The Canadian connections in Blade Runner 2049 go way beyond Villeneuve and Gosling

The most anticipated movie of the year is so Canadian there could be a Heritage Minute about replicants.

This movie is so Canadian there could be a Heritage Minute about replicants

Snow, Brutalist architecture, hot guy... is this Montreal or Los Angeles in the year 2049? (Warner Brothers)

In Hollywood, the future is Canadian. And if it's a terrible future, one irrevocably blighted by corporate greed and the toxic ice rains of complete environmental catastrophe, so be it. We'll cling to that claim to fame because name-dropping all the famous people who've ever lived above the 49th parallel is what we do.

We're saying all this because Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049 hits theatres this week, and while much has (rightly) been made of the Québécois filmmaker's ascendance as "new king of sci fi," the movie boasts so many influential Canadian ties, there could be a Heritage Minute about replicants.

Starting with...

Ryan Gosling

When the original Blade Runner came out in 1982, Gosling was but a wee baby goose, waddling around London, Ont. in diapers. In Blade Runner 2049, he is Officer K, the LAPD officer on the trail of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the OG replicant hunter who's been AWOL the last 30 years.

Ryan Gosling, not driving to a screening of the original Blade Runner at London, Ontario's Hyland Cinema. (Warner Brothers)

Dennis Gassner, production designer

Sure, boasting about Gosling's Canadian cred is the only thing more tired than a "hey girl" joke, so the behind-the-scenes talent on Blade Runner 2049 is where things get interesting.

The movie's Oscar-winning production designer, Dennis Gassner, created the movie worlds of Into the Woods, O Brother Where Art Thou and Skyfall. (Our personal favourite? A very different sort of sci-fi L.A. for Earth Girls Are Easy.)

And while Gassner's Hollywood career dates back to the '80s, the production designer is a Vancouver native.

Scene from Blade Runner 2049. (Warner Brothers)

For Blade Runner 2049's design, it's said that Gassner had brutalist architecture all over his proverbial Pinterest board — something you'll certainly find in abundance in London, where the movie had once planned to shoot. But Villeneuve's homebase of Montreal happens to boast several classic examples of the architectural movement, too, from Habitat 67 to Verdun Metro Station. Coincidence?

Renée April, costume designer

Between this and Drive, Gosling must have a clause in every movie contract demanding the most badass jacket available. In Blade Runner 2049, he gets a weather-proof leather duster that features a fur-lined collar designed to to keep his pretty face safe and warm from the worst post-apocalyptic storm.

Compared to that silky old Scorpion number, this one's definitely better suited for a Canadian climate. Same goes for a lot of the designs on screen, really.

In Blade Runner 2049, L.A. is deep in a toxic ice age, and citizens must be equipped for rain, or snow, or ice storms at any moment. Think of it as your average Canadian winter, with potentially life-threatening side effects. 

Unlike that sweet Scorpion jacket from Drive, the average Canadian could wear this Blade Runner 2049 coat for more than two months of the year. (Warner Brothers)
You mean those aren't the latest winter coats from Soia & Kyo? Scene from Blade Runner 2049. (Warner Brothers)

As a result, a lot of the Blade Runner 2049 characters are more minimalist, utilitarian dressers. There are a few exceptions, sure — going off the publicity materials, it looks like transparent PVC raincoats are still as on trend as they were back in Zhora's day — but generally speaking, these Angelenos aren't as interested in the noirish eccentricities of Sam Spade trenchcoats and Mildred Pierce shoulder pads as their forebearers.

Renée April designed the costumes for the film, and since she's based in Montreal, she's someone who deeply understands the art of dressing for winter. You'll see her work in all of Villeneuve's recent movies, starting with Prisoners in 2013. 

Mackenzie Davis

Of all the things designed for Blade Runner 2049, Mariette's wardrobe is the least likely to appear in a MEC store.

The character (and possible replicant?) is played by Mackenzie Davis, who's familiar to fans of AMC's Halt and Catch Fire (she's programmer Cameron Howe on the show) and perhaps even better known for her turn in Black Mirror's much acclaimed "San Junipero" episode. Born in Vancouver, Davis studied theatre in Montreal.

Former McGill student Mackenzie Davis stars as Mariette in Blade Runner 2049. (Warner Brothers)

Tim Gamble, executive producer

The CEO and president of Vancouver's Thunderbird Films is one of the executive producers on Blade Runner 2049... and also Kim's Convenience.

Jo-Ann MacNeil, key makeup artist

While we're on the topic of CBC sitcoms, Jo-Ann MacNeil was working on Being Erica before she joined the Oscar-winning makeup team on Suicide Squad. Based in the UK, but born in Toronto, MacNeil is the key makeup artist on Blade Runner 2049.

As actress Mackenzie Davis told the Vancouver Sun earlier this year, the new Blade Runner's "a sort of 'Trojan Horse' Canadian production — there's Ryan [Gosling] and there's Denis [Villeneuve], and the wardrobe designers and the hair and makeup team. Everywhere you look there's another Canadian, which is certainly not my experience on those productions."

A companion stretches out to Officer K in an image from Blade Runner 2049. (Warner Brothers)

Framestore, Rodeo FX, MPC Montreal...

That "Trojan Horse" theory definitely applies to the movie's visual effects team, too. Montreal's Festival du nouveau cinéma was the only film fest in the world to land Blade Runner 2049, a coup considering it's one of the most anticipated movies of the year — the last 35 years, really, if you're the most die-hard of fans.

The Montreal homecoming was a nod to more than the film's director. Many of the film's visual effects were created by a number of Montreal-based companies, including Framestore, MPC Montreal and Rodeo FX. The latter, according to the Globe and Mail, had 80 staffers on the project.

The most Canadian thing of all

In the lead-up to Blade Runner 2049, Villeneuve and the cast guarded nearly every detail of the film. But there's something the director was usually happy to talk about, and that's winter. The Montreal winter specifically — its particular marrow-tapping chill, its silver light — and the way the season affects the way people move and talk and even think.

Snow was already mentioned in Michael Green and Hampton Fancher's screenplay. The Los Angeles of 2049 is so ecologically topsy turvy that there's snow in California, and as Villeneuve has told various reporters, the weather became something of a creative backdoor — a way of bringing himself into the movie.

Do androids dream of electric sleet? Scene from Blade Runner 2049. (Warner Brothers)

Villeneuve invited the project's British cinematographer, Roger Deakins, to the city to experience the uniqueness of a Montreal cold snap first hand.

"I sought a winter-like quality for this world," Villeneuve recently told Time. "Those are elements that feel very close to home, to Montreal."


  • An earlier draft of this article included Double Negative, whose Montreal location has not yet opened, among the visual effects studios.
    Oct 13, 2017 4:00 PM ET


Leah Collins

Senior Writer

Since 2015, Leah Collins has been senior writer at CBC Arts, covering Canadian visual art and digital culture in addition to producing CBC Arts’ weekly newsletter (Hi, Art!), which was nominated for a Digital Publishing Award in 2021. A graduate of Toronto Metropolitan University's journalism school (formerly Ryerson), Leah covered music and celebrity for Postmedia before arriving at CBC.


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