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May 15, 2013   Jimmy P. 3 Comments

It has become a bit of a cliche for actors to claim they’ve “always wanted” to work with someone who they just happen to be working with.

But Calgary actress Michelle Thrush has proof she harboured dreams of co-starring with Oscar-winning actor Benicio Del Toro long before she arrived on the Michigan set of Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian) last summer.

“I was interviewed the previous year on Entertainment Tonight and asked ‘Out of every actor in the world who would I want to work with? Who would be my dream to work with?’” says Thrush. “I said Benicio Del Toro. So it was quite interesting that it happened.”

Interesting, but also a little daunting for the actress, who may be best known these days for her Gemini-winning role of Gail Stoney on the APTN drama Blackstone.

In fact, despite having 25 years under her belt performing in TV, theatre and film, when Thrush first arrived in Monroe, Mich., at an old convent to film her first scenes with the actor, she had a difficult time concentrating.

Del Toro plays Jimmy Picard, a Blackfoot and Second World War veteran who is placed in the care of French-Hungarian psychoanalyst and anthropologist George Devereux (French actor Mathieu Amalric) after exhibiting mysterious headaches, dizzy spells and temporary blindness.

Thrush plays his sister Gayle, a devoutly religious caregiver for her brother. It was a character that required Thrush to convey an air of motherly tenderness to the vulnerable Jimmy.

“I couldn’t seem to get my lines right,” says Thrush. “I just couldn’t get over the fact that I’m sitting beside this person who I have such a huge amount of respect for. In my mind I’m thinking ‘We’re supposed to be playing brother and sister who have known each other our whole lives and I can’t even look at him. I’ve got to get past this. How am I going to do this?’”

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Eventually, Del Toro took her aside. He told her he was “nothing special” and that she needed to get over it. They hugged and Thrush said she was put enough at ease to work the intimate scenes from that point onward. Eventually, when the production travelled to Montana, Thrush even took Del Toro with her to experience a traditional Blackfoot Sun Dance.

And now, Thrush will be joining the actor at the glamorous Cannes Film Festival, arriving at the French resort town today for what will no doubt be a frenzy of red carpets, paparazzi, A-list stars and yacht parties. Jimmy P. has snagged one of 20 spots of official competition at the prestigious festival, which will pit it against giddily anticipated fare such as the Coen Brother’s Inside Llewyn Davis; Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive; Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi’s followup to A Separation, Le Passe; Alexander Payne’s Nebraska; and Chinese director Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin, among others.

Thrush is no stranger to high-profile projects. She played opposite Johnny Depp in Jarmusch’s 1995 cult-favourite western Dead Man. That film also screened at Cannes, but Thrush did not get the chance to attend the festival. So she plans to take full advantage, checking out films and parties and stargazing.

“People keep telling me to try and get into the yacht parties and boat parties,” Thrush says. “I’m going to do it. I will live every single moment. I probably will not sleep for seven days straight.”

Directed by French filmmaker Arnaud Desplechin, Jimmy P. is based on the real case study and non-fiction book by Devereux. Desplechin, widely regarded as one his country’s top contemporary filmmakers, is best-known for quirky ensemble pieces such as Kings and Queen and A Christmas Tale. He saw Thrush in a 2002 film called Skins and asked her audition for the role of Gayle Picard. Oddly, the director only sent the script to one scene, with no background information on the character or the film in general.

“I never did ask him why it was so secretive,” says Thrush. “But it was the first time in my 25 years of acting that I have been asked to read for something but not given a single, tiny morsel of information.”

Thrush had grey streaks applied to her hair so she would appear older than Del Toro. The real Gayle Picard was a ranch owner and devout Christian who was dedicated to her brother and family.

The role certainly shows Thrush’s versatility, straying far from the grieving alcoholic she brings to raw life each week on Blackstone.

Thrush’s family was originally from the Nekaneet First Nation in Saskatchewan, but she grew up and currently resides in Calgary. The Cree actress began working in film back in 1984 at the age of 17. On top of her film and TV roles, she continues to travel to dozens of communities each year to work with children while performing as Majica, the Aboriginal Healing Clown. She also has a recurring role on the CBC adventure show Arctic Air, for which she just received a Leo Award nomination.

But while it is often a prickly issue in the Native community, Thrush says she has no problem with Del Toro playing an American Blackfoot, even though he is actually Puerto Rican.

“The way I look at it is that Benicio is from Puerto Rico and he has indigenous blood in him from there,” she says. “We are indigenous people, all the way from Innuit people right down to the tip of South America. So I don’t have an issue with it. I think, as an actor, he brought everything he could to the table. We had a person on set who was from the Blackfeet nation who was working very closely with us on making sure we were extremely respectful to the family, to the script, to the Blackfeet tradition.”

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3 Responses to “Michelle Thrush, at Cannes for premiere of Benicio Del Toro film Jimmy P.”

What a lucky actress, that she could play with the man she was dreaming about playing with! I can totally understand her, her not being able to look at him. 😀

May 15, 13 at 6:09 pm
Liz

I think we can all relate to that!

May 15, 13 at 8:59 pm

You are totally right. 🙂

May 16, 13 at 5:52 am

 

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