By Karoun Chahinian
Ryerson made a mark at the Canadian Screen Awards (CSA) on March 13 with 15 nominees and one winner.
Ari Millen from the sci-fi series Orphan Black won Best Performance by an Actor in a Continuing Leading Dramatic Role.
“[When I found out I was nominated], my reaction was a mix of humbling and disbelief,” said Millen. “I was very happy to be included amongst a very strong group of talented people this year. When I won, I was extremely humbled and it was very unexpected.”
The show premiered in 2013 and follows the life of Sarah Manning, an English orphan and con-artist who is revealed to have many clones around the world. Millen plays Mark Rollins, who is first introduced in Season 2 and is a homicidal member of the extremist Prolethean clan.
Orphan Black aired three seasons with the fourth set to release in spring 2016.
Along with Millen, Ryerson Theatre Performance Acting Director Cynthia Ashperger was nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for her work in The Waiting Room.
Set in Toronto, the film illustrates the professional struggles of former Yugoslavian refugee Jasmin Geljo who is trying to find work as an actor. Ashperger plays the lead’s ex-wife who is suffering from terminal cancer. Director Igor Drljaca said the inspiration for the film was drawn from Jasmin’s personal experience of moving to Canada and his pursuit of an acting career.
“We constructed a narrative that embraced his experiences in Canada, the success he had in Yugoslavia and his road to becoming a cultural worker and the difficulties to work as an immigrant,” said Drljaca.
The message of the film rang true for the majority of the cast members who are from the Bosnian community, including Ashperger. She expressed that after working as a successful performer in Croatia, she experienced cultural shock after moving to Toronto permanently in 1991 at the age of 28.
“It is very difficult to get a job, so for me being nominated is nothing short of a miracle,” said Ashperger. “It is quite astonishing that I would be nominated for an award, it was a wonderful honour.”
The film was also featured in the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2015.
She met lead actor Jasmin “back in the day” when her theatre school in Zagreb, Croatia visited his school in Sarajevo, Bosnia and their friendship and acting relationship grew from there.
“Now 32 years later, we got to act together and we’re both nominated for Canadian Screen Awards,” said Ashperger. “The awards have made me really proud to be Canadian.”
Millen was one of Ashperger’s former students and was initially asked to present her award category, but due to scheduling issues, he presented the Golden Screen Award for TV Drama/Comedy.
Another one of Ashperger’s former students was recording artist Peter Katz, who was also nominated Sunday evening for Achievement in Music- — Original Song. He co-wrote the song “Where the Light Used to Be” with Karen Kosowski for the action-packed thriller 88, which was written and directed by two Ryerson graduates, April Mullen and Tim Doiron.
“Their film started getting higher and higher profile over the year and they asked if I’d write a song for them for the climax scene of their movie. We literally watched the screen and wrote the whole song while watching it,” said Katz.
“Most of my song-writing processes are trying to pull ideas out of the air, you don’t know exactly what direction you’re going. But when you have such a clear inspiration in front of you, it’s limiting, but that limitation is actually liberating.”
The film is about a young woman attempting to find out who was responsible for the murder of her boyfriend after she wakes up in a roadside diner not remembering how she got there.
While on the treadmill one day, Katz recieved a message from Doiron saying the song was nominated for a screen award.
“I was flabbergasted,” said Katz. “I lived more in the music world, so it wasn’t really on my radar that I would get a nomination for a screen award.”
Katz described his evening at the awards as both surreal, but also an untraditional Ryerson reunion. He was able to see Ashperger along with many other fellow theatre school alumni.
“It was surreal to be sitting there and see Martin Short and Donald Sutherland, it was a fun thing to be a part of and to see everything behind the scenes,” said Katz. “It was also great to see alumni. You know how hard everyone works, so it’s nice to see them get a little pat on the back, it brings people together.”
Millen also said the CSAs are a great opportunity to showcase Canada’s talent, which is often hidden in the shadow of “big brother America.”
“One question I was aked often that night was whether Canada does enough to promote its own. Certainly having an event like that is exactly what we need,” said Millen. “Canada has a handicap being next to Hollywood, but [still] has a lot to offer. I think our industry tries its best to recognize our value, but it’s hard to convince the rest of the public. This will really go a long way to help Canada’s brand and expose the public to what we’re making and hopefully have them choose a Canadian product over an American one.”