It's the kind of last minute invitation I couldn't turn down - a ticket to the Artists for Peace and Justice Fundraiser. This isn't just any benefit show. It's an exclusive, chi-chi event held in the magnificent backyard of Roots co-founder Michael Budman in the heart of Toronto during the Toronto International Film Festival. Writer/director Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby), is the brainchild of the charity which raises money to help the impoverished people of Haiti. Cost per ticket - over $1200!!
Originally from Toronto, this is the 5th year that Hollywood based Haggis has organized this event during the film fest to take advantage of the star power to increase the draw and dollars.
First, let's talk about Michael Budman's backyard. Well, it is huge. Big enough for a full size pool and cabana house, a stage for the days' performances, a ton of catering and sofas, and then some. There's so much space he even has a full sized hockey rink which apparently gets used a lot in the winter! Although I only peeked into his house and spotted his gorgeous all white kitchen, I was told that the inside is all stunning art deco. I couldn't help watching him watch the afternoon unfold.
But the action at this shindig was really outside in the backyard where Daniel Lanois, Rufus Wainright and Micheal Bolton (!) each performed a short set. I was crossing my fingers that when Daniel Lanois came onstage he'd bring on Bono or Emily Lou Harris, but no such luck.
The first famous face I bumped into was the lovely and talented Traci Melchor, my old buddy from MuchMusic who is now one of the hosts of the new CTV talk show The Social. Have you seen it yet? I just found out the show is being shot in what was the old MuchMusic studio. How times have changed!
Speaking of TV, Canada's heart throb George Strombo arrived bedecked in a polka dot shirt, navy bow tie and black suit jacket. Very dapper. He also seems to have lost a lot of weight (not that he needed to. He was hot before!).
He whipped out a photo to show me of one of his many beloved motorcycles on his phone. I said something like "you keep photos of your bikes like I do of my kids." His response? "I don't want kids. I just want motorcycles." You gotta love a guy who know what he wants!
And then he showed off a photo of himself on one of his many solo motorcycle tours across the States proudly donning a beard. What do you think? Hot or not?
As for Hollywood A-listers. I chatted with Paul Haggis briefly, pulling out the I-used-to-be-on-MuchMusic card so he'd remember me (which he did). I'd met him at the Gemini awards years ago when he was working with Paul Gross on the series Due South. He was gracious taking photos with me and all my friends, and anyone brave enough to ask him to pose.
The real reason Haggis is in town is to promote his new film Third Person, bringing a number of his actors to the party like Adrian Brody (The Pianist) and Moran Atlas.
But the highlight of the party for me was definitely Oscar nominated actress Maria Bello. First, she happily sauntered over to have her photo taken - very down to earth.
Then she headed to the stage built just beside the pool to kick off the auction and surprised the crowd by offering to jump into the pool fully clothed if someone donated $10,000 to Artists for Peace and Justice. Within minutes the auctioneer had a willing person to donate over $10,000! He was invited to come onto the stage and push Maria into the pool wearing her very fancy suit. Luckily I had my awesome Samsung Galaxy camera with me and snapped this action shot of Maria being pushed in.
Don't worry. She took off her red Loboutins before she was pushed. Some things just can't be sacrificed for charity.