O Canada, reliable exporter of industry talent since Hollywood cinema began, you’ve experienced a steep rise and fall at the Oscars, in acting categories specifically, with a deep drought in recent times. What gives, eh?
The future looked quite bright at first. At the second Academy Awards, Toronto-born Mary Pickford snagged actress honors for 1929’s “Coquette.” At the next ceremony, Norma Shearer from Montreal accepted the honor for her role in “The Divorcee.” Shearer would receive four more acting nominations during the 1930s.
By the 1940s, when Canadians Harold Russell and Walter Huston landed supporting actor trophies, the nation’s leafy stamp had been firmly planted on the industry — Pickford, for that matter, had even co-founded United Artists Studios in 1919 — but Oscar honors then eluded the Northern thesps for years on end.
While Canucks Hume Cronyn, John Ireland, Alexander Knox, Raymond Massey, Walter Pidgeon and Lucile Watson all received lead or supporting nominations in the 1940s alone, nearly 50 years passed before Canada could celebrate its next official Oscar-winning performer, when Winnipeg native Anna Paquin, then 11, became the second-youngest person to win (for her supporting role in 1993’s “The Piano”).
Any Canadian close calls? In 1969, Genevieve Bujold received a lead actress nom for “Anne of the Thousand Days.” Supporting consideration went three years in a row to Dan Aykroyd for “Driving Miss Daisy” in 1989, Graham Greene for “Dances With Wolves” the following year and Kate Nelligan in 1991 for “The Prince of Tides,” with no wins.
However, a crop of hot young Canadian actors seems positioned on the verge of Oscar success, including Ryan Gosling, who received an actor nom last year for “Half Nelson.” So, perhaps the nation’s dry spell will break soon and herald another heyday.
Like Gosling, actress Rachel McAdams hails from London, Ontario. Thesp Sarah Polley, who directed the critically acclaimed feature “Away From Her” this year, was born in Toronto. Seth Rogen, the 25-year-old “Knocked Up” phenom (and co-scripter of “Superbad”) grew up in Vancouver.
According to Stephen Waddell, national exec director of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists, Canadians obsess over Oscars the way Americans do.
“Well, yeah,” Waddell says. “And one would hope that we’d see Ryan Gosling do well (this year). Sarah Polley in the directing category would be terrific. And actor Gordon Pinsent, who’s an absolute icon in Canada, did an amazing job in Polley’s film. He’s been acting in Canada for 40 years. I’d like to see him get a nomination.”
Gosling adds that Canadians tend to get revved up about Canadians everywhere.
“Canadians know every single musician, actor and athlete there is on every level,” he says. “There can be an actor in a commercial — that’s the most he’s ever done — and if a Canadian’s watching with a group of Americans, he’ll go, ‘You know that guy’s Canadian.’ …What’s exciting about Canadians is that they get excited about the littlest thing.”
Does Gosling want to win an Oscar for Canada?
“Basically, I feel like those things are for your mom,” Gosling says, “because no one has put more work into you than her. My mom first, Canada second.”