This article was originally published in 2012
On set or off, Graham Greene likes to get things right. That’s why he’s quick to scotch an oft repeated ‘fact’ about this most accomplished of North American actors: Contrary to some reports Greene, did not attend Toronto’s Centre for Indigenous Theatre’s Native Theatre School – he helped run it, as executive director of a school-supporting local arts organization. His first professional gig was at a theatre workshop in 1970s London, England, where instead of first-time butterflies he displayed the calm, cool humour that would exemplify so many of his later performances. “It really didn’t bother me, because there were people running around nuttier than I was,” says Greene. “I said to myself ‘This is acting? Okay!’”
Today, Greene’s achievements in film read like a credit roll from a Cecil B. DeMille Hollywood movie: Thunderheart, Die Hard: With a Vengeance, Camilla, Benefit of the Doubt, The Twilight Saga, The Green Mile and of course the career-break out role in 1990′s Dances with Wolves all drive home one message: Graham Greene is a talent to be reckoned with. Regular TV gigs such as The Red Green Show and Northern Exposure and live appearances at Stratford have helped cement Greene’s reputation as one of Canada’s most gifted actors.
Contrary to what you might suppose, Greene’s favourite film was not Dances with Wolves, but a film closer to home called Clear Cut. There he teamed up with his dear friend, actor Michael Hogan, who today remembers his work with Greene over that six-week period shooting north of Thunder Bay, Ont. with enormous affection. “Graham was absolutely amazing. You wonder whether he’s a spirit or a human being in the movie. He’s just so totally original and magical, a natural.”
Ditto, says Canadian director Don McBrearty, whose last encounter with Greene was on the set of the 2007 TV movie Luna: Spirit of the Whale on Vancouver Island. “He’s such a wonderful actor. He’s so talented on so many levels.” McBrearty says Greene’s contributions as an actor have been stamped indelibly on the fabric of Canadian and U.S. film. But many believe Greene’s greatest legacy will be the generations of actors who follow him, notably Aboriginal actors who work with him on set.
“Boy, do they look up to him and do they ever learn about making sure they come to camera prepared, knowing their lines and ready to work,” says McBrearty, “because that’s something Graham takes great pride in.”
Greene says the key milestone is his life did not happen on stage, but at the altar 22 years ago. Since then, his life with wife Hilary “has been the best time of my life.” In keeping with the itinerant life of a working actor the pair seldom stays in one spot for very long, which may change as Greene nears retirement. Would he change anything about his career? Maybe “start earlier,” something he recommends for younger actors – that and a good grounding in live theatre.
“It helps you build a character. When you get into film you don’t have that luxury. The discipline of theatre is what I recommend to all actors.”