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At 77, Pinsent on brink of international attention for role in ‘Away From Her’

TORONTO (CP) _ As Gordon Pinsent opens the door of his downtown condo with a welcoming smile, it’s easy to see why he was Sarah Polley’s first and only choice to play Grant, the devoted husband who watches his wife of 45 years sink into the thick fog of Alzheimer’s disease in "Away From Her."

The native Newfoundlander has all of Grant’s grace, his soft-spoken kindness, his gentlemanly manners despite still grieving the death in January of his own wife of 45 years, Charmion King.

Pinsent is even wearing the very same navy cable-knit turtleneck he wears throughout the powerful "Away From Her," a film adapted by Polley from an Alice Munro short story that’s already wowed critics at the Toronto, Berlin and Sundance film festivals in advance of its mainstream release May 4.

"She didn’t have much convincing to do," Pinsent, 77, says of Polley’s push for five years to make the film with him and iconic British actress Julie Christie in the lead roles.

"You know, you can be a working actor in this country all your life, and it’s just terrific, but you don’t always get the stuff that’s a bit more challenging."

He bursts into laughter when told audiences at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, were buzzing about his performance after taking in the movie there in January, wondering aloud where this unknown first-time actor had been discovered.

The notion that Pinsent, three years away from his 80th birthday, could be on the brink of international attention after 40 years as a stage and screen legend in Canada both tickles and astounds him.

"It’s a bit weird, actually, and funny," he says of the attention. "It feels fabulous. But I felt strange after the Toronto film festival as a matter of fact. At the time, I was saying to Sarah: ‘This is not right.’ We’re used to a little more negativity. I said: ‘My God, it seems abnormal. Nobody is saying anything bad about it."’

Talk that he and the luminous Christie _ the duo is perhaps one of the most attractive elderly couples to ever be seen on the silver screen _ could be in the running for recognition come awards season in Hollywood is now causing Pinsent to prepare for some hard work promoting the film.

"Lionsgate is certainly going to push it," he says. "As for nominations, who knows about all that except I do know that you have to be in shape to chase it down. I don’t feel like going to L.A. to stay, but if it’s useful to Lionsgate I’ll do whatever I have to do to push the piece."

Would he go to the Oscars?

"Oh sure!" he says as his blue eyes light up. "Even if Julie just wanted me to accompany her, I’d go."

"Away from Her" is a true tour de force for Pinsent, who’s in almost every scene playing Grant with a quiet and dignified despair. The one-time philanderer watches his wife, Fiona, immediately fall for another man after her dementia worsens and she asks to be admitted to a care facility.

Grant is haunted by suspicions that perhaps Fiona isn’t sick so much as she’s trying to get back at him, many years later, for his dalliances. But when Fiona falls into a life-threatening depression following her boyfriend’s departure from the facility, Grant unselfishly does what he can to save her.

"It’s a bigger job and a tougher job than maybe anything he’s ever done," Pinsent says. "And where does it go? Where does love go? Where do you go, the leftover?"

Those are questions that Pinsent is now intimately familiar with following King’s death on Jan. 6 after a battle with emphysema.

"It was something I wasn’t necessarily drawing on except in a general sense of how anyone must feel at a certain time of life after spending so many years with a partner," Pinsent says, blinking back tears. "It’s almost impossible to grasp. It was something that was absolutely unexpected and Grant was not necessarily equipped; nobody would be. How do you prepare?"

He admits he initially felt hopeless when his own wife died.

"When this happened in the family, I thought to hell with everything, I am going to run away from it all, nothing else could be important, it truly couldn’t," he recalls, again fighting back tears. "But I thought: I can’t do that. It will lessen her importance if I give up, because she wanted me to go on and do things and so on. And so I am writing and staying busy."

What attracted him to Polley’s script, he says, is how realistically it portrays the vagaries of a long marriage and how every union goes through good times and bad times to end up stronger in the end.

"I don’t know how interesting it would be in the case that it was total happiness from Day 1 for the entire length of time. I actually don’t think that’s possible. The difficulties from the past were something the two of them had quietly and nicely put aside because they had both grown up, in a sense. And she had waited for him to grow up. That’s what goes on in a marriage."

