TORONTO — Acclaimed actor Gordon Pinsent takes his roles seriously — even if they’re animated.
The 50-year veteran of theatre, film, television and radio applies his sonorous baritone to the character of King Babar in the upcoming YTV series Babar and the Adventures of Badou.
And just as he has with every other stage and screen part that’s made him a household name in Canada, the 80-year-old performer approached his character from the inside out.
“What happens, of course, as an actor is you enter the character —you come as close as you can, certainly in something animated like this, you try to humanize the character and bring to it all you feel you need for that characterization,” said Pinsent, who most recently appeared as the Archbishop of Canterbury on HBO Canada’s Pillars of the Earth, now bound for CBC-TV in January.
“You play with it and you go with it and you join up with the character and you make somebody that is full and complete.”
The acclaimed performer, who applied his trademark poise to a recent This Hour Has 22 Minutes sketch that lampooned both himself and pop star Justin Bieber, says he was thrilled to return to the beloved children’s tale.
He voiced the part of the elephant king for another series, Babar, in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
“The screen was quite different in those days, it was almost sketch-like, you know, in the way the characters were etched onto the scene,” the affable Pinsent said while seated in a downtown recording studio where the new series is crafted.
“But now it’s (computer) animated and I’m astounded, I’ve got to tell you. I’m astonished at how great this looks and kids are going to get so involved in this thing.”
This latest incarnation follows the mischievous eight-year-old elephant Badou and his colourful friends Chiku the monkey, Zawaki the zebra, Jake the fox and Munroe the porcupine.
In every episode, Badou’s grandfather King Babar offers guidance and support.
Pinsent says it’s clear why the long-running franchise — which originated as a French book series dating back to the early ’30s — has endured.
“It’s hung on all these years because of the nature of it — the values and qualities that the characters have. The king was particularly enjoyable for me because he had the wisdom, you know. That made up for the fact I didn’t have a lot myself, I think,” he said chuckling.
“But he was good for kids and he was good as these kids head out on adventures and misadventures. But the stories have an arc to them, so it’s not just a straight line kind of piece of frivolity.
“It’s got mistakes made by kids and how to fix them and so on. And the wisdom was sort of passed down by the king, who I imagine was like a rock and they leaned on him.”
Parts like these are a joy to work on, said Pinsent, noting he’s been disappointed by recent job offers from the United States.
“One was a horror film placed in an old folk’s home,” he said.
“I had visions of a chainsaw massacre going through and chopping heads off old people. Now, that ain’t my idea of how my career should go.”
Then there is the new J.J. Abrams series, Alcatraz, a prospective new Fox series that is reportedly based in the legendary San Francisco prison.
Pinsent said he’s thinking about auditioning for a role, but admitted he’s not enthused by the idea of returning to series television.
“I’ve taken part in seven series in my career so far and I’ve got to tell you, it’s very draining. I’m not all that mad about it anymore, to be perfectly honest,” said Pinsent, whose TV roles include regular turns in Due South, Wind at My Back, Power Play and Street Legal.
“I’m interested in one-shots. Shot deals. Just get in there, get them done. I’ve done two guest shots on Republic of Doyle, which I’ve enjoyed immensely, and that takes care of me. A little of that, a little of Babar.”
Babar and the Adventures of Badou debuts on YTV today.