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Reproduced by permission of the publisher © The Gateway

Everybody's favourite TV Mountie returns to Edmonton with a song

U of A alumnus Paul Gross to play Winspear

by Neil Parmar, Arts and Entertainment Staff

25th January 2001

Being told that a Canadian actor turned down a role in ER to star in a theatre production of Hamlet might come as quite a surprise to most. However, for Paul Gross, former star of the TV series, due South, it's not a deal. He's more interested in higher pursuits.

"It was simple enough really, I was already committed to the role of Hamlet," notes Gross dryly.

Not content to simply write, act, produce and direct in three mediums, the U of A graduate is now moving on to a fourth: singing. Along with songwriting partner David Keeley, Gross has recorded a second full-length album tentatively titled Love and Carnage. But before Gross was ready to talk about his new artistic endeavours, he felt obliged to tie up a few loose ends from one of Canada's top-rated television programs.

Gross admits that he had no idea as to why due South was so popular, but he credits the show for offering an "unabashedly naïve and optimistic outlook towards the world. Either that, or it was the dog Diefenbaker," he adds.

When due South was cancelled the first time by CBS, its original producers (Alliance and CTV) immediately picked up the show. Then, following a major letter-writing campaign by angered fans, CBS capitulated and brought the series back to life as a mid-season replacement. Once again however, the American mega-station dropped the series due to low ratings leaving due South in limbo. That was until the show's rising star recanted his inhibitions and stepped into the role of executive producer.

While the show is now syndicated and airs in over 160 countries, Gross was challenged to experience the responsibilities of having to write, produce, star, and occasionally sing for the series during its final two seasons. He adds, however, that the toughest part of keeping due South on the air wasn't finding an executive producer for the show, but writing scripts with a tight crime plot for a large cast of satiric characters. While some scripts may take months to develop for a television series, Gross was barely compiling storyboards and ideas in time for production. He finally reached a point where he could no longer maintain the creative foundation needed for the program and ended the show's four-year run in 1998.

"You know, they're all kind of the same thing, whether you're writing, producing, directing, acting or singing," Gross acknowledges modestly. "It's not quite like I'm in an editing room with a movie and then running off to remove someone's gall bladder. They're pretty much the same pursuit - they just come from a different angle."

In addition to completing the final season of the show, Gross was also busy in the recording studio working on his first album. After following the advice of the show's music composer in the third season, Gross had headed down to Nashville in hopes of singing a deal for publishing rights to a few songs that he had written. One thing led to another, and he ended up with a record contract that fortunately, he says, avoided the "hit list mill of having to crank out album after album."

"I saw the poor old Spice Girls on TV, and oh dear, music is a horrible business. [From] what little I know about it, it seems to make TV look like an offshoot of Mother Teresa's operation. It's just full of fleas and it's rough if you really want to be a big pop star because you've got to sell a lot of your soul."

He describes his latest album as the type of music you'd want to listen to while driving through the prairies in an old pick-up truck, but admits that the folk/roots genre is vast and varied. Despite this, his debut disc, Two Houses, became HMV's top independent the year of its release.

So why have you probably not even heard of it? Even though the disc charted in South Africa's Top 20, and Country Music Television put Santa Drives a Pick-up into heavy rotation, the album hasn't received much attention in other circles. Gross blames the current structure in radio operations for the low airplay of his songs.

"I think Edmonton is one of the few cities left in North America with an independent station," he says. "The playlist for Calgary is established by some guy sitting in an office tower in Pittsburgh, which is stupid [as] it's not responding to the community."

Although Gross commends the CRTC's regulation of both radio and television he does not necessarily wish to be glorified on the same scale as Celine Dion, Michael J Fox, or Jim Carrey. "I have my family and I have the work that I'm doing but I don't do anything else. It's a relatively boring life I suppose."

Gross seems to have a pretty good chance at reaching celebrity infamy in either writing, producing, directing, acting, or even singing for that matter. And maybe that's why he opted for a role in Hamlet over that of ER, although "Dr Gross" has a certain ring to it. Or even better yet, bring due South's Benton Fraser back for a fourth time and see how the Mountie handles the stresses and times of a large city hospital.

Now that's a story America would love.

Reproduced by permission of the publisher © The Gateway 2001