'She taught me how to be in the moment': Canadian actor Thomas Duplessie on what he'll always remember about Hollywood legend Cloris Leachman

By Zach Harper

Many young stars dream of working with Hollywood legends, and Toronto's Thomas Duplessie recently had that experience with the late Cloris Leachman.

In her seven decades in Hollywood, Cloris, who passed away at age 94 this week, became as known to audiences as she was to her co-stars for her acting breadth and versatility, sense of humour and the total joy she brought to her work. Thomas experienced that first-hand with Cloris in Jump, Darling, which is now one of her final feature films.

"Working with Cloris was like a master class every day that you'd show up," Toronto-based Thomas told HELLO! Canada. "She was just so connected to the material and so present, and then when we weren't shooting, in between scenes, she took every opportunity possible to keep the energy alive.

"She was hilarious. She was always pulling faces. She was always kind of pulling pranks, or she'd come out with some hilarious statement or make fun of herself or somebody else. You never knew what was going to come out of Cloris's mouth, and it was always unpredictable and always exciting. It was never dull."

Cloris and Thomas on the set of Jump, Darling. Photo: © Viktor Čahoj

Jump, Darling was shot at a farmhouse in the rural, picturesque wine country of Prince Edward County, Ontario, and Thomas said the experience was laid back, personable and great fun. The two regularly ate meals together (and got up to hijinks as they dined), and were joined on set by Second City alumni Linda Kash and Jayne Eastwood and Toronto drag queen Tynomi Banks, famous for competing on the first season of Canada's Drag Race.

"It was everything you hope a film set is going to be," Thomas told HELLO! Canada about working with Cloris, who counted an Oscar and a record nine Emmys among the awards she received throughout her career. "It felt like summer camp."

In the film, Thomas plays a rookie drag queen whose grandmother Margaret (Cloris) refuses to move to a nursing home. So her grandson responds by moving to the country to take care of her. The film had a special preview at the 2020 InsideOut Festival in Toronto.

Thomas performed drag for the first time as part of the role. He said the calibre of Cloris's acting and her history of taking parts that portray LGBTQ+ people empathetically made the set a positive, friendly place and ensured everyone was comfortable.

Cloris was the celebrity grand marshal at the 2009 San Francisco Pride Parade. Photos: © David Paul Morris/Getty Images

"Of all people, she didn't have to fly out to Toronto and then drive out to Prince Edward County at 93 years old to do a little indie film, but it was her passion, and it was her spirit, and it was her that I'll always remember," he thoughtfully said.

Their bonding time continued off set, when Cloris and her daughter Dinah extended their stay in Toronto by two weeks just so she could attend Pride. He lovingly reminisced seeing her being wheeled down Church Street, soaking up the moment.

Plenty of stars have learned from their elder counterparts throughout film history. Thomas said while you hear lots of other actors speaking about how working with their counterparts makes them better at their own craft, he never really understood what that meant until he worked with Cloris.

"I've never acted opposite to anybody who was that present, who was that genuinely surprised at what was happening every take, like she truly had no idea what was going to happen next, and lived it so truthfully," he said. "It's truly because she was so alive in every take that it forces you to be present – it forces you into that moment. You kind of just jump on the train and go with it. I would say that she taught me how to be in the moment."

Jump, Darling will be available to rent on demand across Canada in March through iTunes, Google Play, Rogers, Telus and Shaw.

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