, my love of film grew with me, so much so that I chose to study it at university. My tastes and knowledge matured, and it gave me the foundation and the confidence to pursue my career as an actor professionally. It wasn’t long before a short film I starred in made it into the Toronto International Film Festival. The first press event I ever attended was at the Royal York Hotel. At the podium stood David Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen. I remember it so clearly: They were addressing the press about their latest film, and I was craning my neck to see them both; all the attention in the room was on them, and I was thinking, “I wish one day I get to work on a movie with them.” A few years later, that wish came true, as I was cast in the film A Dangerous Method. The following September, I stepped out onto one of my first red carpets, to hundreds of screaming fans, a rapid succession of flashbulbs and people screaming my name. It was so surreal to go from the girl sneaking into movies to the woman in them.
When the pandemic hit, I was prepping a project in California. I flew back to Toronto at the end of February and haven’t left. The project shut down, and my former life (the one where I was out in the world) disappeared. I’ve spent more time at home in Toronto than I have in the past decade. Days turned into months, and with no real sense of certainty about the future, I have never felt closer to that restless 14-year-old seeking escape and hope in movies. I knew this year’s TIFF would reflect the time we struggle to live through; art always does.
When Cameron Bailey, co-head and Artistic Director of TIFF, asked that I be an Ambassador this year, I thought about my younger self—the one standing in the back of the Royal York Hotel hoping one day I would find my place in the community. While the festival is bereft of red carpets and live press conferences, it has given me the space to think about how meaningful this festival has been to me—not only as an actor from Toronto but also as a girl who has always loved going to the movies. With the traditional pomp and circumstance of their exhibition taken away, it’s the films themselves that have received the spotlight. That’s what makes this city unique and why TIFF has become a global brand: It is because of its mission to celebrate stories from people all over the world, and in doing so, creating a more profound sense of community. At TIFF, it has never been about just one country and only one way of making movies. This year, I saw 27 films from around the world, and the ones that stood out the most were from traditionally underrepresented people and regions in cinema, a movie like Night of the Kings and Inconvenient Indian. Both stories offered a universal experience of humanity that invited me to understand a new perspective in a very intimate way. Now more than ever, we want to feel connected to one another, and we are doing just that by watching a film. The medium has become the tie that binds, even though we feel farther apart than ever before.
The other night I picked up three of my good friends (who are all in my bubble). We drove down to Ontario Place and watched a movie hosted by Canada Goose for TIFF. It’s September in Toronto, and the nights are getting colder. Piled high with blankets and clutching hot teas, we sat under the stars in pods six feet apart and were moved by a film that we might never have seen if it weren’t for this film festival. It was as if I was a teen again, happy to get out of my house for the night, giddy to be in the excellent company, and excited to be at the movies after months of streaming things at home. While this TIFF will always remain markedly different from the previous years and hopefully from the years to come, one thing remains unchanged for me: I love movies because of their humanity. It doesn’t matter if it’s a star-studded premiere or with a handful of friends, I could be in a gown or zipped up in Canada Goose; I will always be seeking out the thrill of a great film like I have been doing since I was that restless and ever-curious 14-year-old.