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Kawhi Life: Playing in front of the bright lights

Over the past week, the Raptors were back to figuring themselves out a little bit. And Kawhi Leonard got to see the process from within and without.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Detroit Pistons Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Kawhi Leonard is a Toronto Raptor — for at least one year. While the team’s on-court success has its part to play, we’ve decided to do our part in selling the city to the Klaw. Each week we’re talking Toronto, and letting Kawhi know what his life could be like here.

This Week In Toronto

As more than a few people noticed this past week, The Handmaid’s Tale was filming in Toronto this past week. The show’s preparing to launch its third season this summer, so it’s actually been in and around the city for some time now. It just happens that this time, the production was front and centre at Nathan Phillip’s Square, right in front of our funky-as-hell City Hall. (I’ve opted to embed the long view here — which does zoom in — because, well, they’re not filming a tea party there.)

Naturally, some less media savvy folks out there were, at first blush, a little put off by the display. Is the municipal government of Toronto now advocating for some sort of new corporal punishment regime? Is this to be our new public square entertainment?! You can obviously see how the mind would run for someone who did not know it was just a TV show starring Elisabeth Moss (of Mad Men fame), based on the book by Canadian author (and ne’er-do-well Toronto resident) Margaret Atwood.

For some, the novelty of Toronto as a film location never wears off. We enjoy seeing the cameras and the huge trailers, the set dressings, maybe a famous actor or two. To catch even a glimpse of the movie-making process, even if you don’t quite know what is being filmed, always seems to carry a special thrill. I can recall walking up Yonge Street and seeing buses with cars smashed through them, military-grade humvees, and the false facade of the Apollo (for The Incredible Hulk). Or the time I rounded onto my old street to see cameras and crew set up in a doorway just a few houses removed from mine (for Being Erica). Just this past winter, crews installed an ice rink to their specifications over top of the existing rink in Mel Lastman Square — all so they could film a sequence for the upcoming My Spy with Dave Bautista. Don’t even get me started on Scott Pilgrim.

There are enough noteworthy locations in Toronto that the Torontoist, the venerable civic-minded blog soon to return (apparently), had a whole series based around the subject. Reel Toronto, as it was called, captured the other half of this specific cinematic phenomenon; if seeing a film being made was cool, recognizing Toronto (usually playing a different city) was extra special. My favourite recent example of this has to be the aforementioned Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which has the added bonus of actually taking place in Toronto. Director Edgar Wright, working from the comic by Bryan Lee O’Malley, made sure to shoot in the Annex, around Casa Loma (due for its own entry in this series), and within a TTC streetcar or two. It is not alone in recent-ish Toronto-based films — Take This Waltz and Enemy, representing the pretty and ugly sides of the city, respectively, are also solid — so its best to keep your eyes peeled.

I realize this is merely a string of film-related anecdotes, but I think the effect here is instructive. Toronto is indeed a photogenic city, even if it lags behind New York, or Los Angeles (the most photographed city on the planet), or the old world capitals. As the Reel Toronto series outlines, this is not some recent thing, a sudden turn of industry that has located a new so-called “Hollywood North”. (I mean, tax incentives and whatnot help get film productions up here, but still.) Filmmakers have been coming to Canada and Toronto for years.

I’ll leave you with my two favourite examples. First, we turn back to the 1970s and The Silent Partner, a classic (but wholly underrated) thriller starring Elliot Gould and Christopher Plummer. There are a zillion things to recommend in this movie (including a young John Candy!), but for our purposes: the scene of its crime and intrigue almost all take place in the then-new Eaton’s Centre (and at the dearly departed Silver Dollar). That’s right, a salacious tale — with Captain Von Trapp as the villain — set just off the main concourse of everyone’s family friendly mall. Go see it.

Second, a random one that I personally cherish. I was once half-watching Pushing Tin, a half-forgotten John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton dramedy (I think; who can recall?), when suddenly, I recognized where I was. For a brief scene, one in which Cusack’s character whips his car through an intersection in a wide U-turn towards a donut shop, it felt like all of Hollywood had landed right in my backyard. The scene in question was at Kipling and Belfield, just north of the Highway 401, a thoroughly unremarkable corner of Toronto but very familiar to me. I had to laugh — lights, camera, action in a place I used to pass just to get to school. Movie magic really can be found anywhere, on both sides of the camera.

Should Kawhi Care?

Well, no.

(We won’t broach the subject of movies with Kawhi Leonard, not least because he does not appear to enjoy answering even benign personal questions. Let’s just assume he enjoys movies and, if told, would appreciate the trivial value that comes along with being able to rhyme off films made in Toronto. Case closed.

But then, a more significant part to this open question: would Kawhi like to be in a movie? Let’s consider the facts. Leonard has a distinct look, but has not shown much [non-physical] charisma on film — be it in scrums or in commercials. At the very least, Leonard is indeed a strong silent type, which has a place on film for sure. Could he aspire to something greater than, say, Boban Marjanovic’s recent turn as a goon in John Wick 3? Is “henchman” really his cinematic ceiling? The fate of this question really rests on that.

Surely there’s a filmmaker out there who could do something with Kawhi’s laugh though, right?)