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Director Lindsay MacKay on the health scare that drew her to 'The Swearing Jar'

TORONTO — Hollywood loves a comeback story. But filmmaker Lindsay MacKay is among the rare few who can say that they came back from death.
Lindsay MacKay, director of the Ontario-shot musical "The Swearing Jar," is photographed in Toronto, Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Lupul

TORONTO — Hollywood loves a comeback story. But filmmaker Lindsay MacKay is among the rare few who can say that they came back from death.

MacKay says her brush with mortality gave her an unparalleled perspective in bringing "The Swearing Jar" to the screen.

The Ontario-shot musical romance, which opens in select theatres Friday and hits video on demand on Dec. 20, stars Australian actor Adelaide Clemens of "Rectify" as an aspiring singer-songwriter caught between her feelings for two men — her husband, played by "Suits" alum Patrick Adams, and a bookstore clerk played by Douglas Smith of "Big Love."

Their struggles around love, new life and loss come to bear when someone suffers a brain aneurysm — a plot point that MacKay had personally experienced a few years before signing onto "The Swearing Jar."

"I had a brain aneurysm," MacKay said in an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival, where movie premiered last fall. "I died and came back to life."

MacKay said no one knew about this real-life connection when she was in talks to direct "The Swearing Jar," which is adapted from a musical play of the same name by Toronto-born writer and actor Kate Hewlett.

She said this synchronicity between life and art helped her coach the actors to bring authenticity to their performances.

"It was a point of comfort for us to be able to talk about that," said MacKay, 37.

"I could express how it happened for me and the ways in which I worked through it."

Having made a splash at TIFF with her 2014 debut feature "Wet Bum," MacKay was living part-time in Los Angeles in 2017 when she returned to her hometown of St. Marys in southwestern Ontario to stay at her parents' house.

"I was working out in their basement trying to get a hot summer body, as one does," MacKay recalled.

"I was pushing myself really intensely on the treadmill, to the point where I had an aneurysm, a vessel in my brain burst."

When her father found her, MacKay said she was falling in and out of consciousness. An ambulance rushed her to hospital, where she was put on life support in a medically induced coma.

After doctors woke her up, MacKay said she still struggled with her short-term memory and her right leg wasn't working properly.

She said she spent more than three months in hospital as part of her two-year-long recovery.

"There were questions as to whether or not I'd be able to return to my career."

"The Swearing Jar" marks MacKay's first major project since the health scare.

"For me to then be able to come back and prove that I'm still capable of making movies, and it be thematically linked, it's lovely," she said.

"It helped me be solidly convinced that this is what I should continue to do."

"The Swearing Jar" will open in select theatres in Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Vernon, B.C., starting Friday and be available on VOD/digital Dec. 20.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2022.

Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press