Gunning for laughs

He’s played the dedicated Mountie, the decorated war hero, even the smalltown curling champ.

Actor Paul Gross

Actor Paul Gross

TORONTO — He’s played the dedicated Mountie, the decorated war hero, even the smalltown curling champ.

Paul Gross has built a career portraying the quintessential Canadian hero.

This time though, the roguish actor looks south of the border for his latest leading man — the archetypal U.S. gunslinger in the camp western, Gunless. With a twist, of course.

“Which is the only way that you can really make a western outside of the U.S.,” Gross says of his turn as the cocksure Montana Kid.

“If you’re doing it in Canada, you have to do that. How can you do a western in France? it doesn’t make any sense. And it makes about as much sense to us because it’s a mythology that we don’t have.”

Gross’s gun-toting outlaw takes refuge in a peaceful Canadian town while on the run from a blundering posse south of the border.

It’s soon clear that things are done differently in the dusty north — the saloon bartender greets the bewildered yank in French and his first friend is a Chinese girl, whose family is building the railroad.

None of this stops the Kid from picking a fight with the local blacksmith and challenging him to a showdown. But the duel is delayed when he discovers no one in town has a pistol and it’ll take two weeks to order one in.

Writer/director Bill Phillips says he wanted to play off iconic western conventions and put a Canadian spin on them.

“That was part of the game that we were playing with Gunless” says Phillips. “(They’re) just elements that, at a glance, people are familiar with and they go, ‘Ah, that’s a western.’ And then you take them and take their comfort level with them and you just twist it a little bit.”

Still, it’s the ubiquitous nature of those well-worn conventions that threatened to scuttle Phillips’ plans early on. Phillips recalls the deflated reactions he’d meet whenever he pitched his idea to potential investors: “Oh. A Western,” he says, mimicking their disapproval.

“As if that genre is dead or something,” continues Phillips, who shot in the desert landscape near Osoyoos, B.C., where temperatures soared into the 40s.

“Which it isn’t, it keeps coming back all the time.”

The period piece required Gross to don three layers of wool, a big hat and stringy hair extensions for the sweltering shoot under the Okanagan sun.

“Which is unbelievably irritating,” Gross says of his dark fake locks. “I don’t know how women do it. It’s in your mouth, it’s in your food, it’s crazy.”

The fish-out-of-water tale also stars Brit actress Sienna Guillory as love interest Jane and Gross’s old Due Southco-star Callum Keith Rennie as the villain.

Phillips makes no bones about aiming for as broad an audience as possible with his light-hearted take on a time-honoured genre.

“I do believe that you want to make films that people see,” says Phillips, who helmed the 2003 Canadian box office flop, Foolproof.

“But I think what happens is then the industry grabs onto this notion of ’Yes! Commercialism. We have to make these commercial,’ and then you start pandering. . . .

“At the end of the day, we’re never . . . going to be able to overtake Hollywood, like nobody in the world is able to do that. So, I think the only way you’re going to have your work rise to the top is in quality and not pretending we can play the games as a junior player at their level.”

Gross says the Canadian film industry has long been hampered by the notion that chasing a big audience is incompatible with quality filmmaking.

“We make a lot of movies that nobody in their right mind would be interested in going to see, so why do we make them?” says Gross, whose $20-million war film “Passchendaele” was Canada’s leading box office draw in 2008.

“Why, just because a film is popular does it necessarily lack any integrity? It’s insanity to think that way. Or a film that nobody’s interested in watching must necessarily therefore have great integrity? This is retarded. We need to flip this around.”

“Gunless” opens Friday.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

House sales remain hot in central Alberta with first-quarter sales nearly double last year’s numbers. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Central Alberta real estate market hot in 2021

Residential sales nearly double 2020 in first quarter

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer gave an update on Olymel's COVID-19 situation on Wednesday. (File photo by Advocate staff).
Veer addresses rising COVID-19 cases in Red Deer

Red Deer has added nearly 200 cases of active COVID-19 cases in past week

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Premier Jason Kenney say the province would look at adding additional COVID-19 measures in the coming weeks if the virus continues to spread. (Photo by Government of Alberta)
Walk-in COVID-19 vaccination clinic to open in Red Deer

Alberta adds 1,345 new cases of the virus

Innisfail RCMP are investigating a single-vehicle crash that happened west of Bowden on March 21, 2021. (File photo by Advocate staff)
RCMP investigate culturally insensitive graffiti at Sylvan Lake school

Sylvan Lake RCMP is investigating a vandalism incident. On April 17 around… Continue reading

A vial of the Medicago vaccine sits on a surface. CARe Clinic, located in Red Deer, has been selected to participate in the third phase of vaccine study. (Photo courtesy www.medicago.com)
Red Deer clinical research centre participating in plant-based COVID-19 vaccine trial

A Red Deer research centre has been selected to participate in the… Continue reading

Vancouver Canucks' Tanner Pearson, right, celebrates after scoring against Toronto Maple Leafs goalie David Rittich during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Pearson, Sutter each score twice as Canucks dump Leafs 6-3

Pearson, Sutter each score twice as Canucks dump Leafs 6-3

Everton's Gylfi Sigurdsson celebrates with teammates after scoring his side's second goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Everton and Tottenham Hotspur at Goodison Park in Liverpool, England, Friday, April 16, 2021. (Peter Powell/Pool via AP)
Super League collapses after the 6 English clubs withdraw

Super League collapses after the 6 English clubs withdraw

Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez delivers against the Toronto Blue Jays during the first inning of a baseball game Tuesday, April 20, 2021, at Fenway Park in Boston. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
Bogaerts’ 3-run HR, Rodriguez lift BoSox over Blue Jays 4-2

Bogaerts’ 3-run HR, Rodriguez lift BoSox over Blue Jays 4-2

Pound says Olympic qualifying issues a concern to IOC

Pound says Olympic qualifying issues a concern to IOC

Former University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams is photographed in the stands during the Greater Victoria Invitational at CARSA Performance Gym at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, November 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Rowing Canada sanctions former head coach of B.C. varsity women’s team

Rowing Canada sanctions former head coach of B.C. varsity women’s team

Ontario Hockey League cancels 2020-21 season as COVID-19 cases surge in province

Ontario Hockey League cancels 2020-21 season as COVID-19 cases surge in province

Lionel Desmond (front row, far right) was part of the 2nd battalion, of the Royal Canadian Regiment, based at CFB Gagetown and shown in this 2007 handout photo taken in Panjwai district in between patrol base Wilson and Masum Ghar in Afghanistan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Facebook-Trev Bungay MANDATORY CREDIT
Desmond inquiry: Veterans Affairs submits internal review after initial refusal

Desmond inquiry: Veterans Affairs submits internal review after initial refusal

FILE - In this Feb. 18, 2021 file photo State representatives gather at the Capitol, in Phoenix. Two years after Arizona lawmakers repealed a law barring any instruction on HIV or AIDS that that "promotes a homosexual lifestyle," they are close to enacting a broad remake of the state's sex education laws with a particular focus on LGBTQ issues. (AP Photo/Matt York,File)
Arizona governor vetoes strict sex education legislation

Arizona governor vetoes strict sex education legislation

Most Read