Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Abominable Showman, May 4, 2013

(photo by Gino Domenico, courtesy Segal Centre)
The Unusual Suspect
Hollywood film star and Montreal homeboy Jay Baruchel is the right man at the right time to redefine the classic British detective in the world premiere of Sherlock Holmes at Montreal’s Segal Theatre
by Richard Burnett

Scooch over Robert Downey Jr. and never mind Basil Rathbone: I’ve always thought the hottest Sherlock Holmes was portrayed by British actor Benedict Cumberbatch in the BBC TV series Sherlock.

Until I met Jay Baruchel.

And Jay is really nervous about playing Sherlock Holmes, not because he is inheriting an iconic role, but because he’s playing it live onstage in his hometown of Montreal.

“I’m still antsy and nervous and I expect I will be until it’s done, but that’s part of what makes this so damned exciting,” says Baruchel, the local boy who done good in such Hollywood  blockbusters as Million Dollar Baby (opposite Clint Eastwood) and Tropic Thunder (opposite Robert Downey Jr.).

“For me, personally, I have precious little left to prove to myself in this career. I expressed most of the itches that I have and been blessed to work with incredible people, acted in things I’d like to see, that I would pay money for. But I haven’t done this [act on the stage]. And I’m glad that it’s here [in Montreal]. My need to scratch the theatre itch sort of coincided with my desire to work here. I wish I could work more in Montreal. I’ve only worked here twice in the past decade, and that’s not nearly enough for me. I wish I could work here all the time. So doing this play was a no-brainer.”

Photo by Richard Burnett
How Baruchel ended up playing Sherlock is another of those typical Montreal anecdotes. Segal Centre artistic producer Paul Flicker approached Baruchel’s mom and asked her, “Would Jay entertain the idea?”

“My mom is not the usual way to get to me,” Baruchel says, smiling. “But at the time I had been reading a lot of the [Sir Arthur Conan] Doyle stories on my own, so when it came time for us to have our meeting, I said, ‘What do you think of me as Sherlock?’ And Paul said, ‘That’s really strange and synchronicitous because we just hired Greg Kramer to write a Sherlock play.”

Jay looks at me quite seriously and says, “When fate is that present, you have to pay it heed.”

But the Segal’s amazing 2012-2013 rollercoaster season was about to hit another bump.

Following the season-opening smash Guys and Dolls – until now the most successful production in Segal history – there was some true star wattage with Ranee Lee starring in The Mahalia Jackson Musical. Still, nothing compared to the media frenzy unleashed with the arrival of Baruchel, and then the sudden death of Sherlock Holmes playwright and Canadian theatre legend Greg Kramer, on April 8, the eve of the first day of rehearsals.

The 51-year-old Kramer – who had survived two bouts of cancer, had a lung removed and had lived with HIV for years, and was happiest when he was on a stage – told me just last Christmas that he never needed Hollywood to make his dreams come true. “You can still make money in theatre,” Greg said. “You can. Just obviously not quite so much.”

That’s a lot of weight and legacy to carry

“We mourn the passing of our dear friend and colleague, Greg Kramer,” the Segal’s Paul Flicker said in a statement on the first day of rehearsals. “We cherish the time we spent with Greg, an inspired and talented actor, director, writer, musician and magician. Greg devoted his life to his art. We honour his memory and legacy by continuing on with his final gift to the world, his Sherlock Holmes.”

That’s a lot of weight and legacy to carry, mostly by Sherlock Holmes director Andrew Shaver and especially Baruchel, who has become the new face of Sherlock Holmes in Montreal.

“I only got to meet Greg three times, once at Paul’s house and at two table reads with a dozen other people,” Baruchel says. “So I was only getting to know him [when he died]. But even though I had only met him briefly, and around other people, square pegs can always smell each other.

Baruchel is only too aware that Sherlock Holmes is his first professional stage gig

“Greg was amazing because he really gave a shit about this thing, but not to the point where … I can’t help but ad-lib, and he would write them all down and they’d find their way into the next draft of the play. Greg was really a true collaborator. There is also a real dichotomy in this play because at the same time as it’s a Doyle purist’s Sherlock, it is also a Kramer Sherlock. You see the things in this play that were important to him.”

Baruchel is only too aware that Sherlock Holmes is his first professional stage gig (he has acted onstage just once before, in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at FACE high school when he was 17), and he is also very much aware that Kramer was widely-revered in the theatre world.

“There is no way to make it not sound like a platitude or cliché, but we really have to bring our fucking A game now,” Baruchel says. “This is Greg’s last hurrah and we want to pay homage as best we can. The career that he had and the wonderful human being that he was, he deserves nothing less.”

If anybody knows what it’s like to work with showbiz legends, of course, it’s Baruchel.

About Clint Eastwood, Baruchel says, “He is an absolute icon, still to this day the only person I’ve worked for were my granddad still alive would have been impressed by. I’ve worked with amazing people, with Oscar winners, with Tony winners, a lot of incredible people, but none of them would have meant anything to my granddad. Clint is Clint.”

(courtesy: Segal Centre)
About his Tropic Thunder co-star Robert Downey Jr, currently starring in the just-released summer blockbuster Iron Man 3, Baruchel says, “Robert is a force of nature, a thoroughly brilliant man, lovely person to work with every day. He treated my mom like royalty and he has a great deal of love and respect for this city in particular. As I was saying about square pegs, you can smell it on each other. We just sort of got along pretty well the whole way because we’re both wired differently.”

Baruchel recently wrapped up production of  the remake of RoboCop co-starring Gary Oldham, Michael Keaton and Samuel L. Jackson; has completed the heist film The Art of the Steal opposite Kurt Russell and Matt Dillon; and will next be seen in This is the End, a feature film with Seth Rogen.

“It’s a really funny movie, based on this short that he and I made with our friends about eight years ago where we played ourselves in a shitty apartment during the apocalypse,” Baruchel, now 31, says. “Then the studio in L.A. thought that could be a feature film. So we changed it from an apartment to James Franco’s mansion and us schmucky actors play ourselves in the house at the end of the world. I think hilarity ensures. It’s coarse, gory and earnest – but super-compelling and we sneak our medicine in too. It is everything you expect from the people in that movie.”

I can’t fault anyone for choosing the Habs!

Back in Montreal, Sherlock Holmes is competing with the Montreal Canadiens as the hottest ticket in town.

“And I’m caught in the middle of it!” says Habs diehard fan Baruchel, who is wearing a Canadiens sweatshirt at our interview. “And I can’t fault anyone for choosing the Habs!”

Indeed, Baruchel is living proof that you can take the boy out of Montreal, but you can never take Montreal out of the boy.

“One of the things I’m most proud of [working on Sherlock Holmes in Montreal] is the people here, especially in this neighbourhood [around the Segal Centre],” Baruchel says with evident pride. “They have taken a degree of ownership of me. I get a lot of love around here. It’s the only place in the world that is relevant to me and I do give a shit about what people think about me here [in Montreal], and the fact that I can undo that goodwill with one crappy night of theatre is fucking exciting.”

Sherlock Holmes runs at the Segal Theatre from May 5 - 28. Click here for more info and tickets.

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. Please read our guidelines for posting comments.