Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A small part in Layton's life

Extras hired to fill seats during filming of biopic

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More than 160 Winnipeggers turned up Tuesday afternoon for a chance to recreate the history of a Canadian icon.

An open call for extras was issued to fill the Centennial Concert Hall to recreate one of the late NDP leader's most exciting moments for the film Smilin' Jack: The Jack Layton Story.

The scene that required all that local talent was Jack Layton's walk onto the Toronto Convention Centre stage after the NDP was elected as Canada's official Opposition in May of 2011.

The open call brought out Layton fans, colleagues and even out-of-towners, all looking to get a front-row seat to the Canadian movie-making magic.

The star-struck extras packed the theatre, an excited buzz permeating the air as crews dressed the set and tested lighting. Each extra donned an NDP Jack Layton pin with an uncanny image of Canadian actor Rick Roberts looking every bit like Layton.

Local lawyer Stephen Friesen took a break from practising criminal law to try his hand at acting in the CBC biopic.

"I've been an extra in a few things, and I love seeing the behind-the-scenes stuff. But honestly, I was really inspired by Layton in his last election campaign and the energy he had. It's a great thing to feel a part of it," Friesen said.

Aspiring local actor Charles Fernandes has been working on the set for weeks. He said the experience is helping him get his foot in the film industry's door.

"I want to do anything I can that will enhance me as an actor so I do as much stuff as I can, whether it's auditions or extra work. It's so fantastic to see how movies are made. Also, I was a huge supporter of Jack Layton and anything I could do to be a part of his biopic, I was happy," Fernandes said.

Local and national politicians even answered the casting call. Minister of Health Theresa Oswald sat in the front row awaiting her close-up, while former cabinet minister Judy Wasylycia-Leis and city councillor Ross Eadie mingled with fellow extras in between takes.

Tania Cameron, an NDP candidate from Kenora in the last two federal elections, drove all the way from the Ontario town just to be a part of the film honouring her late colleague.

"I considered Jack to be a friend and a mentor. He was the most approachable man I have ever known. I connected with him on a very personal level," Cameron said.

Cameron said though the experience of seeing Roberts in costume as Layton was difficult, she wouldn't have missed the opportunity.

"On the way in, I said to my mom 'I'm just so glad to be a part of this. This feels right.' In my mind, it's the last thing I can do to honour Jack," said Cameron.

Smilin' Jack: The Jack Layton Story is being co-produced by Pier 21 Films and Winnipeg's Eagle Vision Inc. It is expected to air on CBC in 2013.

katherine.dow@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 15, 2012 A2

History

Updated on Wednesday, August 15, 2012 at 9:33 PM CDT: Fixes election year

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