If actors like to prove their range, Marc André Grondin should be a happy man.
The 28-year-old Quebec actor first garnered attention as the troubled teen hero of the 2005 film C.R.A.Z.Y., playing a young gay man coming of age in the homophobic atmosphere of Quebec in the ’70s.
But film audiences saw a whole new side to Grondin in his English-language film debut, Goon (new on DVD this week), in the role of Xavier Laflamme, a gun-shy hockey player whose promising career was sidelined when he was brutalized on ice by Liev Schreiber’s strong-arm player Ross Rhea.
The part was written for Grondin by his friend, the Montreal-based actor-writer Jay Baruchel.
"Jay always told me he wanted to work with me and vice-versa but I never really believed it would happen," Grondin says.
On the phone, Grondin speaks with only a trace of an accent, but in the role of Xavier, it’s a bit thicker. Grondin was sensitive to "the right level of language, not to make it ridiculous.
"This isn’t Justin Timberlake in Love Guru Two," he says, referring to the pop star’s notoriously cartoonish take on a Quebec hockey player in the Mike Myers’ film.
The film took him to Winnipeg for the shoot, a prospect he found initially intimidating.
"When I told people I was going to Winnipeg, from actors I’d hear: ‘Oh, God, no!
Winnipeg? Oh that’s the worst!’ And actually, I had a great time over there.
"We were friends shooting a movie together and we were thrilled about it," he says. "All the guys from Winnipeg who were either part of the team or the crew, everyone was so cool and it was so much fun working with them. We kept in touch and we’re still good friends.
"I would say yes to another movie in Winnipeg anytime," he says. "I’m not even being polite. I’m being totally honest."
He says the discovery of a French community in Winnipeg opened his eyes to what he perceives as a common belief in his home province that French Canada can only be found within Quebec’s borders.
"People forget that there are villages and communities that are still speaking French all over Canada," Grondin says.
"I went to a bar and spoke with some French people there and they were saying: ‘I went to English school but at home it was always French and that’s going to be the way it is for my kids.’ It’s important for them to keep that language alive. It’s part of their history and it’s beautiful."
"When Quebecers are freaking out about the language, they should reach out a bit more," he says. "If I was from St. Boniface, I would probably go ‘F--- you, Quebec’ because it’s all about them and not about the French."
The other thing Grondin took away with him from the experience is a set of new skills. Before he took the part, Grondin says he could barely skate. But after intensive training, he emerged from the movie as a hockey player and not just a fan.
"When I came back from Winnipeg, I kept playing three days a week in three different leagues," he says. "I love it."