Balloon arches, endless coloured streamers, taffeta, chiffon - these are the things of which
high school dreams are made.
The senior prom is a rite of passage for most Canadian teens, whether they're jocks, freaks, geeks, slackers or cheerleaders. For many of them, finding just the right dress or mustering the courage to ask a secret crush is the biggest challenge they'll face.
But in the spring of 2002, Oshawa teen Marc Hall found himself thrust into the international spotlight for his prom-night plans. Hall's request to bring his boyfriend to the year-end gala was denied by his school and then the Catholic school board.
Suddenly, he was not just another prom-bound teen; he had become a symbol of equality for young gay people everywhere. He had sparked a heated political debate and a worldwide media frenzy.
Hall's story is the basis for the new CTV movie Prom Queen, premiering Tuesday, June 1. The fictionalized drama stars up-and-comer Aaron Ashmore.
With North America in turmoil over the issue of same-sex marriage, other young actors might shy away from such a controversial project, but not Ashmore.
"As soon as I heard about the story, I completely remembered it from the news," said the young actor, who added, "I like a bit of a challenge, and I like a bit of controversy. This was something I knew would get some attention."
While the subject matter may not have been daunting for Ashmore, he was concerned about Hall's reaction to his portrayal of him. Although Hall did consult with the writers and director, Ashmore didn't meet the real Marc Hall until the last week of filming, when Hall visited the set.
The actor said he found the experience was somewhat nerve-racking, but was happy to finally come face-to-face with Hall, saying it was an emotional encounter.
A film with such a hot-button topic at its core has the potential to become preachy and political, yet Ashmore explained it's really about the individual experience.
"I don't think Marc was thinking it was a political thing," he said. "He just wanted to go to the prom ... we're telling a story about Marc."
Regardless of the filmmakers' efforts to keep the story personal and lighthearted, the movie touches on a very controversial topic.
The case pitted Canada's constitution, which gives Catholics the right to their own separate school system, against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
After Hall's requests were turned down by both his school and the Catholic school board, he took his case to a higher authority.
In the end, Hall's chutzpah paid off. In May of 2002, just hours before his prom was scheduled to start, Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert McKinnon granted Hall's request for an injunction against the Durham Catholic District School Board.
Playing a teen of such conviction required just the right actor. According to producer Mary Young Leckie of Tapestry Pictures, Ashmore was the perfect choice for the part of Hall.
"When Aaron Ashmore walked through the door," said Leckie, "from the first lines out of his mouth, we knew we had our Marc. It was just a matter of filling in the rest of the holes."
In the process of filling in those holes, she and director John L'Ecuyer ended up with a creme de la creme of Canadian talent.
None other than acclaimed French actress Marie Tifo, who has been recognized by L'Association des Critiques du Quebec with Best Actress honours, took on the role of Hall's supportive mother, Emily. Fellow Quebec film icon Jean-Pierre Bergeron, now based in Los Angeles, plays her husband, Audy, who is slightly more gun-shy but still supportive.
Prom Queen also stars two Canadian comedy legends. Kids in the Hall alumni Scott Thompson and Dave Foley reunite in the film.
Thompson plays successful gay lawyer Lonnie Winn, who approaches Hall and offers his services pro-bono. On the other end of the spectrum, Foley is cast as conservative Catholic school principal Mr. Warrick, the man responsible for turning down Hall's initial request to bring beau Jason (Mac Fyfe) to the dance.
Ashmore said working with Thompson was a real treat, describing the comedy great as a "very nice and open person."
But the young actor isn't quite ready to follow in Thompson and Foley's footsteps and make the big move to Hollywood.
"I love Canada, and I love Toronto," he said. "As long as I can work here, I will."
An actor since the tender age of 10, along with his twin brother Shawn, Ashmore has amassed an impressive list of film credits. Recently, he had a lead role opposite David Hewlett in the feature film Treed Murray and starred in the TV movie My Husband's Double Life.
Up next for Ashmore is the Canadian indie flick My Brother's Keeper, about, strangely enough, twin brothers. Though producers originally wanted both Ashmores for the roles, Aaron took on both parts because Shawn had prior commitments. However, his brother was able to stand in for some wide shots. A release date for the film has not been set.