March 2007 update

At a British High Commission partyWe are always impatient for news and here is the latest communiqué from Whizbang Towers. Many thanks to Paul for giving such fulsome answers to his fans' questions!

What were your favorite or most memorable moments of filming Slings and Arrows 3?

The most memorable scene was in the church with the final, successful performance of Lear. It was fairly early on in the shooting schedule and Bill Hutt hadn't really had that much to do, so the crew was unprepared for his power. He launched into 'Howl, howl, howl" and took the roof off the building. Very few people in the crew had even seen a Shakespeare, let alone Lear this close up. Their jaws dropped, silence fell over the hall and then a rapturous and sustained applause started that lasted for a long time. For those of us who know Bill, it was particularly poignant. He's played Lear four times in his distinguished career and this, we realized, would be the last time he would do any of it publicly and the only time any of it has been recorded. It was a privileged moment and one I will always remember.

In your opinion, how does S&A 3 differ from the first two seasons?

I think the third season became slightly darker in tone than the preceding two seasons. Much of that was a result of the underlying themes of Lear and age (the first year, with Hamlet was youth; the second, with Macbeth, was middle age). I don't think it lost much in the way of humour but for me the season had more depth, more resonance. I also think it's noticeable how much more comfortable everyone in the ensemble is playing with one another - and that inevitably lends a more interesting texture to the material.

Do you believe that there is an arc to Geoffrey's character this time around (Slings & Arrows season 3), and if you don't believe that, what was the challenge for you to bring something unique to this revisiting of this character?

I do think there's an arc, perhaps a little convoluted and not so much on the surface, but it's definitely there (or at least I felt it was). He begins in a state of doubt, encountering age and wondering what the purpose of this life in the theatre consists of, indeed what the purpose to anything is. Over the course of the show I think he discovers that it's about service - he serves (as a director and as Kent) the actor playing Lear and in turn they are all serving the great text of King Lear which in turn is serving humanity. It sounds kind of lofty, I suppose, but I think he comes to understand that art serves humankind - not ones own ego.

I really love Slings & Arrows. Your portrayal of Geoffrey is more than perfect. Are you anything like Geoffrey Tennant?

I'm not plagued by ghosts that visit, nor am I as messy but I suppose it's inevitable that there are aspects of any character that you play that are something like yourself. I share his impatience with bureaucratic inertia, I share his intolerance for people who don't take their work seriously but in general I would think I'm much more cheerful than he is. Geoffrey always seemed haunted to me and not just in the literal sense of being haunted by Oliver, but in a general sense. I don't feel haunted. Perhaps I'm just in denial. Or I'm shallow.

What kind of feedback/reactions are you receiving to Slings & Arrows from your friends and colleagues in the Canadian theatre world ... esp. from the Stratford crew?

It became kind of hilarious. At first, Stratford, in particular Richard Monette, was outraged by the prospect of the show, thinking erroneously, that it was going to be a specific parody of their lives. But gradually, as the shows came out it became a hot ticket and DVD copies were flying around the company as everyone became addicted to it This spread out generally throughout the theatrical community in the country - the same phenomena arose at the Shaw Festival and other centers. The enthusiasm for the show has been total - with the exception of Richard Monette, who, I'm told has yet to see it but still insists that it's 'vile'.

In term of working in the U.S. - since Slings & Arrows' runs on Sundance have given you a level of recognition here for your acting chops that may have surprised those familiar only with Due South, has that resulted in an improved caliber of overtures to you that you'd actually seriously consider? Or is it still the same old, same old? How often do you even get approached for U.S. projects? Do you encourage it and have an agent actively working on your behalf?

The reaction in the States has been overwhelmingly positive - in fact, I think it made the top ten list of a great number of critics. Predictably, this reaction has been much more enthusiastic than in Canada as we remain a nation that likes to eat its own. The response south of the border has been truly tremendous. In terms of offers, I have had a number of them but nothing more exciting than in years gone by. I almost took a pilot with ABC that would have shot in New York and was very good but in the end I decided to stay here and continue with Passchendaele. And although I have a very good agent in the States, the real problem is that the U.S., while it has huge volume, still doesn't make an awful lot of stuff that I find all that interesting. A lot of it is derivative of other things, or just dull. The really good material tends to be called for early on and I'm never around to pursue it - on top of that I'm usually too busy with my own stuff to have the time to consider it.

Has the delay to Passchendaele caused you any problems re casting, has anyone had to pull out, or are there others who were not available before but are now due to the change in scheduling, and have you found a role for your dad yet?!

No, the delays with Passchendaele haven't affected anything with casting and shouldn't have any impact on that, since we weren't at the point of contracting anyone. We're ready now and are in active preparations for the film, which will start shooting August 1st, barring any unforeseen cataclysms.

Will Passchendaele be shown at cinemas in Europe as well?

You bet it will. We haven't sold any E.U. distribution rights yet (by choice) but as soon as the film is completed we'll begin approaching them.

Will you be using your song 'After the War' from your Two Houses album in Passchendaele? Or will you be writing and (or) singing any new ones that we can look forward to listening to?

I don't think I'll be putting any contemporary music into Passchendaele - in fact, we're planning to do a big orchestral score which doesn't sit so well with strumming guitars. On the song-writing front, David Keeley and I are discussing doing another recording session when we both have the time clear on our schedules.

If you hadn't had a career in the performing arts, what do you see yourself as having chosen as a profession?

I think I would have gone into medicine. I was always attracted to the idea of that, particularly Intensive Care where critical decisions are made at the molecular level. However, I'm very happy where I am now.

Can you give us any details of the cast of "Trojan Horse"? Any familiar faces or big surprises? In particular, is Guy Nadon going to reprise the role of Marc Lavigne?

