TORONTO – The Canadian Screen Awards, or should we say the Candys, has made plenty of room for “Room” – a taut mother-son drama that emerged as a late-blooming Oscar contender and made a star out of its nine-year-old leading man Jacob Tremblay.
The Canada-Ireland co-production scored nine wins including best picture, best director for Dublin’s Lenny Abrahamson, best adapted screenplay for Emma Donoghue, best actress for U.S. starlet and Oscar-winner Brie Larson and best actor for Vancouver’s Tremblay.
The pint-sized breakout, outfitted for Sunday’s bash in a dark three-piece pinstriped suit with a red bow tie, claimed the top acting prize and plenty of awwws from the celebrity audience.
“This is amazing. I can’t believe a kid like me won against a bunch of amazing talent. Christopher Plummer, you’re a legend,” said Tremblay, singling out his 86-year-old rival and thanking voters for “the Candy.”
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“I’m not the best at sports. I’m never going to win the Stanley Cup or a gold medal but I love acting and to win an award for something that I love is super special to me.”
Credit show host Norm Macdonald with championing a new name for the Canadian Screen Awards – the Candy, for the late comic John Candy.
During his opening monologue, the standup star and former “Saturday Night Live” regular urged the star-studded array of presenters – including Helen Shaver, Catherine O’Hara and Donald Sutherland – to use the shorter, quippier name.
“I mean, who doesn’t love John Candy?” Macdonald said.
Vancouver-bred Tremblay was the first as he handed the best TV drama actor award to “Orphan Black” actor Ari Millen, preceding that with a joke about his rapid rise to fame.
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“As actors we can all relate to the years of struggle it takes, all the auditions to find the right role. It took me eight gruelling years to finally find my perfect role,” he said to laughs.
Macdonald threw some soft jabs at nominees including Tremblay and Plummer, while riffing on the name of leading TV nominee “Schitt’s Creek,” noting the audience was guaranteed to “hear the word Schitt’s about a hundred times” that night.
Indeed, the CBC sitcom was crowned the top TV comedy, and claimed nine wins overall, including comedy acting prizes for stars Eugene Levy and O’Hara.
Levy thanked his son Dan Levy, a best actor rival and his co-creator on the sitcom, and his daughter Sarah Levy, who also appears on the show.
“The design of this whole thing was for me to be the straight man on the show, working with funny people and being the guy to carry the story I was really excited about the prospect of playing a character that is probably the straightest thing I’ve done in my career,” he said.
“This award only means to me that I failed miserably at that.”
Backstage, Levy and O’Hara expressed support for dubbing the award after their fellow “SCTV” pal.
“John was kind of an iconic Canadian, a funny man, a great actor, just a darling guy to work with and a great friend. And the fact is, I think it is a good name for this award, getting a Candy,” said Levy.
“It may have started out as a bit of a joke but by the end of the show it just seemed, ‘Well, that’s the name of the award.”
Space’s clone drama “Orphan Black” dominated the TV drama categories with seven wins, including best actress and actor trophies for Tatiana Maslany and Millen. It notably missed out on a nomination for best TV drama, a prize that went to Bravo’s “19-2.”
Other multiple winners Sunday included the Paul Gross war film “Hyena Road,” which collected three awards in a pre-telecast ceremony for technical categories including overall sound, sound editing and visual effects.
Meanwhile, the Canada-U.K.-Ireland co-production “Brooklyn” scored wins for best cinematography and original score.
But it was clearly the night for “Room,” and Donoghue said she was glad to have one last celebration with Tremblay in Canada.
“Because we made ‘Room’ in Toronto and then we really launched it at (the Toronto International Film Festival), it feels like the completion of the circle so I couldn’t be happier. This is kind of like a wonderful farewell party to this whole crazy year,” said Donoghue, adding that she hoped to see more remarkable performances from Tremblay.
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“Room” – about a precocious five-year-old who learns he’s spent his entire life in captivity – headed into the gala with a leading 11 nominations and plenty of momentum.
Credit much of that to its leading man, who was just seven when filming took place in Toronto.
Tremblay exploded into a media darling this awards season after heart-melting appearances at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the Critics’ Choice Awards and the Academy Awards.
Another big winner, CBC’s acclaimed miniseries “The Book of Negroes,” collected nine trophies over the course of the week, including wins for lead actress Aunjanue Ellis, lead actor Lyriq Bent and supporting actress Shailyn Pierre-Dixon.
Ellis appeared at Sunday’s televised bash in an ankle-length red gown with the words: “President Obama Take it Down” in black letters on the skirt.
She said on the red carpet it was a reference to the Mississippi state flag, which features the confederate emblem.