Since 2012, comedian Gerry Dee has starred in the titular role in CBC’s Mr. D, a sitcom following the hapless and under-qualified high school teacher Gerry Duncan. The final episode, entitled “Parting Gift,” is set to air on Wednesday, Dec. 19 at 9 p.m. on CBC and streaming on CBC Gem.
Dee spoke with The Mutt prior to the finale’s airdate. This interview has been edited for length.
THE MUTT: So Mr. D has been running since 2012, 88 episodes, with the final one set to air December 19. How does it feel to be bringing the show to an end?
GERRY DEE: There are a lot of emotions. Kinda sad, at the end of the day. We’ve all grown up a lot on this show. There are a lot of memories and a lot of friendships. Like anything, when it comes to an end, it’s a bit sad, but at the same time, what a great experience we all had.
TM: Did you just feel like it was time to bring it to a close?
GD: It felt like, you know, people were moving onto other things. Creatively, it felt like we had done all we could. It feels like the show will live on when people start catching up to it. I just felt like it was a good time to wrap it up.
TM: You were, of course, a high school gym teacher yourself before you got into comedy. I’m sure you’re familiar with characters like Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm, actors playing versions of themselves – Larry says his character is someone he wishes he could be more like in real life. I’m wondering if that applies at all to Gerry Duncan?
GD: No, I’m not really like him in real life. I did a lot of the little things that he did as a teacher, or thought about doing them sometimes, but I cringe at having to act out all the stuff I do sometimes. It’s just so bad.
TM: You’re kind of a master at that cringe comedy. I remember watching your old Gerry Dee: Sports Reporter segments on The Score. How were you able to play awkwardness like that, at a pro level?
GD: You just really have to commit. The Sports Reporter was live, so I didn’t have a chance to laugh. On Mr. D, I can break and start again. So that was fun to do, the Sports Reporter. It was hard in a sense in that I had to make sure I committed even though the athlete may not like it. I got better at that. When you’re in character, when you’re properly in character, you get into it. You feel like a different person. That’s why it worked – I went into those interviews and turned on the switch. I guess I’m good at playing an idiot because I’ve done that two times now. It was something I would love to do again. I’d love to resurrect that character.
TM: Series finales can be tricky to get right, as they can define how people feel about a show as a whole. Did you feel pressure to find a storyline that would work to bring closure to Mr. D?
GD: I didn’t feel pressure. I work with a great group of writers, and we sat in a room and threw around ideas. I think what we landed on works. We wanted to wrap up everybody’s character, and a half hour is tough to do that. We did our best, and it’s an opportunity to kind of close out the stories. It’s a hard thing to do, and you’re not going to please everybody. But you just write what you as a group think works.
TM: What can people expect from the final episode?
GD: I think closure for everybody. You could obviously do a sitcom on what happens with Lisa, what happens with Robert and Bobbi. You could follow that in a show. Everyone broke off and everybody could have a show now. My character, you don’t have a clue what’s going to happen with him. The last scene everybody is kind of in a meeting and they’re going their separate ways, and you get an update on where everybody’s going.
TM: After the finale, I understand you’ll be heading back out on tour. Is that exciting for you, to be back on the road, or will you miss the routine of filming a sitcom?
GD: I’ll very much miss the routine of the show. That’ll be the toughest part once June rolls around and we’re not going to Halifax to film. But I’m very excited to get back on tour. That’s where this all started for me. I’m going across the country, doing some sets in the spring, and some sets in the fall. But I’m trying to create again and think about what another show could look like. I don’t want the TV side to be done. Until then, I’ll continue to be a stand-up comedian, which I’m lucky to be able to do.
TM: Well, the fact that you talked about the possibility of bringing that Sports Reporter character back is interesting. Even based on your Twitter account, it’s clear you’re a big sports fan. Do you think that the sports world could be home to a future project for you?
GD: Yeah, I mean, there’s already things I’ve written down. I’m thinking along those lines. It’s one thing to have an idea, it’s another to get it on a network. That’s the tough part. The networks have a lot of choices to make. They have a lot of good choices. Sometimes you have to wait, sometimes it’s not the right project. I’m going to keep working at all the ideas I have and see if something else lands. But the Sports Reporter idea certainly is one of them.
TM: On that subject of sports, what leagues or storylines are holding your interest these days?
