The 2013 Actors' Conservatory Showcase

George Pimentel Photography | Sam Santos

The 2013 Actors' Conservatory residents with Daniel MacIvor

George Pimentel Photography | Sam Santos

Sponsor Profile: The Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation

By Jennifer Cowan ● October 23, 2014 15:00

Brian Linehan, Canada’s best-known celebrity interviewer, passed away in 2004 after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2002.

When revered television host and celebrity interviewer Brian Linehan passed away a decade ago, one of his wishes was that his estate be used to help foster the development of creative talent in this country. As one of the leading champions of a Canadian star system, it is fitting that his legacy would involve supporting the Canadian Film Centre.

The Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation is a major sponsor of several CFC programs and a staunch backer of Norman Jewison’s vision of creating a place to nurture talent and bolster the country’s entertainment industry. Both Jewison and Linehan believed that Canadian cultural endeavours needed to have an international focus in order to be truly successful, and if it were possible to train artists here and give them opportunities for creative work, they would always come home. “The aims are 100 per cent consistent,” says Michael A. Levine, the well-respected entertainment lawyer and executor of Linehan’s estate.

Michael Levine speaking at the 2013 CFC Actors' Conservatory Showcase on Wednesday, February 26, 2014.

A long-time supporter of the CFC, Levine was one of Jewison’s early confidants and served as the CFC’s first secretary. “I’m a member of the profession and a part of the entertainment industry, rather than a corporation with an interest in the arts like a chartered bank, so my interest is absolutely one of actually living this rather than simply being interested in it as an outsider,” he explains. This insider status was crucial to understanding the growing needs of the CFC.

The endowment from The Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation was instrumental in helping the CFC establish and launch the Actors’ Conservatory, as well as in securing funds from Shaw Media and the Government of Ontario to expand program offerings. The Foundation has funded the Actors’ Conservatory since its inception and has provided much-needed bursaries for participating actors to be able to fully commit to the program.

To date, the Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation has helped nurture and support 50 talented actors through the Actors’ Conservatory, including Sarah Allen, a series regular on Remedy who was recently named one of Playback Magazine’s 5 to Watch and was lauded a TIFF Rising Star in 2011 for her lead role in the feature film The HusbandMatthew Owen Murray, the newest Rookie on the hit TV series Rookie BlueEli Goree, who is currently filming a supporting role in the feature film Race alongside Jason Sudeikis and Jeremy Irons; and Natalie Krill, who has recurring roles on TV series The Listener, Remedy and The Next Step, as well as supporting roles in the feature films After the Ball and Make Your Move.

In addition to funding the program, the Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation also helped support the building of the new Northern Dancer Pavilion, a uniquely designed space which houses many of the CFC Actors’ Conservatory’s workshops and activities.

Levine attributes the CFC’s success to a focused vision for building the cultural industries, a clear understanding of the media business climate and discerning taste in creative individuals. “They select excellent talent,” he says adding, “they’re extremely welcoming of their sponsors and they’ve learned the first rule of philanthropy – don’t simply take people’s money but figure out why people are providing their support and try to make sure those objectives are achieved.” The team at The Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation, which includes producers Marcia Martin and George Anthony, retired CTV executive Arthur Weinthal and Maxine Quigley, has been particularly impressed by the CFC’s ability to evolve with the explosion of digital platform innovations.

As well as founding The Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation, Levine, a former partner at Goodmans LLP, serves as the chairman of the Westwood Talent Agency. He has worked in all areas of the business from theatre and documentary to television, books and films. Having contributed to the entertainment industry throughout his career, some of his proudest achievements include his first executive producer credit on the Terry Fox Story; acting as “wet nurse” for the Anne of Green Gables series by serving as legal counsel for Kevin Sullivan and untangling a complex copyright issue; working with Dr. Robert Ballard on the original documentaries of his expeditions in search of the Titanic wreckage, which were vital to James Cameron’s epic drama and helping create The Heritage Minutes. “I lucked into entertainment very young and there really wasn’t much of an industry when I started and I had the good fortune of tethering myself to the rocket ship as it went upward.” he says.

As the director of The Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation working in tandem with Slawko Klymkiw, CFC’s CEO, and his executive team, Levine is thrilled with the centre’s continued success and feels certain that Brian would appreciate how his legacy is helping to support and sustain the next generation of Canadian talent in film, TV, onscreen acting, music and digital media.