Overdue for frivolity

Times Colonist (Victoria, British Columbia)
January 16, 2005 Sunday
Final Edition

Overdue for frivolity

by Michael D. Reid, Times Colonist

After playing so many roles on the dark side of the spectrum — a
conflicted American president (Thirteen Days), a grieving father (The
Sweet Hereafter), a treacherous husband (Double Jeopardy) and a
sinister CEO (I, Robot) — Bruce Greenwood says he couldn’t have been
happier when he got the chance to switch to the bright side for
Racing Stripes.

“This is a little more frivolous, a little more fun and long overdue
for me,” says the boyishly handsome Canadian actor of his role as a
rugged Kentucky farmer in the kiddie comedy about a plucky zebra who
thinks he’s a racehorse.

Greenwood, 48, plays Nolan Walsh, an overprotective widowed single
dad and former horse trainer who with the best of intentions tries to
dissuade his teenage daughter (Hayden Panettiere) from riding her pet
zebra in the Kentucky Open.

“The sentiment is so genuine and it just really appealed to me on a
really visceral level,” says the Quebec-born actor during a
homecoming visit to Vancouver. This is the city where his father, a
geology professor, moved the family when Greenwood was 11 after
living in Princeton, N.J. and Bethesda, Md. He still considers B.C.
his home even though he lives in Los Angeles.

“It’s a nice uplifting film to do and it has humour and a couple of
tears — and that’s entertainment, dammit,” adds Greenwood. For an
actor best known for his serious roles, he’s such a wisecracker you
wonder why he doesn’t do comedy.

When asked if he’d like to play funny on screen, he jokingly lashes
out in his deep, gravelly voice.

“Michael! Michael!” Greenwood answers in a sing-song voice, playfully
stretching out the words.

“D’uh, yeah. Why don’t you make the call? If you could make that
happen for me, I’d be thrilled. They just don’t know.”

Greenwood says while his phone may not be ringing 24/7 from studio
executives looking for the next Bill Murray, he figures his
“off-the-wall” humour is part of the reason he gets along so well
with Oscar-nominated filmmaker Atom Egoyan.

The actor has appeared in three of the Victoria-raised auteur’s films
— in The Sweet Hereafter; as a melancholic tax inspector obsessed
with a stripper in Exotica; and as the star of a film that dramatizes
the Armenian genocide in Ararat.

“Atom’s sense of humour is very black and bizarre and dry and ironic,
and quite broad, also,” says Greenwood. “We make each other laugh and
I think that helps.”

He also agrees with the observation Egoyan has another comic side to
him that many of his devotees don’t see.

“Atom has a very juvenile sense of humour and I think more people
should know that,” he deadpans. “He’s not nearly as clever as he
seems.”

Greenwood, who trained at the University of British Columbia and the
American Academy of Dramatic Arts, has made substantial strides since
doing theatre in Vancouver and landing his 1986 breakthrough role as
Dr. Seth Griffin on St. Elsewhere.

Shifting smoothly from television to film, the former student of
Kerrisdale’s Magee Secondary went from playing characters on TV
projects such as Knot’s Landing and Peyton Place: The Next Generation
to a slew of Hollywood features — including Wild Orchid, Passenger
57, Disturbing Behaviour and as a nasty, spit-polished military
bigwig in Rules of Engagement.

Ironically, Greenwood found himself returning time and again to shoot
“runaway productions” in the city he left in the early 1980s after
landing minor roles in Bear Island (1979) and First Blood (1982)
during the B.C. industry’s infancy.

While he would become best known for roles such as the title
character living a Kafka-esque nightmare in the TV series Nowhere Man
and the humourless internal affairs investigator in Hollywood
Homicide, Greenwood also got to strut his romantic side as a
lovestruck late-night talk show host in The Republic of Love, Deepa
Mehta’s film based on the novel by the late Carol Shields.

Last year, he put on an upper-crust British accent to play Lord
Charles, the dashing bachelor confidante of Annette Bening’s
high-strung London stage star of the 1930s in Being Julia, Istvan
Szabo’s film based on the Somerset Maugham novel.

