A humble Harland Williams never wants for work
On a role: He’s played everything from a guy on Mars to a killer
The Province, November 23, 2006
When Harland Williams packed up and moved south in 1990, many in the entertainment industry predicted he’d be the next Jim Carrey, he was such a unique presence on the standup stages of his native Canada.
In fact, his first movie role was opposite his fellow countryman Carrey in Dumb & Dumber, where Williams played the first of seven law-enforcement characters he’d play to date in his career, albeit the only one who imbibed urine (his latest, Rosco P. Coltrane in The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning, will be released next year.)
Williams, admittedly, hasn’t had the kind of stratospheric success of Carrey, but the humble Canuck is never wanting for work.
“I feel – in terms of a really gratifying career in movies and standup and TV, I mean – I could have died eight years ago and I would have been happy,” he says on the phone from San Jose, where he was performing in advance of his three-night run at Vancouver’s Funny Bone. “I’m really happy. And what’s great about it is I still feel anything can happen. Right now I’m at a certain level, which I’m very happy with, but I always strive to move forward and, God willing, I move up the chain to something else. But if I don’t, I really don’t have any regrets…. I’ve pretty much done everything I wanted to do.”
One of his better known parts was as Kenny Davis in the cult hit Half Baked. But it was a role Williams was reluctant to take, given the film’s pro-drug stance. (“I just didn’t want to condone that type of thing,” he says.) In fact, he turned the movie down five times before his manager convinced him it would widen his fan base.
“I’ve played a guy on Mars; I’ve played a cop drinking pee; I’ve played a serial killer in There’s Something About Mary. They’re just roles. And so I kind of justified it that way,” he says.
Occasionally he’ll be approached by a young fan who credits him with turning him on to pot. “I don’t really like that,” he says. “So it was a bit of a mixed thing for me.”
No doubt it was also problematic for his father, a former Conservative Member of Provincial Parliament in Ontario and Solicitor-General.
“I think he gets a kick out of me playing all the cop roles because he was like the top cop there for a while,” says Williams. In fact, with all the time he’s spent in uniform, it’s surprising he hasn’t yet received recognition from the police.
“I’m hoping they give me something!” he laughs. “Like an honourable badge of merit or something. A diploma or an honorary degree or something. My own office, at least.”