Pinsent couldn’t be more delighted with how the film turned out, he says, and has special praise for Polley, who marks her feature-film directorial debut with "Away from Her" after acting since childhood. He laughingly refers to her as "this old woman of the cinema" at the age of 28.

"She’s such a giving person," he says. "She’s had her hand at being an actress and a very unionized kind of a person, so she’s been very much giving as opposed to taking from this industry. She’s done very well as an actress and now as a director too, so the girl has just amazed us all."

Highlights of Hollywood’s summer film lineup

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Highlights of Hollywood’s summer film slate. Release dates are tentative, and some films play in limited release.


ANGEL-A: Luc Besson directs the tale of a mystery woman who helps a down-and-out man get his life on track.

AWAY FROM HER: Sarah Polley makes her directing debut with the story of a woman (Julie Christie) succumbing to Alzheimer’s.

BUG: Ashley Judd stars in director William Friedkin’s tale of a woman drawn into a drifter’s world of paranoia.

DELTA FARCE: Three weekend warriors (Larry the Cable Guy, Bill Engvall and D.J. Qualls) become unlikely heroes for a Mexican town.

FAY GRIM: Parker Posey and Jeff Goldblum star in Hal Hartley’s followup to his 1998 film "Henry Fool."

THE FLYING SCOTSMAN: A world-class cyclist (Jonny Lee Miller) battles back from mental problems.

GEORGIA RULE: Lindsay Lohan’s out of control, and her mom (Felicity Huffman) puts the unruly teen in the care of her stern grandma (Jane Fonda).

ONCE: An Irish street musician (Glen Hansard of The Frames) and a Czech immigrant develop an odd romance while writing songs together.

PARIS, JE T’AIME: The Coen brothers, Wes Craven and other filmmakers craft an anthology of films about the city of love.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END: Buccaneer Johnny Depp is the focus of a rescue mission by friends and foes.

SHREK THE THIRD: Voice stars Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and Antonio Banderas are joined by Justin Timberlake in the ogre’s quest for King Arthur.

SPIDER-MAN 3: The web-slinging hero (Tobey Maguire) battles his dark side along with new villains.

28 WEEKS LATER: Raging zombies rear their ugly heads again in a follow-up to "28 Days Later."

WAITRESS: A waitress (Keri Russell) dreams of saving enough money to escape her domineering husband.


BROKEN ENGLISH: A loser in love (Parker Posey) starts a new relationship and reevaluates her bad attitude about romance.

DEATH AT A FUNERAL: Chaos takes over as a British family tries to give dear old dad a dignified send-off.

DOA: DEAD OR ALIVE: Four women in a martial-arts competition battle dark forces.

EAGLE VS. SHARK: Two social misfits try their hand at love in this romantic comedy from New Zealand.

EVAN ALMIGHTY: God (Morgan Freeman) orders a congressman (Steve Carell) to build an Ark.

EVENING: Meryl Streep, Vanessa Redgrave, Glenn Close and Claire Danes star in the story of a dying woman reflecting on a lost love.

FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER: The comic-book mutants battle a menace from space.

GRACIE: Siblings Elisabeth and Andrew Shue star in the story of a teen soccer player in a film inspired by their own lives.

HOSTEL PART II: Three American women studying in Rome are hurled into terror in the sequel to 2005’s horror hit.

KNOCKED UP: A career woman (Katherine Heigl) gets pregnant from a one-night stand with a slacker (Seth Rogen).

LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD: Bruce Willis returns for another "Die Hard" duel against Fourth of July terrorists.

MARTIAN CHILD: A grieving sci-fi author (John Cusack) adopts a boy who claims to come from Mars.

A MIGHTY HEART: Angelina Jolie plays the widow of journalist Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and slain in Pakistan.

MR. BROOKS: Kevin Costner, Demi Moore and William Hurt star in the story of a man with a murderous alter ego.

NANCY DREW: The teen detective (Emma Roberts) investigates a movie star’s death.

OCEAN’S THIRTEEN: George Clooney, Brad Pitt and their thieving pals are back for more heist action.

RATATOUILLE: A rat dreams of becoming a French chef in the Disney-Pixar animated comedy.

