How did you get into acting?
I started out in Edmonton doing amateur theatre with Walterdale Theatre for many years. Then I became a professional actor and lived in Alberta for many years and did a lot of different things. I had my own show on CTV and it got picked up to go to a series with CBC but then they had their $125-million cutback and it killed that.
What was the show?
The Paul Wood Show — this was 25 years ago I’m in my 50s so I’ve been doing this a long time. We had Tom Poston from Newhart Ruth Buzzi from Laugh-In and a bunch of stars. It was a combination sitcom talk show. That was one of my earlier successes. Ultimately if you work as a professional in Alberta it being a small market you have a tendency to do everything. I ended up directing producing and doing all sorts of things like that now. If you’re going to survive in a small market you have to be a jack-of-all-trades.
Have you done anything else recently besides your role in Fargo ?
I’ve been acting for many years I’ve done hundreds and hundreds of commercials and I do a lot of voiceovers. I was the voiceover for the Calgary Stampede 100th [anniversary]. I’m in two films coming up one’s called If You Love Your Children and it’s an environmental piece. I do it all — that sounds kind of egotistical but you kind of have to. I’m writing a film right now and we just did a reality series pilot called The Unbearables . It’s about these guys that work at a bear camp it’s a very odd little show. I’m usually working on four or five projects at a time because they take a while to come to fruition if in fact they do.
You’re only in one scene in the Fargo series. What happens?
This will be a great heading if you’re writing on it “Local actors die in Fargo .” The two leads of course they’re okay but all three of the local actors die in the first scene. We all get shot in the head — not pretty. Do you know the film Fargo ?
I know it but I haven’t seen it.
Well the Coen brothers are extraordinary and Fargo won best picture and it’s quite unique in that they show these crazy goings-on that’d you go “oh god that would never happen” but for some reason it does have a ring of truth and that’s what they’re exceptionally good at. So it’ll be interesting to see if they can capture that in the series and from what I’ve seen it looks great.
Was it difficult to shoot your death scene?
It’s kind of a funny story. They have a stunt person to do it so you’re sitting around and they shot the stunt person and then for the shot of me falling down for some odd reason I stood in there like an idiot and did it myself. I don’t even know why I guess I was bored. You have to fall back on this mattress from being shot and you have to do it a certain way and it hurt like hell! I had to do it three times. I’m an old guy I shouldn’t be doing this.
What was it like on the Fargo set?
Great. Tremendous. I’ve worked on many projects and when you walk onto a set — or even when you’re auditioning — you can tell the level of the production. Like when I auditioned in Vancouver for The X Files they treat you like gold and the show was like that. When I went in for [the Fargo audition] it was the very same. Top drawer they treat you well they know you by name on the set even if you have a bit part. It was an absolute pleasure. It was a great experience all around.
What’s the scene like for actors in Calgary?
Most people that act in Calgary have other jobs. I don’t. I’m a musician also so I gig regularly. It’s difficult to get enough work to live on so this is why for me I create projects myself and create as much as I can. It’s tough. I will tell you something that’s interesting: my hair is long now. I grew it out for the westerns because they want facial hair long hair. I look like hell but I get a ton of work now. It struck me as odd until I realized that all the actors my age in Calgary have day jobs so they can’t afford to look too rough. I think it’s because there aren’t many qualified actors that look like that.
Are you concerned about being typecast?
A lot of that lingo that comes out of L.A. that you hear on the street doesn’t apply. In Calgary you don’t decide whether you want the part you just want a gig. So you’ll take just about anything. People also think that if you come in and you don’t exactly look like what they want they’ll make you look like it. They don’t do that. You look like it or you don’t get the job. For unknown types they have to find a look that works. You have to find a brand. My brand is natural rough masculine brand. If it doesn’t fit that parameter they don’t look at me. We don’t worry about that in a market like this.
You said that you were a musician?
Yes I’m a songwriter. I’ve had varying successes over the years. My single [“Cohen Café”] was the most-requested tune [on Magic 99] in Edmonton actually. It looks like one of my songs is going to be in If You Love Your Children — I think it’s going to be “Listen” which is an environmental song actually it’s about listening to the Earth.
Are most of your songs political like that or do you run the gambit?
Songs come when they come. If people would say what type of music it is it’s got blues rock jazz and all sorts of influences. I use whatever influence supports the idea of the song best but one through-line that I do have is a lot of Canadian settings a lot of my stuff has Canadian landmarks and symbols.
Would you say you’ve had more success with your acting and directing and all that stuff or with your music career?
I guess it depends how you define success.
How would you define it?
I define success by in the music at least anyone who is moved by the song. The music’s extremely personal because it’s all out of my own experiences so the music is closer to me than the acting in many ways. I do other projects for people and I’m just a player in their vision in creating their art. So that’s their art but when I do a song that’s my art. Basically you write from personal to universal which is why songs work. Everyone gets the idea because it’s a universal theme but stated in a way that’s emotionally moving. A girlfriend of mine died of cancer about eight years ago now and I wanted to write a song for her. I couldn’t I was so grief-stricken I couldn’t think about what to write that didn’t sound corny or too heavy so I ended up writing a song about not being able to write a song. The satisfaction in that as a tribute to her was immense.
What’s the most rewarding with your TV and movie career?
It’s hard to say. The Unbearables we went up north without a script and we lived in the camp and shot the whole thing from the hip. So it was extremely gratifying to see the product work when you didn’t know what you were getting. It was interesting when I went for the Stampede thing. Normally when I go to do a voiceover the “vocal doughnut” they call it is about 15 to 20 seconds maybe. Then I got the part to do the centennial thing. I go in the day to do the thing and they give me 48 pages. I almost crapped myself. Where I was a short-distance runner by the end of that day I was a marathon runner.