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Solo Star Théodore Pellerin on Discovering His Femininity 

The TIFF ‘23 Best Canadian Feature Film you don’t want to miss. 

by Maggie McPhee

If Solo is Sophie Dupuis’s love letter to drag culture, then Théodore Pellerin is the gel-pen ink. The Quebecois director-actor pair behind Family First (2018) and Underground (2020) are back with the stirring saga of young drag artist Simon being pulled apart by a toxic boyfriend, Olivier (Félix Maritaud, 120 Beats Per Minute). Solo is a film full of care — it’s both an homage to Montreal’s drag scene and a warm hug to victims of emotional abuse.

Pellerin plays two Simons: the glamorous performer and the vulnerable partner. The veteran actor holds these polarities, balancing the spectacular with the sensitive. His performance will go down in Canada’s cinematic history. 

He describes his approach to acting as solving a puzzle, unique to each new script and character. “It comes down to answering all the questions that you have, until everything is clear. And the question can be why is that movement happening? Why is he going there? Why does he say that? It’s always clarifying, clarifying, clarifying, clarifying until it comes to life and it makes sense,” he tells RANGE. “That is when I feel like I can go on set, otherwise I’m going to be scared, and I won’t really be able to act.” 

But his relationship with Dupuis is different. They’ve been friends for eight years, ever since auditions for Family First. Dupuis wrote this role with him in mind, and she’s known for developing collaborative relationships with her crew, inviting them into the script editing process. They’ll start with a draft, improvise scenes to discover new ideas, and then she’ll return to the writing process. They follow their creative instincts as a collective. 

“There’s a different kind of collaboration between the two of us, and she also demands a different kind of collaboration from all her actors,” he shares. “She wants them to speak out, to ask questions, to name things, to include themselves and pour themselves into the script and the story, and sometimes modify the characters and the arc and the trajectory and even the story.”  

The environment on a Dupuis set brims with positivity. The care displayed  on screen also manifests behind the scenes. “She’s always laughing and giggly and happy,”Pellerin says with a smile. “We’re all happy to be there, we’re all having a good time, even when we’re shooting dark scenes. It’s just a really good time to work with Sophie, she’s incredibly generous and loving.” 

Playing a drag queen required rigorous physical preparation. Maritaud and Pellerin, who became fast friends, spent two months developing their performer personas. Choreographer Gerard X Reyes, one of the founders of Montreal’s kiki drag scene, coaxed out their inner drag artist. They perfected the hard skills – dancing in heels – and the soft skills, like giving their all to the stage.  

“And it felt great,” says Pellerin, “after all these rehearsals and all these tests, to get on stage and be there with all the aura and energy of a six-foot-two guy in heels and a wig that gives, with the light and the music. It’s strong, it’s fun, and you automatically view yourself very differently and there’s automatically a character that comes on that is flamboyant. So you kind of just let it happen.”  

Audiences will interpret what Pellerin refers to as ‘letting it happen’ as slaying, eating, giving mother, et cetera. She’s a natural. The actor challenged himself to discover his inner feminine side. “That was a big process as well,” he says. “Allowing yourself to be in a place where this femininity that these characters have is valued, and you feel yourself at your best through it.”

Viewers, too, will feel at their best after following Simon on his whirlwind journey. Though the depiction of an abuser is uncannily terrifying – Dupuis worked with a psychologist to ensure accuracy – Solo ends with empowerment. 

“It is a universal story. It’s not about gender, it’s not about sexual identity or orientation,” Pellerin explains. “We hope that if some people are stuck or have been stuck in toxic relationships, they can recognize themselves or some patterns and have a sparkle that allows them to liberate themselves.” 

One of our TIFF favourites, Solo is screening in select theatres.