'Room' director wants Jacob Tremblay to receive honourary Oscar

TORONTO -- If you ask "Room" director Lenny Abrahamson, Jacob Tremblay gave one of the best performances of the year as a five-year-old who gradually learns he's spent his entire life in captivity.

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The Vancouver-bred breakout is in nearly every scene of the Oscar-nominated Canada-Ireland co-production, and the nine-year-old has become a sought-after interview on various red carpets and will be a presenter at next week's Academy Awards.

Tremblay's co-star Brie Larson is considered a best actress front-runner for her turn as Jack's fiercely devoted mother, who was abducted as a teen and gave birth while locked in a garden shed.

Abrahamson says the Academy Awards should revive its bygone "juvenile award" for Tremblay, who was submitted for consideration in the best supporting actor category but failed to get a nod.

"He deserves massive credit and I do wish there was a category in which he could be recognized," Abrahamson said in a recent interview, noting that it can be difficult to measure a youngster's performance against that of an adult.

"If you have a young actor category then you can judge people against their peers in a different way."

There would seem to be no shortage of youngsters who could compete in such a category.

In addition to Tremblay, praise has poured in for teenager Abraham Attah as a child soldier in "Beasts of No Nation" and Milo Parker in "Mr. Holmes," while other Canadian standouts include Nick Serino in "Sleeping Giant" and Jack Fulton in "Closet Monster."

This year seems to have produced an exceptional number of remarkable performances from youngsters, says film producer Martin Katz, also chairman of the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television, which runs the Canadian Screen Awards.

He boasted of the academy's decision to hand Tremblay a best actor nomination for a Canadian Screen Award next month, a race that will pit the youngster against seasoned stage and screen veteran Christopher Plummer.

"There's only two people in the movie, effectively, who are clearly leads -- Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay," he says.

"For Jacob Tremblay to have been in a category of best supporting actor just because he's younger than everyone else, I think, would not have been an appropriate way to treat his performance. Which was outstanding."

If he wins, Tremblay would be the third child actor in five years to win an acting prize at Canada's version of the Oscars.

Sophie Nelisse won best supporting actress in 2012 at age 11 for her turn in "Monsieur Lazhar," while 16-year-old Rachel Mwanza won a best actress trophy the following year for "War Witch."

Of course, the Oscars have seen their fair share of kid contenders over the years.

At age nine, Quvenzhane Wallis competed for best actress in 2013 for "Beasts of the Southern Wild," Abigail Breslin sought the best supporting actress title in 2007 for "Little Miss Sunshine" at age 10, and Saoirse Ronan, a best actress nominee this year for "Brooklyn," chased the best supporting actress crown in 2008 for "Atonement" at age 13.

Before them, best supporting actress winners included 10-year-old Tatum O'Neal for "Paper Moon" in 1974, 11-year-old Anna Paquin for "The Piano" in 1994, and 16-year-old Patty Duke for "The Miracle Worker" in 1963.

In the '30s and '40s, several child actors were given smaller-sized honorary Oscars, dubbed "Juvenile Awards." Since then, children and adults have been nominated side-by-side in competitive categories.

But Abrahamson suggested it might not be fair to compare a youngster to an adult.

"It's very hard for voters to know always how much is the child and how much was sort of engineered in by the filmmakers," he says from Los Angeles, noting he had to employ a few tricks to elicit what he needed for his Oscar-nominated work as director.

"It's a different way of working sometimes with children, especially on a film like 'Room' where the material was challenging and where it wouldn't be appropriate for Jake to always know what's really going on in the scene."

He notes Tremblay was just seven when they shot "Room," based on Irish-Canadian writer Emma Donoghue's novel of the same name.

"Seven-year-olds are distractable. Anybody who has kids knows how hard it is to wrangle a child -- to get them into the car, get them to do their homework, get them into their pyjamas -- so there's the whole business of bringing the child into a focused place and getting them to where they need to be to really inhabit the character."

Katz, whose producing credits include the films "Maps to the Stars" and "Cosmopolis" and the TV series "My Life As a Dog," said academy voters have several factors to consider when casting their ballot.

"You do have to evaluate whether you think this is a brilliant performance or whether it's someone playing, effectively, the one role they're capable in their lives of playing, or whether you can judge someone's performance as an actor based on a single incident rather than a lifetime of seeing them in multiple roles and realizing they have a great talent for presenting different characters," he says.

"But that, I think, is part of that task of the voter in any year."

Tremblay has already been recognized with a slew of prizes from the likes of the U.S. National Board of Review and the Critics' Choice Awards.

Abrahamson says he was impressed by the work the boy put into the role, and expects more great things from his burgeoning talent.

"I think the most satisfying thing was the end when he was more confident and the acting muscles were becoming more developed through practice," he says.

"There were times he would just play the scene beautifully -- start to finish, with no extra coaching, no stopping and starting, no lines thrown in by me from outside.

"And you're just watching the emerging of this amazing talent."

The Oscars take place Feb. 28.


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