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Deconstructing Doyle 

Allan Hawco talks about acting, women, reporters and Newfoundland winters

click to enlarge KHAREN HILL
  • Kharen Hill

Republic of Doyle star Allan Hawco was in Halifax Friday, and was nice enough to grant me an interview. I caught up with him in an otherwise empty lounge in the Marriot. This is our conversation.

Bousquet: Welcome to Halifax. This is a PR tour? I see you’re speaking to students.

Hawco: So, we do a PR tour every year, and I fell that instead of just doing PR, I feel like---not to be corny---but you should not just take something out of a place, you should give something. So the first thing I try to do is try to organize some sort of fan event for people who are supportive of the show to go, if they’re interested, in having a one-on-one conversation with me, having a public forum to chat. I like to open myself up to that. And then, the school thing is new, too, because I thought when I was in school, I would have loved to have a conversation with someone who is in my current position---just to know that it’s possible.

Bousquet: You’re meeting with an acting class?

Hawco: I’m meeting with theatre students or film students, just to give them a chat about what it’s like to work in the industry, how there really are chances out there for someone to go after what they want to do.

Bousquet: I want to talk about that. I’m quite impressed with The Company Theatre, real actors running a theatre company. How did that happen?

Hawco: Well, you’re speaking to my heart there. The Company Theatre started, at least from my part---Phil Riccio and I run the company together as co artistic directors, and he’s the current acting artistic director because I’m tied up with the TV show. The idea for me was, you know, I was working as an actor, I worked all over the country, I was starting my career, building the blocks of my career, and I realized that I was unhappy a fair amount, because I was worried that the work that I was doing wasn’t the best work that I could be doing. Or, I found myself sitting with other actors in bars, late at night---

Bousquet: That’s a reflection of the state of management, artistic directors, or?

Hawco: All sorts of reasons. Getting work, not getting the right work, not getting the right roles. Just complaining about it, sitting in a room with tons of people from different generations and realizing---I just had a moment where I was, ‘oh wait a minute, I can’t be doing this for 25 years, 45 years, sitting in a bar complaining about this.’ If I’m going to complain about people’s work, or about how they’re approaching theatre or content, I’ve gotta throw my hat in the ring and see if I can do any better.

Bousquet: Well it’s been a critical success, and I assume a financial success.

Hawco: Theatre never really is a financial success. Without sponsorship, it’s impossible to do the kind of scope of productions...I’m very conservative when it comes to budgeting, and I don’t like to budget a large percentage of our financing to come from our box office, because that makes you a slave to trying to make a hit as opposed to do the best work possible. So what I did with our first season, Phil and I had the conversations where it was, ‘Let’s not half do this. If we’re going to do this, let’s do it.’ So we took on a massive budget for two unknown producers. We took on a budget of almost $170,000 and, Seamus O’Regan is one of my best friends and he’s on the board of directors; he and I just hit the streets and started fund-raising, called in all favours and we pulled it off. It changed my life.

Bousquet: I imagine with the TV series, you don’t have a lot of opportunity to do theatre.

Hawco: The last play I did was Festen. That was three years ago, and it was when I just started shooting the pilot for Republic of Dolye. I decided to edit that particular episode in Toronto; I was in rehearsals and doing the live production, so every night I’d get off stage and go to the edit suite and work for five hours, get up in the morning, go back to the edit suite, work, then leave, go to the theatre, do the play, go to the edit suite and so on, because we were building the structure of what the show was going to be back then.

Bousquet: Obviously you were driven to do the TV show. You know, there’s the classic tension between stage and screen; how’s that playing out for you?

Hawco: I love the transition. I love it. I don’t think there’s any difference in terms of being good or bad. If you’re good on stage, you can certainly be good on film. If you’re bad on stage, you can certainly be bad on film. And I’ve been all of those. [laughs] Theatre is my first love, for sure and I can’t wait to go back---I can’t wait; just talking about it, I’m jazzed about the idea. But I love doing film acting, I love it.

Bousquet: There are not a lot of actors who have the abilities, skills, drive, to both start their own theatre and to start their own TV production. Where does that come from?

