Role was actor's parting love letter

Before she gave what might be the best performance of her life, Tracy Wright knew that it might also be her last.

The Toronto actor, who died last summer of pancreatic cancer at age 50, gives a powerful and convincing performance as a former rock artist and recovering addict in Trigger.

Producer Jennifer Jonas and Wright's husband, Don McKellar, who plays a cameo role in the drama, were on hand for Trigger's screening Sunday at the Kamloops Canadian and International Film Festival.

"We found out last fall Tracy was sick and we started making the film because we had to," Jonas said.

McKellar said Wright received her diagnosis before work on the film had begun last year. He assumed the diagnosis would end her involvement in the project.

"Basically I was trying to say it's impossible," McKellar said. "I said it can't happen. Then I got a phone call and they said, 'We're doing it next week.' "

Wright was determined to follow through with filming and found strength through the production despite a tight schedule and a demanding script. Filming was condensed into four weekends, a challenging feat but one that inspired close collaboration in the Toronto film community. It became a labour of love.

"It was really a question of life and death," McKellar said. They had been partners for years and married four months after her diagnosis. "(The film) was more important than her treatment. I was wondering throughout whether she would have the strength. It was amazing to see."

When the film opens with a scene of Wright and Parker at Toronto's Canoe restaurant, McKellar was under the table, ready to prompt them should they forget their lines.

Based on a play by Daniel McIvor, Trigger stars Molly Parker as Kat opposite Wright as Vic. They fronted a rock band in the '90s before publicly breaking up on stage, a stormy scene that begins the film doc-style. Reunited for a tribute concert 10 years later, they are still coming to terms with the emotional fallout.

Vic is an offbeat character resembling a latter-day Patti Smith, sometimes called the Godmother of Punk. She's disheveled and embittered - an indie artist who has yet to release her solo recording - and still struggling with heroin addiction. Parker's character has moved on to another career but wants to rekindle the friendship.

The film production was a reunion in itself, since McIvor, McKellar, Wright and Parker played in the CBC-TV cult series Twitch City in the late 1990s.

The festival continues tonight at 7 p.m. with the made-in-B.C. documentary One Big Happa Family, a groundbreaking look at how Japanese-Canadians have adapted culturally. Filmmaker Jeff Chiba Stearns will introduce his film. Small Town Murder Songs and Made In Dagenham round out the festival Wednesday and Thursday (7 p.m. for both) respectively.

Four Sisters, a short film made in Newfoundland and starring Kamloops actor Janet Michael, preceded Trigger. Michael plays an elder sister who gathers with her siblings at a tense time in their lives.

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