Still, as far as McKellar's concerned, that disconnect is what helped make Kitsch a perfect fit for the role of Dr. Lewis, a big-city doctor seduced by a rural Newfoundland town to become their local physician. And since securing a doctor is necessary in order to land the factory that'll save their tiny fishing community, the ends outweigh the means – which include tapping Lewis' phone for inside info and getting the entire town to pretend to be fellow cricket fans.
With "The Grand Seduction" making its gala premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday, September 8th, Moviefone Canada sat down with McKellar to discuss what Kitsch brought to the production, landing Canadian icon and Newfoundland's own Gordon Pinsent for the cast, and why the director wanted to shoot his film entirely on location, even if it meant building sets from scratch.
Moviefone Canada: Did you ever consider turning this into a horror movie and submitting it for Midnight Madness?
Don McKellar: [Laughs] Oh, there were days that occurred to me: this is a horror film! There is a horrifying element. We always talked about a sequel where it all went horribly wrong, and what really happened after. It depended on the weather. If we had bad weather, I might've gone that way.
How'd you come onto the project? Was it something you sought out?
No, actually. I was asked. I knew it was happening, and then I was asked. I can't say it was my idea, but I was grateful almost immediately, because I knew the film and I knew it's one of those premises that works. And it's very relaxing to have something that strong that you can just sit on and think, "This is going to work, this script is going to work." So I was immediately pretty eager to get in there.
When you're working with a story like this that's already been made before, does knowing that it resonated with an audience help you as a director?
To me, those sort of classic premises, comedy premises, they're not that many, and when it works, it's a huge gift. And that is relaxing. There's some pressure in this case, especially in Quebec, where people know the film really well, it's a beloved film, people know the performances. And this version is very, very different. So I still don't know how they'll respond, people who love the original. It was a huge hit; I don't know what they'll think. Fortunately, I think it's different enough that no one will make direct comparisons. And I didn't really have to work to make it that different, it just naturally became different because of my taste, the setting, the actors. It just became a different film. It's a mixed blessing, I guess. In some ways, it's very relaxing, because you know the script will work, and we could trust the script. We didn't deviate that much. We changed some things, but that was a luxury, that we were allowed to try some stuff. We knew that the basic premises, the basic set pieces were there for us.
So I just want to say that it's not so much specifics about the original one that I said, "Oh, that's good, I could do that." I didn't really think about that. In fact, I tried to put it out of my head as quickly as I could. I only looked at it once after I got the job, because I didn't want to be thinking about performances or shots, or anything like that. I wanted it to evolve naturally in my head, and read it and think, "Well, how would shoot that?" And I encouraged actors and the crew not to watch it or anything. It works, but it's different.
The story revolves around a genuine social issue, but you're doing a relatively lighthearted take on it. Is that approach more interesting to you than a more dramatic one?
Yeah, that was another appealing thing about it. If anything, it's much more relevant. When you're out there, and you see how people are suffering because of the cod moratorium, it's very, very real. Those people do need work. And our current government forcing them to move so that they are obliged to work in a fast-food joint in order to qualify for welfare, it's horrible. And it is destroying communities out there. So to have a real social issue at the core also anchored it in a way that I think really helped. And oddly enough, helped with the comedy. Because you feel for those people, and you don't question for a second the fact that they're conning this guy, and that they're going to extremes, in some ways quite cruel extremes. [Laughs] In order to get this factory bid. It helps us root for them, for sure. So it appealed to me to make a film that accurately represented what it's like out there.
Was it important for you to shoot on location then, because of that?
It was for me, yeah. I really wanted to shoot on location. There were some suggestions that we not do that at times, because it's expensive. But we shot it all out there, even stuff we could've shot in a studio in Montreal or Toronto. Partly I wanted the feeling of being out there, and also I wanted the people. It's about that community. Everyone in the film, the whole village is from there basically, and I believe you can feel that. I've been there to Newfoundland enough to know that you can't really fake that. I would've felt sick to do that. And it allows me to shoot stuff and get scenes... I mean, every angle and every direction was stunning, so that's also a reason to do it. But yeah, I really wanted to be there. It was really important for me to set it there, to give it a firm location, which isn't the case in the original actually. Make it in Newfoundland, and get those people to contribute and own the film.
Speaking of which, I read that you actually built a restaurant for the movie.
[Laughs] Yeah, that's the one thing we built, because we found great towns, stunning towns, but what they don't tend to have are restaurants or bars, especially on the water, where I wanted it, of course. People from the mainland always want beautiful seaside bars or restaurants, but they tend not to have them in rural places, for obvious reasons -- because they're sick of the sea! [Laughs] So we could never find that. What few bars there were, they're not that many actually, they were on the road. And our town doesn't even have roads, so that was one thing we had to build. But I'm happy we built it, it worked out incredibly well. And then we donated it to the town where we shot. So I'm hoping that they're going to open it as a real working restaurant. I'm hoping actually that the film is going to be such a hit that tourists will drive to New Bonaventure to look for that bar. We'll sell souvenirs, of which I get 10 percent. That's what I'm hoping. [Laughs]
You have two very different kinds of Canadian icons in this movie in Gordon Pinsent and Taylor Kitsch. How did the two of them come on board?
The casting of this film, which I'm very proud of, was very natural. Gordon, you know, it didn't take a genius to think of him. We're shooting in Newfoundland, he's sort of a god there. And he's incredibly good. It took me a little bit to convince him at first, because it's a real comic character part, and it's a little different from what he's normally done. But on the other hand, he's got amazing comic chops, and I knew that. I knew that just from meeting him, I've always wanted to work with him, he's funny. And of course, he's from there. He can do that with authority like few people could do. It's hard, and I wanted Newfoundland actors because it's not easy to do that with confidence.
Taylor, of course, is not from Newfoundland, but he's not supposed to be. [Laughs] He's perfectly not from there. He's from B.C., he's much more laid-back. He's much fitter than anyone in Newfoundland. [Laughs] Maybe someone will challenge me on that. But he looks like he's from a big city, and that's the part. There's something almost immediately comic about seeing him wandering through those rocky cliffs.
And I knew he was good actor. I always felt that he hadn't been exploited to his fullest since "Friday Night Lights." Because he's very charming in that, and he does have really good comic timing. He'd been doing these action films and I knew that he'd be good as a comic straight man. He is incredibly charming. It's self-serving for me to say that, but I think it's a real breakthrough performance for him. I don't know if people will recognize how good it is. To be a straight man like that, to get those laughs is really tough. But he does it with real conviction.
It must've been a nice change of pace for him too after two straight huge action movies.
He told me just recently, he said, "You know man, that was the best summer ever!" He loved it, I think. He said it's hilarious how small everything is. I remember he said that once on our biggest day. We were shooting on a boat and I had this gyroscopic head for my [camera], and I was thinking, "Well, this is big for me. I don't know what you're saying." He thought it was sort of quaint, the tiny size of the film. But all of that worked brilliantly for us. And he had a ball out there. I think you can feel it too, because it was important for the landscape to seduce him. That's part of the story too, and I think he was actually seduced by that life out there. He kept saying, "I wish we could do that every summer!" Maybe not every winter...
"The Grand Seduction" premieres at TIFF on Sunday, September 8.