Hawco: Some people sometimes accuse me of being a control freak, if they don’t know me. And my answer to it is, I’m not a control freak of other people’s stories---I want to control my own. And I hated the idea of being at the beck and call of an unknown entity--of *them*---deciding whether or not I would get work or not. I understand that that’s a large part of the business. I’m OK with it; I just didn’t want that to be everything. People can complain about the roles they get or don’t get. I just decided that I wanted to create the roles that I get.

Bousquet: Let’s talk about the Republic of Doyle. I have to be honest: when I first heard the promos I thought, ‘Oh no, we’ve got another CBC local colour show.’ But it’s strong. It’s a good strong show, and I’m impressed, first of all, with the writing. You’ve been able to, as an actor, write. Where does that come from?

Hawco: Theatre. Mostly it all comes from theatre and training and doing writing in theatre school. A writing teacher I had was Sheldon Rosen---he’s at Ryerson now.

Writing for me is a great way to express yourself and it’s--- there used to be a time where I would rewrite every single line, restructure every episode of everything, when the wheels were a little looser on the carriage, just to pull it all together. Now I have a team of people.

Last Wednesday’s episode is a great example. We were in a position where the structure of the episode was not working for me. It wasn't working for the author, but I’m the show runner. I let it happen. We were getting close to our deadlines, when we were going to start prep. What I would’ve done [before] is take two days by myself, at night after shooting, and just rewrote it myself. Instead, Perry Chafe, who is my writing partner, took me aside and said, ‘Don’t do that. Talk John through it.’ I love John Callahan, he’s a great writer. It was an epiphany, a great moment for all of us in the writing room, because I sat with John for a half an hour, an hour, gave him a page one re-write set of notes, and he smiled and said, ‘Yep,’ because he wasn’t happy where we were at either, and he turned the script around into something I would’ve had to do myself. And it was fantastic. I eventually did a re-write on it. I love that episode; it’s one of my favourite episodes. It turned out to be so great, and we were both kind of depressed about it before; now I have a team of people who are building the show with me.

Bousquet: You threw a baby into it.

Hawco: Jake and a baby. But the whole episode started with that premise, right? It started with that, and it’s funny how things evolve. But the writing for me is---I love it. I love the idea of having a back story as an actor. We do a lot of research as actors, and we go back there and build back stories, but I have all of the knowledge, so when I step on stage and I hit my mark, I know everything about Jake.

Bousquet: Republic of Doyle, just the title. Obviously it’s specifically placed in St. John’s and Newfoundland characters all through, etc. But does the title mean anything? Is it that this is not actually Newfoundland, this is something else?

Hawco: Yep. I think that the title---it’s a fictional Newfoundland. It’s a fictional world. It’s their Republic of Doyle. People sometimes get mad at me because I don’t depict Newfoundland in a certain way, and I’m like, ‘Hey, it’s the way I see Newfoundland. You want to depict Newfoundland in a way, you can make your own show.’

Also, it’s not just about Newfoundland for me. It’s about---It’s a small city in this country. It’s not just for Newfoundlanders. Luckily Newfoundlanders have embraced it and are carrying the flag for me, but Canadians are for it, it’s our show. And I want Canadians to feel like that’s our show. And the Republic of Doyle is the world that we created for these characters to live in, and the backdrop is this city of St. John’s. I love St. John’s. I love it. And I love showing it off.

Bousquet: In the Republic of Doyle, it never rains or snows and it’s not foggy.

Hawco: It does! All the time! It’s funny---I get that every interview; it’s hilarious. People just don’t see the rain or snow, it’s so weird. I know, because I’ve shot and edited every episode; I can tell you every scene that has rain and fog.

Bousquet: I’ll take your word for it.

Hawco: I should do a web site, ‘For those of you who think it’s all sunny all the time, here are the scenes with fog in it.’

Bousquet: All that aside, it is very specifically located in St. John’s. Halifax is somewhat larger than St. John’s, and this is a small town and everyone knows everyone. Yet your character seems surprised that something exists...I guess there’s limited space...

Hawco: Well, like I said, it’s Republic of Doyle, it’s a fictional place... you know the guy, you know the thing, you know the bad guy. It’s a TV show, so you gotta open the doors to the suspension of disbelief. You gottta set that aside and---if you really want to boil it down, there’s a guy fighting crime in St. John’s [laughs] in a GTO. Well of course that’s ridiculous. These are the most interesting 13 cases they ever come across every year. So you gotta let that go and within that, go for a laugh. Or I do.

