Montreal actor Steve Nash doesn’t have any law enforcement training but he plays the role well enough to pull it off onscreen.
Nash says he’s become typecast for these types of roles and has landed background parts on a number French language Quebec police shows like “District 31” and prison drama “Unite 9.”
“I would say it is difficult because I don’t have a background in that, the only training I have is stage combat and weapon handling,” Nash said in an interview.
But actors like Nash who compete for similar roles say they’re frustrated by a recent trend.
Published reports this week suggest that more and more of those background roles are being filled by off-duty police officers and not professional actors. That’s not sitting well with some who told the Journal de Montreal they have been increasingly losing roles in recent years.
One of the complainants, who spoke to The Canadian Press under anonymity because of fear of reprisals within the industry, said his union is to blame for not protecting its membership from a phenomenon that has exploded, primarily in Quebec.
He alleges that the well-paid police officers making extra money on the side are impacting the livelihood of hard-working actors, who earn very little in comparison.
Nash isn’t one of the complainants and said he was unaware of the trend. But he said it’s not uncommon for retired police officers to act as consultants, providing insight and help on the intricate details like arrests, weapons or dealing with inmates.
Nash said he can see why his fellow actors would be angered.
“Absolutely, what happens is we’ve spent the better part of our lives studying our craft and putting our best foot out there,” Nash said. “But, when you have people working in the field and we’re being bumped because of that, it wouldn’t sit well with me.”
Both major actors’ unions in the province say the issue was raised last year.
Daintry Dalton, ACTRA executive director for the Quebec region, said it was explained to its roughly 4,000 members that these police officers are union members like everyone else.
“When someone is joining ACTRA, we don’t ask them when they’re signing up what else they do for a living,” Dalton said. “As long as they’re eligible to join, they are entitled to the same benefits and work opportunities as any other members.”
It’s a similar position at Union des Artistes, which represents about 8,500 French-speaking actors and actresses.
“Yes, the actors have complained but there’s nothing illegal in it,” said union president Sophie Pregent.
She said the UDA also does not ask members about their full-time employment.
Pregent said the average salary of a UDA member is $16,000, which means people likely have other jobs.
So it wouldn’t surprise her if members included professionals who could transition to acting, like nurses, firefighters or first-responders.
But she said the union will meet privately next week with three members who spoke out about the trend.
The union can’t force casting decisions, Pregent added, but it does ensure actors remain in competition for such roles by offering an intensive police acting course.
“As for why producers choose police officers instead of actors, it’s up to them to answer,” she said. “But I don’t doubt they find them quick and well versed in their line of work.”
The issue caught the attention at the provincial legislature, where Parti Quebecois member Pascal Berube weighed in.
“Directors and producers should turn to talented local actors and actresses,” Berube said.
But Gildor Roy, a veteran Quebec actor who stars on ”District 31”, told 98.5 FM this week not allowing officers to act would be discrimination.