He’s at a loss to explain why he has such a knack for accents, except
to credit the influence of a childhood friend.

“I’ve always had it,” he says with a shrug. “A good friend of mine
who does the most brilliant accents I’ve ever heard installs alarms
for a living. I grew up with him and kept hearing all these accents.”

Working steadily on films shot in exotic locales from Budapest (Being
Julia) to South Africa (Racing Stripes) means Greenwood has a nomadic
lifestyle.

The actor and his wife of 20 years, fellow Vancouverite Susan Devlin,
don’t get much of a chance to just hang out at their home in Los
Angeles, although the avid musician is setting aside a chunk of time
to “work around the house” and jam with friends, as the accomplished
singer-guitarist did at last year’s Courtnall Celebrity Classic here.

“I’m always on the road,” says Greenwood, who flew back and forth
between Budapest and Vancouver to shoot Being Julia and I, Robot, and
last year also jetted off to locations for various films in England,
Halifax, Toronto and South Africa.

Greenwood also just wrapped a Vancouver shoot opposite Madeleine
Stowe for Saving Milly, a CBS television movie about the
life-changing experiences of Chicago political journalist Morton
Kondracke and his wife Milly, an activist in the ’60s who was
diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

“Saving Milly was one of the heaviest experiences of my career,” he
says. “It would have been nice to start the year off with something
more frolicsome than that.”

Greenwood also went to Utah last year to reunite with Thirteen Days
director Roger Donaldson on The World’s Fastest Indian, starring Sir
Anthony Hopkins as Burt Munro, a New Zealander who made the world’s
fastest Indian motorcycle in the 1920s.

He says his most rewarding experience of 2004, however, was playing
Truman Capote’s longtime companion Jack Dunphy opposite Phillip
Seymour Hoffman in Capote, a drama that focuses on the eccentric
author’s years writing In Cold Blood.

“Hoffman’s the most succinct, dedicated actor I’ve worked with,” says
Greenwood. “He’s really devoted to making it work and making it real.
It was kind of an eye-opener for me. He really raised the bar.”

With a laugh, he says it made it easier to bear the inclement weather
on location in Winnipeg.

“It was brutally cold,” he recalled with a shiver. “My wife and I
found some great linens there.”

He says working with Hoffman was worlds apart from acting opposite
the animals in Racing Stripes, whose live-action footage was mated
with animatronics and computer-generated imagery to create the
illusion they were mouthing dialogue.

“The animals don’t really care about your acting,” deadpans
Greenwood. “You can be acting up a storm and they’ll rip the back
pocket off your pants or wet your shoes.”

He recalls taking one of the many zebras used to portray Stripes into
the barn for the scene in which he tenderly dries off the abandoned
baby circus zebra that his character rescues.

When it started getting “inky and twitchy,” he held it a little
tighter. The zebra was not amused.

“It got quite antsy, hurled me to the floor and started kicking me
repeatedly,” he said. “It hadn’t read the script, obviously.”

Although W.C. Fields famously advised actors never to work with
children or animals, Greenwood begs to differ.

He says he had a ball in the company of co-star Panettiere and
assorted roosters, pelicans, goats and ponies.

“It was full-on crazy, wacky barnyard all the time and when one adult
would do something right the other animal would wander off and nibble
the grip or something.”

Still, there were moments when fun turned to frustration.

“Almost never would you see two animals do something right at the
same time. So the rooster would get it in one take and the goat would
get 40 takes.”

Greenwood says the end result was worth it, though.

“Generally when I watch a movie I’m in, it’s over a curved elbow with
fingers spread in front of my eyes and I’m so nervous, but this one
was different.”

GRAPHIC: Color Photo: Bill Keay, CanWest News Service; Actor Bruce
Greenwood says he’s happy with the switch to a family film after
roles in some dark dramas. ;
Color Photo: Warner Bros.; Bruce Greenwood appears with Hayden
Panettiere and a competitive zebra in Racing Sripes, a new family
film that combines live action and computer-generated animation.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

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