SICKO: Michael Moore follows "Fahrenheit 9/11" with a documentary dissection of health care in America.

THE SIMPSONS MOVIE: Homer causes havoc as the cartoon goofs of Springfield hit the big-screen.

SURF’S UP: Penguins compete in a surfing championship in an animated flick featuring the voices of Shia LaBeouf and Zooey Deschanel.

YOU KILL ME: A hit man (Ben Kingsley) with a drinking problem cleans up his act and finds love in a mob comedy co-starring Tea Leoni.


1408: A paranormal debunker (John Cusack) finds terror when he spends a night in a haunted hotel room. With Samuel L. Jackson.

GOYA’S GHOSTS: Natalie Portman, Javier Bardem and Stellan Skarsgard star in a tale of the Spanish painter.

HAIRSPRAY: John Travolta plays an overweight housewife in the adaptation of the stage musical about a 1960s TV dance show.

HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX: The boy wizard (Daniel Radcliffe) rallies school mates for the coming battle against evil.

I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK AND LARRY: Firefighting pals (Adam Sandler and Kevin James) pose as gay newlyweds for insurance reasons.

INTERVIEW: Director Steve Buscemi stars with Sienna Miller in the story of a hard-news journalist stuck interviewing a soap star.

JOSHUA: A boy’s sinister side emerges after his parents (Sam Rockwell and Vera Farmiga) bring home their new baby.

LICENSE TO WED: A minister (Robin Williams) puts a couple (Mandy Moore and John Krasinki) through marriage boot camp.

NO RESERVATIONS: The tidy life of a chef (Catherine Zeta-Jones) unravels after she becomes guardian for her young niece (Abigail Breslin).

RESCUE DAWN: Christian Bale stars in the true-life survival story of a U.S. pilot who escapes from a Laotian prison camp during the Vietnam War.

THE STRANGERS: Three masked assailants terrorize a couple (Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman).

TALK TO ME: Don Cheadle stars in the real-life story of an ex-con who becomes a powerful black voice on the radio in the 1960s.

TRANSFORMERS: Warring aliens bring their battle to Earth in a sci-fi saga based on the transforming action figures.


AN AMERICAN CRIME: Catherine Keener stars in the true story of ’60s housewife responsible for terrible abuse of a teenager left in her care.

BECOMING JANE: Anne Hathaway plays Jane Austen in a romantic drama about the author’s early years.

THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM: Amnesiac super-agent Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) tries to sort out his origins.

THE BROTHERS SOLOMON: Socially challenged siblings (Will Arnett and Will Forte) try to fulfil their dad’s wish for a grandchild.

CHARLIE BARTLETT: A teenage pill peddler (Anton Yelchin) duels with his school principal (Robert Downey Jr.).

THE COMEBACKS: A loser coach (David Koechner) whips a motley college football team into shape.

DADDY DAY CAMP: Cuba Gooding Jr. takes over for Eddie Murphy in a sequel to "Daddy Day Care."

EL CANTANTE: Real-life marrieds Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony star in a film biography of salsa-music pioneer Hector Lavoe.

GOOD LUCK CHUCK: A dentist (Dane Cook) doomed to failure at love tries his luck one more time with a new woman (Jessica Alba).

HALLOWEEN: Writer-director Rob Zombie reimagines the story of classic slasher Michael Myers.

HOT ROD: A nerdy teen plans to jump 15 school buses on his motor scooter. With Sissy Spacek and Ian McShane.

THE HOTTEST STATE: Ethan Hawke directs a romance based on his own novel about an actor pursuing an elusive singer.

THE INVASION: Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig face an extraterrestrial epidemic that alters human behaviour.

MR. BEAN’S HOLIDAY: The British oddball (Rowan Atkinson) brings chaos to the French Riviera on a vacation.

PENELOPE: Christina Ricci is a woman cursed with a pig snout in a modern romantic fairy tale.

ROCKET SCIENCE: A stuttering teen makes an unlikely stab at competing on his school’s debate team.

RUSH HOUR 3: Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker partner up again as the buddy cops take on a Chinese crime family.

