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Gerry Dee on the Mr. D finale, stand-up and resurrecting a certain sports reporter

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Gerry Dee stars as Gerry Duncan in Mr. D. The final episode of the series airs Dec. 18 on CBC. Photo courtesy CBC
Gerry Dee stars as Gerry Duncan in Mr. D. The final episode of the series airs Dec. 18 on CBC. Photo courtesy CBC

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.

The final episode of Mr. D airs Dec. 18 on CBC. Photo courtesy CBC

The final episode of Mr. D airs Dec. 18 on CBC. Photo courtesy CBC

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.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Brenda

    March 19, 2019 at 12:36 am

    Thanks Gerry Dee for 8 great seasons! I loved watching the show and look forward to any new projects in the future.

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Honey Bee is a revealing look at human trafficking in Canada

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Honey Bee, directed by Rama Rau, stars Julia Sarah Stone as an underage truck stop sex-worker on a journey of survival.
Honey Bee, directed by Rama Rau, stars Julia Sarah Stone as an underage truck stop sex-worker on a journey of survival. Photo courtesy A71 Entertainment

Honey Bee director Rama Rau may be known to Canadian audiences mostly due to her acclaimed work in documentary, including League of Exotique Dancers (2015) and No Place to Hide (2015) – the former profiling aging burlesque dancers and the latter taking a focus on the world of cyberbullying.

But though Honey Bee marks Rau’s narrative feature debut, her instincts honed in documentary filmmaking remain essential, as much of the film is shot as though it were a documentary feature.

“I think that was key in telling the story, for me,” Rau said. “The actors were never acting – they were always in that state.”

Much of the film’s dramatic power is supplied by lead actress Julia Sarah Stone, who plays Natalie, an underage truck stop sex-worker on a journey of survival.

“She was literally the crux of the film. She was everything,” Rau said. “When I saw her audition, and I looked at a lot of auditions, I really wanted her to be in my film.”

Rau spoke with The Mutt about Stone, transitioning from documentary filmmaking and the too-infrequently discussed prevalence of human trafficking in Canada. This interview has been edited and condensed for length.

THE MUTT: So tell me about Honey Bee.

RAMA RAU: It’s about a girl groomed from the foster home system and put into a human trafficking ring. She thinks the person grooming her is her boyfriend. That’s how they get young girls from the foster care system in Canada. Then, she’s caught in a police raid and sent to a farm and the movie really begins there, her coming to terms with what has happened. A lot of it is her finding herself.

TM: What were your first thoughts when you initially read the script?

RR: I was a bit shocked, to be honest. I was stunned that these things happen in Canada. I wondered if I wanted this to be my debut feature. But it’s never frightened me to go into the underbelly of society. But films have the power to open up areas that we don’t normally talk about. I also said as a woman director I can bring a certain perspective to it. And I found my way into the story, and said, “This is how I’m going to do it, and if you’re OK with it, I’m happy to work on this film.”

TM: What were those specific elements you wanted to bring to the film?

RR: I knew I wanted it to be totally told from the perspective of Natalie, from her POV. I knew I wanted it to be a very personal film. In documentary, we use handheld cameras a lot. We literally run behind our characters. I wanted that sense of urgency in this film. We kind of blurred the lines between fiction and fact. I wanted to go so deep into the story, so the audience never knows, “Is this a real story, or is this a person acting? Does this really happen in Canada?”  [There was a scene where] and we ran behind [Natalie] like we were a camera crew.

TM: This film is obviously so based on character and Natalie’s experience. Do you think approaching things with that documentary mentality, did that help you capture small character moments?

RR: Yes, absolutely. I think that was key in telling the story. For me, the actors were never acting, they were always in that state. I encouraged them to be that way for as long as we were filming. I think they really took that to heart. They really lived their characters, and that was so rewarding for the camera because the camera picked up every little twitch of the cheek and movement of the eyebrow. I think that really lent to the authenticity. I even told Ryan (Steven Love), I want you to not talk too much to the women and I want them to hate you by the end of the film. So it’s really beyond method acting, it’s really living and being that character for that period of time.

TM: Having someone capable in the lead is obviously very important, because you need someone who is able to deliver that authenticity. How important was it having Stone in that role?

RR: Oh my god, she was literally the crux of the film. She was everything. I know she did so much research. I think she really carries the film on her shoulders. That’s why I had to choose such a strong actor like Martha to offset Julia’s stunning performance. I got so lucky in getting such great actors. God knows what I would have done if Julia wouldn’t have been able to deliver, because the film is totally based on every nuance of her face.

TM: Why would you recommend people check out the film?

RR: I think human trafficking in Ontario is not talked about enough. I think people watching this film will find a way into thinking about it. It’s not a news item. It’s more of a story of a girl who has been through the sex trade and has been bartered like a piece of furniture. I think we need to give these girls a voice. Since documentaries on these subjects can’t be made because it brings a lot of danger to their lives, these sort of films based on social issues is what opens up peoples’ minds to these sorts of issues. That’s why I think this film is crucial for people to watch if we have to tackle things like human trafficking in Ontario.

