Toronto Star

Cumberbatc­h whistles his way toward an Oscar nom

- Shinan Govani Twitter: @shinangova­ni

He came, he saw, he whistled.

Pursing his lips through the Toronto Internatio­nal Film Festival, Benedict Cumberbatc­h gave the people what they wanted when he whistled on demand from the stage following the unspooling of his new one, “The Power of the Dog,” held at the Princess of Wales the other night.

The movie, which is Jane Campion’s first in 12 years and has him playing quite the meanie — it is part noir, part western and all windswept moodiness — sees him cockily whistling a fair bit as he strides through a Montana landscape.

Proving that it was no stunt whistle double, the British babe 100 per cent accepted the challenge to strut his stuff when asked. Out came a short, sinister whistle, followed by a more loopy, sing-song-y, just as eerie whistle. King Street West shivered. The audience broke out in rivulets of applause.

“I expect to do a lot of whistling,” a more casually clad Cumberbatc­h told me when I crossed paths with him briefly the next day at the Variety Studio, presented by Canada Goose, set up inside the St. Regis Hotel. He was perhaps talking about the long road of awards season politickin­g ahead of him, for this is a role he absolutely will be Oscarnomin­ated for and, in my view, makes him the front-runner coming out of Toronto. He is a force in “Power of the Dog,” let me reiterate — a portrait of torment, with echoes of classic leading men like Robert Mitchum and Richard Burton. I dug the whole movie, which leaves a lot to the imaginatio­n and is the definition of a slow, crackling burn — Campion’s spiritual sequel to “The Piano” (but with men in the centre and a western!).

All that whistling? It surely did not come easy, by the way. The actor watched countless YouTube videos to nail that talent, practising every day on the drive to set. Again and again and again.

In this strange, slimmeddow­n year of TIFF — where the stars have been even more cloaked than they usually are, and the parties few and far between — Cumberbatc­h was definitely one of the bigger delights, even if Cumberbatc­h was often Cumber-catch-meif-you-can. Trepidatio­us about making too much contact, he turned down a line of autograph hounds outside one venue, I hear. “Guys, I’m going to make this very simple for you: COVID,” he told them.

But though coy in general, he did indeed make an exception for the one and only Dionne Warwick. Spotted posing for a selfie with her — another TIFF highlight! — outside of Roy Thomson Hall over the weekend. He asked her. Later, at the news conference connected to the TIFF Tribute Awards —

which had them both onstage as honourees — Warwick returned the love by telling the audience that she discovered “Sherlock” on Netflix during lockdown, binging it late into the night for weeks on end. “That makes me so happy,” said Benedict.

Meanwhile ...

One of the spiffiest celebrity couples made the most of it in Toronto — that would be Jessica Chastain and her husband, Gian Luca Passi de Preposulo, who is an actual Italian count, if you recall. On Friday night, they were spotted getting their veggie on at Planta on Queen Street West. On Sunday, before the premiere of her big movie, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” — to which Chastain fully commits in what is a transforma­tional role — they both popped

into a lovely do held at Harriet’s Rooftop inside the new 1 Hotel downtown. It was hosted by Audi Canada.

With the sky turning an indigo blue as dusk set over the skyline, Chastain told me she was a little nervous about the reception to the film, it having boiled for almost a decade. She got the rights to it after watching the documentar­y it is based on in a hotel room while filming “Zero Dark Thirty.” Gian Luca, meanwhile, was goodnature­d about the video that went viral the other week of Oscar Isaac intensely looking at his wife while kissing her inner arm, on the red carpet at the Venice Film Fest. “We all had a laugh about it,” he told me. Plus: publicity is publicity. Scene! Heard!

Former Ontario premier Bob

Rae and Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergo­sman were among those filling out the almost pre-pandemic-feeling reception held inside the bar at Bisha Hotel to celebrate “Oscar Peterson: Black + White.” It is the latest documentar­y by Barry Avrich.

Paella, Spanish octopus and Iberian ham kept the post“Dune” crowd sated as a select group made the scene at Patria on King West following the showing of the extraordin­ary Denis Villeneuve spectacle at the Cinesphere over the weekend. That shindig was hosted by Audi, too.

“Never Have I Ever” sensation Maitreyi Ramakrishn­an was spotted supporting Joshua Jackson at the lively party the actor held the other night for his production company, Liquid Media Group, at the Windsor Arms Hotel.

Dreamy Josh O’Connor, who was here and there, absolutely gets the quotable award of the fest. Asked to do a TikTok while on the red carpet for his film, “Mothering Sunday,” he said — you may have heard — “What is a TikTok?” (A moment that gave me the same energy as that time the Dowager Countess, in “Downton Abbey,” famously quipped, “What is a weekend?”)

“Belfast” star Jamie Dornan, also passing through the Variety Lounge, left with some Canada Goose outerwear. The Hybridge Lite Jacket. Easy to pack!

 ?? DOMINIK MAGDZIAK GETTY IMAGES ?? Benedict Cumberbatc­h at the TIFF premiere of “The Power of the Dog,” a movie that Shinan Govani says makes Cumberbatc­h an Oscar front-runner coming out of the festival.
DOMINIK MAGDZIAK GETTY IMAGES Benedict Cumberbatc­h at the TIFF premiere of “The Power of the Dog,” a movie that Shinan Govani says makes Cumberbatc­h an Oscar front-runner coming out of the festival.
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