Hamilton scribe drops 'The F Word' at TIFF

Michael Rinaldi is in Toronto this weekend to promote 'The F Word,' a film based on a play he co-wrote about a decade ago.

If a play you wrote more than 10 years ago were made into a film starring Daniel Radcliffe, you'd feel 'fear', too

Newly-minted Hamiltonian Michael Rinaldi is in Toronto this weekend to promote 'The F Word,' a film based on a play he co-wrote about a decade ago. (Courtesy of Michael Rinaldi)

Michael Rinaldi mounted the GO Train on Thursday morning with his bike and two tote bags in tow, psyching himself up for what could be the most lucrative networking opportunity of his life.

A newly-minted Hamiltonian, the 39-year-old actor and playwright rode the rails into the Big Smoke to promote The F Word, a romantic comedy based on a play he co-wrote in the early 2000s that's debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival this weekend.

"Everyone says, 'That must be so exciting,'" said Rinaldi, speaking on his cellphone outside a café near Toronto's Union Station. "I was saying to my wife, 'I know what exciting feels like, and this isn't it. It's more fear. I'm pretty spooked actually.'"

The pressure's on, in no small part because of the players involved. Daniel Radcliffe, the 24-year-old English actor who was catapulted to fame after he was cast in the title role for the Harry Potter flicks, is the star of the film.

In addition, The F Word was directed by Calgary-raised director Michael Dowse, whose credits include the 2002 mockumentary FUBAR and the 2011 hockey romp Goon.

"There is a lot of expectation to use this as a springboard into more stuff," Rinaldi told CBC Hamiton, explaining his mindset. "It's quite a leap from doing theatre to dealing with A-list actors and Hollywood producers and the kind of environment that we're finding ourselves in now."

From stage to screen

A tale of unrequited love, The F Word follows Wallace (Radcliffe), a med-school dropout who falls for Chantry, an animator played by American actress Zoe Kazan. Upon meeting, the two develop an immediate connection. But because Chantry has a live-in boyfriend, they become best friends instead.

The F Word's journey from the stage to the TIFF marquee has taken 10 years. Rinaldi and fellow University of Victoria alum T.J. Dawe co-wrote the original play, titled Toothpaste and Cigars, which they toured in 2003.

Soon after, at the behest of friends, the playwrights sought filmmakers who might be interested in the story. Through a producer, they got connected with Toronto screenwriter Elan Mastai, who signed on to adapt the play for the big screen.

Rinaldi said he and Dawe then concocted new drafts of the work to "expand the world of the play," going back and forth with Mastai on how the story would develop.

Once that process was over, Rinaldi said, his creative input on the project more or less came to an end.

English actor Daniel Radcliffe stars in 'The F Word,' which debuts at the Toronto International Film Festival this weekend. (David Azia/AP Photo)

"Way back in the beginning, we kind of agreed to let a lot of that artistic control go," he said. "It was great because it was going to be made into a low-budget Canadian indie. That was very exciting for us."

Around 2008, though, the script uexpectedly attracted buzz in Hollywood circles. Indie-film kingmaker Fox Searchlight picked it up and, in 2010, enlisted big-name actor Casey Affleck (Ben's brother) to take on the lead role in the production.

But in the same year, the company dropped Affleck and then pulled out of the project, leading Rinaldi to believe the script's best big chance had come and gone.

"It became really close to being made on a few occasions, and those were real rollercoaster-nerve times," he said.

Thus, it came as a surprise to Rinaldi when he learned a Canadian company was looking to revive the project with Dowse at the directorial helm.

"And then it was crazy news when they said Radcliffe was onboard," Rinaldi said. "Suddenly, with a star like that, there's all this interest in distribution. I guess that's how it works."

He and Dawe got to visit the set of the The F Word in September of last year. To his dismay, Rinaldi broke out in hives — those pesky nerves, he figured — in the week before his trip.

"I had this huge rash on my back and the doctor couldn't figure it out," he laughed. "So I just attributed it to being really bloody nervous. But it all cleared up by the time I got on the plane, thank God."

To his relief, the experience on-set was "so cool," said Rinaldi, who has acted in bit roles for TV and film. "We were really welcomed and valued. People were congratulating us."

He has kind words for the film's star, describing Radcliffe as "so funny and humble," as well as "perfect" for the role of Wallace — which, once upon a time, had been Rinaldi's part in Toothpaste and Cigars.

"I had been told… that he's really self-effacing," said Rinaldi. "That's still my default and that's how the character was written — to be really self-deprecating and undercutting himself all the time."

Taking risks

The past year has been a momentous one for Rinaldi for other reasons. Feeling they couldn't afford to buy a house in Vancouver's cutthroat real estate market, he and his wife, actress Juno Ruddell, ditched the West Coast and moved with their two young sons to Hamilton.

"We're beside ourselves with living in a beautiful house in a great neighbourhood with awesome neighbours," said Rinaldi, who now resides near the city's Gage Park.

Michael Rinaldi, top left, and his wife Juno Ruddell celebrate Rinaldi's birthday with their two sons earlier this year. (Courtesy of Michael Rinaldi)

"It has its pockets of poverty, which is fascinating and heartbreaking at times, but we're used to that coming from east Vancouver."

Before considering Steeltown, the couple looked into moving to Stratford, Ont., a vibrant hub for theatre. But it was Rinaldi's trip to Toronto for The F Word shoot that sparked his interested in Hamilton.

"It was on that trip, right at the tail-end of TIFF last year, that I was just trying it on for size with friends and acquaintances about moving out here to Stratford," he recalled. "And people were saying, 'No, forget Stratford. Go to the Hammer.'

"It wasn't even on my radar before that."

Despite having had six weeks to settle in to his new surroundings, Rinaldi said his professional life hasn't fully migrated east from B.C. After TIFF, he's making a jaunt to Vancouver to do sound design for a theatre production.

"Before coming out, I didn't really have time to put out feelers for work out here," Rinaldi said. "We just took this big, crazy risk and figured we'd sort ourselves out when we got here."

He said he plans, of course, to drum up connections during the festival, and then continue to network once he returns from B.C.

By then, perhaps, his jitters will have subsided.