Breaking The Mould
100 CANADIANS TO WATCH
Against the grain, they find a place that is theirs alone
They blaze their own trails, leaving behind convention, deference—the old ways of thinking. Forget peace, order and good government: there are some who value a richer experience, who
have the courage to change the way people think, to shake up a tired art form, or to realize a dream that everyone else said was impossible. Leaders or visionaries, they walk the road less travelled.
Evan Solomon and Andrew Heintzman
MAGAZINE CO-FOUNDERS Back in 1992, two 24-year-olds with master’s degrees from McGill University started up a short-fiction magazine with $800 and a Toronto basement for office space. “We were beautifully naïve neophytes, highly indoctrinated in academia,” says Shift publisher Heintzman. “We suffered from a bad case of ‘academentia,’ ” adds editor Solomon. But since then, Shift has come down to earth—and found its niche. Plugging into the Nineties’ hottest issue—the burgeoning technological revolution, approached with a hip, sociological take—the 75,000-circulation monthly has become de rigueur reading for the Gen X set. “What happened with Shift,” says Solomon, “was that it became a response to the question, Will someone please take the story of the post-baby boom seriously?’
But it’s really the story of a mind-set change.” Now, with spacious new offices in downtown Toronto, and with Montreal-based software company Behaviour Publishing as new owners, the publishing duo are busy putting the lie to any lingering slacker stereotypes. ‘The fact of it is, we built this from nothing,” says Heintzman, “and where we’re going is a very exciting place.”
ACTOR She is only 18 but has had more screen time than most actors twice her age. Polley’s romance with the camera began at the age of 5, when she played a small role as a street waif in the movie One Magic Christmas. By 8, she was starring in Terry Gilliam’s epic extravaganza, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Then, for five years, when not in school, she spent her spare time being a TV star, as the spunky heroine of CBC’s Road to Avonlea. Last year, she took on her first grown-up role, playing a skittish, lovestruck teenager in the film Joe’s So Mean to Josephine. But now the former child star is saying one final farewell to childhood with a quietly devastating performance as the survivor of a schoolbus crash in Atom Egoyan’s Cannes sensation, The Sweet Hereafter. Polley—a devoted political activist and an outspoken critic of show business—says the film made her take acting seriously for the first time. “It was the real thing,” she avows. “I still don’t care much about a career, but I have a new respect for acting. I think of it as more than a hobby now.” Some hobby. Polley’s intelligence, and her instinct for emotional truth, impressed Egoyan. “She’s so wise,” he says. “I can’t imagine anyone who has been in the business as long as she has being so completely levelheaded.” With her disarming passion for art and politics, Sarah Polley is approaching stardom on her own terms.
Capt. Lee-Anne Quinn
ARMY NURSE She practises her profession, usually armed to the teeth. “I carry a C-8 rifle, an 8-mm sidearm and 150 rounds of ammunition,” says the 36-year-old Canadian army officer, “because you’re no use to your patients if you’re dead.” Quinn, originally from Peterborough, Ont., is what is known in military parlance as a nursing air evacuation officer, a specialist in the difficult art of extricating injured soldiers—and sometimes civilians—from active battlefields. She performed that function with distinction in Somalia, where she commanded an all-male unit that co-ordinated emergency evacuations for 29,000 UN troops from 29 separate nations. “I spent 60 per cent of my time up in the air in helicopters,” she recalls. “Treating the wounded inside the narrow confines of a bucking Bell 212 chopper is a whole different kind of nursing.” Since returning from Somalia, her second UN tour, Quinn has led a more placid life, earning a bachelor of science degree at the University of Ottawa and finishing a year-long French language course in Valcartier, Que. But she yearns for more duty abroad. "It’s why I joined up,” she says. “You never get a chance to get bored."
PUBUSHER/EDITOR As a gawky teen transplanted from Fiji to a Vancouver high school, Azam recalls the agony of feeling she was an ugly duckling. Now a 27-year-old University of Toronto graduate, she is the founding editor, publisher and driving force behind Reluctant Hero, a fledgling quarterly written by and for girls aged 13 to 16. “Our mandate is to give girls a vehicle for expressing themselves,” says Azam, “to encourage them to see they don’t have to be skinny or have model looks to be in a magazine.” With its third issue due out this month, Reluctant
Hero now boasts 2,870 subscribers. Last fall, it was singled out by USA Today as one of a new breed of teen publications that are challenging the traditional glossy mould: its chatty newsprint fare offering a roundtable on why teens smoke and tips on handling sexual come-ons from strangers.
