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Gordon Pinsent

Royal actor at top of his game

One of Canada's greatest and best-known actors, Gordon Pinsent's career spans over 50 years and innumerable iconic roles.

This article was originally published in 2007

Gordon Pinsent’s laughter is a thing of beauty – rich, full-spirited and utterly infectious. His broad devilish face is suffused with good humor as he considers the question, ‘How does it feel to become an overnight star in the United States at the age of 76?’

The veteran actor’s reply is pure Pinsent: wry and well-mannered, but not without an edge to it. ‘I played the president of the U.S. in 1969 [in Colossus: The Forbin Project]. It’s only 2007. Why, I’m on a roll!’

Pinsent’s new-found acclaim down south is due to his compelling performance as the leading man opposite Julie Christie in Away from Her, the directorial debut of Sarah Polley, and a breakout hit at both the box office and with the world’s toughest film critics.

Selected as a ‘New York Times Critic’s Pick,’ A.O. Scott hailed Pinsent as ‘a marvelously subtle actor with a rich voice and a shaggy charisma.’ The New Yorker’s David Denby praised Pinsent’s portrayal of Grant, a man with ‘a capacious gut, a fine beard, and the burnished aspect of an aging lion.’

Grant’s wife Fiona (Christie) is a patient being treated for Alzheimer’s disease who can’t remember much about her relationship with her husband. As the emotional center of the film, Pinsent is gruff yet tender, playing a baffled but wounded lover out to win back the woman of his life.

Pinsent’s performance might come as a surprise to our American neighbors, but that overdue recognition is yet another triumph in the lengthy career of a thespian who has earned the title of ‘icon’ in the Canadian entertainment industry. Still, the critical and commercial accolades in the U.S. are the proverbial feather in one’s cap in Canada. Pinsent has been ‘rehearsing’ for decades.

Born in Grand Falls, NL, Gordon Edward Pinsent has participated in all manner of entertainment – including writing and acting for stage, radio, television and film. He left his home province at age 17 and began his career on stage in Winnipeg, before moving to Toronto and Stratford.

Pinsent’s acting repertoire is impressive. In the 1960s, he created two iconic figures for TV: Sgt. Brian Scott of The Forest Rangers (30-minute drama series, 1963-66) and politician Quentin Durgens, M.P. (one-hour drama series, 1966-71). Moving into the nascent Canadian indie film scene, Pinsent wrote and acted the roles of Newfoundland rebels Will Cole (in 1972′s The Rowdyman) and John Munn in John and the Missus (1987), which he also directed. Both characters turned up in theatrical pieces and novels written by the ever-inventive Pinsent during the ’70s and ’80s.

We’ve all read the showbiz bios and know the cliché: actors are supposed to make the worst parents. So, how come Leah Pinsent seems so well adjusted?

‘I had a wonderful childhood,’ says Leah, a very charming and composed actress, and the only child of Gordon Pinsent and the late Charmion King. ‘We lived in a creative atmosphere. At dinners, people talked about life and, of course, the business.’ About her father, she recalls, ‘Dad was always a great storyteller. He painted pictures of me. Dad taught me how to dance and we used to sing together.’

Leah’s mother, ‘Charm,’ passed away earlier this year. ‘We were always the Three Amigos,’ she recalls. However, Leah had the rare pleasure of being able to perform with her parents. She cites the short film A Promise (2002) as being their favorite. Gordon Pinsent is renowned for his ability to inhabit a scene, allowing others to shine, while his presence is essential to the drama. Leah agrees: ‘Dad is probably a better listener on film than in real life. When he hears ‘action,’ he’s right there!”

Like her father, Leah is forthright. ‘Gordon is a stronger man than I thought he was, as recent experiences have shown. He has a survival instinct and a great inner strength.’

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