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Long journey led actor to Stand! role

From football to modelling, Williams' career has taken some surprising twists

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Winnipeg-born actor Marshall Williams plays the lead role in Stand!, the film adaptation of the stage play Strike!.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg-born actor Marshall Williams plays the lead role in Stand!, the film adaptation of the stage play Strike!.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/11/2019 (307 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Meeting Marshall Williams at Swish Productions on the Corydon strip, one can’t help but be impressed by his good looks.

You might even say he’s striking.

So, yes, modelling is one of the many items on his resumé. And presumably, good looks, a ripped physique and a powerful singing voice are the ingredients that got him onto the hit TV series Glee during that show’s final season in 2015, playing the role of football player-turned-glee club singer Spencer Porter.

Yet, the model and TV star is literally and figuratively 100 years away from Stefan Sokolowski, the role he plays in the musical Stand!, the film adaptation of the Danny Schur-Rick Chafe stage play Strike!: The Musical.

In the film, Stefan is an immigrant from Ukraine who, with his father Mike (Gregg Henry), struggles in the greasy factories of Winnipeg in 1919 to earn enough money to bring his mother and siblings to Canada. Unfortunately for Stefan, his efforts coincide with a labour crisis, coupled with violent anti-immigrant sentiment, which will send the city spiralling toward the Winnipeg General Strike.

Complicating things further, the Catholic Stefan chooses this time to fall in love with his Jewish neighbour Rebecca (Laura Wiggins), a firebrand labour organizer, much to his father’s consternation.

Williams himself can’t make claims to any specific cultural background akin to his character: "Welsh, Irish, Scottish, a little Polish," he says. "My grandparents and their parents were from all over, so there’s nothing predominant.

"I just think of myself as a Canadian."

Still, between the posh digs of the Swish studio and his suburban upbringing in Charleswood, one might expect Williams might have had a rough time connecting with the street-tough character of Stefan.

But appearances can be deceptive. It hasn’t been all cushy for Williams. For one thing, like his Glee character, he really did play football. Playing with the University of Manitoba Bisons, Williams accompanied his team all the way to the 2007 Vanier Cup title.

That’s the kind of achievement that leaves a mark or two, including fractured tibias, concussions and miscellaneous torn muscles.

In 2007, Williams signed up for a stint on the comparatively painless — but no less competitive — Canadian Idol, where he finished as a singer in the top 40 in the cross-country competition.

"Canadian Idol actually ended up bringing me to Toronto and when I was in Toronto, I got cut, but the nice thing was they suggested I check out some modelling agencies.

"So I literally just Googled modelling agencies because I knew nothing about it," he says with a laugh. "I met with a couple of them and the people I got the best vibe and I ended up signing with Ford Models."

Marshall Williams in Stand!.

Marshall Williams in Stand!.

Thus began an alternate career that took Williams worldwide. Again, not always cushy.

"I got sort-of mugged a couple of times in Cape Town," he says matter-of-factly, adding that between gigs, he sometimes worked as a bouncer.

He ended up on a short-lived reality show titled High Society in 2010.

"The producers said, ‘We want you to be the love interest for this person,’ so they flew me down to Virgin Islands but I ended up getting cut out of that show," he recalls. "But the nice thing about that was they suggested I get into acting."

Williams turned to Google again and hooked up with a school specializing in musical theatre, which led to that stint on Glee.

When Williams returned to Winnipeg to resume his career on his home turf, he managed to find work around the country (including the Ontario-lensed TV series When Hope Calls) and in town (such as the recent Hallmark movie A Mazing Winter Romance and Collin Friesen’s sardonic dark comedy Sorry for Your Loss).

Auditioning for Stand! was, he says, a last-minute affair. He originally auditioned for the role of a "mean guy," a bitter ex-soldier returning from the war to find a dearth of work in his hometown.

"I auditioned for that and I was offered the lead after that," he says.

Williams says making the film was an education, especially pertaining to the Winnipeg General Strike, thanks to discussions with writer-composer Danny Schur, who has been putting the movie together since it was first workshopped as a play in 2003.

"I learned so much talking to Danny," he says.

"I had no idea it was a pinnacle movement as a global thing. I thought it was just Winnipeg-centric — a big deal here, but was very surprising that it helped out unions all around the world."

Finding the character was just a matter of finding his inner Stefan, he says.

"The best way you can do a character is to find that it has to be that version of yourself in that setting," he says. "What is Marshall like as a doctor? What is Marshall like being a ship commander in the 1400s?"

"You take the aspects of your present personality and just extrapolate on them," he says. "I think for Stand!, you draw on one of the worst experiences of your life, like maybe when you don’t fit in, when you’re trying to get somewhere and have no way of doing it."

"You know what it’s like to be in the situations, so you remember those experiences in real life and then just trick yourself to create these false realities for yourself."

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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