Jacob Tremblay reunites with patients and hosts screening of Wonder at SickKids
A group of current and former patients from the Craniofacial and Cleft Lip and Palate Programs at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) had their chance to walk the red – or rather, blue – carpet on Monday, and to reunite with young Canadian actor Jacob Tremblay. The highly-anticipated film, Wonder, based on the New York Times bestselling book of the same name, had a special private screening for patients and families at SickKids. The Rotunda was buzzing with activity as cameras flashed and the 11-year-old star of the film, Jacob, and co-stars Kyle Breitkopf and Millie Davis made their rounds to talk about the upcoming screening and visit with current and former patient from SickKids.
These special SickKids guests weren’t just discussing the film; they had a lot to say about their own experiences with facial differences. In Wonder, Jacob plays August (Auggie) Pullman, a 10-year-old boy who has a facial difference, specifically a craniofacial condition called Treacher Collins syndrome, and enrolls in school for the first time. While preparing to take on the role, Jacob reached out to the Cleft Lip and Palate and Craniofacial Programs at SickKids to understand more about what it’s like to have a craniofacial difference.
Eight current and former patients wrote to him, detailing their experiences, from all the surgeries and medical procedures to the bullying and stares from both peers and strangers. Jacob read and re-read their letters before filming difficult scenes to have a better insight into how Auggie would feel. He saved all the letters in a binder he showed to the SickKids patients when they met just over a year ago during his first visit to SickKids. Now, those same youth who helped Jacob understand his character were given a unique opportunity to see the movie come to life.
“It’s nice to get some more awareness and be more positively represented,” says Pauline Beal, 27, a graduate from SickKids who remains involved as a mentor and volunteer supporting current patients. Being positively represented was a theme many patients and former patients echoed. “I’m pretty excited that it’s a positive representation of facial difference,” says Amanda Lizon, 25, another former patient. “It’s really exciting to have people of all ages and races and genders see this movie to teach kindness.”
Farah Sheikh, a Social Worker in the Cleft Lip and Palate and Craniofacial Programs at SickKids, sees the benefit that sharing their experiences has had for these young people. “I think it’s been really cathartic for them. They’ve all shared that with me. For most of them it was the first time someone has actually asked them what having a craniofacial difference is like,” says Sheikh, who received the phone call from Jacob’s mom that launched this unique relationship with her patients. “To have a movie now, and a book, and someone who’s interested in portraying their experiences in a true manner, has been really positive for them.”
Jacob says he appreciates the valuable insight he’s received in connecting with the group as well. “I think that this premiere [at SickKids] is like a thank you because I couldn’t play Auggie without the help of all these people.”
Over 200 patients, families and staff from the Cleft Lip and Palate and Craniofacial Programs, as well as several inpatient units, came together in the Daniels Holllywood Theatre to watch the movie and enjoy Jacob’s “thank you”. “For me I just feel like watching it in SickKids with my friends who I grew up with makes it extra, extra special in my mind,” says Christine de la Cruz, 25, a former patient in the Craniofacial Program. “I read the book and I can definitely relate so I’m really excited to see how the movie can come to life.”