Michael J. Fox was both surprised and humbled to be named a recipient of the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards, and he has already celebrated the honour with another newly minted laureate: Martin Short.
“A couple of months ago, we were both at a Broadway play, and we had dinner afterwards with Eugene Levy, and (Short) was really excited about it,” Fox said in an interview with The Canadian Press on Thursday, recalling the outing with Short and “Schitt’s Creek” star Levy, who received the award in 2008.
“It was great talking about it with him, because we were both excited.”
The Edmonton-born, Burnaby, B.C.-raised Fox catapulted to worldwide fame with roles including Alex P. Keaton in the classic ’80s sitcom “Family Ties,” his Emmy-winning turn as Mike Flaherty on “Spin City,” and as the time-travelling Marty McFly in the popular “Back to the Future” film trilogy.
The Hamilton-born Short has cultivated a career spanning more than four decades, from his early years as a member of Toronto’s Second City improv troupe, to the sets of “SCTV” and “Saturday Night Live,” and film credits including “Father of the Bride” and “Mars Attacks!”
The acclaimed actors lead the 25th anniversary class for the lifetime artistic achievement honour, which is presented annually to Canadians whose accomplishments “have inspired and enriched the cultural life of our country.”
“It was definitely a surprise, but it was a really nice surprise,” said Fox from New York. “It’s humbling when you think about all of the people in Canada who have made a contribution to the arts.
“To be singled out is a really a huge mistake on my part,” he added, in self-deprecating fashion, “but it’s really exciting.”
Canadian comic actor Seth Rogen recently paid homage to Fox and “Back to the Future” in a pre-recorded segment at the Oscars. The duo then emerged from a DeLorean onstage to a rapturous standing ovation, before engaging in a comical sing-along to a tune from the smash musical “Hamilton.”
“It was amazing to have two Vancouver boys on the Oscars stage,” recalled Fox.
“Seth is so funny because we had a thing we were supposed to do, and he called me at the last minute and said, ‘I want to do this ‘Hamilton’ thing,’ and I said: ‘I don’t sing.’ He said: ‘That’s all right, that’ll work.’ We just worked that bit out before we went out and it was a lot of fun.'”
Fox said he would have no objections to a “Back to the Future” reboot, and that it “would be cool” to have the Marty McFly role portrayed by a female. He also would be open to getting on board with a potential remake.
“I can’t imagine what I would do, but certainly, if they called me, I would have a conversation with them for old times’ sakes and see what they have in mind.”
In the meantime, the actor has been actively involved with his foundation for Parkinson’s research. Fox has received numerous humanitarian awards and is an outspoken advocate for people living with the degenerative disorder, which he was diagnosed with in 1991.
Also among the 2017 laureates are:
— Montreal-born filmmaker Jean Beaudin, a screenwriter and director whose career spans from his early days at the National Film Board to a host of successful film dramas and TV series. He was lauded for being “instrumental in transmitting our cultural heritage and shaping a distinctive voice in Quebec and Canadian cinema.”
— Theatre and artistic director Brigitte Haentjens, who has helmed some 60 productions over the course of her lengthy career, and has previously been honoured with the prestigious Siminovitch Prize for theatre. The French-born Haentjens founded her own theatre company, Sibyllines, and holds the distinction of being the first woman named as artistic director of the Ottawa-based National Arts Centre’s French theatre.
— Writer, director, filmmaker, actor and producer Yves Sioui Durand, who is heralded as a “pioneering figure” in contemporary indigenous theatre. Durand is the founder of Ondinnok, Quebec’s first French-language aboriginal theatre company.
Along with the 2017 laureates, National Ballet of Canada artistic director Karen Kain is the recipient of the mentorship program honour, while choreographer and dancer Robert Binet serves as her protege. The distinction is designed to unite past laureates with mid-career artists. Kain will mentor Binet as he further develops his 2015 ballet “Orpheus,” slated to be performed by the National Ballet in a future season.
Entrepreneur and philanthropist William H. (Bill) Loewen was also recognized with the Ramon John Hnatyshyn Award for Voluntarism in the Performing Arts.
The 2017 laureates will be feted at two events in Ottawa, culminating with the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards gala on June 29. A one-hour presentation of the gala will air on the CBC and Radio-Canada on June 30.
“It sounds like a marathon experience, but a lot of fun,” said Fox, who will be joined by his mother, sisters, and wife Tracy Pollan for the festivities.
“It’s going to be nice to be in Canada and to be surrounded by people that I want to meet and get to know better, and enjoy being with everybody and just fully embracing my Canadianness.”
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