“I knew I had crossed the threshold when Shoppers Drug Mart gave me the Seniors’ Discount card. That’s when all the tributes started coming in and I got the Order of Canada.”
Colm Feore is one of the hardest working actors anywhere. Born in Boston and raised in Ontario, Feore’s career is impressively international, diverse and consistent. Feore’s talent and stately bearing have served him well as villains, heads of state, important historical figures. His is the face and performance you remember in sci-fi blockbusters, art films, television series and specials, and his beloved theatre.
He’s currently starring in Kim Cattrall’s wonderful HBO Canada series Sensitive Skin and in two wildly different plays at the Stratford Theatre Festival. Feore will take Monday night off to meet fans at TIFF’s In Conversation… series.
You’re onstage later today in King Lear and tomorrow you’ll do the comic The Beaux Stratagem. Do you ever get confused?
Very occasionally a line from the other play slips in to what I’m doing. Then I’ II think “No! That’s not it. Think Not Funny and get back on the horse”. Very often lines start to sound similar, a chunk of the opening of King Lear slides straight into Hamlet. The rhythms are similar and it’s effortless. It’s handy if you forgot something. I have to train my brain.
How tough is Lear?
That’s the fun part he’s human like the rest of us. The gratifying thing is that Lear is not difficult. It’s not Hamlet, it’s poetry and philosophy and the human condition, and a kick at the dark rage of our humanity. “What the hell, why is this happening?” and “Did I do this to myself?” That’s the way we approached it.
Lear’s look is amazing.
That’s a look we cultivated, that evolved from the Stratford Visitors’ Guide, which we shot a year and a half before with our best guesses. He has a full beard and twigs in his hair and its proper acting but in rehearsals I tried to squelch my youthful vigour, so I didn’t shave and grew a goatee. It grew larger and greyer and I liked it better than the full Santa Claus look. So I went for the Richard Harris look not Frosty the Snowman with my sad Irish cheekbones. I decided to leave that as my beard up until I had to start Beaux Stratagem. So these days I glue on the beard I cut off. I’m less like a garden gnome and now period films will be beckoning for my services. The gals, my wife and girls didn’t like it. I can’t twist my moustaches and I’ve had no sex in six months but it looked good.
You’re also really funny. Why not do stand up?
I’m never funny on purpose, only just by accident. Plus someone said I have a death head. This isn’t the face to make people laugh. It’s sad. I cleave to the kid who caught me on the street after a show. He said “I knew you by your nose!” From 65 feet away and it was my own nose. I’ve done Shylock around here and glued stuff on but that time it was just me. It’s a business thing, stand up for tragedy.
Your performance in Sensitive Skin is delightful, poignant under that sarcastic surface. It’s fun to see you vulnerable for once.
That’s why I said I’d do it! It’s great that he’s such an idiot and the greatest pompous ass. I get that condescending bit and that he wants to be an artist. I did that bit and Don McKellar looked at me and said “What? He’s successful!” and he’s going “People can’t be like this! Not this outpouring. It’s all wrong!” I loved mostly that Kim Cattrall’s gallery owner character was mistaken thinking he was falling in love with her and has this secret passion but my wife played by Joanne Gleason says “Please, he wants to be an artist.”
Over the years you’ve brought attention to Canadian arts around the world. You’re a great advertisement.
I’m happy to do whatever I can. I’m lucky to have had international success with smaller things like The Red Violin and performances around the world and Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould which played ta Venice and Cannes and Trudeau which won at Monte Carlo and inter-country co-productions like the Canadian Irish and Hungarians that got together to make The Borgias. I’m a familiar face and people come up to me on the street and say “you look famous” or “You look like Colm Feore but I’m not impressed by celebrities” and I say “Neither am I”. And they don’t believe me when I answer “Yes I am Feore”. “No, go on!” I’m delighted that I can show up in something tomorrow like Spider Man and then on TV in Sensitive Skin, and people can go “That’s the same damn guy!” There’s only one actor and he pretends.
And now you’re the subject of a retrospective and Q&A TIFF Bell Lightbox.
I feel kind of Canadian about it, very embarrassed. I knew I had crossed the threshold when Shoppers Drug Mart gave me the Seniors’ Discount card. That’s when all the tributes started coming in and I got the Order of Canada and this and that and I thought these things are remarkably cool. Think of the savings I’ll get. But it might sell a ticket to Lear or Sensitive Skin. And dialogue helps.
In Canada we don’t have a lot of money to throw around like for Spider Man when they spend $250M a year and a half in advance. For Bon Cop Bad Cop, we got on a bus in Victoria and crossed the country promoting a show we’d already paid for in our tax dollars. It’s hard but I can do it. I have very little to hide. I get to a point where if you want to talk about that’s great, I’m surprised to be worthy and delighted and humbled and I’ll go along as there is an overarching reason and that’s to get more people to share. And so it’s a real commitment. When the curtain goes up I’ll show you my soul. I guess I’ll do that.
You return to Stratford each year. Why?
Live is interesting, I love live theatre. I love TV and film and collaboration is a riot. But occasionally you need something more profound and engaging. And certainly it is when youre standing alone onstage howling and carrying dead girls. You get to people. It’s a great responsibility and I’m always slightly terrified of it. In the end we’re all going to go “That was awesome”, eh?” It’s the best play in the English language and I’m confident they’ll love it and at least they saw the play.
Do you think a lot about the audience when you perform live?
I saw a guy in Toronto this morning and he told me he’d be seeing me tonight in Lear. So I said I’d try not to suck. Sure I think about the audience. They become a live group of one of a kind beats within four or five minutes of the play starting. You treat them as one thing. Tonight there isn’t a seat available. On a beautiful July evening some people want to sit in the dark and weep. They’re coming, 1850 people, to witness the same experience. Within five minutes or two seconds, when I listen to Gloucester do his six lines and the people respond to the two lines, it tells me exactly where I’m going and where to place them before I push them around for three hours. One organic mass.
In Conversation with… Colm Feore
Monday July 28, 7 p.m.
At TIFF Bell Lightbox