Bousquet: I’ve read some interviews with you always mention the late night at the bar, we don’t want to be talking, and you’ve got the Duke in the show. Your characters are hard-drinking, hard-living folks. I think that’s a lot of the reality in St. John’s. I don’t know what I’m asking you.

Hawco: The way we approach it is that I try to bring a positivity to all the issues that the show faces. So instead of sort of dwelling in the negative, I just sort of think of it positively...

[We are here interrupted by a member of the hotel staff, who is wearing a Republic of Doyle baseball hat, and tells Hawco that his mom is a big fan. Hawco handles the disruption gracefully, and tells the guy to tell his mother hi, and glad they both like the show.]

Bousquet: You were talking about being positive.

Hawco: Yea. I fell like there’s a lot of negativity on TV. There’s exploring the dark side of humanity. With The Republic of Doyle, it’s trying to show the goodness of who we are, the goodness in who we are, and exploring that. And it’s fun; with the drinking and stuff, there’s no consequences to anything. They are just having fun. No one has a drinking problem. The bad guys deep down are good, except for the super-bad villain, which we’ve probably only had one or two. Everybody’s misunderstood, just trying to do their best. I like that, because I like that view of humanity. I like to focus on that versus the negative.

Bousquet: The female characters on the show are quite strong. They’re likable characters who are overtly sexual. That’s not something we see enough of on TV.

Hawco: Oh yea, it’s super conscious not to just write a bunch of girlfriends and mothers. It’s super conscious to make sure the people that are in the show have three dimensions, that the characters are fleshed out and have action in terms of what they want in life, etc. The female and male characters, I approach them all in the same way. Everybody plays a role in a structured series; it has to fall that way. As much as I fought it at first, it just falls that way, but it doesn’t mean that you have to be lazy about it.

I feel like---I come from a family of four. I have two older sisters who are super strong, and I have to answer to them and my mother. I have to answer them if I’m writing typical voiceless females, and I would be ashamed of myself. I definitely draw a lot of influence from my sisters and how powerful they are, and the control over me they have in my life, and women in general.

One thing that Jake and I have in common is that I worship the species of women. I think that they’re fantastic. I think that they’re smarter and better than us. I think every smart man figures that out. I think it’s a smart thing to figure out. I was lucky to figure that out very early, and I like to celebrate that.

There are certain cliches that have to go with the PI---but he’s human. And you know, girls like making out, too. It’s not just guys who like making out.

Bousquet: You don’t have a bitter reporter character on your show.

Hawco: [laughs] I saw you tweeted that this morning.

Bousquet: Are you in control of the social media?

Hawco: Yes, my twitter, @AllanHawco is me, @RepublicofDoyle is done by someone else.

I love reporters. I’m developing a series right now with Perry Chafe about reporting, because I’m a news junkie.

Bousquet: I wrote the article that resulted in our mayor...

Hawco: Is that right? You’re on the front line. When you don’t do your job---you, the journalists of the country---you’re scrutinized and attacked. When you do do your job, you’re scrutinized and attacked. Journalists are the people who hold everybody accountable for their actions, and I really respect that---for no glory.

Bousquet: You’re doing a series?

Hawco: We’re developing it.

Bousquet: What will that look like?

Hawco: I don’t know. I know that I love the British series The Thick of It. It’s one of my favourite shows of all time, and I also love the British series State of Play, so somewhere in there there’s a happy medium of what we’re trying to come up with.

I just find it super sexy that there’s no glory. Every journalist I know, and I know a lot of them, unwavering---morality is unwavering, you gotta go for it. I love that. That’s what Jake Doyle has. His morality is the core of the whole show, and I really subscribe to that morality. It’s like, no, it’s wrong---I don’t care, that’s wrong. When you do that thing that you know is wrong, that’s wrong, and it needs to be exposed. That’s what Jake goes after every day, right? When he sees somebody doing something that is an abuse of power, or an abuse on others, he can’t help but defend them.

Bousquet: One danger with all TV shows is that you’ll jump the shark, or they’re just in production too long---I’ve seen other interviews with you, and you’ve talked about not putting on bad productions at The Company Theatre. Is there a point when you say The Republic of Doyle is done?

