From flipping burgers behind the counter at the Yellowknife McDonald’s, to tackling leading roles in front of the camera in three Netflix series – Gabriel Darku’s transformation from fast-food worker to a full-fledged actor is one that first took flight at Toronto Film School.
“I had no experience at all, so Toronto Film School literally gave me my entire base. All of my foundation that I have in acting came from this place,” said Darku, 24, who graduated from Toronto Film School’s 18-month Acting for Film, TV & Theatre Diploma back in 2015.
“The teachers, they focus a lot on finding your performer – they don’t give you a box to step into, they help you break out of the box, which is huge for an actor.”
A self-described jock and musician back in high school, Darku said his passion for acting was first piqued back in 2012 when he and six other real-life McDonald’s employees from across the country were hand-picked to star in one of the fast food company’s TV commercials.
“It was that whole experience of coming down (from Yellowknife to Toronto), doing five days of rehearsals, and then that sixth day of just 13-and-a-half hours of filming this 30-second commercial – I had the time of my life,” Darku, who was just 17 at the time, said of the experience.
“(After that), I really got to thinking that if there was something that I could do as a career for 13-and-a-half hours every day, being in front of a camera was it.”
By the next fall, Darku had auditioned for and landed himself a spot inActing for Film, TV & Theatre Diploma, based in downtown Toronto at Yonge-Dundas Square.
It was the school’s hands-on approach to teaching that first drew Darku to apply and that he now credits with launching his career.
“The thing that attracted me most to Toronto Film School is the fact that they run like an industry… you’re not in a classroom, sitting and listening to lectures for four hours – you’re on your feet actually making stuff,” he said.
“And If you’re an actor, by the time you leave the school, you should have a full demo reel of material that’s good enough to be able to use to get you an agent or at least a lot of good indie projects and stuff at the beginning of your career.”
The other major draw of Toronto Film School for Darku was the valuable networking opportunities it provides students by connecting them with top agents, casting directors and producers through special speaking engagements.
“The connections that you make are gonna be with the people that are going to be the future of the industry,” he said, noting that he met his agent at just such a speaking event at the school.
“He noticed me, he liked my look, I guess, and he gave me his email – and that was it… Without Toronto Film School, I can easily say I would not be where I am today.”
After graduating in the spring of 2015, Darku’s first big break came with landing a lead role in YTV/Netflix Original’s Daytime Emmy-nominated series, ReBoot: The Guardian Code. Darku plays Trey/Frag in all 20 episodes of the hybrid live-action/CG-animated series about four unsuspecting teens who learn they’ve been tasked with saving the world.
After that, his career continued to take off – including a seven-episode arc in the YouTube Premium web series Impulse, and guest roles on Starz’s American Gods and Global TV’s Private Eyes.
Then came a pair of leading roles in two more Netflix series – Slasher and October Faction – which Darku spent six months filming last year. Both are expected to air in 2019.
“The material I’ve been getting my hands on recently, it’s been really, really satisfying – and that’s the feeling we’re chasing as actors,” he said.
“We’re not in this for the money – although the money’s nice – and we’re not in this for the fame. It’s the material, it’s the work you want to do…and I just want to work constantly coming. That’s when I’ll feel like I’ve made it.”
As for what’s next for Darku, he’s headed to Los Angeles this summer to chase his Hollywood dreams.
“I want to book a movie soon. Me and my agent, we’re setting up meetings now and I’m going to be going down to LA at some point this summer,” he said “I want to get on a studio film. That’s my next big goal.”