Oh, yes, Trojan Horse. It has a great cast. Starting with Tom Skerrit playing the President; Greta Scacchi playing a hard core reporter; Martha Burns as US Senator from Texas; Clark Johnson as a CIA operative; Bill Hutt as the head of MI6; and, yes, Guy Nadon returns as Marc Lavigne. We're just putting the score into the series now and I think it is absolutely terrific - weird and disturbing and engaging and compelling.

I'm very much looking forward to the H2O sequel, Trojan Horse, will this one also be a 4 hour 2 part production and will you be filming in Ottawa again or are other locations planned?

Yes, it's also in the 4 hour format. We didn't film in Ottawa this time (although we did borrow a couple of shots from the first installment). We filmed in a number of places, including Alberta and London, England. And the show's locations are international - London, Washington, Saudi Arabia etc.

I heard you did an interview for a Due South documentary. How did you enjoy it ?

It was quite a lot of fun - they asked a number of very specific questions about things I had kind of forgotten about, It was a delight to be reminded of those things. [This documentary was produced in the UK for the Region 2 DVD box set but can now also be viewed on YouTube.]

Could you tell us about ZOS [Zone Of Security]? Will you star in it?

No, I won't be starring in ZOS but if time permits and a part is right I could appear on occasion. It's a terrific show, written by Malcolm MacRury and concerns itself with a UN peacekeeping mission in an area of the former Yugoslavia. You become intimate with UN Military Observers, the Canadian military contingent, the leaders of the Christian faction, the leaders of the Muslim faction and the citizens in the middle of the conflict. It's quite extreme, crazy, hard hitting and utterly absorbing. We will shoot both here in Toronto and in Bosnia/Herzegovina, starting in June. It's a rough show, though, a little like Deadwood goes to Sarajevo. Not necessarily for everyone but I think it's going to be quite standout.

I've often been given the impression that some actors tend to look down on musicals as somewhat inferior to their own 'serious' theatre, although some, like your singing partner David Keeley, manage to do both very successfully. Did you perform in any musical productions at school or college, and have you considered venturing into writing for that field again after "Thunder, Perfect Mind"?

No, I haven't really thought too much about doing a musical. Not that I look down upon them, it's just that I don't feel naturally drawn to the form. When I have an idea about something that might make a good story it never occurs to me that story might best be told as a musical. I do enjoy some of them, though, and last weekend I went to New York to see Bob Martin (one of the main writers on Slings and Arrows) perform his last weekend in The Drowsy Chaperone, which has become a big Broadway hit and I gather is moving into London. I had a blast but at no time thought: hell, I'd like to be in that.

How much of your work have your children seen, are they proud of what you do or are they, like most teens, totally unimpressed by their parents' efforts, do they cope well with having both you and Martha in the public eye?

Our kids have seen most of the stuff that we've done and some of it they like, some of it they couldn't care less about. There is a bit of that teen-aged dismissal but it's more tied to their own judgment of what excites them artistically. They've seen so much of our stuff and others over the years that they've developed quite a sophisticated eye for these things. As far as our visibility is concerned, it's something they've grown up with and are utterly unimpressed with. In fact, I think they find it faintly embarrassing.

Some people have a special affinity for maths and computers, you have an extraordinary ability to tell stories in a variety of ways, be it through a song, a play or a film, is there a genetic trait in your family for storytelling? Has any completed project of yours turned out to be a total disaster in your eyes?

There's precious little in my family background that would suggest I would end up in the field of endeavour I'm in - in fact, no one in my extended family is involved in the arts (that I can think of). If there is any genetic predictor, it's that I have a lot of Irish blood and anyone familiar with those heathens know they all are born with the gift of the gab.

It seems that there still seems to be a real prejudice against setting movies and tv shows in Canada; in other words, your country "plays" the US in so many different movies and tv shows. Considering the work you've done to get more shows made in Canada FOR Canada, does it bother you that shows come up to Canada to be made only to turn around and be distributed in the US? Do you think it's beneficial for Canadians to get work on the crew but for the country to never get any credit (i.e. being set in Canada)?

No, it doesn't bother me that Canada is used as a location substitute for the US. In fact, when you travel around the world, this is more common than not. Romania, Hungary, Croatia, Spain etc. etc. etc. are all open for the film business and American shows are often shot there - the Dolomites were used for the Rocky Mountains in Stallone's 'Cliffhanger'; Romania was used for the Appalachians in 'Cold Mountain'. This is the new reality of international film making. And it is good for the Canadian business when we are making US shows - good for the economy of film, good for the crew and good for the actors. There are two things that bother me: one is the fact that our domestic production is in decline - the sheer volume of what we make is down; and the second is when we make a show in Canada, by Canadians yet pretend that it exists in an unnamed, neutral place that might be taken for the US. I think that's inexcusably cheesy and craven.

I love Slings and Arrows in no small part because it's look at the back stage life of actors. Of course I realize not all actors see the ghost of past directors. I can't help wondering if you'd consider writing your autobiography?

No, I have no plans to write an autobiography. If I did it would have to be an unauthorized autobiography.

Which character have you most enjoyed portraying?

I've liked most of the characters I've played but I would have to say the most intense relationship, the most rewarding experience I've had with a character is Hamlet. He entwines himself into your DNA and never leaves.

If you could do any job in the world other than what you are doing what would it be? Have you ever had a perm?

I can't think of a single thing that I would rather be doing - wait, I lie. IF there is such a thing as reincarnation, I would like to return as a Formula 1 race car driver, preferably for Ferrari. And no, I've never had a perm. Why? Should I get one?

What is your porn star name (1st pet's name + Mother's Maiden name)?

Chester Dunne.

Thanks for the questions and I hope I've been able to answer them to your satisfaction. Next time from Calgary as we embark on the re-prosecution of the First World War.