Canada’s youngest stars – from Marvel heroes to indie darlings – are hard to keep up with

When 13-year-old Liam Diaz auditioned for Scarboroughhe had no idea that the Canadian independent film about three children from a low-income community in Toronto would become one of the country’s most critically acclaimed films of the year.

Diaz was attending a performing arts school in his hometown of Mississauga, Ontario, when an acting teacher suggested he throw his hat in the ring for the role of Bing, a young gay Filipino from a family in trouble.

“It’s really been a journey,” he said.

“I thought it was just a small product, but I’m glad it turned into a big one.”

Liam Diaz appears in the movie Scarborough. The coming-of-age film is an adaptation of Catherine Hernandez’s 2017 novel, which tells the story of community support and resilience. (Compy Movies)

Diaz is now one of the youngest nominees to be considered for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role at the Canadian Screen Awards. Like other actors his age, he experiences the whirlwind of a burgeoning career while trying to maintain his grades and spend time with friends.

CBC News spoke to a new generation of Canada’s rising stars about the challenges of navigating the industry.

Vancouver’s Jayden Zhang has always shown an interest in acting. His mother sent him to a drama summer camp, where he caught the eye of a talent agent.

Auditions started rolling in – but the premiere stood out for its mysterious script, with only a few pages and little information attached to it. Eventually, this led Zhang to the role that would become his big breakthrough in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

“It’s a Marvel movie. It came out last summer,” Zhang said.

Jayden Zhang and Simu Liu attend the Canadian premiere of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings in Toronto in September 2021. Zhang played a young Shang-Chi in the film. (George Pimentel/The Canadian Press)

In effect, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was one of the biggest blockbusters of 2021 and Zhang got a prime gig as young Shang-Chi, the lead role counterpart to Canadian movie star Simu Liu.

“It was like a crazy roller coaster that you were a little scared to get on at first, but then it was really fun and you didn’t want to go back. It was awesome,” he said of the film. .

find the balance

Stephanie Gorin, casting director in Toronto who has worked on projects like Anne with an E, Baroness Von sketch show and FX Fargosaid the challenge for young actors is to keep acting for the right reasons.

“I think the hardest thing with being young is doing it because you really like it, not because you think you’re going to be a star,” Gorin said.

“Don’t worry if all of a sudden you have a basketball final and you can’t audition. Go make your basketball final, still live your life. I think it’s important to to have a balance for both children and adults.”

Zhang said working on Shang Chi – the first role he received thanks to the booking of an agent – taught him to stay grounded despite the film’s success.

Because the film was shot in Australia in the middle of Zhang’s school year, his friends would send him homework to finish at his hotel after a day of filming. It was a “strange juggling act”, Zhang said, but he managed to pull it off with the help of a tutor.

In Diaz’s case, the sudden onslaught of red carpets, award shows and media interviews has taken a toll on his social life and he hopes that in the future this will be taken into account more. in productions where child actors are present.

“I feel like they could definitely improve by letting us let go a bit and letting us take a break,” he said.

Jett Klyne, a 12-year-old actor from Penticton, British Columbia, worked on the Marvel miniseries wall view. Klyne starred as Tommy Maximoff, the son of protagonists Wanda (Elizabeth Olson) and Vision (Paul Bettany).

Having started his acting career at the age of five months when he was cast as baby Gerber, Klyne said it was difficult but “rewarding” to balance his passion with his academic responsibilities.

“If you’ve done it your whole life or if you’ve even done it for half of your childhood life, it’s a lot of your time, so you have to really love it and work a lot to make it pay off. its fruits,” he said.

Break down some barriers

Saara Chaudry, 17, who recently won a Canadian Screen Award for Best Performance by Children or Youth for Lockdownsaid his favorite part of acting is telling the stories of people whose stories usually go untold.

“Being a brunette girl on screen is making a statement in itself,” Chaudry said, adding that this kind of portrayal was rare when she was younger.

“And for a very long time, and a little longer, that’s not the norm.”

Saara Chaudry, right, is pictured with executive producer Angelina Jolie and director Nora Twomey (middle) on the Toronto International Film Festival red carpet for the film The Breadwinner. Chaudry voiced the main character, Parvana, in the 2017 animated film. (Reuters)

Chaudry recalls an incident when a child actor was performing in a staging of Wretched where, she says, her casting as a young Cosette was called into question because she was not white and blonde. One of the people who believed in her the most was Gorin, who cast her in the production, she said.

“I was very lucky to have been able to knock down doors, break down barriers,” Chaudry said.

“And people believed in me enough to let a girl like me take up screen space.”

Gorin said she was encouraged by the improved representation of Black, Indigenous and artists of color, as well as the representation of the LGBTQ community.

“I think studios and networks are now striving to have more representation from minorities and the LGBTQIA+ community,” Gorin said.

“I think it’s really important that we do this.”

Shang Chi and the legend of the ten rings marked the first time a Marvel superhero was played by an Asian actor. Zhang hopes he can be an example.

“I just want to say for those other young Asians like me who are looking for more opportunities, believe in yourself,” he said.

“You can do it. And you could end up like me. And I’m really happy with where I am.”