Azam conceived the idea while working on a study tracking how countries had implemented their commitments to girls made during the 1979 Year of the Child.
Her research took her into Toronto high schools. Then, as a delegate to the 1995 United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing, listening to horrendous tales from the Third World, she realized: “There were just as many girls right here who didn’t have a voice.” Azam took $14,000 in savings from her work as a freelance high-tech writer and recruited an editorial board from a half-dozen Canadian and U.S. schools.
Now, Reluctant Hero is self-financing, and Azam is currently co-authoring a book on teen body image. “I hope this will empower girls,” she says. “Maybe they’ll be better equipped than I was.”
JOURNALIST She left her native Sarnia, Ont., when she was 17, to enrol in a course for promising young students at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto. Once there, Giese met a teacher “who taught me that the first thing a good scientist learns is to establish a point of view and defend it.” Ever since, Giese has been doing just that. Eschewing science, she completed a BA at the University of Toronto, where she also wrote investigative
pieces for The Varsity. In 1993, she landed a job at the left-leaning This Magazine, before moving to Xtra!, Toronto’s gay and lesbian newspaper, where she is now features editor. A regular panelist this past season on TVOntario’s literary program Imprint, Giese, 27, has also done guest appearances on CBC Newsworld’s highly charged Face Off. Her next project? “I would love to write an actionadventure screenplay,” she laughs, “in which the kick-ass hero is a woman.” Giese would be a natural to play the lead: she recently took up boxing in an effort to unwind after work. “It’s just so taboo for a girl to hit anyone,” says Giese. “And I love breaking rules.”
ACTOR She has the strange distinction of being the only actress to appear in all 13 episodes of CBC’s satirical comedy series The Newsroom. The show’s capricious creator and star, Ken Finkleman, kept writing women out of the script, and replacing them. But Allen survived. As Audrey, The Newsroom's hip young intern, she was the one sympathetic soul in a shark pool of opportunists, the naïve yet discerning observer who saw through everyone else. Even when she was acting compliant, the rebellion was visible in her eyes. Allen has trouble keeping secrets from a lens. But the camera likes what it sees—a mix of vulnerability and insouciance. With her very first professional audition at 18, Allen landed a lead role, as a teenage prostitute in ABC’s Spencer: Ceremony. The Toronto native went on to star in two more TV movies, Lives of Girls and Women and Lyddie. And she recently completed her first big-screen feature: adopting a Scottish accent, Allen co-stars with Jonathan Pryce and Trainspottings Jonny Lee Miller in Regeneration, a First World War drama shot in Glasgow. Now 22, while waiting to see if The Newsroom will be renewed, she is shooting Platinum, a CBC pilot about the record industry. Playing a punk-rock singer, she gets to amplify her own irrepressible sense of mischief. By becoming an actor, “I originally thought I could get away from the horrible person I am and play other people,” says Allen. “Now, I’m finally finding out that it’s about exposing yourself.”
GUITARIST When hard-core fans of the blues gather ohjSáturday afternoons for the regular jam session at Bud’s on Broadway in Saskatoon, chances are they are watching a 13-year-old. Cook, who has been playing blues bars across the Prairies since he was 8, has already earned the reputation of being one of Canada’s most promising blues guitarists. The Grade 7 student, who has played with the likes of Colin James, Sass Jordan and the Toronto blues group Big Sugar, plans to open for British blues patriarch Long John Baldry in Edmonton in July and, with his three-member band The Blues Boys, tape the Super Dave Osborne Show in Vancouver. “My dream is to make playing the blues a career,” says Cook.
Given his age, he seems well on his way to living that dream.