Honey Bee opened in select theatres on Sept. 20 and will be available on Video on Demand on Dec. 10.

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Director Rob Grant on the tension (and dark comedy) of HARPOON

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From director Rob Grant (Mon Ami, Fake Blood), Harpoon will make its Canadian premiere at the Calgary Underground Film Festival. Photo courtesy CUFF
From director Rob Grant (Mon Ami, Fake Blood), Harpoon will make its Canadian premiere at the Calgary Underground Film Festival April 28. Photo courtesy CUFF

Adrift on the seas on a luxury yacht, three friends find themselves stranded without food or supplies and quickly realize their survival is less than assured. An official selection at International Film Festival Rotterdam 2019, Harpoon made its Canadian premiere at the Calgary Underground Film Festival (CUFF) April 28. The film will release on VOD in Canada on October 15.

The Mutt spoke with director Rob Grant prior to the film’s screening at CUFF 2019. This interview has been edited and condensed for length.

THE MUTT: Can you tell me a bit about the genesis of Harpoon?

ROB GRANT: I had a great relationship with my producers (Knuckleball director Michael Peterson and Kurtis Harder) from a film called Fake Blood. I pitched Mr. Peterson on this idea that was a mix between Polanski’s Knife on the Water but by way of Seinfeld characters on the boat. I grew up in Vancouver, and the original idea was, “Well, I spent a lot of time on a boat, we could go take a boat out to the ocean and try to isolate ourselves out there.” Once a budget came into play and the idea grew, suddenly we were shooting the interiors of the boat in a set in the middle of freezing winter in Calgary, and shooting the exteriors on a boat in tropical Belize down south.

TM: Was it difficult for you to balance those comedic elements and still find a way to ratchet up the tension?

RG: It was very difficult, and there were a lot of discussions about that. When you have to give the elevator pitch, you have to say: “This is the genre and this is what it means.” But I subscribe to the logic that in life you can feel in one moment that you’re in a love story and the next minute in a horror movie, and that’s the way real life actually works. But it seems a little more rigid in movies. We were aware of potentially disrupting viewers’ experiences of watching the movie. (We thought) a movie could, or should, be multiple things at once. We’re willing to accept that there’s going to be some audience members that are going to reject that as a movie experience, but we wanted to try it.

Harpoon director Rob Grant said premiering the film at International Film Festival Rotterdam 2019 was a very validating experience. Photo courtesy CUFF

Harpoon director Rob Grant said premiering the film at International Film Festival Rotterdam 2019 was a very validating experience. Photo courtesy CUFF

TM: Can you tell me more about those influences you mentioned? I’m curious about how you mixed something like Seinfeld with more traditional thriller elements.

RG: Hitchcock’s Lifeboat was definitely in there, as well as Polanski’s Knife in the Water. But I had to still find the dark humour in it, and Seinfeld came up specifically because as much as we all find the Seinfeld characters enduring, they’re very much in it for themselves. They’re worried about their own outcomes. So I tried to use a lot of that. As much as these people like to say they’re looking out for each other, the second it becomes a survival story they’re all kind of in it for themselves. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia was another one, not only for mixing drama and humour, but definitely because the narration was less focused. It sets up what’s going to happen without speaking to much on the nose about what you’re about to see.

TM: I understand there’s some great gore and effects in Harpoon. What was your approach to that, and what effect do you think that has? 

RG: I’ve explored the effects of violence in cinema with Fake Blood, and this was an extension of that. The entire movie, these people speak very casually and aloof about the things that potentially will need to be done without actually considering what that entails until suddenly when it happens. I felt like it would be a good idea to make sure that was extremely violent and horrible, not only because we’ve been teasing up to this moment, but I do believe there’s a certain element that people do not consider the actual realities of having to do something like that. So it’s very shocking, very brutal, it’s like, “ha ha ha this was all funny to discuss” and now that it’s happened it sucks the wind out of you. That was a very intentional decision.

TM: What do you think Harpoon does in a unique way when compared to other similar films? What do you hope the audience walks away with?

RG: I hope when people leave the cinema that it wasn’t the movie they were expecting, that it was a little bit of a different take. I do think it’ll challenge them depending what their expectations are. I just hope they’re expecting something interesting in the genre, and that they’re along for the ride.

Harpoon will be released on VOD in Canada on October 15.

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There Are No Fakes is a shocking journey into the world of art fraud

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Directed by Jamie Kastner, There Are No Fakes is a shocking feature-length documentary that centres on the work of Norval Morrisseau. Photo courtesy Cave 7 Productions
Directed by Jamie Kastner, There Are No Fakes is a shocking feature-length documentary that centres on the work of Norval Morrisseau. Photo courtesy Cave 7 Productions

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.”

Norval Morrisseau of the Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek First Nation was sometimes referred to as the "Picasso of the North". Photo courtesy Cave 7 Productions

Norval Morrisseau of the Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek First Nation was sometimes referred to as the “Picasso of the North”. Photo courtesy Cave 7 Productions

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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