August 29, 2012 3:40 am
Updated: May 7, 2013 7:37 am

Rising star Connor Jessup ready to immerse himself in TIFF

Connor Jessup

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Connor Jessup has been soaking up the excitement of the Toronto International Film Festival for a decade but this year he’ll be there as a bona fide VIP. The 18-year-old is one of four people selected to be part of the TIFF Rising Star program, an initiative designed to thrust homegrown actors into the festival spotlight.

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“TIFF has been a big, big part of my life for the longest time,” says Jessup, who was born and raised in Toronto. “I jumped at the opportunity to be involved with it in a way that’s more active than just sneaking into movies when you’re nine.”

Jessup and three other actors Charlotte Sullivan, Charlie Carrick and Tatiana Maslany will benefit from meeting filmmakers, producers, casting directors and other industry movers-and-shakers.

“I’m ready to be surprised,” he says. “They give you a list of all the stuff they’re going to put you through and all the programs and premieres and people you’re going to meet… and it’s massive.”

Jessup has another reason to attend TIFF this year. He stars in Blackbird, a film about a troubled teen wrongly accused of planning a Columbine-style shooting. It will be screened Sept. 9 at 9:45pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox and Sept. 10 at 1pm at the AGO’s Jackman Hall.

“I’m in every scene in the film. It definitely made the shooting experience a little more rigorous,” recalls Jessup, who is anxious to share the film with an audience. “I’ve seen it by myself on the computer, which is not the same as watching it with friends and family and strangers in a theatre.”

Jessup is currently in Vancouver filming the third season of the alien-invasion series Falling Skies for U.S. cable network TNT. “I’m liking Vancouver a lot although I can’t say I know much of it,” he says. “I spend most of my time sleeping or working. It’s a nice city. It’s pretty to look at, it’s got good restaurants.”

Production of the series moved from Toronto to Vancouver after the first season. “It was nice to be able to go home at night after shooting but at the same time it’s nice not to go home at night, if you know what I mean,” Jessup explains. “It’s nice to have my own place. When I moved out here to shoot it was the first time I ever lived in my own apartment by myself so that was kind of exciting.”

Despite the show’s success, Jessup enjoys a bit of anonymity in Canada, where Falling Skies airs on the little-known Super Channel. “It comes up in conversations a couple of times a week: ‘Why are you here? What are you working on?’ Nobody has ever heard of it,” he says. “You really do get this feeling that you’re working on this show just for you and your friends in the cast and crew. It’s easy to forget that it’s as big as it is in other parts of the world.”

Besides steady work, the Steven Spielberg-produced Falling Skies provides Jessup with other rewards. “You get to spend a long portion of your year on set working with people in a good learning environment,” he explains. “It gives you the flexibility to do other things that you might want to do and at the same time it improves you as an actor and as a filmmaker. Every minute you spend on a set, no matter what you’re doing, improves you as a filmmaker.”

A filmmaker is exactly what Jessup hopes to be. He wrote and directed two short films and produced the independent film Amy George, which was shown at last year’s TIFF. He says he has a few projects in development but is hesitant to reveal specifics.

Clearly, it’s only a matter of time before Jessup is back at TIFF to showcase his feature directorial debut. “My goal has always been to direct my first feature before I’m 25, which is when Orson Welles directed Citizen Kane,” he admits. “If that doesn’t work out I can bump it up to 27 because that’s when Spielberg directed Jaws.”

The first deadline seems more likely. “Right now 25 seems not too optimistic,” he agrees. “We’ll see.”

© 2012 Shaw Media

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