THE GRAND SEDUCTION directed by Don McKellar, written by Michael Dowse and Ken Scott, with Brendon Gleeson, Taylor Kitsch, Gordon Pinsent and Liane Balaban. An Entertainment One release. 115 minutes. Opens Friday (May 30). For venues and times, see listings.
Don McKellar has acted in other people's movies, written movies for other people and directed other people's scripts for television - including a Canadian remake of the British TV series Sensitive Skin, which will air on The Movie Network later this summer.
His new feature presented a different challenge, though: not only was he working from someone else's script, but from someone else's picture.
The Grand Seduction is a remake of Jean-François Pouliot's La Grande Séduction, about a tiny Quebec village that schemes to trick a big-city doctor into moving there to secure a lucrative factory. The new version, written by Michael Dowse, finds Taylor Kitsch dispatched to fictional Tickle Harbour, Newfoundland, at the behest of Brendan Gleeson's de facto mayor, Murray French.
"You know, as an actor I rarely get the pleasure of doing someone else's script," McKellar says after demolishing a sandwich at a College Street café. (He's spent most of the day in isolation, doing phone interviews.) "And it's a very different pleasure, asking yourself, ‘Why was this written, and how can I make that work?' instead of thinking ‘Oh, I can just change it.' That was the same here: ‘How can I best sell that joke?' How do I make that set-up clear and pay it off honestly, set a joke up without seeming to try? And that was fun. It's really fun."
Departing from the rampant feel-goodery of the original, McKellar engages with the economic desperation at the heart of The Grand Séduction, in the tradition of 70s American comedies or more recent films by socially conscious filmmakers like Ken Loach and the Dardennes brothers. It's still a comedy, but it has very few illusions.
"That's sort of what I grew up on," he says, "- that hyper-naturalism in comedy, which you really rarely see now. No one goes for that. And no one goes for the social comedies. It's hard, for one thing, but that was definitely one of the things that appealed to me. It had a classic feel."
Not only did shooting on location in Trinity Bay help the very Irish Brendan Gleeson keep his accent straight, but it let the movie be as authentic as possible.
"If we don't have those people to guarantee for us that it's not bullshit, then I don't know," says McKellar. "I'm not from there, I'm not the guy to say, ‘Uh, that's not how you clean a fish.' Those guys, that's what they do. And all that stuff makes a difference, you know."
For the opening sequence, which flashes back to the days when Tickle Harbour was a thriving fishing community, the production recruited most of the town as extras.
"Everyone's in their fathers' work clothes, basically, and to have them walk down the hill - they were in tears," he says. "They were really, really moved. It was heartbreaking. I thought, ‘Fuck, this is not a joke to these people.' And our current government is being very callous about the idea that people should just move within a 100-mile radius to get a job at the local fast food joint, or on the oil rigs, if they want to be able to collect welfare. That's just killing communities.
"It's easy to be cynical about that, but when you're there and you see that culture, you see the richness of it, it's hard not to be seduced."