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Tracy Wright (1959-2010)

'Tracy was willing to try anything, even if it most likely wouldn't work out'

Tracy Wright (centre) on the set of Bruce McDonald's Trigger.

When I lived on Oxford St, I’d pass Tracy Wright as she stumbled through Kensington Market looking for coffee. She’d flash me the chillest peace sign and I’d swoon a little because, well, she was Tracy Wright. I’d been obsessed with her films since Bruce McDonald’s Highway 61 and Elimination Dance. I loved her in Don McKellar’s Last Night. I witnessed her lighting up a million plays in every theatre in Toronto and was lucky enough to bask first-hand in her brilliance when I worked at The Theatre Centre.

In 2001, I needed a place to live. The lovely Clinton Walker told me Tracy was looking for someone. It seemed ridiculous to try to live with someone you near-worship, but I really needed a place.

I met with Tracy, who turned out to be the sweetest, funniest, most unassuming person. We talked and laughed in her kitchen for hours, about her ex-roommate who’d covered all the windows and lamps so that the place resembled a crypt, about her relationship with Don McKellar, about her ex-girlfriend, my girlfriend, losing her mother. Tracy hadn’t been spending much time in the apartment but wanted to. We clicked immediately, I took the room, and she went out and bought frying pans to make her first meal there in years.

Tracy never did stay at home much, and that was her last cooking extravaganza. We were roommates but she was more like a visitor who paid half the rent. Sounds sweet maybe, but to be honest I’d never wanted a roommate to come home so badly. I looked forward to Tracy’s presence like she was the good kind of family.

Years later when Tracy officially moved in with Don, she still came to see me or we’d meet for beer. We had no friends in common apart from Clinton, yet we always kept in touch and supported each other. She once came to a huge protest with my girlfriend and me. The police violence freaked her out and she was never one for crowds, but she went to her first protest because I asked her. I got weepy about it then and I’m still weepy, with a gratitude I often felt towards Tracy.

Tracy was willing to try anything, even if it most likely wouldn’t work out. And she was so damn generous. She always asked about my work. She came to Body Geometry at The Theatre Centre, too – my first theatre commission as both writer and performer. It was an okay show, not brilliant, but she came and she hugged me – despite not being much of a hugger, either.

Canada’s never been one for respecting artists, especially women over 30. It was hard to watch Tracy getting older. Older, ha! She was in her 40s. But year by year it was harder for her to find good work, despite being the best of the best. At times she seemed at a loss as to what to do. Of course, she was a brilliant actor and should have been acting constantly.

So it was grand when Miranda July stalked Tracy for Me, You and Everyone We Know. Tracy was alarmed by Miranda at first; she was never good at being worshipped. But she ended up taking the role and making one of my favourite movies ever – and one of the most heartbreaking moments in cinematic history. There was something of Tracy in that character, something perhaps of each of us, lonely and searching. After setting up a blind date with a potential lover, she waits and waits on a park bench until she realizes her date is the little boy sitting next to her. It rips out my heart, that moment when hope fades.

That was at the crux of Tracy’s brilliance, the rawness with which she reflected us back to ourselves. I don’t use the word genius lightly, but Tracy was. I never saw her perform without laughing my ass off and/or getting goosebumps. From Jacob Wren to Nadia Ross to Paul Bettis to Sky Gilbert to Daniel MacIvor, she never faltered.

Last time I was home, Tracy and I missed each other, and I’ve been in Edinburgh for three years with only one trip back. I’d just realized the other day that it had been a while since she sent me one of her lovely emails, but I had no idea she was ill. The news of her death was shattering.

The world has lost one fine actor and human being. Lucky for us, she left a huge amount of work to marvel over.

Tracy Wright died June 22 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.