Gordon Pinsent in conversation with Shelagh Rogers

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Gordon Pinsent and Shelagh Rogers onstage at the International Festival of Authors. Image via The Next Chapter's Facebook page.

 

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First aired on The Next Chapter (24/12/12)


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It's safe to say that actor Gordon Pinsent is a Canadian icon. Born in 1930 in pre-Confederation Newfoundland, Pinsent built himself an illustrious career, first in theatre and then working his way into television series — most recently CBC's Republic of Doyle — and films, such as The Shipping News and Away from Her. At 82 years old, Pinsent isn't slowing down. But he is looking back on his unlikely story and shares it with his fans in his new memoir, Next.

Pinsent grew up the youngest of six children in Grand Falls, Newfoundland, and in this busy family, he longed to stand out and to matter. "I wanted to be known for something — respect wouldn't hurt either — instead of being told to 'go away' or [asked] 'who do you think you are?' I thought those were my names for the longest time," he told Shelagh Rogers in an onstage interview at the International Festival of Authors. So he amused himself with his own imagination, which would serve him later in his acting career. "I would go to the woodshed and pretend that this entire world that I ended up in was filled with people that I wanted to be with."

Despite growing up in Newfoundland, Pinsent was fortunate to be exposed to the world of Hollywood at a young age, thanks to the films shown at the local nickelodeon but also thanks to Gander, Newfoundland. It had the longest runway in the world at the time, and planes carrying movie stars around the world frequently stopped there. Pinsent recalls seeing Bob Hope, Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy, Alan Ladd and Maria Montez. "We were still surrounded by water. But in that core, where the world was coming in, it had a sound all its own and a look and a feel," Pinsent said. And that exposure had a profound effect on the young Pinsent. "It turned me into, I think, another kind of individual."

Pinsent eventually left Newfoundland, seeking stardom of his own. He launched his career at the Manitoba Theatre Centre, which led to other opportunities, including at the Stratford Festival. Keen to keep pushing his creative boundaries, Pinsent moved onto television and movies. But he knew Hollywood was a tough town. "You could go through three lifetimes there and never come across the kind of material you want," he said. "So you end up, perhaps, after your dream of wanting to do spectacular work, somewhere down the road...taking things you wouldn't usually touch with a barge pole."

Pinsent wanted to avoid that, so he turned to writing for himself. "I thought maybe, maybe, I can come up with things on my own that will help move my career in a different direction." It worked. His first screenplay was the 1972 film The Rowdyman, a film that was successful then and is now considered a Canadian classic.

Pinsent's career had many highs and lows, and through it all he's kept his humility and his humour. Despite the stars he's worked with (including Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen and Julie Christie) and the awards on his mantel (he has a Gemini for writing, another one for acting, is a Companion of the Order of Canada and has a star on Canada's Walk of Fame), he still sees himself as the starry-eyed East Coast kid wishing for more. "I'm just a kid from Grand Falls, Newfoundland."

Just one that's lived a remarkable life. 

 

Shelagh Rogers spoke with Gordon Pinsent at the International Festival of Authors in the fall of 2012, but the two have known each other for years. Watch the video below for a glimpse into their decades-long friendship.

 

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