The Toronto International Film Festival has grown to become the world’s leading public festival since its inception 42 years ago. With Hollywood’s elite flooding the streets of Toronto for 10 days in September year after year, along with thousands of fans, TIFF has established Canada as a major player on the global cinema scene, and turned the country’s largest metropolis into a movie-lover’s paradise filled with celebrity sightings and world premieres. “It’s like our Super Bowl,” says Cheryl Hickey, host of Entertainment Tonight Canada. “It really is the kick-off to Oscars season—the buzz is born at TIFF.”
As an entertainment reporter and powerhouse, Hickey has been covering the film festival for more than a decade. “We’re at all the screenings and parties, we’re on the red carpets, and we’re doing interviews with all the top stars, even the up-and-coming stars.”
Here, Hickey, who’s interviewed luminaries ranging from Nicole Kidman to Oprah Winfrey, shares her favourite TIFF moments, dream celebrity interview, and more.
How does ET Canada stand out from other Canadian entertainment series during TIFF?
“We do a really good job of putting the spotlight on Canadian stars and artists, which is really important. And it’s not just the people in front of the camera: it’s the directors, the producers, the writers, the editors, and the camerapeople. Canada is so rich with talent. Also, we cover that star power everyone craves: what are they wearing, who are they on a date with at a party—we’re up on all that stuff.”
What’s your favourite part of the film festival?
“I love the parties. They are so much fun and everybody really lets go during those days. It’s tough for us, though, because we have to let go, but we also have a show and big interviews to do the next day.”
When you say, “everybody lets go,” does that include celebrities too?
“Yes! I think because Canada is a place where stars can relax; they aren’t going to be bombarded too much, so they feel like they can be themselves and just have fun. I think the difference is that Canadian fans understand that there’s real life, and then there’s entertainment. They allow stars to have their real life, and that’s special.”
Which celebrity has surprised you the most over the years?
“The year Jamie Foxx came into town for his movie Ray, he affected the film festival like nobody else. The story of Ray Charles was so powerful and beautiful, and the music spoke to everybody. Also, Jamie loves to party—he held some of the best parties of all time!”
What’s been your most memorable red-carpet moment?
“One year, on the red carpet with Nicole Kidman, all of her fans were standing behind me and some guy whacked me on the head with a clipboard. She became a momma bear and jumped over me and said, “Everybody step back!” It was amazing. She’ll forever be my bodyguard and biggest defender.”
Who’s still on your dream list to interview?
“I’ve always wanted Goldie Hawn and Kate Hudson for a Mother’s Day special—and someday I’m going to make that happen! Ansel Elgort is amazing. He’s someone who’s newer and doing great things. And I love Chris Pratt. I interviewed him a few years ago for Moneyball.”
What do you love most about what TIFF brings to Toronto?
“There’s a special energy. You feel it three days before, and everyone’s getting amped up. And it does so much for this city and, really, for this country: it’s great for the industry, production houses, and small businesses that are in and around the area. As great as it is to have the American accolades, TIFF shines a light on all the great work Canadians do.”