Don McKellar discusses new film The Grand Seduction
National treasure Don McKellar has not led a typical career constantly shifting roles between actor writer and director — and even winning a Tony Award for his Broadway musical The Drowsy Chaperone which he seems to have done on a whim.
“I don’t know how I decide” he says on picking projects. “I’ve had a strange career…. I’ve done all sorts of things that I wouldn’t have done otherwise. I just decided to give up all control and do the interesting things that come my way.”
Currently he’s out to promote The Grand Seduction a playful Canadian comedy that he directs. A remake of Seducing Dr. Lewis (2003) the movie has been updated and adapted to take place in Newfoundland where a small fishing village has come on hard times and hopes to turn things around with a proposed new factory. The catch? They first need a doctor to take up residency.
What follows we’re told (no screeners were provided for critics) is a comedic tale of deception as Murray French (Brendan Gleeson) leads townspeople in an effort to trick a plastic surgeon (Taylor Kitsch) to take up residency. They do so by making over the town so that it’s suited to his every specific interest.
The project presented itself to McKellar long after it had gone through development. “It was quite fast I had to jump in quickly. But that was great — I had seen the original film I knew it I liked the premise it was very strong.”
That’s not to say he could just show up on the first day of shooting and yell “action!” Thanks to updates to Ken Scott’s original screenplay from Fubar / Goon comedy powerhouse Michael Dowse the script at least was ready to go. “It’s very rare that you get a strong script that you think I can do this right away without a lot of amendments” McKellar says. “No locations had been picked no cast had been cast. There was still the entire directing-type stuff to do” he adds. “I mean I wasn’t picking up anyone’s pieces.”
One of the biggest draws for McKellar was the location. “I had always wanted to shoot something in Newfoundland” he says.
“The possibility for locations — the number of options were overwhelming in a way. That was kind of a surprise I must admit. They’re so welcoming the people and so helpful that it was really quite a great summer. I couldn’t have been happier with where we were shooting.”
When it came to casting McKellar knew he needed Gleeson for the lead role. “Once I had that name in my head I literally couldn’t think of anyone who could play the part better than him” he says. “I’ve always admired him as an actor and I just thought he was perfect for the project. He was very confident like ‘yep I can do this this is my thing.’”
If Gleeson can pull off a perfect East Coaster however McKellar needed someone who seemed like they weren’t from there for the role of Dr. Lewis. That person also had to be naive enough to miss the townspeople’s shenanigans without coming across as dumb. Kitsch was the first actor who came to mind. “He’s got a very West Coast thing a very laid-back dude-like attitude. Immediately I thought it was a strong fish-out-of-water kind of scenario.”
The film sold out its screening at the Toronto International Film Festival and was reportedly greeted with uproarious laughter even if critics are somewhat divided. Time will tell how it’s received at the Calgary International Film Festival where it’ll serve as the opening gala film on Thursday September 19.
McKellar’s excited to return to Calgary as he found that Alberta popped up in conversation all over the Maritimes. “Everywhere I went to while shooting this we had someone in their family who was working in Alberta” he says. “I don’t know what percentage but it’s a complete exodus and then at the end of the summer everybody comes back because the town has been revivified. So I feel like the Calgary connection is bigger than you know.”
Perhaps then some time in Fort Mac would be the perfect next chapter in his varied career? “Maybe I’ll just check it out for a while seems like pretty good money from what I hear.”
* In the print edition our writer mistakenly said that the original La grande séduction (a.k.a. Seducing Dr. Lewis ) was an Italian film when it was in fact a French-Canadian film. We have fixed the online version.