Last Saturday, February 25th, Canada lost yet another beloved thespian. Gordon Pinsent, hailing from Grand Falls of Newfoundland, passed away peacefully in his sleep at the age of 92, and the outpour of reverence for this celebrated veteran actor has undoubtedly been staggering, and indeed well deserved in recognition of a career spanning six decades.
While Pinsent was by no means an internationally recognized actor for much of his career, he appeared in a myriad of film, television, and stage roles that made him a household name in Canada. That all changed, however, with his leading role in Sarah Polley’s Academy Award-nominated directorial debut, Away from Her, a story about a man coming to terms with his wife’s Alzheimer’s as she forgets her life with him, which launched him to the forefront of Canada’s acting elite in the international eye and at the ripe age of 76, no less.
While it is something I have done in the past when writing pieces on Canadian actors, actresses and filmmakers who have passed away, I will not be summarising Pinsent’s career as I would surely do him little justice and, quite frankly, I cannot pretend to know a great deal about his career otherwise up until Away from Her, particularly as someone who did not grow up in Canada. What I can say, however, is that Away from Her is not just one of my favourite Canadian movies, but it is amongst the greatest movies I have ever seen. This masterpiece had a truly profound affect upon me, and Pinsent’s touching, immeasurably human performance was a significant part of that experience, along with his outstanding co-star, Julie Christie, whose performance earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
Of course, don’t just take my word for it. Arguably the greatest actor of our time, Daniel Day-Lewis, was so taken by Pinsent’s performance that he called it the most “astonishing” he had ever seen in his life. Pinsent is that good in it, shouldering the bulk of the film’s heavy emotional weight, and making it all appear seamless, even when paired opposite with someone as established and talented as Christie.
What I didn’t realize when I first saw Away from Her, at least initially, was that Pinsent had put me under the same spell as Daniel Day-Lewis and seemingly every other viewer fortunate enough to see him perform, as my subsequent encounters with the actor in The Grand Seduction and Two Lovers and a Bear (where he lended his unmistakeable voice as the titular bear) served only to put a smile on my face, elevating both films by his presence alone.
The unanimous praise for Pinsent as both an actor and a human being is a touching affirmation of his overall character, and a sign that he will be sorely missed, but never forgotten through his immense contributions to the art of acting in Canada.