TORONTO — Howie Mandel has been doing his research.
Ahead of his hosting gig at the Canadian Screen Awards on March 12, the Toronto-born, U.S.-based “America’s Got Talent” judge says he’s been binge-watching nominated series and films, including “Orphan Black,” “Kim’s Convenience,” “Schitt’s Creek,” “Vikings” and “Race.”
His assessment of the Canadian film and TV scene?
“I believe that we are probably the most underrated country in as far as what we’re able to produce and what happens in our industry,” the Emmy-nominated comedy star said in a recent phone interview from Los Angeles.
“I’m amazed that it’s not more well-known worldwide. Maybe it’s just that what we have in creativity we lack in the entrepreneurial spirit of getting it out there,” he added.
“’Kim’s Convenience’ would work anywhere, ‘Schitt’s Creek’ is pulling in numbers (in the U.S.) on Pop TV. ‘Orphan Black’ is a hit, it’s on American television. I don’t think that people know it’s a Canadian show.”
Mandel got his start in standup comedy in Toronto before moving to Los Angeles, where his breakthrough role came as Dr. Wayne Fiscus on the 1980s TV medical drama “St. Elsewhere.”
At the time, such a move was necessary, he said.
“I resented leaving,” said Mandel, creator of the hit children’s series “Bobby’s World.”
“Once I made the decision that this is what I wanted to do for a career and for my life, I realized it’s really hard to have a comparable career financially (in Canada).”
Mandel said he’s since “come back for anything and everything that you’ll have me for.” In 2007, for instance, he hosted “Deal or No Deal Canada” — a spinoff of the American version he also starred on — in Toronto.
“I ring the bell loud and clear every time I’m on something, that I was born and raised in Canada and I’m Canadian,” said Mandel.
“If somebody mentions somebody (like) Ryan Reynolds — ‘He’s Canadian!’ I say that very loud so that maybe people will realize that and maybe Canada will start doing things and making an effort and spending money to become much more universally renowned and saleable than they are.”
Mandel does see a benefit in the country’s humility.
“There’s something nice about making great product and having humility and being quiet about it,” he said. “But that quietness is why, even at this point, if I moved up to Toronto where I’m from — I would probably make a fraction of what I make down here.”
The leading film nominee for this year’s Canadian Screen Awards is Montreal director Xavier Dolan’s “It’s Only the End of the World” with nine nods. On the TV side, “Orphan Black” leads with 14 nominations.
Mandel said he was “thrilled” to host and may deliver “some sort of grandiose opening sequence” and shoot some pre-taped bits for the show in Los Angeles
He plans to take a “free-flow” approach to the gig and keep the focus on the nominees and the Canadian screen industry in general.
“This is certainly not the Howie Mandel show,” he said.
“I think of it like a giant party that we throw for the Canadian industry and I said you could have it in my house. So I’m hosting a party but the party is about them.”
The Canadian Screen Awards will air on CBC from Toronto’s Sony Centre for the Performing Arts.