Don McKellar creates classic comedy

We spoke to Don McKellar about his latest film The Grand Seduction, starring Brendan Gleeson, Taylor Kitsch and Liane Balaban.

The Grand Seduction

Canadian actor and sometimes director Don McKellar (Last Night) has helmed his third feature film: The Grand Seduction, a remake of Jean-Francois Pouliot’s La grande séduction (2003).

posterWriters Michael Dowse (Goon, Fubar) and Ken Scott (Delivery Man, Starbuck) moved the original location of a small fishing village in northern Quebec to Newfoundland, and manage to create one of the best feel-good community comedies in recent memory.

In The Grand Seduction, the small village of Tickle Head needs a doctor in order to secure a lucrative business contract, and when one (Taylor Kitsch) lands in their laps, the town pulls out all the stops to keep him happy and interested in staying long-term.

I had a chat with McKellar earlier, about setting, casting and the film’s particular brand of comedy.

Kayla Marie Hillier: How did you get involved with The Grand Seduction?
Don McKellar: I was approached by Roger Frappier, the producer of the original one, and there were a number of things that I liked. I loved the sort of classic comedy feel of the film, of the script. It has these very well constructed jokes that I felt would be really challenging to do — I’d never done that. It reminded me of Ealing comedies, or sort of classic social comedies that I don’t see very much, so I liked that. I loved the idea of shooting in Newfoundland — I always wanted to shoot there, and I thought it was a really good idea for this because it was more relevant than when it first came around because of the economic situation and the real dire need out there in Newfoundland. I felt that there was something sort of poignant at the root of the whole thing. And then I also was enticed by the idea of working with Brendan Gleeson, who they were talking about right from the beginning.

PJT-DonMcKellar-6.jpgKMH: What was it like working with Gleeson?
DM: It was great. When I first met him, he was so committed to getting the Newfoundland thing right. It was sort of surprising to me and a little shocking. He really was into the accent — most people I talk to are intimidated by it, but he loved it. He loved the idea of following the Irish descendents in Newfoundland and exploring that terrain. He was so committed to making it honest and finding authenticity at the heart of it. He carried that all the way through; he was really this sort of this barometer for the truth in the story.

KMH: Since the film is a remake, was there anything beyond the premise that you really wanted to keep in the film or did you want to keep the two films separate?
DM: I kept a lot of things, of course — the basic structure is the same. I didn’t look at the original and say, “I love that, I love that, I want to put that in.” I basically decided not to look at the original again after I started working on the film. I didn’t want to imitate it and I knew that the tone was going to be different with the transportation to Newfoundland and the language change — it was going to be a different feel. I didn’t want to feel oppressed by the original, especially by the things that worked.

" THE GRAND SEDUCTION "KMH: Like you said, the film really harkens back to a familiar style of comedy that I really haven’t seen in recent years. Do you think that this is due to the script, the actors or maybe a combo of the two?
DM: I think it’s the nature of the script and the premise. I call them “social comedies,” they’re sort of not as common now — things that have a little bit of politics and economics involved, about people getting together and not about eccentric individuals so much as about people working together. Those kind of comedies where you’re in a new locale, the viewer too, and learning the peculiarities of a different life, there’s sort of exotic appeal to that. All that stuff is great and I feel it is rarer and rarer and that’s a shame.

KMH: Did you have any difficulties shooting on the East Coast? The weather can be pretty unpredictable?
DM: There are hard things about it for sure, we were pretty remote. We were a two and a half hour drive out of St. John’s, so, for sure it was hard to get our equipment out there, hard to put people up, our cast and crew, to find accommodations for them. The weather was really scary when we were developing it because, you’re right, the weather can change on a dime and it can be really rough — and we didn’t have a lot of time and money to fool around if things went wrong. It was pretty scary going in but in the end we had amazingly good weather — what they were calling their best summer ever out there. It was hardly rainy, there was almost no fog — you can see in the film. I was almost disappointed not to have fog, afraid that Newfoundlanders would think we shot it somewhere else. It was so beautiful, so clear and sunny. We did have one hurricane, so that sort of spiced it up a bit, but in the end we were incredibly lucky.

grand1KMH: Can you tell me a bit about the soundtrack for the film? You had three different composers?
DM: It’s funny: when we went in. Roger and I thought it’d be good to move away from the Celtic thing, to do something different and not so obvious. But then when we worked on it and we were editing, it became so clear that it was part of the culture and it needed to be there. The music out there is so deeply ingrained in the culture, there’s something valuable in it. So the music had to be a part of it. I ended up asking Brendan to play the fiddle, as he does in one scene, and we had an accordion player play, because everyone out there plays music. The traditional music became ingrained in the whole material of the film. So when we got back, we ended up drawing from that, too. The guys that did the music, the score, I think are fantastic. They’re three guys from Montreal: Maxime Barzel, Francois-Pierre Lue and Paul-Étienne Côté, they work together. They’re three young guys and they play everything as well as compose it. Obviously they drew from that Celtic tradition but also opened it up more with the score and I think they did an amazing job. It’s hard job. The traditional music can be a little bit twee and too complacent in a way, but they were brilliant at scoring different avenues of that world.

KMH: I really dig New Waterford Girl, so it was also nice to see Liane Balaban doing another film on the East Coast.
DM: I actually thought she was from the East Coast because of New Waterford Girl. She isn’t, but there’s something about her that attaches her to that world.

KMH: Can you tell us a bit about your next project?
DM: I’m just finishing a TV series that I directed and starred in with Kim Cattrall. It’s called Sensitive Skin, it’s coming out for HBO Canada in July, so we’re excited about that. That’s my main thing, still working on that a bit. ■

The Grand Seduction is in theatres now