STARDUST: A witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) chases a fallen star that has taken human form (Claire Danes) in a fantasy co-starring Robert De Niro.

SUPERBAD: Teen buddies embark on a crazy night to finally score with women.

THE TEN: Winona Ryder, Paul Rudd and Jessica Alba lead the cast in a collection of comic films inspired by the Ten Commandments.

TRADE: A Texas cop (Kevin Kline) helps a Mexican youth track his sister, who has been abducted by sex traffickers.

UNDERDOG: The cartoon canine superhero is voiced by Jason Lee in a live-action and animated comedy.

Sarah Polley’s "Away From Her"premieres before emotional Sundance audience

SALT LAKE CITY (CP) _ Canadian actress and director Sarah Polley confessed to being nervous about how an American audience would receive her feature-film debut, "Away From Her," as she arrived for its Salt Lake City gala premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.

"It’s exciting to see how it will play outside of Canada," Polley said as she fought off jitters before taking to the stage at Salt Lake City’s downtown Rose Wagner Center to welcome the crowd and introduce her film.

"I have absolutely no idea."

"But this all feels like gravy," added Polley, 28, dressed in a red silk shirt and black pants.

"I was so happy to get to make the film in the first place, and I was so thrilled the reaction wasn’t horrible at the Toronto film festival, so this just feels like icing. I owe a lot to both these festivals."

Polley need not have worried that the film, a bittersweet love story about a couple married for 45 years and the intrusion of Alzheimer’s disease into their idyllic life together in rural Ontario, would flop here at Sundance. There was barely a dry eye in the house as the final credits rolled on the film late Friday night. Audience members not overcome with emotion cheered lustily.

"Away from Her" stars Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie, unspeakably lovely in her 60s, as Grant and Fiona, a couple still sweetly in love in their twilight years despite past infidelities and ups and downs in their long union. It’s based on a short story by Canadian literary star Alice Munro. When Fiona insists on being sent to a care facility when her condition worsens, a reluctant Grant goes along with it, only to watch her forget about him and become deeply attached to another man.

Grant, guilt-ridden about his own past affairs, is agonized, but after her new friend leaves the home and Fiona falls into what seems like a life-threatening depression without him, he does all he can to re-unite them and save his wife.

The 76-year-old Pinsent, the Newfoundland-born actor so familiar to Canadian audiences after decades as a beloved presence on stage, screen and television, is a revelation as Grant _ and someone Polley fervently wanted for the role.

Pinsent’s own wife of 44 years, Charmion King-Pinsent, died just two weeks ago at age 81, adding a particular pathos to the role.

"I feel like we all love him," Polley said on the eve of her trek to Utah to take in the 10-day festival in the nearby ski resort town of Park City where 10 other Canadian productions will be screened.

"He’s somehow part of the national psyche, but we do sort of take those people for granted sometimes, and we sometimes forget we have one of the best actors of his generation in our midst," she said.

"I was so excited to write that role for him when I read the story and saw him in it, and it was so obvious that you needed someone with that instant charm and that sense of who he is and who he was. He’s amazing."

The Sundance audience seemed to agree. One couple _ Catalina Corwin, 44, and Dennis King, 53 _ cuddled and kissed throughout the film, particularly during the many moving glimpses of the profound and selfless love Grant so clearly feels for Fiona.

"It was very moving, and I guess you could say a great date movie," said Corwin. She and King have been dating for a few months.

"It was really about true love, enduring love, and how it can survive so much," King added.

Another audience member said she was blown away by Pinsent’s performance.

"The actor, I had never heard of him before, but he was unbelievably good," said Linda Allen, 57, a Salt Lake City resident eager to catch the film when she read about it.

"He was really heartbreaking. And the film itself was so moving, it just had so much insight and sensitivity about growing older _ I was really surprised that someone so young was behind it."

Wayne Clarkson, head of Telefilm Canada, was delighted to see the film chosen as the Salt Lake City premiere gala.

"It’s not often you get to the mountains of Utah and watch the premiere of a magnificent Canadian film and take in a magnificent performance by Gordon Pinsent," Clarkson said following the premiere.

"It’s really a fantastic night, for Sarah, for Gordon and for Canada."