It’s no exaggeration that one of the happiest moments of my young journalistic career came at the beginning of my interview with Colm Feore. I said something that impressed a man who is one of the most prolific stage and screen actors in Canadian history. It was not a particularly insightful question or even a compliment that made him rejoice, and thus thrilling me as well. I did something that many journalists and interviewers had failed to do over his more than 30-year career: I pronounced his name correctly.
“You get a prize for that,” Feore told me. (His first name, for those looking to impress him in the future, is pronounced column, his last name like fjord but without sounding the D.)
Despite having more than 120 screen credits to his name and taking almost every iconic role in Shakespeare’s canon and performing it to rapturous reception at the Stratford Festival, few Canadians know Feore’s name. You can chalk that up to a history of great—although brief—roles in a variety of films and television programs for both Canadian and American audiences.
“I can tell by the way people look at me which movies they’ve seen,” Feore says. “If they’re afraid, I know it’s Stephen King [and Storm of the Century]. If they cross themselves, I know it’s The Borgias. I do so many different things.”
This summer, Feore has made an appearance on the big screen (The Amazing Spider-Man 2), the small screen (HBO Canada’s Sensitive Skin, starring Kim Cattrall), and soon two stages at the Stratford Festival. He headlines the festival as the title character in Antoni Cimolino’s production of King Lear, and will star as the lead in The Beaux’ Stratagem beginning on July 31.
With such a distinguished career, one has no idea what will come up when Feore visits the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Monday, July 28 for an In Conversation With… chat with critic Geoff Pevere. With such a busy schedule, one also wonders how the reigning king of Stratford’s stage has time to sleep.
“Sleep is a bit of a premium. It doesn’t happen often – certainly not now,” he admits. “Still, you say ‘yes’ to the things that interest you and then find a way to make them happen. I’ve been very lucky that interesting things come along and the timing sort of works out. You just say ‘yes’ and keep going.”
Among the roles he says he was happiest to say ‘yes’ to include the title roles in Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould and the 2002 CBC mini-series Trudeau, as our 15th Prime Minister. For Trudeau, Feore won a Gemini award, but Gould brought him the attention he was seeking as an actor.
“We did [Gould] for very little money… it’s one of those things that is almost impossible to do in the American model and it flourishes in the Canadian one,” Feore says. “No one would believe you’re going to make a film for $1 million on that scope or scale.”
With his fame from Gould, Feore went to L.A. with many VHS copies of the film, hoping to get attention from casting directors. Even though he soon appeared in Face-Off and The Insider, it was in Canada where he found the most of his onscreen fame.
Besides playing revered dead Canadians, Feore also appeared in The Red Violin, The Trotsky and Bon Cop Bad Cop, which he calls “a non-stop laugh from the moment we started rehearsing,” north of the border. He also got excited when I mentioned his role as the offbeat con man Sanjay on the Canadian comedy Slings and Arrows.
In the United States, he’s best known among TV watchers for memorable stints on 24 and Revolution. Meanwhile, fans of the musical Chicago likely remember him as the impassioned prosecutor who butted heads with Richard Gere over the Roxie Hart trial. Fans of blockbuster action probably recognize him from his turns in Pearl Harbor, The Sum of All Fears and Paycheck. (They likely do not recognize him from Thor, as Laufey, King of the Frost Giants. For that part, Feore had to spend more than five hours in the make-up chair.)
Feore credits his stage training – he attended Canada’s National Theatre School in Montreal – for coming in handy as a character actor. “You never really know in the film or television setting how much rehearsal you’re going to get… how much flexibility there’s going to be,” he says.
When making Thor for director Kenneth Branagh, who has much experience with adapting The Bard to the screen, Feore found his stage experience very helpful. “[Branagh says,] I’ve hired you because of what you’ve already done. I can count on you knowing a kind of shorthand for the kind of acting I want here. We don’t have time to rehearse. If I say to you, ‘Hamlet, scene 3…,’ that’s enormously helpful,” Feore says. “I hope that part of the reason I get offered those sorts of things is that I am a useful enough actor.”
Meanwhile, Feore’s return to the Stratford Festival this summer was not as surprising as the part he would return in. King Lear is an extreme role that often goes to a titan of the stage near the end of his career, given the character’s old age. (For instance, Christopher Plummer drew raves for his portrayal in 2002, when the actor was 72.) Feore, while 55, still has a youthful vigor and seemed an unlikely choice, but he says he was not fazed by the part.
“[Richard] Burbage, who was Shakespeare’s guy, was about 36 when he played Lear, I think,” Feore says. “It has nothing really to do with the age of the actor. Very often, [the role] gets handed to actors of great stature, and so we came to associate the part with having achieved and having lasted this long [in the theatre.]”
Feore says that he would have preferred playing Lear as a much younger man, since the role requires him to carry Sara Farb, who plays Lear’s daughter, Cordelia, in his arms at the end. “It’s killing me,” he jokes. “And it’s keeping me very fit.”
His wife, Donna, is nearby for support. She directs and choreographs the musical Crazy For You, which shares the Festival Theatre stage with Lear.
This fall, Colm and Donna will work on A Midsummer Night’s Dream together at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. With raves from Lear and a continued presence on film and television, perhaps audiences will finally figure out how to say his name.
In Conversation With… Colm Feore takes place at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Monday, July 28, 2014 at 7:00 p.m.