Since the publication of my personal list of Canada’s Top 5 Actors last week, I had been pondering my follow-up list of Canada’s Top 5 Actresses, quickly realising that choices this time around would not seem so obvious.
Donald Sutherland and Christopher Plummer, the top too names on last week’s list, are established thespians who have shown immense longevity in what can be a cut-throat industry. To me, these were no-brainers, along two others on the list.
My list of Top 5 Canadian Actresses bears some resemblance to my list last week, in that my top two choices are veterans of the industry, though it is otherwise a collection of actresses who still have much to do in their careers, but have achieved a great deal nonetheless.
For that reason, I found there were fewer figures who had “solidified” their positions on this list in comparison to last week, and with such tough competition comes tough choices, but they had to be made. If I left anyone out who you feel deserved to be there, be sure to let your voice be heard in the comments below.
As was the case with my previous list, acting ability, star power and overall legacy are the deciding factors here. So, without further ado, here is My Top 5 Canadian Actresses.
- Anna Paquin
I begin my list with the second-youngest Academy Award winner of all time. In any category. Period. And this was in her feature film debut!
Anna Paquin was just 10 years old when she played Flora McGrath in 1993’s The Piano, and 11 when she won the award the subsequent year. The years that followed proved that Paquin’s win was not just some fluke that would see her fade into relative obscurity, beating that potential Oscar curse.
Paquin took one steady role after the next, finding notable success in her third feature, Fly Away Home, before taking on the most enduring role of her career as Rogue in the 2000’s X-Men.
Paquin returned for several sequels to X-Men, while continuing to pepper her resume with consistent work over the years, proving to be a reliable and talented actress, working with the likes of Spike Lee, Cameron Crowe and Kenneth Lonergan.
While Paquin has never managed to garner the same acclaim as her Academy Award-winning performance, she has nonetheless drawn praise aplenty in the likes of The Squid and the Whale and HBO series True Blood.
Paquin’s next feature sees her playing a significant supporting role in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, proving shows that her career is unlikely not slow down any time soon.
- Rachel McAdams
Ontario native Rachel McAdams’ success might not have had the instantaneousness of Paquin’s, but it certainly didn’t take her that much longer.
After a couple of features that includes a co-lead role in the deplorably bad The Hot Chick (it’s a Rob Schneider movie…nuff said), McAdams struck gold with instant hit and endearing cult classic, Mean Girls.
While the film features Lindsay Lohan in the lead role, it was McAdams who stole the show in what can be seen as the biggest stepping stone in her entire career, before gaining even more momentum later that same year with The Notebook.
After her massive 2004 year McAdams kept the good times rolling, landing some significant roles that managed to avoid typecasting in much the same way her The Notebook co-star Ryan Reynolds did. For several years McAdams was admittedly known for romance and comedy, as these are genres she has proven to thrive in, but roles in films like Red Eye and State of Play proved that she is capable of much more.
McAdams’ versatility eventually earned the attention of industry heavyweights such as Woody Allen and Terrence Malick, casting her in significant roles for their film Midnight in Paris and To the Wonder respectively, the latter of which even earned an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
In 2016 McAdams finally earned a nomination of her own for Best Supporting Actress in Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight, with this unquestionably being the most human role I have seen from her yet. Since then, McAdams has three straight home runs with Doctor Strange, Disobedience and Game Night. That’s one every year since, with each being drastically different in terms of tone and genre. One can only wonder what comes next!
- Sandra Oh
This choice might ruffle a few feathers, but just bear with me.
I am sure most know Sandra Oh from her decade-long role in Grey’s Anatomy, which would be the main reason why you scoff at my choice, if at all. I myself used to watch Grey’s Anatomy, and given its ever-increasing sappiness and unwillingness to let its characters be (or the ones who are alive anyway), it veers dangerously close to soap opera territory, so I can understand why people might initially be upset. But for those of you who actually watched the show, you know that Oh was the best thing about it.
Oh has been around a lot longer than most people realised, going back as far as the late 1980s. She played a lot of odd-parts throughout 1990s, and even landed a role in the lead cast of HBO show Arliss from 1996 to 2002.
