The scene on stage as Ennis Esmer hosts the ACTRA Awards ceremony.
The acting community in Toronto (and indeed, Canada) suffered many untimely losses this past year, including many actors in the prime of their careers. That point was driven home last night at the ninth annual ACTRA Awards in Toronto ceremony at the Carlu, where two of the four awards for excellence in Canadian film, television, and radio acting were posthumously awarded to Tracy Wright and Maury Chaykin—both of whom were working right up until the end.
Wright, who Torontoist named a Hero of 2010 in December, won the Outstanding Performance (female) award, in a tie with Trigger co-star Molly Parker. A visibly emotional Don McKellar, the late actress’s husband, accepted the award, saying, “This award means more to me than any I’ve ever won,” and thanking the cast and crew of Trigger for working so hard to wrap the film before Wright’s condition rendered her unable to continue filming.
Left to right: Fiona Reid, Don McKellar, and Susannah Hoffman. Don McKellar accepted an award on behalf of his wife, Tracy Wright, and Susannah Hoffman accepted one on behalf of husband Maury Chaykin; both Wright and Chaykin passed away last year.
“We wrapped Trigger about a year ago, and seeing those clips tonight was tough,” McKellar told us after the ceremony. “But on the other hand, this [award] is very moving, and it’s great that it’s shared with Molly—I didn’t expect that.” The three had a close longstanding relationship, and had collaborated professionally as far back as CBC’s late ’90s sitcom Twitch City.
Chaykin’s Outstanding Performance (male) award, for his role in the HBO Canada comedy series Less Than Kind, was accepted by his widow, Susannah Hoffman, and their daughter Rose. Hoffman elicited strong applause, then laughs, by telling the audience, “He was so proud of how [Less Than Kind] was Canadian, and how it celebrated that—though he probably would have preferred it be shot in L.A. instead of Winnipeg.”
This bittersweet feeling carried throughout the evening’s ceremony as more actors were recognized with posthumous awards or in a memorial slideshow—including Gina Wilkinson, Leslie Neilson, Jackie Burroughs, Graham Harley, and just this past weekend, Cayle Chernin—but it still had its lighthearted moments. Possibly our favourite: when host Ennis Esmer (CTV’s The Listener) took aim at Canada’s lack of bad boy actors, like Charlie Sheen.
“It’s tough to be an actor in Canada,” Fiona Reid, winner of this year’s Award for Excellence, told us after the ceremony, statuette in hand. “You have to be able to do everything in order to make a living, you need that versatility. Someone like Sean Cullen; he’s an actor, a comedian, a musician, does voiceover work for animation, all sorts of other things—that’s a Canadian career.” (Evidence she might be right: even the evening’s musical guests, local rockers Boys Who Say No, have several ACTRA members in their ranks.)
Sean Cullen, winner for his work on Jimmy Two-Shoes.
Reid, a tireless working actor and proponent for performers’ rights in Canada, used her acceptance speech to highlight ACTRA’s mission of ensuring that its members be fairly compensated for their work. “Actors do not, and must not, work for free,” she declared, noting that residuals on past work must sustain actors in between the long periods between gigs.
“You learn so much from your peers in this business,” she said to us after the ceremony, “and this really is such a strong and feeling community. In this year of ridiculous loss of so many amazing artists, coming together on a night like this—this sort of thing really does bring us all closer.”
Photos by Joel Charlebois/Torontoist.