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In Christopher MacBride's summer cult-horror hit The Conspiracy, Aaron Poole played a documentary director sucked down a rabbit hole by a conspiracy theorist. In writer-director Ingrid Veninger's The Animal Project, premiering at TIFF this week, he's a theatre director trying to connect with his teenaged son while trying to get past his creative bloc.

"It's an odd thing, because I often find myself being the director's avatar in their work," says the 36-year-old Ontario native. "[My character] is sort of just going on a hunch, and that's all that Ingrid had going into it as well."

A veteran of the Canadian indie film scene – he earned a Genie nomination for best actor as an addict in 2008's This Beautiful City, and battled demons in the horror flick The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh – Poole has a lean, intense look on screen. In person, he's affable and up-front about the shape of his career.

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"My choice to stay in Toronto has influenced my choice of collaborators," says Poole, a graduate of George Brown Theatre School. "It requires that I work with independent filmmakers, and I'm lucky to have found that circle of people."

Poole has also worked with Atom Egoyan, including a role in the upcoming Queen of the Night, about a father trying to track down his kidnapped child, and hopes to expand his range even further.

"I never had the urge to leave Canada, but this year was the first time that I felt like my moves have been lateral, to a certain extent. I'll be going to Los Angeles to find a collaborator there," he says.

In The Animal Project, his character, Leo, plans to get his theatre troupe to dress up in furry costumes and tromp around Toronto (an echo of Veninger's M.O. in getting the movie made). At times, the imagery of human-sized critters loose in the city suggests a Canadian variation on Where the Wild Things Are – a comparison Poole embraces.

"When you look at Maurice Sendak's stories, there's a sense of fatigue about what it's like to have young kids," says Poole, who has a 12-year-old daughter. "What's amazing about [The Animal Project] is that it embraces failure in a loving sort of way. … There's something very gentle about the way that Ingrid gazes at these people."

After wrapping up The Animal Project, he decamped to Alberta for Forsaken, an old-school western directed by Jon Cassar, creator of television's 24, and starring Keifer Sutherland (who plays superspy Jack Bauer in the hit series) as a reluctant gunslinger.

"It's a western that hits all of those classic icons. I have some killer scenes with Keifer, and I've never seen an actor who's that controlled, who decides what he's going to do and initiates on that decision again and again."

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Veninger's success with her previous three films means expectations are higher for The Animal Project, which screens Wednesday at TIFF. Poole likes the fact that the movie will be forced to hold its own against hundreds of titles from around the world.

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