Kiwi actor Vinnie Bennett having the week of his life in Toronto
A memorable encounter with an Academy Award-winning star has been the highlight of the Toronto Film Festival for Vinnie Bennett.
The 24-year-old Kiwi actor, who appears in the New Zealand film Human Traces at the festival, is also one of the prestigious celebration of world cinema's first-ever four international Rising Stars and as such has had a whirlwind week of parties, meetings and opportunities.
However, despite walking many red carpets, speed dates with producers and directors and chats with casting directors, he says he'll never forget being introduced to his hero Cuba Gooding Jnr.
"I was hanging out the back of the InStyle party the other night, which was so exclusive it had 2.5 metre high hedges around it. A guy walks past wearing a red jacket and I say 'hey, nice jacket – oh, that is Cuba Gooding Jnr!' One of my managers hears me and says, 'would you like to meet him?' And so he introduces me and Cuba says, 'Hey Vinnie, how's it going? It's good to meet you. You know we're going to another party and I guess we're going to go – now'. And he turns around, scales the hedge and flips himself over it. His manager is kind of left there with us and then just kind of follows him over the hedge. It was pretty awesome."
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Speaking to Stuff in a small bar in the centre of the movie mayhem that is currently gripping the Canadian city, Bennett says he also loved chatting to former Family Ties star Justine Bateman, who has a short film screening at Toronto, and the talent lab run by New Zealand acting guru Miranda Harcourt.
"She was really great. Back home, she's really busy working with A-listers like Nicole Kidman, so it was really cool just to have that time with her. She's special, she's magic."
Keen to make the most of the opportunity, Bennett has been cramming as much as possible into his days, starting with events at 8am and not getting to bed until well after midnight.
"What it really has done is helped to kind of defog the Hollywood illusion for me. I guess in New Zealand, the whole North American industry seems kind of intimidating. People kind of put it on a pedestal because the people involved are so powerful, but it was really good just to kind of chat with them and just have open and honest, straightforward, person-to-person conversations."
The Aranui Drama Academy-trained actor laughs when he recounts how Human Traces producer Nadia Maxwell encouraged him to try out for the Rising Star programme, even though it was only supposed to be open to Canadians.
"She just thought we should give it a go anyway. So I sent through some footage from Traces and other projects I'd done in New Zealand and a few weeks later I got an email saying I'd been accepted. This was all before they'd seen the film itself. I guess I can't have been that bad in that then."
Being named a Rising Star has already secure him a Los Angeles and New York-based management team – Primary Wave – and Bennett says he plans to spend the next few weeks in Toronto before deciding his next move.
"I've got a lot of cards in my pocket. I think I'm going to have to take the next fortnight to kind of reassess what's been happening over the last five days, because it has been really really intense.
Traces producer Nadia Maxwell is delighted for Bennett and says it bears out her and the film's director Nic Gorman's original pitch that the project was a "career builder".
"Nic has signed with Echo Lake Entertainment [who also manage actors like Dakota Fanning and Mandy Patinkin] and our next project has been getting a lot of traction really quickly while we are here. It's exciting."
That next project is a sci-fi thriller, "similar to Never Let Me Go or Children of Men", that Maxwell says could be filmed in Christchurch.
In the meantime, Human Traces has already made the front page of Screen International during the Toronto festival and still has one of its three public screenings to go – on Saturday morning New Zealand time. It will be released in cinemas in New Zealand on November 16.