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Don McKellar

Director, Screenwriter, Actor
(b. August 17, 1963 Toronto, Ontario)

The wider Canadian public may recognize him more for his quirky film and television roles, but Don McKellar is known and respected among peers and critics for his multifaceted and prolific contributions to film, television and theatre in Canada. Working as a director, actor, writer and story editor, he has often appeared with multiple credits in a single production. His ongoing collaborations with independent filmmakers such as Bruce McDonald and Atom Egoyan go back to early periods in their careers, and he continues to support the projects of emerging filmmakers; for example, performances in the debut features of filmmakers Soo Lyu (Rub and Tug, 2002) and Helen Lee (The Art of Woo, 2001).

Born in 1962, McKellar was raised in north Toronto in an educated family — his father is a lawyer and his mother a teacher — with community interests in the arts and culture. McKellar began his career in the theatre at a young age; he co-founded Child’s Play Theatre (a Toronto touring company linked to the CentreStage Theatre). Later on, he studied English and theatre at the University of Toronto.

McKellar’s creative persona developed amidst the independent low-budget scene and community collectives and the Kensington Market neighbourhood where he lived as a young man. In 1989, he co-founded the Augusta Company with Daniel Brooks and Tracy Wright, a collective that featured improvisational works, found texts and re-interpretations of traditional works — as well as original material written by McKellar. The company’s spare approach to production focused on the immediacy of the texts.

His first major foray into feature films was in 1987 when he wrote the screenplay for Bruce McDonald’s Roadkill (1989), in which he also starred as an aspiring, but remarkably benign, serial killer. Their collaborations on McDonald’s Highway 61 (1991), Dance Me Outside (1995) and Elimination Dance (1998) added to McKellar’s image as a grassroots creator and new-generation bohemian. With significant roles in Atom Egoyan’s The Adjuster and Exotica, Patricia Rozema’s When Night is Falling and David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ, McKellar has also become a regular screen presence in Canadian features. In 1993, McKellar won the Genie for best supporting actor for his role as a pet shop owner in Exotica, having already been recognized with several Genie nominations for performances in previous films.

While at the Canadian Film Centre, McKellar made his directorial debut with two short films: Blue, which starred David Cronenberg, and The Bloody Nose (both 1992). His joint screenwriting projects with François Girard — Thirty Two Short Films about Glenn Gould (1993) and The Red Violin (1998) — helped earn McKellar his reputation as a multitalented artist/filmmaker and brought him international critical acclaim. Thirty Two Short Films about Glenn Gould is an intimate, reflective work that deliberately dismantles Gould’s story then, in 32 segments, restructures a portrait of the legendary Canadian musician. The film was a critical success, receiving a Special Jury Citation for best Canadian film at the 1993 Toronto Festival of Festivals and winning four Genies, including best picture.

That same year, McKellar wrote the screenplay to Dance Me Outside, about tensions between Aboriginal peoples and dominant English-Canadian society, and later, co-wrote a made-for-television film about Yo Yo Ma, with Atom Egoyan, before reuniting with Girard to co-author and act in The Red Violin. Not unlike their first collaboration, The Red Violin took a musical theme and adopted a segmented structure — five episodic pieces — to create an epic film that follows the journey of one violin through four centuries.

Remarkably, in 1998, McKellar also completed Last Night, his feature directing debut, a pre-millennium exploration of humanity in its final hours. The film was featured at the Cannes Film Festival in 1998, where it won the Prix de la jeunesse. At the 1998 Genie Awards, Last Night competed in three major categories with The Red Violin — including best film, best direction and best screenplay — and Elimination Dance won best live-action short. At the end of the night, McKellar shared the award for best screenplay for The Red Violin and received the Claude Jutra Award for best new film director, although far from a newcomer to Canadian film.

McKellar returned to his own idiosyncrasies and urban neighbourhood experiences to write the television series Twitch City (CBC, 1998, 2000), which was directed by Bruce McDonald and also starred McKellar as the local anti-hero, a TV-watching agoraphobic obsessed with talk shows and a cat. Set in a messy walk-up apartment in Kensington, Twitch City was this generation’s spin on the local sitcom: a cameo by Al Waxman paid homage to the much loved, long-running series King of Kensington. Twitch City ran for two seasons and 13 episodes.

McKellar’s multiple talents and inspirations (his resumé reveals special personal interests in the clarinet, painting and drawing, magic and cooking) are matched only by his ability to continually collaborate on and produce engaging and provocative work in film, television and theatre. Among other current projects, McKellar is working on a screen adaptation of Blindness, Nobel Prize–winning author José Saramago's novel.

Film and video work includes

Material World, 1990 (actor; TV)
The Secret Goldfish, 1990 (actor)
The Bloody Nose, 1992 (director)
Blue, 1992 (director; writer)
Coleslaw Warehouse, 1992 (actor)
Giant Steps, 1992 (actor)
My Niagara, 1992 (actor)
L'ombre, 1992 (actor)
The Princess Who Would Not Smile, 1992 (actor)
Yummy Fur, 1992 (writer; not produced)
Kids In the Hall series, 1993 (actor; TV, one episode)
Tragedia/tragédie/tragedy, 1993 (actor)
Arrowhead, 1994 (actor)
Camilla, 1994 (actor)
Robocop series, 1994 (actor; TV, one episode)
A Portrait of Atom, 1995 (director; writer; actor)
Take 20: The Retrospective, 1995 (narrator)
In the Presence of Mine Enemies, 1996 (actor; TV)
Joe's So Mean to Josephine, 1996 (actor)
Never Met Picasso, 1996 (actor)
Side Effects series, 1996 (actor; TV, one episode)
Sarabande: Bach Cello Suite #4 from Yo Yo Ma, Inspired By Bach, 1996 (actor)
Webhead, CBC Roughcuts, 1996 (actor; TV)
Once A Thief series, 1997 (actor; TV, one episode)
American Whiskey Bar, 1998 (actor)
Crimes of the Future, 1998 (actor)
Elimination Dance, 1998 (co-writer with Bruce McDonald, Michael Ondaatje; actor)
The Herd, 1998 (actor)
The Passion of Ayn Rand, 1998 (actor; TV)
Twitch City series, 1998-2000 (writer; actor; TV)
Sea People, 1999 (actor; TV)
This Might Be Good from Preludes, 2000 (actor)
The Art of Woo, 2001 (actor)
The Big Show, 2001 (actor; TV)
Degrassi: The Next Generation series, 2001 (actor; TV, one episode)
Foreign Objects, 2001 (actor; TV)
I Was A Rat, 2001 (actor; TV)
Made In Canada, 2001 (actor; TV)
The Event, 2002 (actor)
Rub & Tug, 2002 (actor)
The Seen, animated series, 2002 (voice)
Trudeau miniseries, 2002 (actor; TV)
Odd Job Jack, animated series, 2003 (voice)
Public Domain, 2003 (actor)
Clean, 2004 (actor)