TIFF 2018: Five things you missed at The Death And Life Of John F. Donovan premiere

Xavier Dolan's long-awaited English-language debut finally hit the big screen – and Paris Hilton was there


Quebecois film superstar Xavier Dolan’s years-in-the-making The Life And Death Of John F. Donovan finally hit the big screen. The movie tells the story of young Rupert Turner (Jacob Tremblay), who begins a secret correspondence with popular TV hunk John F. Donovan (Kit Harrington). It’s Dolan’s first English-language feature and features a cast of A-listers that includes Natalie Portman, Thandie Newton, Susan Sarandon and Kathy Bates as well as big-name Canadian actors Sarah Gadon and Emily Hampshire in smaller roles. How excited is Canada for this movie? Federal minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism Pablo Rodriguez was on hand to introduce the young director.

Here are five things you missed.

1. Grumpy journalists and photographers

Can a packed house of movie fans really miss a bunch of stressed-out photographers (who were at least spared the possibility of shooting talent arrivals in the rain)? While the movie’s cast – including Harrington, Sarandon, Newton, Hampshire and Gadon – turned up on time, Dolan was 45 minutes late, meaning the movie began 30 minutes behind schedule. The crowd didn’t seem to mind, as people trickled into the Winter Garden well past the original 6 pm start time. But Dolan’s lateness meant he only had time for photos and didn’t do interviews, causing some grumbling, particularly among the French press.

2. Paris Hilton

Again, does anyone ever really miss Paris Hilton? The Drunk Text singer turned up to support and make out with fiancé Chris Zylka, whose character has sex with Kit Harrington’s character in a nightclub washroom while what sounds like the Analog Fire remix of TR/ST’s Sulk plays on the soundtrack – one of movie’s few non-cringeworthy music choices. If it wasn’t for Xavier Dolan, we might not have even known Paris Hilton was engaged – and perhaps neither would you. You’re welcome. Sincerely, NOW Magazine.

3. Xavier Dolan reading a letter he wrote to Leonardo DiCaprio at age eight

During his introduction, Dolan said nothing about Jessica Chastain’s character being cut out entirely, or pulling the film from the Cannes Film Festival. Instead, he read aloud a letter his younger self wrote to Leonard DiCaprio a week after Titanic’s release in 1999. He added that formative Hollywood films such as Home Alone, Batman Returns and Jumanji inspired The Death And Life Of John F. Donovan. He wanted the film to be the kind of movie that he not only would’ve enjoyed at age 10, but would have given him an example of gayness in mainstream cinema that he could be inspired by.

The film is explicitly personal, though during the Q&A the director expanded upon a recent interview answer he gave in which he says he identifies more closely with the young fanboy Rupert Turner than the established actor with a big following, John F. Donovan. “I don’t feel that I’m hiding myself,” he explained. “In stories that I tell, I try to speak my mind. I don’t feel I’ve concealed anything from anyone.”

4. Motherfuckin’ Kathy Bates

Bates provides comic relief in a small role as Donovan’s no-bullshit agent. She only has a handful of scenes, but elicited the biggest laughs. Her character randomly shows up, delivers some quippy one-liners and leaves. Basically, the vibe of her performance is “I’m Kathy Bates, bitch!” Her presence was missed during the Q&A.

5. Thandie Newton getting candid during the Q&A

British actor Thandie Newton was a highlight in the film and the audience Q&A, which was short. Each member of the cast took turns answering a question about authenticity. Hampshire recommended the book Letters To A Young Poet, which was an early inspiration for the script. Zylka advised the audience member to “stay naive” and Sarandon said the best way to stay “awake in your life” is to not worry about outside validation. But Newton, after initially passing the mic, upped the ante by saying she has often felt she has no identity in life so film sets became a safe space where she could be free. “Authenticity is incredibly difficult as a minority or person of colour or whatever the fuck you want to call it,” she said. “Our society doesn’t allow us to be free. We sit inside these pigeonholes… always remember that you have value.”

Check out some red carpet snaps below:

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Xavier Dolan

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Thandie Newton

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Susan Sarandon

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Kit Harrington

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Sarah Gadon

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Emily Hampshire

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Chris Zylka

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Paris Hilton and Chris Zylka share a totally candid moment.

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