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Irish actor treads carefully when playing a Newfoundlander in Canadian comedy

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Irish actor Brendan Gleeson, left, with Taylor Kitsch, right, treads carefully when playing a Newfoundlander in Canadian comedy The Grand Seduction.


Irish actor Brendan Gleeson, left, with Taylor Kitsch, right, treads carefully when playing a Newfoundlander in Canadian comedy The Grand Seduction.

To use an apropos cricket expression, the prospect of Brendan Gleeson coming to Canada to star in the comedy The Grand Seduction had "sticky wicket" written all over it.

Gleeson, 59, is an Irish actor best known for playing Mad Eye Moody in the Harry Potter films or maybe for playing Mel Gibson's savage lieutenant Hamish in Braveheart. He is more fervently celebrated for his work playing closer to his Irish roots as a conflicted hit man in In Bruges or a sketchy cop in The Guard.

Gleeson recognized potential problems in taking on the role of an unemployed Newfoundland fisherman scheming to get a doctor to move to his depressed village (for example, staging a bogus community-wide enthusiasm for cricket) in The Grand Seduction.

For one thing, the movie is a remake of a 2003 Quebec movie, Seducing Dr. Lewis. For another, the prospect of an outsider coming in to play a Newfoundlander could potentially raise some hackles. Remember when John Travolta wanted to make a movie of the Newfoundland-set The Shipping News with plans to change the setting to Maine?

In a phone interview, Gleeson says one of the keys to his participation in the film was the casting of Mark Critch in the role of the town's harassed bank manager. Gleeson watched Critch, of This Hour Has 22 Minutes, demonstrate the intricacies of the Newfoundland accent on YouTube and was hooked.

"It struck exactly the right tone of knocking a laugh out of the way people are, but not laughing at them in any way and in fact just enjoying the diversity of accents and culture here," he says.

"This is the kind of film that had certain in-built kind of dangers, in that it could have descended into something twee and a little bit unworthy if you weren't careful."

Gleeson says he has long been fascinated with Newfoundland anyway, and the film gave him an excuse to explore it further.

"It sounds so much like home and I was just fascinated to explore it, really," he says. "And it's the kind of place that you could always mean to go to but never actually get there."

He says he wasn't disappointed, discovering a link between Newfoundlanders and the Irish that transcended mere accents.

"I remember meeting a guy who was talking about the way all his relations like to wind each other up, and play tricks on them. Things would go missing out of their houses and you'll find them on the top of the roof," he says. "There's a shared sense of humour that I found very immediate.

"I find it a very curious and interesting place and it is a bit of a bridge between the two worlds, the old and new," he says.

Gleeson was savvy enough to recognize that the Quebecers who made Seducing Dr. Lewis might see the remake as a wholesale appropriation of a story originally intended to reflect the north coast of Quebec.

"It couldn't just be taken and plunked into Newfoundland without due regard for the fact that it's a different culture," Gleeson says. "So I actually wrote to Raymond Bouchard (who played the role corresponding to Gleeson's) before I started it, just by way of saying I loved his performance in the Quebec version and we weren't trying to second-guess it in any way, but just to explore the maritime culture of Newfoundland as against Quebec and hoping that we would succeed.

"But the fit seemed perfect," Gleeson says. "When we got up there with the fishing villages and all of it, I was comfortable with the feeling that we weren't trying to impose something from outside on it. It had to emanate from inside that culture."

Actor prefers green hills to green screen

In case one forgets actor Taylor Kitsch is Canadian, the guy brings you around to that fact quickly by asking, in a phone interview, "Where are you in Winnipeg?" He says he remembers the city well from his days playing Junior A hockey when he was younger. "I actually played against the Selkirk Steelers," he says.

If you didn't realize he had a Canadian connection, bear in mind Kitsch, 33, bypassed the usual route of doing film and television in Canada. The 33-year-old proceeded immediately into American TV stardom playing alcoholic fullback Tim Riggins in the acclaimed TV series Friday Night Lights before segueing into big-budget movies such as X-Men Origins: Wolverine, John Carter and Battleship.

FP: Given that you almost bypassed making Canadian films, did you have a sense of being back in the fold making The Grand Seduction?

TK: I think that part of it alone was refreshing. To be on location, especially where we were shooting, it just felt like home and it felt like a no-brainer to be a part of it. You always want to come back as much as you can and I love being Canadian and being a part of it and everything that goes along with it. So it was kind of a full-circle moment.

FP: Given some huge Hollywood productions you've done, did making The Grand Seduction feel more intimate or more grounded?

TK: It did. It certainly beats any green screen. I get to work off Brendan Gleeson instead of a pink X on a 150-foot green-screen wall. I'll take Brendan any day of the week. He's so endearing and I haven't met many actors who care about the material more than he does. He made this movie better on so many levels. He truly carries the film.

FP: Were you familiar with the talent in Newfoundland given that, like a lot of Canadians, your exposure to Grand Seduction actors such as Mary Walsh, Cathy Jones and Mark Critch might have been through This Hour Has 22 Minutes, or going way back, Codco?

TK: It was probably even less than that. Ironically, it was through hockey. I had played with a couple of Newfies and their verbiage was what I knew of them. That was it.

FP: Your character in the movie comes from a milieu that feels kind of Hollywood. He's a cocaine-abusing plastic surgeon. Did your Hollywood experience in any way inform your grasp of Dr. Lewis?

TK: No. But he probably would have been douche-ier if he had come from there.

The Grand Seduction opens in theatres Friday.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 24, 2014 G1

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His dad was Winnipeg musician Jimmy King, a one-time columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press. One of his brothers is a playwright. Another is a singer-songwriter.

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