The performance by Mark O'Brien in the lead role was terrific, how soon did you cast him, and was it difficult to find the right person to play Terry Sawchuk?
It was always Mark. Mark and I are friends from years back. He was in my first film, he was in my sister’s first play, we both are floored by his ability to possess another person. He understands what it is to be human, he navigates drama and levity and darkness and humor so seamlessly. He is a hockey player, himself. All the hockey in the film was him. Not a stunt goalie. Not a professional player. All I heard when gearing up to direct this is “the hockey can’t suck, it can’t be amateur, it has to look like the NHL.” And yet, in the early years, (because this film took around eight years to get made) before Mark’s career had taken off, we were piecing together funding, and were asked to look at actors who had apparent cache, but who didn’t have a fraction of what Mark had nor the hockey skills. There was a time I started to lose interest in the project. To be fair, these were early days, and when we were getting close to being funded, and we actually started to seriously talk casting, we brought up Mark’s name and everybody was thrilled at the idea.
How did you come upon this idea for a project? What made you want to commit so much time and dedication to not only co-write but also direct this film?
My sister and I were looking for a project to do together. I had just come back from Sundance with my first film and met with Producer Daniel Iron who was asking what I was hoping to direct next. At the time I was immersed in my father’s book about Terry Sawchuk, exquisite and haunting poems that explored this beautiful, complex man and it just wouldn’t leave my mind. The truth is it was already forming as a film in my head. My sister felt the same way. We asked him about adapting it and he was into the idea. Hockey is something our family shares. My father’s brother was Darryl Maggs who played for the NHL. It became a family thing.
What was it like getting to work with a legend of film, Kevin Pollack? He plays a supporting character that is perfectly suited for him. How was he on set?
One of the things I enjoy most about being a director is shaping an actor’s performance and when Kevin showed up, I was kind of knocked off balance. The performance he gave immediately, and every single time was fantastic. He’d rock a take, then change it up, then give us some ad-libs, many of which we kept. I just kind of sat back and enjoyed watching him work. It’s not a hilarious role obviously, but between takes and on set he was lovely and fun and full of stories of the experiences of his career. I don’t know that he sees a whole lot of weather like we had during the shoot, and I remember what a great sport he was in a big huge coat and winter boots, and a look on his face that seemed mildly amused at the amount of snow and the fact that people actually thought it was a good idea to live this far North.
How important was the detail concerning costume design for you in this period film? As you know, many of the uniforms have changed and there have been drastic equipment changes since Terry Sawchuk played.
The most fun thing was trying to convince the actors to use period-appropriate skates. The professional hockey players from Sudbury wore them but we had actors who were good hockey players, but who needed to look like NHL level hockey players, and then we told them they had to wear cold, leather, no ankle support skates. We had a wonderful costume and props department who found everything and made what they couldn’t find.
What other films did you use as inspiration for making this film? It seems very grounded in reality, yet the hockey scenes are also shot incredibly well.
Thank you so much for saying that. The amazing DP, Jason Tan, and I had films in mind. A little Terrence Malick, I think of Lynne Ramsay’s work whenever I do anything, a little Raging Bull, we watched tons of hockey films and tried to figure out what we loved and what mistakes we didn’t want to make. Also, films like Howl made use of poetry because that was certainly a challenge. In the end, there was so much CG, like the stands and keeping things period that I say it’s most like Jurassic Park.
What films/directors have had the biggest impact on your life and why?
Thelma and Louise, Lynne Ramsay, Jane Campion, Mary Lambert for Pet Sematary, which I straight up loved as a kid and still love. Patty Jenkins’ Monster which was a revolutionary exploration of an exploited female sex worker as a person that becomes a monster through mistreatment. Ava DuVernay who I’m sure was told that activism in films is not interesting or entertaining a million times (as we all were) and made the films she wanted to make.