He's a drunk. And a drug abuser. And a liar, a cheat, a low-grade thief, a serial philanderer and an all-around sleazeball.

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This article was published 15/9/2010 (3885 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Opinion

He's a drunk. And a drug abuser. And a liar, a cheat, a low-grade thief, a serial philanderer and an all-around sleazeball.

And on top of all that, he's a used-car salesman.

Jason Priestley as Fitz.

HBO

Jason Priestley as Fitz.

You might think there's not much to like about Richard (Fitz) Fitzpatrick, but Jason Priestley flat-out loves the guy.

"I haven't played a character like this before," Priestley said during a telephone chat to discuss his starring role in Call Me Fitz, the new HBO Canada series that casts him in the most unsympathetic role he's ever endeavoured. "Fitz is definitely one of a kind. The big challenge in playing him is that he does all these reprehensible things, but you've got to somehow make him likable while he's doing all those things. For me, the task is to always be as specific as possible in terms of the reasons why he behaves like he does.

"I actually like Fitz. I think he's a great guy. He's just a guy who's doing the best he can with the tools at his disposal."

In Call Me Fitz, the 41-year-old former denizen of TV's most famous zip code plays a guy so far down the path to self-destruction that his well-deserved undoing as timely as it is inevitable. In the series première (one of two back-to-back episodes that air Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO Canada), Fitz takes a jittery customer on a wildly careening test drive down a local highway; of course, he, the woman and the sporty convertible crash through a guard rail and into a ravine, leaving a tipsy and panicked Fitz scrambling to make it look like she was behind the wheel when the accident occurred.

His not-so-clever ruse is witnessed by a troupe of Girl Scout-ish do-gooders, which is bound to complicate Fitz's situation in the very near future; the more pressing concern, however, is that in the aftermath of the crash, Fitz seems to have grown a conscience.

Literally.

When he makes his way back to the car dealership, Fitz finds there's a new employee in the fold -- a lanky, unfathomably friendly and morally upright fellow named Larry (Ernie Grunwald), whose behaviour seems to run completely counter to all of Fitz's unsavoury impulses.

In a quiet moment, when Fitz and Larry are alone, the new guy tries to explain to Fitz that he has been sent by forces unexplained to save Fitz from himself. In other words, he's the living embodiment of Fitz's conscience, and whether Fitz likes it or not, the two are going to be pretty much inseparable from here on in.

"I haven't been in a show before where the comedy is so intimate between two characters," said Priestley. "But it was easy, because Ernie is a fantastically talented actor and has a great knowledge of comedy. The two of us found our rhythm very quickly -- we actually had it figured out before we even started shooting, so that part was pretty easy."

Priestley, who has spent just about as much of his post-Beverly Hills 90210 career behind the camera as in front of it, also serves as an executive producer on Call Me Fitz and directed two of the series' first-season episodes. He was quick to praise the production crew in Nova Scotia, where the show is shot, and said working on a made-for-cable comedy is a welcome change from his previous experiences on mainstream network TV.

"This show couldn't inhabit network television without having to be completely eviscerated," he observed. "Cable is where it needs to be, and as an actor, I'm very happy to be working here, because my performance never has to be hamstrung by standards-and-practices rules.

"It's great to see (Canadian cable networks) doing this stuff. As the (broadcast) networks keep showing more and more reality programming, because it's cheap to produce, a lot of really creative people -- actors, directors, writers, producers -- are migrating to cable, because that's where you have the freedom to tell the stories you want to tell. And it's nice to see that it's happening in Canada, as well."

Despite not having even premiered yet, Call Me Fitz has been picked up for a second season, which will begin production later this month. Priestley said he's curious to see if his character might actually start to reap the benefits of having a real, live conscience in the show's second campaign.

"I guess the question, really, is whether anybody really wants Fitz to change, or are they happy with Fitz just being Fitz? Fitz is happy just being Fitz," he explained. "There's not a lot of growth in Season 1, I'll tell you that. By the end of the season, things get pretty crazy. In Season 2, who knows?"

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca

Brad Oswald

Brad Oswald
Perspectives editor

After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.

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