It is very difficult to describe how I was feeling just before the conversation I am about to transcribe for you. A few seconds before I was to interview the legendary Lorne Cardinal I was talking to the equally legendary Fred Ewanuick and Nancy Robertson. In readiness for these little chats I had spent rather a long time putting together a copious amount of questions that I hoped would be a little against the norm and will belay any boredom in my subjects who were half way through a two day press marathon, no doubt being asked the same few questions over and over.
What I hadn't quite prepared for was that Fred and Nancy were a right couple of chatty charlies! Their down to earthness threw me off guard. Now I wasn't sure what to expect when the second part of my interview was to take place. I had to decide if I should throw caution to the wind and wing it to keep the relaxed atmos flowing. Maybe I should stick to the script so the powers that be who organised the whole thing don't get cross and make me sit on the naughty step, for not pushing Corner Gas Animated enough in my questioning. The naughty step, in this case, would geographically mean I would have to go and sit on the coast of the Isle of Wight pointing in the direction of Nova Scotia until I agree to be good
I needn't have worried, Mr. Cardinal was as equally forthcoming and charming. Which made me realise something important.
Hi! Sorry you had to put up with those two, I have done eight years with those people, god I love 'em!
It looks like you guys have a lot of fun
Yeah, it is always fun when we get the band back together. We always got along so well when we were doing the live series, we got really lucky with the casting. Sometimes you can be with a cast that you really don't care for or there can be personality clashes which makes it very difficult to work. That didn't happen with this one it's been great from the get go.
It's been a few years since you last worked together, is it like getting back on the bike and carrying on where you left off?
It is kind of like trying to figure out a skateboard you have to get your balance back and a feel for it but it is surprisingly scary how easily these characters come. We found that out when we did the movie. We had a six or eight year break since we did the series but the chemistry came back really easily and it felt like we had only been away for a couple of weeks.
Going from live action to animation has anything changed in Davis or the rest of the gang?
These characters are very two dimensional, they don't live in the three dimensional world. My character doesn't anyway. He is pretty straight forward, he loves everything or he is against something it's all 100%. That is what I love about him, his sense of discovery - he is very child like that way. Everything is new and exciting and it is a great place to live.
Does the animation allow you to broaden things at all?
No, it is just more of the same. The nice part is that we have incredible animators who are adding stuff that you take for granted like facial expressions. When you are animating it is hard to catch some of the nuances just from our voices. They have done a fantastic job. I think the more they see us and get to know us the easier it will be for them to add those personality traits. Like the stunned disbelief look that I have perfected over the years!
Have you worked in animation before, are there any difficulties working in the medium?
Yeah, I have done a lot of animation, different series and stuff. This series was different because we decided to record it all together which was a challenge in itself as we are talking about different time zones. Some of us are on the west coast and then there is bunch in Toronto on eastern time. So we all meet on the headphones and record two episodes at a time. We go through the scripts from begining to end and we all do our takes. It helps because then the chemistry is there
What would the normal process be?
I have worked on animation where I do all my parts in a room by myself and I never interact with the cast. You have to have a vivid imagination, you have to leave space and understand the structure of the writing. If you are telling a joke you have to leave the beats so someone else can finish it off. Technically it is a bit more demanding.
So animation can bring out all the best skills in an actor?
Yes. One of the hardest skills in acting is listening and this is what you are forced to do in the animated world. On headsets listen to the voice of the other person.
Being that the recording process is so complicated, does it make it harder because Corner Gas is so funny. If someone starts laughing do have to start all over again?
It's so much fun! If we lose it then we just start again, but it is nice to know that the material is working. There is a lot of laughing off microphone, someone is doing their lines and you look to the side and people are looking at the floor shaking, big smiles all around. We have brilliant writers and to see the cast response means you know the material is working and the delivery is working. You try not to laugh on mike but sometimes it happens and that's cool.
Who is the worst for corpsing?
Well I think it's Freddie (laughs)! I think we all have our bits where we lose it a bit or we have trouble saying some of the words.
There are lots of fantastical moments in the new show, some of which involve historical characters like Elvis and William Shakespeare. You recently played Henry VIII on stage in The Last Wife. Would you reprise the role if it came up in a future episode?
I would be up for anything! They have written in some accents, Davis does some crazy accents in a couple of episodes. He gets on this accent kick, so I do Jamaican, Scottish and Australian all one after another so it's pretty fun. The beauty is I don't have to be perfect at it. I just have to give a hint of the accent and it can fall off the rails pretty quick!
Do you do a British one?
I do a Cockney one, I don't have the rhyming down, I would love to understand how that works one day. Cockney slang is baffling.
Being that you have a theatrical background how do you translate that experience to your work on screen?
I started in theatre, it was my first love. I have a bachelor of fine arts and acting degree from the University of Alberta. I am classically trained in theatre and ballet, combat, fencing. When I first started that is all I would do, plays across the country, back to back to back. It is hard on the personal life but I gained a lot of experience from being on stage. It all helps in any acting process.
You have run workshops in the past promoting the importance of humour for health. Do you feel the humour in Corner Gas helps other people with personal difficulties in their life?
That was a program that was started by my wife, Monique Hurteau, and I just rode on her coat tails. We believe that humour is good medicine. The more we have the tool to deal with stressful situations the better life is. You can look at problems differently and the less stress we have in our lives the better we are.
Do you hear from people letting you know how Corner Gas has helped them in their personal lives.
The response from around the world has been amazingly positive. We have letters from military members who were over in Afghanistan. They said that when they were being attacked by rockets, they were in their shelters and would be there for hours. Someone would bring a DVD player into the shelter and they would all gather round and watch Corner Gas. We hear a lot of heart wrenching stories, people going through sickness or family tragedy and they use Corner Gas to help ease the pain. Our job as actors is to not be so serious, to provide entertainment and tell stories to take people away from maybe harsh realities and give them a place to escape and smile a bit.
With the interview over, I hung up the phone and took a deep breath.
So what did I learn from this experience you ask? A few things. Firstly, try and have a less downbeat question ready to ask when you know you only have two minutes left of your interview. Secondly, people will often tell you to never meet your heroes in case you are disappointed. I have been honoured and extremely lucky to talk to mine and they were nothing but lovely, courteous and funny. Never be afraid to go off script, with any elements of your life, relax have fun. Go to your happy place.
Corner Gas Animated premieres April 2nd 8pm on The Comedy Network, Canada.
With thanks to Lorne Cardinal, Margaret Sirotich and Jesse Wanagas for giving me so much of their valuable time.