GD: I’m a big Leafs fan. I’m excited to see where that goes – that’s been a long time coming. The Raptors, same boat. Being from Toronto I’ve followed all those teams closely all my life. I kinda get how Boston felt the last 12 years, 13 years, with all their teams giving it a run. That’s exciting to me. And then my own kids’ sports involvement, they’re getting to the age where they’re getting competitive. I love that, I love going to their stuff. That’s a big part of my life now. So I’m excited for that too. Sports is definitely something that I love having in my life.
The series finale of Mr. D airs Wednesday, Dec. 19 at 9 p.m. on CBC and streaming on CBC Gem.
There Are No Fakes is a shocking journey into the world of art fraud
Some of the best documentaries of the past two decades involve hard left turns – films that begin in one direction but end in another due to events that unfolded during production. There Are No Fakes, directed by Jamie Kastner, joins that select company of documentary as its comedic opening slowly morphs into something much darker.
There Are No Fakes centers on the work of Norval Morrisseau, the Indigenous Canadian artist of the Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek First Nation, sometimes referred to as the “Picasso of the North”. Morrisseau, who died in 2007, sought to remove forgeries of his art from the marketplace, establishing the Norval Morrisseau Heritage Society in 2005.
After Kevin Hearn (of Barenaked Ladies fame) buys one of Morrisseau’s paintings, he starts to doubt its authenticity and discovers a bizarre feud consolidated around Morrisseau. It’s this conflict, and the dark secrets hidden beneath it, that form the backdrop of There Are No Fakes.
Kastner (The Secret Disco Revolution, Free Trade Is Killing My Mother), who was friends with Hearn in high school, learned through conversation about Hearn’s ongoing lawsuit surrounding the Morrisseau paintings. It became clear to Kastner that such a story would be perfect for his next project.
“It was almost unbelievable. There was so much crazy stuff in this story, I couldn’t quite believe it,” Kastner said. “I told him if I was going to proceed with it, though we were friends he would have no editorial control. As a journalist, I would be talking to both sides, and he agreed.
“I went off on my own doing my own kind of digging and research. Lo and behold, everything he told me and then some turned out to be the case.”
As the story unfolded and as Kastner continued to meet a succession of larger-than-life characters, he found himself shocked at what he uncovered. Bringing footage back to his editor provoked a similar reaction.
“He’d say, ‘Holy f***!’ Then I’d do another one, and he’s quite an even-keeled guy, and he’d say ‘holy f***,’” Kastner said. “So it was a series of ‘holy f***’ moments. I tried to recreate that experience for the audience.”
Documentaries can often unfold much as expected, with a known story dictating the outcome of the production. But given the fluid situation surrounding the events of There Are No Fakes, Kastner followed the story as it led him, knowing he had been handed an incredible gift.
“It’s definitely a privilege and a responsibility (to tell this story). You’re dealing with the legacy of one of our most important artists,” he said. “You wind up dealing with very serious issues of abuse of different kinds, so I felt a real responsibility.
“You have to handle it very carefully as a documentary filmmaker. It really is so unique and unusual and special and horrific and inspiring and a whole range of things that you don’t usually get in one film.”
There Are No Fakes made its world premiere at Hot Docs 2019, receiving highly positive reviews. Kastner said the film provided fascinating insight into the legacy of Morrisseau, touching on multiple problems still at play in Canada.
“It’s a very dramatic story. People can’t believe that they’re real people. They seem like characters out of some HBO series or something,” Kastner said. “I think it’s a very entertaining, edge of your seat, jaw-dropping type of story that happens to be a documentary.”
There Are No Fakes will screen at multiple locations throughout Canada in July 2019. For more information, click here.
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Isabelle brings psychological terror to an idyllic neighbourhood
In a quaint New England neighbourhood, a charming young couple (Adam Brody and Amanda Crew) find the perfect home to move into. But what they find in that home complicates their dream to start a family, as darkness and paranoia emerges in director Rob Heydon’s Isabelle.
Following in the footsteps of other psychological horrors such as Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, Isabelle comes from a screenplay written by Donald Martin (Milton’s Secret). Having grown up watching genre films like The Omen and The Shining, Heydon approached the project looking to put his own stamp on psychological terror.
“Reading the script, I just got into it cold. Then once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down,” Heydon said. “I thought a lot about what other references it could be like and how I could help bring something to the story and the storytelling.”
Much like other films in the genre, Heydon’s intention for Isabelle was to emphasize the psychology of the terror as a priority. That meant slowly building up the characters and introducing new elements throughout the runtime of the film.
