Monday 9 December 2019
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What She Said! with Christine Bentley & Kate Wheeler

The Mighty Colm Feore’s Busy Season

Colm Feore in ‘The Umbrella Academy’

Colm Feore, the formidable stage and screen actor born in America but whom we hold dear as a fellow Canadian, is one of our busiest artists with a history of great performances. He currently stars in the slow burn psychological horror thriller The Prodigy, with Taylor Schilling and ten-year-old Jackson Robert Scott and will soon be seen in Netflix sci-fi series The Umbrella Academy with another of our favourite Canadians, Ellen Page. Feore plays supreme adults in both; they have knowledge and wisdom and greater purpose.  I spoke with Feore from his home in Stratford and was especially entranced, so, let’s let him speak without my useless editorialising or even many questions. Stay right to the end.

You play an authority figure and intellectual in The Prodigy, and that’s not a rare part for you. Get me Colm Feore!

That’s very kind but I think obviously one spends the main the part of a career in classical theatre so you have familiarity with the complex language and explaining things to people. For example, I was in Pearl Harbour not the greatest movie and I may have said so to the casting director, who said “Oh yes, you’re going to be in this because we need to know what’s going on”.  To me to point out where Pearl Harbour is, when and where the Japanese attacked and all before Ben Affleck gets to be romantic and kiss someone. I have children and make a living from this!  It’s funny, its fun to do.

In every drama, we need to tell the story and the genius of the writing is often revealed in how cleverly the story is told and revealed. You actually should know the name of the character you’ve been following for 678 pages, so we need someone to seriously come along and say “Look, let me explain to you”.

Colm Feore in ‘The Umbrella Academy’

A mentor and friend, Michael Langham would say apprehension without comprehension is how we move through this life. We’re not sure we trying to figure it out, trying to learn to understand, nor really do we comprehend the drama is over.  We cut to the next scene, I’m not really quoting here, let me keep going. Along come characters like me to say “Go to the left”, “Don’t go into the woods, you’ll find your child is mad”.

I don’t want to drop names here but I’m at the Max on Sydow part of my career, the character who appears and explains gently, a wizard.  A wise man. The whole idea of acting is to achieve simplicity to get to something. We remove the barriers and take away the veils of stupidity and pretension and finally get to the thing itself.

And then there’s this ten-year-old, nine at the time (Jackson as the Prodigy) who is so effortless and simple in his acting. The crew is expecting a long day to get through our scene and foolishly and condescendingly, I thought so too, and as it turns out, he did it in the first thirty seconds. We’re done!

The idea of reincarnation isn’t taken seriously in the West. So, when you do your scenes in The Prodigy explaining it, do you have to believe in the moment that it is real? 

Absolutely. In order to prepare to do it and say this stuff convincingly, I have a certain amount of work and research even thinking or entertaining the possibility. I must think it can be, otherwise, I would always be commenting on it, which is total b.s., grab my paycheck and go. I owe them more than that.

For the purposes of this argument and debate, I’ll be on the side of what is.  I will argue convincingly from my point of view. Listen it might not take long to think of people who were so marvellously, prodigiously talented that you have to believe. You have to believe in God or reincarnation. How else do you explain a four-year-old playing violin in an orchestra, composing first string quartets then going out to play soccer?

It gives us pause. especially those of us in our autumn years. How little I’ve achieved; how little I know and how dumb I am. I am surrounded by objects of habit and if I live to 100, what is it all worth? That’s what goes into talking to Taylor Schilling – who is brilliant. “Look, Taylor, your child is peculiar and brilliant and wonderful and you love him. Let me push through that for a moment and off you something a little outside of your understanding”.  That’s where I make my living as an actor. I may only be there a short time, sixteen pages, the crew look at me. It’s for two or three minutes. They’re saying “I have a date or and this is going to take all night”.

Listen I also have the great advantage of working with brilliant directors, extraordinary artists, Michael Mann, Clint Eastwood, John Woo and every one of them demands to be able to shoot the rehearsal, not take seventy-five. It is more spontaneous and honest, the thing we are trying to capture. It’s my job to represent. I am the advocate for this point of view. Occasionally here there are a lot of words, I’ve done Hamlet and Romeo, I could do worse.

How many therapists have I played? I was so relieved to have an audition for a Clint Eastwood movie, there was a script. I was also playing a reproductive technology researcher in a movie in England which was mostly improvised. If I’m playing the shrink or doctor, I’ll say polysyllabic words while other actors fondle each other and roll around on the floor. This is clearly a case of identity. I’d phone my wife from London, and she’d ask how I was, and I’d say “Well today I gave a newborn shots, and advice about zygote tests…” and she’d say “You’re not a real doctor”, I’d say” When you say not real…”

At a certain point, you can pretend.  I’ve found I’m a terrible shot, and actors can pretend to be very good and that’s dangerous. For Bon Cop, Bad Cop, we were taken to a rifle range in Quebec.

Police gave us the pistols and told us to shoot at the target. We were hopeless. I said, “I give up”. He said “Shoot like an actor” and then we fired away, there were shell casings everywhere. He said, “Actors are very frightening people”.  Being a doctor, you say I’m only pretending, but what is pretending? What is a medical degree except a lot of research!

Your output as an actor is astonishing in all media. What drives you so hard?

Well, I’m doing a Neil Jordan scary movie, another series, and a Canadian show that cannot be named. When you get to my advanced age, there is only so much we can do. One of the great things about being us is that through attrition, boredom and the strictures of business, there aren’t so many of us doing this anymore. Those that are left are really good, experienced and talented. We struggle along.

Our What She Said leader Kate Wheeler…

Oh yes!

… has been out of the news for a long time but because of her experience and talent Global just picked her up to manage national news.

Oh, Kate! It’s wonderful hearing that. One of the things that is most dire is, I was flogging the movie on one of the breakfast shows yesterday and David Foster was on, he’s on a national tour, and Don Gillmor who wrote a book called To the River. He started with the story about his brother’s suicide and over 60’s suicides asking “Doesn’t anyone want us anymore? Why are we here? Why are we doing this? Do we have anything to say of value?”.

Kate’s appointment is a very strong endorsement of what we do.  My children will benefit from me having taught them to cook, this is an example, there is reason to go on. Samuel Beckett said it “You must go on, I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” Why?

I think in the end we are here for fun.

Yes, and let’s expand that definition of fun to include watching the sunrise, reading Voltaire, a walk on the park. Living.

You’re on Netflix starring in the sci-fi series The Umbrella Academy. Surprise, surprise you’re the professor, doctor, evil genius.

It’s an extraordinary show and a lot of very important people’s money was spent to make it look spectacular. I saw a bit of the first episode at the premiere in Los Angeles – I knew it was going to be fabulous!  There’s an amazing cast with Ellen Page, Robert Sheehan and the others. Then you add to that a good weird, wacky story, spectacular production design. I started off in Stratford forty years ago so I was able to get the design crew into the wardrobe department.

I was so interested, I grew up Stratford and in 1980 I was trained to know that there is a set, you have the words and the clothes, you’re five feet away from the audience and they’re looking at the stitches and, in this case, they need to know that you chose to dress like a prince. These are clothes, beautiful clothes, as an actor you work really hard at it. I have the responsibility to wear these clothes, to show off these choices and characters because clothes make the man, absolutely.

And it was shot on 6.45K camera and the cinematographer Neville Kidd did such beautiful work. This is 350 craftspeople working long hours under duress. Why? To tell the story? I love about film and TV we end up looking at a single frame and it is a collaboration on that frame.

by @annebrodie

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