Elspeth Lynn and Lorraine Tao
CREATIVE TEAM Call it a knack for knickers. When Lynn and Tao had to come up with a new advertising campaign for Fruit of the Loom women’s underwear, the duo from the Toronto agency Leo Burnett Company knew what they did not want to do: the same old thing. “Most other advertising for women’s undergarments was really directed towards men,” says art director Lynn, 31. “And,” adds copywriter Tao, 28, “most TV ads were just women in their underwear dancing around.” What resulted from their deliberations was one of the hippest and most effective TV campaigns in years, featuring a parade of underthings on a clothesline that contrasted the male image of women’s underwear with the Fruit of the Loom message of practicality and wearability—lacy G-strings versus cottony comfort. Among other laurels, the ads won Lynn and Tao gold at the 1996 Bessies, the Canadian TV advertising awards, and the team duplicated the feat this year with another gold Bessie for their Fruit of the Loom men’s-line ads. (If anything, the men’s ads are even more provocative: one spot features a clothesline of briefs bobbing to the just-thisside-of-raunchy tune Do Your Boys Hang Low?) Recently, when the team turned their post-feminist sensibilities—and social conscience—to Special K cereal, they created yet another refreshingly savvy campaign, with magazine ads encouraging women to reject unrealistic stereotypes about thinness, body image and beauty. ‘We just took an opportunity to talk about how women really feel: self-conscious about their bodies, the way advertising has made them feel,” says Lynn. “And,” adds Tao, “we don’t want to be harder on women than they already are on themselves.”
POLITICAL AIDE Her job title is simple: chief of staff to Finance Minister Paul Martin. But her unofficial job description is far more complex: it includes acting as the political eyes and ears, consensus builder, information clearinghouse, social conscience, and, quite often, verbal sparring partner for the famously combative Martin. O’Leary, 37, does all that so well that many senior bureaucrats describe her as the most effective political aide they have ever seen. And, says one civil servant who has witnessed some of the duo’s respectful but raucous policy
debates, “the Terrie and Paul show may be Ottawa’s best theatre.”
Martin credits O’Leary, a Toronto native with a long history of volunteering with the mentally disabled, with being the driving force behind measures in recent budgets that provided tax credits for families with disabled members, and new incentives for education. The relationship with her boss, says O’Leary, is “like brother and sister: he understands that the reason I give him such a hard time is because I’m so fond of him.” In turn, says a smiling Martin, “when the department saw that my own assistant was willing to tell me to go to hell, they came to understand that I was prepared to entertain opinions other than my own.”
ARTIST She is blithely untroubled by viewers who fail to connect with her avant-garde art. “Some people look at the work and say, ‘So what?’ ” says Korean-born Yoon, 36. “But that’s OK, I’m not interested in hockey.” In fact, Yoon’s edgy, ironic art is beginning to attract a lot of attention—and critical acclaim. “I am driven by ideas,” says the artist, who uses photographic and video imagery to explore complex political and social issues. In A Group of Sixty-Seven, an ambitious work in the permanent collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Yoon, an assistant professor of art at Burnaby’s Simon Fraser University, tackles the question of national identity. The work is deceptively simple: photographs of 67 Korean-Canadians standing in front of paintings by
Lawren Harris and Emily Carr. The title clearly refers to Canada’s formation in 1867, but it also hints at suggestions of racism. Notes Yoon: “1867 is the year when certain immigration restrictions against Asian nationals were lifted.” A Group of Sixty-Seven also plays on the Group of Seven, the first artists to assert a distinct Canadian identity. The landscape has changed, but as an artist, Yoon remains “interested in how we as citizens forge common ground while we respect our differences.”
Shari Hollett, Chris Earle
ACTORS/WRITERS In mining the intimacies of their lives, they have found comedic gold. Two plays on personal themes—pregnancy in the 1993 fringe hit Expectation, and parenthood in their current success, Big Head Goes to Bed, now playing in Toronto—have charmed parents and non-parents alike. “We’re drawn to how well theatre can communicate the universality of human experience,” says Earle, 33. Married since 1995, they caught the acting bug early on—Hollett, now 36, in a primary-school production of Nicholas Nickleby in Toronto, and Earle in high-school productions in his native Montreal. They met in 1990 at Toronto’s Second City, which Hollett calls “an incredible training ground for performers and for writers.” Now on their own, the couple are immersing themselves in all aspects of production—and may be signalling a new direction for Canadian theatre. “What with cutbacks and theatre closings,” says Hollett, “I feel that self-producing is an important step into the future face of theatre. It’s part of how we’re going to keep going.”
VIDEO PRODUCER “News has got to change drastically or you’re not going to have our generation watching,” Marshall warned a convention of rapt television executives last fall in Berlin. Ever since, network honchos have been beating a path to the Toronto door of his Channel Zero, a quarterly video magazine that is attempting to revolutionize TV news with a handful of twentysomething staffers and a distinctly personal take on global events, unfettered by corporate ownership or commercials.
