Michael J. Fox on his Canadian pride and why he speaks out
Film, TV star among latest winners of Governor General's Performing Arts Awards
Michael J. Fox may hold dual Canadian-American citizenship now, but says, "My reference for everything is my Canadian background."
Fox is one of the newest laureates of the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards.
The Emmy-winning actor — whose popular TV and film credits include Family Ties, the Back to the Future trilogy, Spin City, Rescue Me and The Good Wife — spoke with CBC's Eli Glasner following Thursday morning's awards announcement.
Fox shared his thoughts on a variety of topics, from his memorable Oscar night, why he continues to speak out on issues like immigration and how being Canadian sets artists apart.
Q: I've got to start by congratulating you on the Oscars bit [with fellow Canadian actor Seth Rogen].
A: Yeah, that was fun. We had a moment when he acknowledged me from Burnaby [B.C., where he attended high school], him from Kerrisdale. What were we doing there?
Q: Where were you when the show ended?
A: We were in the green room in the back and we decided to leave to get a head start because traffic is just crazy around the Oscars and we wanted to get to the after party. So we thought we'd head out and get a jump on the traffic. When we got in the car, my son texted me and said "What just happened?" and I didn't know.
And he texted me back and said "That was incredible." So we turned on YouTube and we saw it. It was amazing.
Q: CBC covered a protest rally [on Oscar weekend] where you talked about being a proud American, so how does it feel to get this Canadian honour after settling in the U.S, for so long?
A: Well, I believe my comments were that it took me 10 years to get my American citizenship and I was actually stupid enough to be pissed about that, because it was a lot. Then I compared it to the experience of refugees that are coming to the States, and they have an infinitely more horrific journey to that first step towards citizenship.
As far as contrasting to my Canadianness, I always feel very connected to Canada. My reference for everything is my Canadian background, my life in Canada. Particularly on this issue of refugee immigration: I couldn't be prouder of Canada.
Q: How does it feel for you to get what is a lifetime achievement award for your career and your body of work? Do you feel you're starting to slow down?
A: You know you're old when you get a lifetime achievement award. It's a message you've been around too long.
But, it's really wonderful. I have slowed down: I consider myself semi-retired, with the bulk of my energies going to the [Michael J. Fox] foundation. But I was really surprised and humbled. I don't see — because it's my life and experience —I don't see the big picture. So if the big picture points them towards being so nice to me in this way, it's not anything I was ever aware of. It caught me by surprise.
Q: You talk about Canada being a reference point to you. You grew up in Edmonton.
A: Well, I grew up in Edmonton, but my father was in the military, so we lived in places as far apart as Chilliwack, B.C. and North Bay, Ont. So I travelled around a lot: I crossed Canada a couple times before I was 10.
Q: So how does your Canadian background inform what you do and the work you put out in the world?
A: There's something I have about being Canadian — there's a distance it gives you when you live in the States and operate in American culture. You approach familiar things a different way; you come at it from a different angle. It's a trait that runs through a lot Canadian artists' work and actors' work and musicians' — that kind of special remove.
I think of what Lorne Michaels has done with SNL. The uniquely Canadian thing that's hard to put your finger on, but wouldn't be the same without Lorne's experience.… It's kind of informed by a special kind of humanity. There's no viciousness in the humour. There are pinpoints to satire and dead-eyed catching people in the act. But there's no viciousness.
Q: At the protest rally, you mentioned the immigration ban being an assault on human dignity.… Why do you feel it's important to speak out?
A: I don't represent the foundation in any point of view I express politically. I just was asked by the organizers if I could say a couple of things.… I contrast it again [with] what is happening in Canada, with these refugees being welcomed, Syrian refugees begin assimilated and being given jobs and opportunities to set down roots in a community. That's just so exemplary and what should be aspired to.
Q: When might fans see you onscreen again?
A: I wait for good opportunities to come up to do stuff; I'm not seeking things. I'm quite busy in the meantime, but if the right thing came up, I would be happy to do it.
And it was great to do that bit with Seth. He was brilliant: he came up with the Hamilton thing at the last minute. He asked me to trust him on it and so I trusted him.
Q: Walking the tightrope in front of millions: that's something.
A: Yeah a couple of kids from Canada.
This year's Governor General's Performing Arts Award laureates will be honoured at a ceremony at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on June 29. CBC will live stream the gala and broadcast an hour-long special on June 30 at 9 p.m. ET.