(Please follow the link for the complete CinemaSpy interview.)
Paul Gross and Caroline Dhavernas in a scene from 'Passchendaele'.
Exclusive Interview: Paul Gross
Why he's passionate about 'Passchendaele'
By Robert Falconer | Thursday, October 30, 2008
He is one of Canada's most recognized actors, and he has written and directed one of our nation's most important dramatic films. Paul Gross, who many remember as the always polite Constable Benton Fraser on the 1997 to 1999 series Due South, or as the quirky Geoffrey Tennant from the series Slings and Arrows (2003 to 2006), has, with one important new film, eclipsed all his previous creative endeavors — and yes, we're including Men with Brooms here — in his cinematic epic, Passchendaele.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Passchendaele concerns the Battle of Passchendaele (a rural town near Ypres in the Belgian province of West Flanders), one of the major skirmishes of World War I, in which British, Canadian, South African and ANZAC units engaged the Imperial German Army. The Second Battle of Passchendaele was fought by all four divisions of the Canadian Corps. The battle lasted from October 26 until November 15, resulting in atrocious casualties for Canadian forces before they were able to finally recapture the town.
The conflict robbed Canada of a generation of young men, forged a new identity for the country in hellish pits of fire and mud, and changed the face of Europe and modern warfare forever.
Gross' film depicts the struggle of the Canadian Corps, focusing on the life of Sergeant Michael Dunne (played by Gross), who fought for the 10th Battalion (aka The "Fighting Tenth") with the 1st Canadian Division, and participated in all the major Canadian battles of the war, setting the record for highest number of individual bravery awards for a single battle. Along the way, Dunne falls in love with a nurse, Sarah Mann (played by Caroline Dhavernas), while trying to shelter Sarah's brother David (Joe Dinicol) from the inevitability of military service.
The experiences of Michael Dunne are based upon conversations with Gross' grandfather, who served in the conflict, and the film is peppered throughout with an honest verisimilitude that could only come from the recollections of first hand experience, and a family lineage of military service (Gross' father was also a career military officer, who served in the armored corps in Korea).
CinemaSpy recently sat down with Gross in Vancouver to discuss this important new Canadian film, and why he believes that Canada's definition of heroism differs sharply from that of our cousins south of the 49th parallel...
A brief excerpt:
Question: How are you finding the reaction to the film thus far?
Paul Gross: The reaction so far has been wonderful. The most moving and stirring thing of all ... we've been doing a lot of premieres across Canada ... a lot of veterans are coming to the film, and they're Second World War guys now, and they'll get up and start talking after the film, and it's like something is uncorked in them. One guy in Winnipeg got up and started talking about house-to-house and hand-to-hand fighting in Monte Cassino in Italy during the Second World War...and he starts crying. And a young couple nearby, 18 to 20 years old, are watching him recount this story, and you can ascertain that they "see" him for the first time...not just as an old guy with medals that they don't understand, but as a guy who was their age and doing these things that he's describing that are similar to the things in the film.
It was unbelievably moving. If the film can mediate that sort of thing a little bit and cut through that cobweb of history so that younger people can see where we all come from ... that's deeply moving.
Passchendaele is currently playing in theaters across Canada. A theatrical release in the United States is planned, but no details are yet available.
Official web site
'Passchendaele,' stars Paul Gross, Caroline Dhavernas, Alex Arsenault, Meredith Bailey, Gil Bellows, Joe Dinicol, David Brown, Michael Greyeyes, Adam Harrington and Brian Jensen. Filmed in Calgary, AL, Canada.