The Swearing Jar director Lindsay MacKay is opening up about a secret she kept from the indie film’s producers when interviewing to direct a romantic drama that stars Adelaide Clemens and Suits star Patrick J. Adams and has its world premiere this weekend at the Toronto Film Festival.
As art imitates life, one of the film’s lead characters dies from a brain aneurysm, and MacKay herself had a near-death experience in 2017 when she was hospitalized due to a traumatic brain injury. “Wow, this is the universe telling me I should go after this,” MacKay told The Hollywood Reporter about her reaction to reading the original film script for The Swearing Jar by Kate Hewlett.
The Los Angeles-based director never saw that proverbial white light, but MacKay still has vivid memories of her own brain aneurysm that, like a lightening bolt to the head, struck her down as she sprinted on a treadmill in her parents’ home while visiting them in her native Canada.
MacKay survived the severe brain injury because a paramedic kept her on life support via a breathing tube in the ambulance until they could get her to an intensive care unit where she laid in a coma for days.
“[The doctors] told my parents that it was a really grave situation, and if there was anyone that needed to say goodbye, they should be informed,” MacKay recalled.
Eventually, she did recover, enough to pitch to direct The Swearing Jar, which follows aspiring singer-songwriter Carey, played by Clemens, who falls for Owen, a local bookstore clerk (Douglas Smith), even as she’s married to Simon, played by Adams.
But MacKay remained tight-lipped over her brain injury when putting herself up for the gig because, she may have survived a near-death experience, but her doctors warned MacKay that she might never direct a movie again.
“I was told when I was in the hospital that I would never be able to return to my career. And I obviously thought I wouldn’t be able to do this again,” said MacKay, who graduated from the American Film Institute and premiered her first movie, Wet Bum, at TIFF in 2014.
“There was a lot of change in my life, but I knew my [creative] taste was still there. My passion for storytelling was still there. And those two things were the driving force in my life,” she added. After MacKay signed on to direct The Swearing Jar, she told her cast, which includes Kathleen Turner.
One day, one of the film’s producers, Jane Loughman, said she had known of a personal health crisis MacKay had faced but not that it involved a cerebral hemorrhage closely associated with the film’s script and narrative.
“So we were all, ‘Wow, I guess this is meant to be,’” she recounted.
MacKay says directing The Swearing Jar, in certain ways, was easier than fighting for her life in a hospital. “What I overcame, in terms of my physical and mental abilities was obviously way more difficult than the challenge of making a movie,” she insisted.
Yet directing a film is its own mountain to climb. “There’s so many factors in play. There’s so many things that could go wrong, again and again and again. In comparison, yes, they feel like small battles. But because I’m so passionate about making movies, they’re really important to me,” MacKay explained.
And, as she gets set to screen her second movie with a world premiere in Toronto this weekend, MacKay will be surrounded by her family and friends. That includes her father, who picked her up off of a basement floor on that fateful day to get MacKay to a local hospital in time to save her life, and who, along with her mother, feared they might be personally caring for their stricken daughter for the rest of their lives.
“To come back, and with a film that has Kathleen Turner, who’s a star to everyone, but that’s especially mind-blowing for them. As parents, on many levels, they’re very proud,” MacKay said.
The Toronto Film Festival continues until Sept. 18.