“In a sense, it’s trying to tell a story in three arcs and build the audience’s expectations up to the third act,” Heydon said. “We used the combination of cinematography and editing and music to bring the audience into the mind of the main character and have the audience experience what our main characters are going through.”
The strength of the cast – which includes Brody, Crew and Zoë Belkin as Isabelle – was essential given the nature of the material. Brody was the first to sign on, but other cast members took longer to materialize.
“Amanda Crew wasn’t available at the same time. So it took almost two years to put together the cast,” Heydon said. “But when their calendars lined up, we also got some amazing talent to surround them. Belkin, Sheila McCarthy, who played Isabelle’s mom… we were really lucky.”
Isabelle shot in Hamilton, Ont., with old Victorian homes posing as New England. Beyond the locale, Heydon said the cost savings attained shooting in Hamilton were significant.
“In Toronto, to rent a house for a day might be 10 or 15 thousand per day. In Hamilton, we were lucky to get three houses right next to each other for 20 days for $20,000,” he said. “You just can’t find that anywhere in Toronto.”
Having initially premiered in South Korea as part of the Busan Film Festival (along with fellow Canadian horror Lifechanger), Isabelle will now open to a larger release in Canada. Heydon said genre aficionados should find much to enjoy in Isabelle.
“I’d say read what the film’s about and check out the trailer – I think the trailer says it all. And if you’re interested, come check it out,” he said.
Isabelle begins its theatrical run in Toronto June 28 at the Carlton Cinema. For more information, click here.
Next up on The Mutt: Horror materializes in unconventional ways in Things Fall Apart
Horror materializes in unconventional ways in Things Fall Apart
Those familiar with Hussein Juma, director and writer of Things Fall Apart, know that it’s somewhat fruitless to attempt to fully summarize his work. That’s largely by design – Juma himself says he enjoys injecting ambiguity into his projects.
But more than that, what’s exciting about Juma as a director is his ability to create a sense of atmospheric dread based heavily on context and character and not cliché. So horror fans on the hunt for films that are likely to surprise should take note of what Juma says about his first feature, Things Fall Apart.
“If you like arthouse cinema, things that are going to challenge you and even scare you a little too, I think this film would be for you,” Juma says. “If you’re interested in new ways to tell stories, in indie cinema and the way it can reframe things and put them in different contexts, I think there’s a lot to think about with this film.”
That unique approach to story was evident throughout Juma’s 12-episode web series Horse Mask, a surreal horror that centres around a missing daughter, a forest and many mysterious masks. Though Things Fall Apart is Juma’s first feature, he says working on Horse Mask helped prepare him, given the fact that the runtime of that web series evens out to be around the length of a feature.
Set during a dinner party, Things Fall Apart lets audiences act as a sort of fly on the wall as tensions and emotions emerge.
“Things progressively get more tense between the characters. I think there’s a good balance — there are those moments where you’re going to feel uncomfortable, there are moments where you’re going to be scared, there are moments where you’re going to feel like, ‘What the hell is going on right now?’” Juma says.
Furthering his desire to tell a story in a fresh way, Juma says he employed improvised dialogue throughout Things Fall Apart, making up 80 per cent of the dialogue. Though actors were provided with full scripts, dialogue was written in beats that guided where conversations would go.
“When we finally selected our actors, we extensively rehearsed it multiple times. That was a really cool process,” Juma says. “I had a bare-bones, skeleton idea of where I wanted each conversation to go, but these actors got so into it and took it to interesting places. (Many times) I was like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s great. We have to keep that.’”
The cast, which includes Chengis Javeri (one of the leads in Horse Mask), Bobbi Goddard, Gina Lorene and more, was already familiar to Juma, giving him confidence that they would be able to pull off the improvised dialogue. Juma says surrounding himself with smart, funny people led to a number of happy accidents that made their way into the finished product.
Other times, Juma says he would play off what he knew about the actors themselves.
“If I could see even a sliver of tension between them in the real world or a sliver of something in a look that I see, I can kind of harness that in the film,” he says. “I think that worked really well in terms of when I wanted to play someone against another person. Because I worked with them before, I knew things I could whisper in their ear before a take to throw them off.”
Ultimately, Juma says he wanted to make a film that he would want to see himself. Based on his track record, it’s likely that horror fans looking for a surprising, experimental feature with strong character work will find it in Things Fall Apart.
Things Fall Apart plays June 2 at 2 p.m. at the Globe Cinema in Calgary. For more information, click here.
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