BREAKFAST WITH SCOT CWC D: Laurie Lynd, written by Sean Reycraft, w/ Tom Cavanagh, Ben Shenkman and Noah Bernett. Canada. 95 min. Sep 9, 6:30 pm Scotiabank 1; Sep 11, 9 am Scotiabank 14. Rating: NNN
Tom Cavanagh is a nice guy. the kind of guy you grab a beer with after rec league hockey and commiserate with over cheating girlfriends and the Leafs' dwindling playoff hopes. The quintessential best man.
But if you love hockey the way Cavanagh loves hockey, which is to say the way Don Cherry loves hockey hard hits and dropped gloves and bloody noses and men who smell like sweaty jock straps he's probably going to piss a few of you off.
Why? Because in his new movie, Breakfast With Scot, which premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival, he gets to play a Toronto Maple Leaf. Not just any Maple Leaf. A gay Toronto Maple Leaf. A body-checking, slap-shotting, high-sticking nancy boy Maple Leaf.
But don't get your elbows up just yet. It's not like he's doing double Axels or triple toe loops at centre ice.
And Cavanagh is very aware that he's skating on thin ice among the white-and-blue faithful.
"The Leafs, that's a precious thing to a Toronto crowd," he says. "It would be easy for them to judge the film just because I'm playing a Maple Leaf. That I'm playing a Maple Leaf who also happens to be gay, that's even trickier."
The 43-year-old Ottawa native is calling from the L.A. set of Scrubs, where he's reprising his role as Zach Braff's big brother. "More people recognize me from a few episodes of Scrubs than from the fours years I did Ed," he says sheepishly.
Just a couple of nights earlier, I'm flipping channels and come across a rerun of Ed, in which he starred as a big-city lawyer who hangs his shingle in his hometown bowling alley.
Just before Clay Aiken inexplicably shows up to perform at StuckeyBowl, I get a text message from Cavanagh. (As Keanu Reeves might say, Whoah!)
When I have him on the line, I mention the unexpected appearance of the American Idol.
"That was crazy a perfect example of a network going, "This guy's hot, let's find a way to get him into Stuckeyville,'" says Cavanagh, chuckling.
Of course, if Aiken had been on Cavanagh's last series, the under-appreciated Love Monkey, in which his backwards-ballcap-wearing indie music exec's biggest nemeses were big labels, bad music and bad relationships, "we would have skewered the bastard."
Another reason Cavanagh's the kind of guy you'd share a beer with: he's a straight shooter.
Unlike his Breakfast With Scot puck bunny.
To be clear, Cavanagh plays an extremely closeted ex-Leaf-turned-sports-broadcaster who, along with his boyfriend (Love Monkey pal Ben Shenkman), is left to look after flamboyant 11-year-old Scot (newcomer Noah Bernett).
Turns out Scot he makes pancakes in the shape of the missing "t," hence the film's title is more out of the closet than his new guardians. He belts out Christmas carols in July and wears feather boas, pink poodle belts and a Mardi Gras's worth of beaded necklaces, and even kisses his male classmates. Seems post-Billy Elliot, queer kids á la Ugly Betty's fashion-wise nephew are stealing the spotlight.
"I like the central conceit of the story. These two fellas who draw no attention to their private lives and sexual orientation are put in a position where they have to look after this young boy who doesn't really understand what it means to be gay or straight, who is just being himself," says Cavanagh.
Cavanagh and Shenkman have been friends since their Broadway days, and he had more than a little to do with getting Sheckman hired for Breakfast.
"There may have been some I don't know what the word is manipulation to get the script to him on my part," he says sheepishly. "He's such a gifted actor, capable of summoning such varied nuances, ones that a more facile actor like me would paint in clumsy, broad strokes."
Working with newcomer Bernett was surprisingly easy.
"It's somewhat difficult for kid actors, because parents want to see their kids be precocious and intelligent and have nice moussed hair and act like sitcom kids," Cavanagh explains. "That's not how I remember being as a kid.
"Noah's not like those kid actors who've spent so much time in the adult world that they speak and act like little adults. He's not trying to overact, not trying to be too cute. The character's already pretty large, with lots of crazy outfits and getups and situations."
Cavanagh's an overacheiving Queen's grad (degrees in English, biology and education) who appeared in a very popular Labatt commercial ("If I wanted water, I would have asked for water") before he landed on the Broadway stage in a revival of Shenandoah.
From there he kicked around Hollywood with TV guest roles before landing Ed. Ed was shamelessly romantic (he was constantly trying to win the heart of his high school crush), which you won't find on too many TV shows.
"The reason for that, my friend? Ratings. TV shows need some bodies on a slab, we need to blow something up that's what TV is."
Which might explain why Cavanagh is branching out into more feature work. He recently directed his first film, a micro-budgeted indie about a female playground basketball hustler in Harlem. He stars with pals like Love Monkey co-star Judy Greer, Shenkman, Taye Diggs and Richard Kind.
"If you're directing Ed or Love Monkey, you have a $2 million budget and you can do a lot of with that. I've been spoiled. Here we were in New York shooting very hands-on, guerrilla-style, with a small crew you could move quickly around the streets, set up and break down quickly and dodge the cops. Don't print that. Or print that but put in the "Don't print that. '"
When our conversation returns to Breakfast With Scot, I ask about what has to be the most appealing aspect of the role playing a Maple Leaf.
"One of the original six teams it was almost too much to hope for," he enthuses. "I assumed the name would change to something like the Toronto Tornadoes, but when it ended up being the Maple Leafs we just about lost our minds.
"It gives you the backstory, which is in and of itself an issue. It lends credence and credibility from having the actual Maple Leafs jersey on display.
"The power and integrity of that logo is a funny thing; we could have written 30 pages of script to try to give some fictional team a level of authenticity. The logo does it all at once."
And it didn't hurt that lunch breaks on set often turned into spontaneous games of shinny.
"To be on skates all day long and get paid for it, it's the kind of thing you want to mumble to your friends when they ask what you're doing. "You did what? You got paid to do that? That's bullshit,'" he says. "As lunch approached, more and more grips and electrics would show up with their skates to play. Lunch be damned let's play hockey!"
Additional Interview Audio Clips
On playing a Maple Leaf
On Noah Bernett
On balancing the humour and drama in Breakfast with Scot
On being typecast as Ed
On bringing a film to TIFF
BREAKFAST WITH SCOT(Laurie Lynd) Rating: NNN
Take the standard fish-out-of-water story about a wayward orphan being stuck with new parents - think everything from Anne Of Green Gables to Webster - and make everybody gay. That's the starting point of this offbeat family drama starring Tom Cavanagh and Ben Shenkman as the two new dads of a carol-singing, boa-wearing 11-year-old boy (Noah Bernett).
That Cavanagh plays a closeted ex-jock adds another layer of drama to a story that could easily have been movie-of-the-week fare. Instead, we get an occasionally funny, sometimes touching story with at least one standout performance, by newcomer Bernett.