Hawco: The minute I felt I couldn’t make the show better, that I could only make it worse, I think me and my partners will all agree that it’s time to walk away. We’re developing season four now, and I’m loving it. It’s like the new season, the first season of the show. We have such an opportunity---an archived product to do analysis on, three completed seasons. We re-invent ourselves every year, otherwise what’s the point? We take on a task every year to try to make things better, and we take risks. If you look at season one and season three, it’s a different show. But the characters are never betrayed. The characters are the same, we don’t betray those guys, we just sort of explore.

Bousquet: You’ve taken on a beefcake aspect...

Hawco: Oh, that part of it. [laughs] Well, that’s not the change I’m talking about. That just happened naturally---well, not naturally, I just got skinnier. The hours that I work, there’s not a lot of time for me to do anything fun, so that’s part of it. The other thing is, I started to get in shape for the show, because we’re in competition for the world market, and the hero of the show has to be as good as the hero of the show that’s the American hero, in terms of that physical appearance. I don’t have a lot to work with. I don’t look like Brad Pitt or Colin Farrell---I might resemble Colin Farrell, but I don’t look like him. I have to make sure that Jake looks a certain way. I wouldn’t do that for every character.

There’s a couple of wonderful things about being in shape besides the exterior benefits. Just my hours are 18 hours a day---if I wasn’t exercising, I think I’d go crazy; it’s as much for my mind as anything else. So it serves a lot of masters. But the minute we stop shooting, I start drinking Guinness. I don’t drink any beer, I don’t get to do anything fun when we’re working. That’s pretty much eight months of the year, or more. So I get like February to push it a bit, then I start training again in April.

Bousquet: You’re 34, young by my way of reckoning. You’ve been pretty successful, and you till have a big chunk of your career ahead of you.

Hawco: The way I think about that is, you’ve always got nowhere to go but down, if you’re not careful. I’ve worked in this business for a long time. Even though I’m 34, I think it’s fair enough to say that I’m actually a man now, and I’ve suffered, struggled, done all that, paid the dues, etc. And I know it only takes one moment for that to go back to that situation, the minute you start getting too pleased with yourself. And I’m not saying that in the Canadian quote-unquote humble way, I mean like literally. I’m in a TV series in Canada, and that’s fantastic, and I have this opportunity. But if I thought for a second that it was really all about me---I know I’m going to have a difficult time getting cast in other roles. If this happened in my 20s, I think it’d be much more difficult to keep a handle on that foolishness. But I’m the producer of the show---I can see how many people actually make my show. It’s not about me. I’m the front runner, the guy on the poster, but I’m the front guy on the poster because me and my partners decided to do that.

Bousquet: Do you have a commitment to staying in Newfoundland, staying in Canada?

Hawco: Yea, yea! Newfoundland, I want to stay there and live there for the rest of my life. I’ll work everywhere, but I want to stay in Canada. At one point I thought about [moving away], but I don’t want to live in---February, March, is so fricking depressing, the greyness, but I love that too. Februaries, in my past, I’ve always gone back to Newfoundland for January, February, March, April, the four worst months in Newfoundland, and I’ve been doing it since the moment I got out of theatre school, so since 2000. Because I wanted to shovel snow. I didn’t want to be a tourist Canadian. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, man. I just feel like I have earned my Canadianness.

Bousquet: Being recognizable, being the star, probably didn’t happen when you were at the theatre...

Hawco: The simplest way to answer that it, you’re in the industry for a long time. I know, in Canada, how difficult it is to build an audience---it’s truly difficult. If you get to the point where people embrace the work you’re doing, you can’t take it for granted. You can’t. I don’t know how to express how much I know how lucky I am. That’s not the coolest way to word it, but that’s never lost on me, because now I know every time someone believes in the show, I know I can’t let them down in terms of not giving it my all.

I also know that if I do a play now, in this city, my city, in Montreal or Toronto or Winnipeg, I can bring an audience. That’s awesome. That’s something that is so valuable, because we fight so hard to get an audience. And we’ll continue to bring an audience so long as the show is good, and that continues into the other projects we do.

It’s not about the recognition part. You know, Canadians are awesome. Canadians aren’t digging through my trash, they’re just like, ‘Hey, I dig what you’re doing, and thank you.’ And I say, ‘Thank you’ back.


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