Cherry jumps in with both feet for biopic

Hockey Night in Canada personality Don Cherry doesn't want any punches pulled in the biopic Keep Your Head Up Kid: The Don Cherry Story, to debut on CBC-TV on March 28.

Film follows Grapes from youth hockey through pro ranks to HNIC

In his usual role as the outspoken star of Coach's Corner on  Hockey Night in Canada, Don Cherry is hardly shy about going after players for poor sportsmanship or half-hearted play.

So when CBC-TV decided to shoot a biopic of Cherry's life, he didn't want the film to pull any punches.

"A couple producers said: 'Jeez, [you] don't look too good in this,"' Cherry told The Canadian Press on Tuesday as the CBC unveiled its winter television schedule.

"There's no lying about it. I guess I was a selfish guy. … I only thought of myself, I never thought of the family a lot — that's the way it comes out [in the film]. It's tough to see yourself like that, but that's the way it was.

Keep Your Head Up Kid: The Don Cherry Story will have its debut March 28 and 29.

Written by Cherry's son, Timothy, the film follows the man nicknamed Grapes from his youth as an aspiring hockey pro through the 16 seasons he spent toiling in the minors, uprooting his family again and again, before he found success as an NHL coach and, eventually, a TV personality.

Unflattering at times

Jared Keeso (I Love You, Beth Cooper ) plays Cherry in the film. The 25-year-old native of Listowel, Ont., says he grew up playing junior hockey and staying up Saturday nights to watch Coach's Corner.

He calls Cherry an "icon" and praises the flamboyantly clad commentator for his lack of vanity in facing the more unflattering material.

"The good thing about Don that really speaks to his character is that he just wanted the truth told," he said. "He didn't want anything sugar-coated. He wanted it exactly like it was."

To try to attain that realism, Keeso studied tape and trained with vocal coaches in the hopes of nailing Cherry's inimitable delivery.

"It was a ton of work to prepare for," Keeso said. "It's the biggest role of my life to date and I'd be hard-pressed to find a bigger one."

He didn't, however, receive any advice from Cherry himself.

Cherry says the movie was shot while he was away covering the playoffs and he only made it to the set for two weeks near the end.

"I think they were happy I wasn't (there). That way, I didn't bother them," Cherry said with a laugh.

Cherry has only seen bits and pieces of the production but praised everyone involved, saying the producers did a "terrific job."

Tribute to Rose

But the 75-year-old really raved about Sarah Manninen's portrayal of his late wife, Rose, who died of cancer in 1997.

"She looks just like her," Cherry said. "[She] even had the little accent that [Rose] had from Pennsylvania. It was quite emotional, I'll tell ya.

"I haven't seen the movie, but I would imagine it will be really something that the girl, Sarah, looks so much like Rose. It's going to be tough."

Brief clips previewed by CBC on Tuesday indicated the production will indeed extend beyond Cherry's life on the ice and behind the bench to his life at home.

"It is actually a tribute to Rose, it's not a tribute to me," Cherry said.