Marshall, 29, was on the mend from a bad experiment with cocaine in Belize two years ago when he conceived the notion of an independent alternative for the MTV generation. With $100,000 from three investors, he produced Planet Street, a collage of gritty back-alley tales from a 1995 world tour that was hailed by The Village Voice and Wired magazine. This March, a third VHS edition called The Electronic Eye: Canada as a Surveillance Society became what he calls “a Trojan horse”—invading the ultra-traditional airwaves of the CBC’s National Magazine.
Now, the Montreal-raised Marshall finds himself courted by worried network planners anxious to win back a generation that has been deserting the tube in statistically significant droves. With $1.5 million from an anonymous angel, he is attempting to set up an international network of amateurs armed with video cameras to tell the stories that he says the mainstream media is missing. “TV is at the end of an epoch,” Marshall argues. “The news right now is unapologetic in its agenda: it’s corporate—it wants to sell you cars. Our whole covert agenda is to create media that inspires sociopolitical action instead of consumption.”
Callum Keith Rennie
ACTOR He has the rugged cool of a bad boy who has been to hell and back, looks better for it, and now humors the camera with good behavior. Hollywood stars tend to tumble through addiction and recovery after they get famous. But Vancouver native Rennie got it out of his system before he started. While working as a stage actor, he says he spent his 20s drinking. Then, at 33, he quit. “I got a piece of glass in my eye in a bar fight,” he recalls, then adds, with laconic understatement: “I thought, This has gone far enough.’ ” Now 36, he has been acting in film and TV for just four years, but is racing to catch up. While living in Vancouver, he paid his dues playing criminals in TV series such as The Commish, Lonesome Dove, The Highlander and The X-Files. In 1993, he turned heads with a feature role opposite Sandra Oh in Double Happiness. He dismisses the character as “a vacuous middle-class male,” but his talent in the role was obvious. As a recovering junkie in Curtis’ s Charm, Rennie finally got to show some edge. Then, playing a laconic guitarist in Bruce McDonald’s punk rockumentary, Hard Core Logo, he displayed something rare in Canadian cinema: the quietly smouldering charisma of a movie star. This fall, replacing David Marciano, Rennie will co-star with Paul Gross as the new cop sidekick in CTV’s Due South. But in case anyone thinks this actor is going straight, Rennie is quick to point out: “I play a cop like I play a bad guy.”
WRITER/DIRECTOR With her first movie, she made what is arguably the most provocative debut in the annals of Canadian cinema. Certainly to those who did not see the film, it could not have sounded more outrageous. Kissed, based on a story by Canadian author Barbara Gowdy, is the sympathetic tale of a young female necrophile working in a funeral home who takes sexual liberties with dead white males. But what shocked many of those who actually saw Kissed was that it was so sensitive, so poetic and so strangely inoffensive. And although Vancouver writerdirector Stopkewich, 33, achieved notoriety by breaking a taboo, she proved her talent by doing it with taste and feminist intelligence—by lifting up a rock and finding a perfectly good metaphor. Her grace with the camera has earned her a Hollywood agent. Meanwhile, Kissed has been sold around the world, reinforcing Canada’s growing reputation for cinematic kink. The image is not as unCanadian as it seems, says Stopkewich. “Being Canadian is about trying to figure out who you are. And sexuality is where you’re most vulnerable—the closest to who you truly are. It’s ripe for exploration.” Picking up where she left off, Stopkewich is already planning her next movie— based on Gowdy’s first novel, Falling Angels.
ACTOR As the star of Kissed, she became the key to Lynne Stopkewich’s mission impossible: drawing a compassionate, likable portrait of a necrophile. For the Vancouver-born actress, the role was a challenge. Parker had to perform many of her scenes alone—or with an actor playing dead—including the first major love scene of her career. After Kissed, more conventional roles began rolling in. In August, she stars as the target of a serial killer in a Fox mini-series titled Intensity. Parker, 24, will also appear in Twitch City, an upcoming CBC comedy series directed by Bruce McDonald. “I’ve had nothing but positive response from people who have seen the film,” she says. “It’s certainly been a vehicle for me to prove myself as an actor.” Molly Parker is in hot demand, not because she pretended to love the dead, but because of the light she brings to the living—an ability to hold a long close-up, in silence, while the camera reads her thoughts.