Toronto·TIFF 2018

Scarborough talent is centre stage at TIFF this year

From co-hosting a television series on TVO to walking the red carpet at TIFF, Lamar Johnson's star power is only getting bigger. The Scarborough native is in one of the festival's most anticipated films this year, and he was named one of TIFF's 2018 Rising Stars.

Childhood friends Lamar Johnson, Stephan James and Shamier Anderson all premiering films

Lamar Johnson stars in The Hate U Give, a teen-focused drama based on Angie Thomas's bestselling American young adult novel of the same name. (Christopher Katsarov/CP)

From co-hosting a television series on TVO to walking the red carpet at TIFF, Lamar Johnson's star power is only getting bigger.

The Scarborough native is in one of the festival's most anticipated films this year, in addition to being named one of TIFF's 2018 Rising Stars.

"When I was younger, I would profess, 'I'm going to make it. I'm going to do something,'" Johnson said. "It's just really amazing that now those words have been manifested."

Johnson plays Seven Carter in The Hate U Give, a teen-focused drama based on Angie Thomas's bestselling American young adult novel of the same name. It tells the story of Starr Carter, a teenager who witnesses the police shooting and killing her best friend.

Johnson is only 24, but this is his second film at TIFF in two years. And if that wasn't enough, he's in the upcoming blockbuster X-Men: Dark Phoenix, too.

"I used to watch X-Men cartoons, so the fact I get to be a part of that franchise is a childhood dream come true."

TIFF: a homecoming

Johnson got his start at nine years of age as a self-taught dancer. By 12, he was hosting TVO Kids' Pop It!, a dance-along TV series. Then, he was introduced to acting at Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts.

He's worked on TV series like Degrassi: The Next GenerationRookie Blue and The Next Step, and first walked the TIFF red carpet last year for Kings, starring Halle Berry and Daniel Craig.

Being back at the festival is a homecoming, he said.

"It means so much to me, especially coming from Scarborough. There's not a lot of opportunity out there. For kids in Scarborough to see that you can make it outside of not only the city but the country, and do a whole bunch of things internationally, I think it's amazing."

Besides premiering his own film, Johnson said this year's festival is special for another reason. Two of his childhood friends from Scarborough also have films premiering — brothers Stephan James and Shamier Anderson.

Stephan James plays Alonzo 'Fonny' Hunt in If Beale Street Could Talk, director Barry Jenkins’s ambitious follow-up to Moonlight. (Courtesy of TIFF)

"I'm just really happy for us," Johnson said. "We all came from Scarborough, we all came from the same circumstance, so it's amazing that we all have films here at TIFF the same year, working with amazing people. I just couldn't be happier for them."

'Very special, special thing'

James was named a TIFF Rising Star in 2015. His credits include the acclaimed civil rights drama Selma, in which he shared the screen with Oprah Winfrey and David Oyelowo, and the miniseries The Book of Negroes. He also starred in Race, the 2016 Jesse Owens biopic.

He has two projects at this year's festival: If Beale Street Could Talk, the latest from Oscar-winning director Barry Jenkins, and Homecoming, opposite Julia Roberts.

James said being back at TIFF is a "full circle moment" — from theatre productions at Jarvis Collegiate Institute to the big screen.

"It's a crazy thing when you're able to manifest your thoughts or your dreams into reality," he said. "I don't think a lot of kids who come from where I come from dream how I dreamt. I just hope to be an inspiration to them, that they know that they can do whatever they want to do — especially in the form of the arts."

James's brother, Anderson, plays Antonio in Destroyer, the latest film by director Karyn Kusama, which stars Nicole Kidman. Most recently, he starred in the Syfy series Wynonna Earp and Netflix's Dear White People.

Shamier Anderson, seen her in TV series Wynonna Earp, stars alongside Nicole Kidman in Destroyer. (Courtesy of Syfy)

"It's a very, very special, special thing that we're all here at the same time and we're able to shed light on the gems in this city, and hopefully inspire a whole new generation of us," James told CBC Toronto.

"We know where we come from and we know the kind of art that that inspires, and we just want to continue to tap into that," he said.

"It's crazy special to be doing this with Shamier and Lamar this year."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Julia Whalen

Associate Producer, CBC Toronto

Julia has been working in journalism since 2012 — first as a newspaper reporter in Moncton, before making the move to Toronto to work for CBC. She's particularly interested in social issues, health and the creative community, and is a proud Maritimer and dedicated fundraiser for type 1 diabetes research.

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