This year’s Toronto Film Festival has been packed with strong male performances, including Johnny Depp (“Black Mass”), Eddie Redmayne (“The Danish Girl”), Robert Redford (“Truth”) and Michael Keaton (“Spotlight”). But the actor who drew the biggest cheers from the crowds in Canada was 8-year-old newcomer Jacob Tremblay in Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room,” adapted from Emma Donoghue’s 2010 best-selling novel.
Tremblay plays Jack, a young boy with scraggly long hair who has spent his entire life locked in a garden shed with his Ma (Brie Larson), a kidnapping victim. Half of the movies features Jack and Ma as hostages to Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), until they finally try to escape in a harrowing sequence.
Tremblay’s performance has received rave reviews, and catapulted him into the Oscar race. If he’s nominated as lead actor — he’s virtually in every scene in the film — he’ll tie Jackie Cooper (1931’s “Skippy”) as the category’s youngest nominee in Academy history, since Tremblay will be 9 when the nominations are announced in January. He could also be placed in best supporting actor. A24, which releases the film on Oct. 16, hasn’t decided where to campaign him yet.
Abrahamson discovered Tremblay, who lives in Vancouver with his family, after conducting a casting call throughout North America. “I don’t think there would have been a film if we didn’t find Jake,” the director said at an audience Q&A earlier this week. Tremblay spoke to Variety for one of his first interviews shortly after “Room’s” Toronto debut.
Had you been to a movie premiere before?
This would be my second premiere, although the movie is my third.
What was your first?
“Smurfs 2.” But instead of a red carpet, it was a blue carpet.
Have you always wanted to act?
When I was little, I didn’t even know what acting was. But I was in commercials — baby toy commercials like Fisher-Price.
How did you get the part in “Room”?
First, my manager sent a role for me to practice. I filmed scenes with a video camera and sent it to Lenny, the director. And then I got a callback, so we went to L.A.
Did you read the script?
They told me the story. I never read the book.
When did you meet Brie?
Not in L.A. I met her in a pizza place when we started filming the movie in Toronto. She was really, really awesome. I was first shy when I met her. But my mom said, “How about she comes over to play?” So then she came over, and we’re best friends now.
What did you guys do?
We played Lego. That was the main thing we played every single day — on the set and even off the set. I built a little boat, a police motorcycle and a fireman motorcycle, the “Stars Wars” set, the “Ninja Turtles” lair and that was all.
Did you grow your hair out for the part?
No, it was a wig. It was a really itchy wig. Ahhh. Eggs are horrible. Not eggs — eggs are actually pretty good. Wigs are horrible.
What made it so bad?
I didn’t like it. I looked like a girl.
How did you prepare to play Jack?
I prepared myself by thinking of what’s happening. I pretended I’m Jack, and I rolled up in a rug and got in a car and jumped out and banged my knee, and I went and bumped into a guy and then I went to a hospital and then I’m a normal boy.
Did Brie help your performance?
She did. She told me what’s happening in the scenes to remind me how the scene is going and how we’re supposed to act. She would say, “OK, Jacob! This scene is this.”
What was a hard day on set?
Ummm. A hard day would be the escape scene, because I had to run in only three pairs of socks and it was snowing. It was so cold. Did you see the grass, how wet it was? It was all wet, because of the snow, and it started hailing that day. It was horrible.
Was it difficult rolling out of the carpet in that scene?
No, they only rolled me up a little bit. They would have cars all around with strings attached to the rug, but they CGI-ed it away. I didn’t have to roll out a lot. It was a really heavy rug.
Did you do your own stunts?
Yeah, I did all my own stunts, and I was like Tom Cruise. One part we were rehearsing, and I accidentally did a backflip. [Turns to his father]: This a true story, dad!
How do you get emotional on camera?
I’d think of something very, very sad, and sit in a corner where no one is nearby and think of sad stuff.
What did you think when you first saw the movie?
I got really proud of myself. It gave me some memories of what it was like to film the movie and how good of a job everybody did, so it made me happy.
Do you read your own reviews?
My mom reads them to me.
Have you been to the Oscars?
People say you could get nominated. What would you wear?
I’d wear a tux and nice dress pants and a shirt like this, and probably a black bowtie. That’s what I’m thinking. Or a red bowtie.
What do you do when you’re not acting?
Legos, wearing costumes and jumping around the house, and there’s watching movies. That’s all.
What are your favorite movies?
“Stars Wars.” That’s the only one. Just “Star Wars.”
It’s such an awesome movie. What gave them the idea of a laser sword? That’s so cool.
Are you going to keep acting when you grow up?
Yeah. But if I can’t afford it, I’m going to be a Jedi.