Along with Grey’s Anatomy and Killing Eve (more on this in a moment), it can be said that the bulk of Oh’s work has been in television, but she is by no means a stranger to feature films either, although the vast majority have been criminally minor or supporting roles.
One role in particular that proved to be one of Oh’s shining moments, and should have been a case for more leading opportunities, is in then-husband Alexander Payne’s Sideways in 2004. That, as well as Grey’s Anatomy, displays Oh’s masterful ability to balance comedy and drama all in the same moment, allowing her characters to feel both tragic and relatable without so much as skipping a beat.
With her current leading role in the critically acclaimed Killing Eve, Oh might finally earn that Emmy Award she has long deserved. She is truly one of the most underrated actresses out there.
- Catherine O’Hara
An actress who needs little introduction to your average Canadian, Catherine O’Hara has achieved an immense amount of success in her 40-plus year career.
O’Hara landed her first major television role in Coming Up Rosie in 1975 alongside fellow Canadian legends John Candy and Dan Aykroyd, and the following year earned a role in comedy sketch show Second City Television along with Candy, which even earned her an Emmy Award for writing. O’Hara’s aptitude for sketch comedy earned her international acclaim and recognition, even going on to host Saturday Night Live not once, but twice!
Yet, O’Hara’s success does not come down to her ability for comedy either. My own earliest memory of O’Hara is from the John Hughes-written and Chris Columbus-directed Home Alone films, which saw her going toe-to-toe with the child sensation of the time Macauley Culkin, whose mother-son chemistry did wonders to effectively ground the film, though never forgetting to make us laugh at the most opportune moments.
O’Hara has also proven to be a favourite of Tim Burton’s, with whom she has on several occasions, including a pivotal vocal role in A Nightmare Before Christmas and a supporting role in Beetlejuice, both of which are considered bona fide classics.
While O’Hara is not as active in the international scene as she once was, she has always remained a vital part of the Canadian comedy and acting scene, winning numerous in the process.
Currently, O’Hara features her considerable talents on popular Canadian TV show Schitt’s Creek, with long-time friend and collaborator Eugene Levy.
- Mary Pickford
Many millennials, or even baby boomers, will look at my number 1 pick for the Top Canadian Actresses and say, “Who?”. Yet, Mary Pickford stands as not just one of the most important film actresses in Canada, but of all time.
Nicknamed “America’s sweetheart” and “Queen of Movies”, Pickford was a silent film actress who helped develop not just the technique of onscreen acting, but shape the Hollywood film industry we all know today.
Pickford began as an impoverished actress travelling America with her mother and siblings, before eventually landing her first Broadway role in 1906. Not long after, Pickford met legendary (and infamous) director D. W. Griffith, who immediately recognised her ground-breaking talents as an actress, consequently casting her in many of his pictures.
There was an almost indescribable quality to Pickford that stood out to audiences, and before long she became the most famous and recognisable actress in the world during the 1910s and 1920s, arguably second in popularity only to Charlie Chaplin.
In 1920 Pickford married another famed actor by the name of Douglas Fairbanks, becoming one of Hollywood’s earliest power couples, founding a studio of their own during their 16 year marriage, as well as co-founding United Artists with Chaplin and Griffith. Oh yeah, and Pickford was also one of 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who essentially ARE the Oscars.
The silent era had numerous stars, but many underestimated the relevancy of sound and failed to transition to the “talkies.” Pickford was one such person, and while she managed to earn an award from the very Academy she helped found in her first role featuring sound, her star power faded as the “talkies” began to overtake silent film.
Despite this, Pickford possessed great business acumen, and continued to be a major player in Hollywood beyond her acting career, particularly as a producer at United Artists, where she remained alongside Chaplin until the mid-1950s. By this time, Pickford was the most powerful woman to have ever worked in Hollywood, a title, one can be argued, she still holds this day, Kathleen Kennedy be damned!
If this doesn’t earn the number 1 spot on any list of the Top Canadian Actresses, I don’t know what does.