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New sitcom a reflection of Michael J. Fox's life

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Fox and Betsy Brandt, who plays his wife on the Michael J. Fox Show.

ERIC LIEBOWITZ/NBC Enlarge Image

Fox and Betsy Brandt, who plays his wife on the Michael J. Fox Show.

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- He's here to promote his new NBC sitcom, but when Michael J. Fox sits down with a cluster of Canadian TV critics, of course the conversation turns immediately to hockey.

"We shot an episode of the show (The Michael J. Fox Show, which premieres this fall on NBC and Global), so I was out there skating about a week ago," Fox said when he met with a small group of Canadian journalists last week during NBC's portion of the U.S. networks' summer press tour in Los Angeles.

"It was great. (The rest of the cast) didn't show up, because they weren't in the scene and (the rink) was cold, but I talk hockey all the time, so I think they're getting it through osmosis. In the episode, my son is stuck in his video games, and I'm trying to get him into hockey, so I take him to the rink and then I start skating and I kind of forget all about him."

It's the kind of storyline one might expect from Fox, whose lifelong passion for hockey has been well documented. He continues to honour his northern heritage by strapping on the blades whenever his schedule allows, despite his ongoing battle with Parkinson's disease.

And that -- Parkinson's, not hockey -- is a central theme in The Michael J. Fox Show, in which the immensely popular 52-year-old actor portrays Mike Henry, a beloved New York City TV news anchor who has been coaxed into returning to work five years after leaving his job after having been diagnosed with Parkinson's.

So after a few more exchanges focused on hockey -- the irony of the Canucks and Rangers swapping head coaches, his involvement in puck-related videos during the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, his good-natured hockey rivalry with friend and occasional co-star Denis Leary -- Fox gets down to the business at hand, which is talking about his new series.

"I feel that this is a reflection of my experience," Fox explained, "and certainly in the pilot it was more prevalent than it is in the (subsequent) scripts. The way I look at life, and the way I look at the reality of Parkinson's, is that sometimes it's frustrating and sometimes it's funny... and I need to look at it that way, and I think other people will look at it that way.

"I think we all get our own bag of hammers; we all get our own Parkinson's. We all get our own thing. I think that we'll look at that through the filter of that experience, and we'll say, 'Yeah, I need to laugh at my stuff, too.'"

Fox was first diagnosed with the disease in 1991, and began speaking publicly about Parkinson's in 1999 while starring in the ABC sitcom Spin City. He left the show the following year and began a brief semi-retirement focused on spending time with his family while his children (he and wife Tracy Pollan have a son and three daughters, two of whom are twins) were in their formative years.

More recently, however, he has re-started his acting career, first with voice-over work on the likes of Stuart Little and Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and then with guest-starring roles in such TV series such as Rescue Me, Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Good Wife. His performances garnered several guest-actor Emmy nominations and a win in 2009 for Rescue Me.

It was the success -- and the enjoyment -- of those guest-starring roles that convinced Fox it was time to take on a series-lead role.

"I realized that I was working differently than I had worked when I was younger," he explained. "Because my (health) situation had changed, I was doing it differently and I was arriving at different places than I had in the past. I was having moments that were more 'felt' than I'd had before, and I thought, 'This is really cool. I want to get into this.'

"When you have something like Parkinson's, you get rid of vanity pretty quickly. Vanity doesn't mean anything; you don't spend a lot of time checking yourself out in the mirror because you know what you're going to see. And by the same token, when I'm acting now, I'm not watching myself as much as I did when I was younger; now I just do what I do, and it's much more rewarding. There's much less craft to it now, and more art."

 

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 31, 2013 C3

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Updated on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 9:10 AM CDT: replaces photo

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