Story first published Oct. 31, 1998 by Joan Sullivan
Outside the Hotel Newfoundland, it’s pelting rain. Inside, the lobby is stogged with Softworld attendees. Rumours of flight cancellations have them musing about spending a night in the lobby. In one corner of the bar, Gordon Pinsent sits with a glass of mineral water. Despite the chaotic, high-tech atmosphere – more particularly, despite the fact that it’s the day before his play Corner Green makes its theatrical début at Resource Centre for the Arts – he is gracious and calm.
“I haven’t seen this (production). I wanted to leave it alone and be surprised,” Pinsent says. (Corner Green was staged by the Northcliff Amateur Theatre Company last year.) “That’s one of the pleasures with this kind of work. I was pleased as anything when Michael (Chaisson, RCA artistic director) called and said they’d like to do it as their season opener.”
Pinsent is expecting this professional cast, many of whom were part of a workshop for the part with director Richard Rose earlier this summer, to give the work “a new interpretation. Before there was no real possibility of making changes daily, but these people know how to play with it.” He’s also extremely happy with the poster and set design by Gerald Squires.
Corner Green has a total cast of 10, led by Bryan Hennessey as Garland Moyle and Amy House as The Hagge. Part existential love story, part psychological drama, the play also has some great comic moments. “If guilt was a ceral, you’d be on the box,” the Hagge informs Garland at one point.
Pinsent said the work was “strangely autobiographical, from the standpoint of fears in my own life.” The characters of Garland and his tormentor, the hagge, can be soon as one being. “I have a history of doing damage to myself in terms of feeling not able to succeed. So that creature, in one form, is the readiness to make your dreams not come true.
“I’ve never really felt totally successful about things I’ve done. And Corner Green is a little bit of that. The man without answers.”
Pinsent is, of course, widely known as an actor. But he’s no slouch as a writer either. In Ontario, he’s recently written and staged two plays. Easy Down Easy, we did at a theatre in Barrie. It did well, there was a bunch of us in it, fairly well known, so that might have been why. I didn’t continue to work on it, I have a bad habit of not sticking with anything. And I did Brass Rubbings as a fundraiser for Factory Theatre.” Again, Pinsent acted in it, which didn’t give him “a chance to appreciate it as a play.”
Pinsent has also made significant marks as a film writer and director. The Rowdyman, arguably, was one of the first of the new, independent films cropping up these days, movies like Brassed Off or Living in Oblivion.
“The Rowdyman happened because there was no money, you seemed to be able to get away with things done along those lines. And it was one of the first helped by the CFDC, which was the predecessor to Telefilm.”
Pinsent also wrote, directed and starred in John and the Missus, which, like The Rowdyman, is a stirring, sturdy work with a good work. He also wrote novel forms of both.
“I started to write The Rowdyman at almost the same time as John and the Missus,” says Pinsent. “I had some notion I should do everything at the same time. Somebody should have warned me. But I thought, if doesn’t end up as one thing it can be another.”
He’s working on another film script now, The Walk. “It’s a very small film. My head is just not geared towards big money-makers. It’s about three friends, one of whom dies early, and the other two go for a walk through Toronto. I deals with mortality. They are two very unlikely friends. The other one was the conduit. I wrote it for myself and a friend, we go out walking together.”
With such projects swirling around him, and a stream of film, television and theatre credits behind him, Pinsent is one of the most prolific actors to come out of Newfoundland. It’s easy to forget how daring, or even how odd, such an ambition would have been when he started out in the 1950s. But Pinsent said he always wanted to ct, he even told his mother he wanted to change from being an Anglican to a Catholic because the Catholic school put on plays. “I would do anything to get on stage, I’d do my own plays in the woodshed.”
“I have no idea (where the idea of acting came from). But I knew it was somewhere in the cards. The dream took hold, some kind of wish. I lived in my own eggshell removed from the rest of family. Not by the furthest stretch of imagination could I have been called realistic in those days.”
When he was 17, he left Grand Falls and joined the army. When he was discharged a few years later, he was in Fort Churchill, Manitoba. Making his way to Winnipeg, he “got involved immediately with three repertory theatres, and was lucky enough to be in the nucleus of actors which became the Manitoba Theatre Centre run by John Hirsh. I did a lot of John’s leads, and was lucky enough to early live TV and lots of radio work.”
Pinsent had also toyed with the idea of becoming a commercial or graphic artist and for a time he “worked as a commercial artist in the mornings, was on the stage at night, and taught dancing in the afternoons.
In 1959, he moved to Toronto and took up the reins of a professional acting career. His upcoming gigs include a role in the new series Power Play, and a television movie, Win Again, which he scripted and stars in.
Win Again also stars Gabrielle Roy, Michael Reilly (who’s also in Power Play), Eric Peterson and Pinsent’s daughter, Leah Pinsent, who’s also in Rick Mercer’s new series, Made In Canada. Eric Till directed, it was shot in Cape Breton and will air in January.
“In Power Pay, I’m the team owner, Duff McArdle. I live in the Copps Coliseum, and my team is called the Hamilton Steelheads.” His reoccurring role is “similar, but a little more demanding” than his character in the now wrapped Due South.
“Michael Reilly is shift sports agent, and Al Waxman is in four shows as a coach. We’re the only two vets, I suppose you’d call us.”
Pinsent also narrates the six episode documentary series on hockey called The New Ice Age.
“It’s a good mix of things. I’m very pleased that Win Again is done, in the can. There’s a lot of stuff, the calendar is taken up. But I’m never satisfied, I’d rather be getting stuff off the ground, there are other projects I’d like to get moving.”
One such project would be the film adaptation of his son Barry Kennedy’s new novel, The Hindmost. “I’d love to make that film happen. There’s a certain texture to organic Canadian work.”
But creating that, or seeing The Walk put to film, isn’t easy. “Those in a position to make them are not grabbing them up. It’s still tough, there’s still plenty of rejection.”
And opportunities. Pinsent is delighted with the wealth of Newfoundland talent on TV. “Rick Mercer and all those people, the more the merrier.” And he watched Codco every morning. “Quite honestly, these new channels, some of them are a nuisance but quantity breeds quality.”
The interview concluded, it’s time to brave the weather and the Softworld crowds. Pinsent has at least six more interviews. But he’s looking forward to it. It’s not often that he doesn’t act in what he writes; being off the stage for a chance will give him a rare chance to “see the work for what it is.”