The actor-turned-director says the project was a labour of love and he marshaled about 50 friends, both crew members and actors, to work largely for free to create the film.
Now Henry, the story of an elderly man who longs for one last concert with his wife after she goes missing, has been nominated for the Academy Award for best live action short film.
“I was so proud that my grandfather was a part of this,” England told CBC News, calling his grandfather his “hero.”
He recalled how his grandfather, who worked for British intelligence during the war, met the love of his life, England’s grandmother, in Italy. He lived there after the war and became a film producer, then lost everything before coming to Montreal and starting again.
He’d always had a sharp mind, with facts on the tip of his tongue and he loved music, but very late in life began to feel the effects of Alzheimer’s.
“When he turned 92 my mom, grandfather and I were sitting in a coffee place, he looked at us and something different happened, something in his — I don't know —his gaze, his attitude. He became scared and anxious,” England said.
“He looked at us and said 'have I been a good man?' and to me I was blown away because how could a man with so many memories of his life, a man that has lived so many different things, worry now if had been a good man?”
His grandfather died at the age of 96 five years ago. The man playing him and portraying the disorientation of Alzheimer's so effectively in the film is actor Gérard Poirier.
England, who has been acting in English and French since the age of eight in Canada and the U.S., began writing the script for Henry shortly after his grandfather's death. He financed the film out of his own pocket and said many people worked for him for free.
England currently hosts a popular morning radio show in Montreal and he was at the station when the Oscar nominations were read out on Jan. 10. He didn’t hear his name called – he tell CBC he had to wait until his mother found a full list on the internet before he knew he’d made the cut as a nominee.
England said he lived in Los Angeles for five years — working on shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Naked Josh — before returning for roles in Quebec. He’s also walked by the Kodak Theater, site of the Academy Awards, but never allowed himself to climb the steps.
On Feb. 24, he’ll be there, in the same room as his idols, Stephen Spielberg and Robert de Niro. Henry is competing for best live action short with another film by another filmmaker with a Canadian connection, Buzkashi Boys, produced by Ariel Nasr.