When Beach Hill filmmaker Nathaniel Fox-Pappas started his latest project, TAGER, his subject was just a streetcar ride away.
But in the studio of sculptor, painter, actor, voice actor and poet Aron Tager, Fox-Pappas found another world.
“It’s like stumbling into Narnia when you go into his house,” Fox-Pappas says.
“Every single wall is covered in art.”
Fox-Pappas is 26, and grew up watching Tager play the villainous Dr. Vink on YTV’s horror-fantasy show for teens, Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Today, TV viewers will recognize the 79-year old actor as the man behind Mortie Fagen, the eccentric head partner in Billable Hours, a Showcase comedy about a team of young lawyers.
But someone strolling through Vermont’s Battery Park will know Tager as a sculptor working with painted steel. Theatre-goers may know him as Morrie from the stage adaptation of Mitch Albom’s best seller, and movie buffs may recognize his voice as the narrator setting the stage in X-Men.
Even Nintendo features a piece of Tager’s work – the voice of Kranky Kong in Donkey Kong Country.
For Fox-Pappas, who lists character studies like Taxi Driver among his favourite films, Tager was tricky to frame – he had to cull more than three hours of footage into a 37-minute documentary.
TAGER focuses on Tager’s art work, from his abstract paintings to experiments in cut-paper and sculptures in marble, steel and stone.
Despite that challenge, Fox-Pappas said Tager was a thrill to interview. Like one of his film heroes, Robin Williams, or Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove, he is rich in characters.
“He does voices when he’s just plain talking to you,” Fox-Pappas said.
“He’s so animated, it’s awesome.”
TAGER debuts Nov. 30 at the Fox Theatre.
The Fox is a regular haunt for Fox-Pappas – he saw Kubrick films there, Spielberg classics, and Ghostbusters all three times it played. It’s one of the few Toronto theatres screening short works by young filmmakers.
It’s also where TAGER was born.
Tager, a family friend, was in the audience the last time Fox-Pappas screened a film at the Fox and asked him afterwards if he would like to try and shoot a documentary.
For Fox-Pappas, it was a big leap in genres. After graduating from Ryerson Film Studies in 2009, Fox-Pappas began what became a series of eight surrealist films that show, in unexpected ways, his experiences living with epilepsy and partial paralysis on his right side.
Among those is a trilogy of shorts, Paresis Bloom, which will screen together with TAGER on Nov. 30. Described as “a balletic performance of a hemiplegic right hand,” it is focused on Fox-Pappas’ hands as the left massages the right.
“It’s always wonderful to stretch and keep my right side mobile enough,” he says.
Paresis Bloom is a moving piece, set to Debussy’s Clair de Lune, and was followed by two more movement studies by Fox-Pappas showing dancers at the National Ballet School of Canada.
Fox-Pappas said it never occurred to him while in film school to do films about his disability until he returned from the Katimavik youth program.
Fox-Pappas can rattle off film trivia about leading directors – David Lynch, David Fincher, Stanley Kubrick – and owns the entire set of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. In his own voice-acting experiments, he does James Stewart, Dr. Strangelove, and Animal from the Muppets.
Before Katimavik, Fox-Pappas was focused on playing with as many of his favourite genres as possible. And even in his experimental films, there are hints of that – an angle borrowed from Tarentino in a film where a girl has a Tonic-Clonic seizure; a stuffed rabbit undergoing brain surgery that looks like he would be very at home in a Lynch film.
In bringing the experience of epilepsy to film, Fox-Pappas has something unique and his own.
“I just wanted to lay it all out on the table, and show people who I am,” he said.
TAGER and the Paresis Bloom trilogy play 11 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 30 in a free show at the Fox.