When Xavier Dolan was a teenager, his father used to tell people: "My son is a genius.''
"I knew he had a vision, my son,'' said Manuel Tadros, a well-known Quebecois singer and actor. "Everyone was saying, 'Oh, you're a good father and that's why you think that.' I said, 'No, my son is special.''
Now, there are few who disagree.
Dolan is the 25-year-old phenom whose latest film Mommy is favoured to nab an Oscar nomination for best foreign-language film on January 15. The forceful drama about a mother struggling with a violent teenage son has won such critical acclaim that Jessica Chastain and Susan Sarandon have reportedly signed on for Dolan's next movie.
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The charismatic young actor and director burst onto the filmmaking stage as a 20-year-old with J'ai tué ma mère (I Killed my Mother). But long before then, he was a creative force to be reckoned with, say his friends and family.
"Everything he touches he succeeds in,'' said Tadros. "I think it's because he always believed in his dreams. He's a boy who when he wants something he goes and gets it."
Dolan was born in 1989 in Montreal to Tadros and Genevieve Dolan, a teacher. His father said the couple separated when he was two and split their time caring for the precocious little boy, who learned to speak early.
An early star
Tadros said he often brought his son to film and TV sets and the youngster fell in love with the entertainment industry. As a child, Dolan starred in commercials for the Jean Coutu chain of Quebec pharmacies and appeared in TV movies and series.
"He loved to be on the set because everyone was taking care of him. He was like a little star at this moment,'' said Tadros.
But Tadros says Dolan's passion for filmmaking truly began at age 11 when his son saw James Cameron's epic 'Titanic' and began designing dresses based on Kate Winslet's character.
Dolan was highly intelligent, but he did poorly in school because it was not "fast enough'' for him, his father said. His mother struggled to parent their energetic son on her own as Tadros was often touring at this time, he added.
"He was a good kid. He was not a bad kid. He was just a kid that he needed a lot, a lot of attention,'' he said. "When he conveyed he wanted something, he wanted it now. He was always like two steps ahead. She was exhausted.''
Le Devoir film critic Odile Tremblay first met Dolan when he was 16 and her sister was dating Tadros.
"He was so bright and fun and full of light and full of curiosity. He wanted to learn everything,'' said Tremblay. "He wanted to know poets and directors and just what to read and what to see.''
So Tremblay became a mentor to Dolan, who was interested in writing, penning poetry and a semi-autobiographical novella titled J'ai tué ma mère, which he would later turn into his first film.
She said he and his mother argued constantly while they lived together, but things improved once he moved into his own apartment in Montreal. Tremblay added that he loved women and surrounded himself with female role models as a teenager.
Tadros said Dolan's relationship with his mother has been an important source of artistic inspiration for him.
"She is a very nice person. It's just that there is a kind of electricity between them, and sometimes there is a short. But I think there is a lot of love,'' he said.
Mommy has been selected as Canada's entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. Although Dolan was recently snubbed in the same category by the Golden Globes, he is considered a strong contender for an Oscar nomination.
His next film, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, was co-written with Montreal actor-director Jacob Tierney (The Trotsky) and will be his first in English. Kit Harington (Game of Thrones) stars as an actor whose life is torn apart by a gossip columnist (Chastain).