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14 October 2010

Sleepless in Toronto

By Rob Brydon

Friday 10 September

I’m off to Heathrow for a flight to Canada and the Toronto International Film Festival. I’ve been to the festival before, five years ago, with A Cock and Bull Story, directed by Michael Winterbottom and co-starring Steve Coogan. This time, though, it’s a very different affair; it’s The Trip, directed by Michael Winterbottom and co-starring Steve Coogan . . . We play ourselves, basically – if ever so slightly heightened versions – driving around the Lake District reviewing restaurants and bickering.

The project is primarily a six-part television series for the BBC, but Michael thought it would be interesting to cut a film version, which he then submitted to Toronto. They loved it, so here we are. Michael arrives at Terminal 5, shortly followed by Steve. Mr Coogan is wearing a pale-green linen suit with accompanying hat. His hair is long and he’s got a beard. He looks like an Italian actor delighted by the news that he’s to star in a remake of Catweazle.

Eight hours later we’re in Canada. Toronto is warm and sunny and our hotel is packed with film-related people checking in and generally thronging. It seems like it might be the epicentre of the festival, buzzing night and day. I hope not. We wander over to a restaurant and sit outside in the sun. Minnie Driver comes over. She’s here with a film called Barney’s Version; there’s a screening on Sunday, would we like to come? Well, aside from the fact that it features Minnie, which surely is reason enough, I happen to know that Dustin Hoffman is also in it, so we say, “Yes please . . .”

Saturday 11 September

The day of our first screening, and I wake having amassed an impressive four hours’ sleep. It’s four in the morning. Unable to get back off, I watch one of the pay movies, a documentary about Joan Rivers. She’s still working at 77, criss-crossing the country with the energy of someone half her age, still desperate to be in the race. The day passes in an uneventful, wide-awake, sleepy haze until the evening arrives and we troop off to the screening. At the packed cinema, we take our seats among the curious Canadians. The film starts, and soon the laughter begins. Luckily it sticks around, and when Steve and I take to the stage for a Q&A we are met with cheers and applause. This is a relief.

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Sunday 12 September

Another four hours’ sleep. This is becoming a habit. At midday I meet up with my friend Michael Sheen. He’s here with a film called Beautiful Boy. Michael and I grew up within a mile of each other in Baglan, South Wales. He is not only a brilliant actor, but also a wonderful storyteller. In the space of a couple of hours, he regales me with tales of his encounters with some of the biggest names in the movies. Two particularly good stories stand out, one involving Robert De Niro, the other Woody Allen. I consider telling him about the time I sat in for Ken Bruce on Radio 2, but decide it would be rude to steal his thunder.

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In the evening, Steve and I walk over to the screening of Barney’s Version. Minnie has got us seats in the VIP and cast section where, feeling like interlopers, we sit with huge bags of popcorn and watch the proceedings unfold: “Ooh, look . . . [munch, munch] David Cronenberg!” The lights go down. Two hours later they come up again and we are in tears. This is a wonderful, funny, moving, thoughtful film and we are bowled over. If it doesn’t win Oscars I’ll eat a small hat made of chocolate.

We exit the auditorium and find ourselves among the cast as they mill around waiting to leave. I spot Rosamund Pike and positively assault her with the ferocity of my praise; she seems shocked. Steve feels we should head off; we are, after all, nothing to do with this excellent film. I vote that we stay, just in case some of the success might rub off on us. We leave.

Monday 13 September

Our last day, and after an unprecedented seven hours’ sleep, I feel I can take on the world. I set off on a walk and find myself chatting to a local man. Hearing my accent, he enquires where I’m from and, on being told I’ve come from London, he says: “Welcome to our wonderful city!” He asks how long I’m here and on hearing it’s just three days he seems genuinely upset. Close to tears, even. “Oh no! Too soon, too soon . . .” I quicken my pace.

A few hours later, Steve and I are backstage listening to the laughter of the audience just reaching the end of another screening of The Trip. We walk out for the Q&A and are greeted with a standing ovation. Ten minutes later we leave the stage to resounding cheers – a very agreeable state of affairs. There’s just time for a quick lunch before the flight home, and as we leave the restaurant we are accosted by a smiling Ivan Reitman, the celebrated Canadian director of, among other films, Ghost Busters. He was at the screening and loved the film. Now, if that’s not something strange in your neighbourhood, then I don’t know what is.

Read more from Rob Brydon at

Next week: Nicholas Lezard