"It's hard to age as a man and not become a grumpy old fart. I keep saying I'm doing my dad, but probably I'm doing these aspects of myself that have become very, kind of, to the fore."
– Eric Peterson
Guy MacPherson: I hear that you're the winner of four Geminis and a Dora. And I want to know, what is a Dora?
Eric Peterson: It's a theatre award.
GM: It sounds impressive, but I didn't know what it was.
EP: And I should have more. It's one of my disappointments. I've done so much theatre and I only have one Dora.
GM: What's the problem there?
EP: It's always been the years that I actually did good work, somebody else did some good work, too. (chuckles) You know, none of these things happen just on their own. You're being judged in comparison to the year's work.
GM: You've done mostly theatre in your career?
EP: No. I mean, I've done a lot of theatre in my career. And I started doing theatre. And I continue to do theatre when I can.
GM: Have you done much comedy?
EP: In theatre I have. But on TV, no.
GM: So is this the first?
EP: This is pretty well the first. I mean, I think it is, yeah.
GM: You are my favourite character on the show.
EP: Why? Because he reminds you of your dad?
GM: No. Not at all. Just because I think the character would be so easy to go over the top with, but you don't. You come up to that line and you're just... perfect. Is it hard to not be too big with somebody like this, a grumpy old guy?
EP: Well, I don't think of it in those terms. I kind of leave whether I'm being too big to a director going, 'You want to pull it back a bit?' (chuckles) I just find it... I feel like I know this guy because he's like my dad. My dad wasn't angry all the time, by any means. And my dad wasn't like Oscar in many ways. But my dad when he got mad... He had this thing where he'd go, 'That's just stupid!' And as an actor, I just kind of built it out from there. And then the other thing is it's not me at all; it's Brent Butt. I mean, these writers understand these characters, I think, very well. So in many ways, I'm not doing, as an actor, I don't think, very much. I'm just remembering the lines. And at my age, this is a common actor problem when you get to be 67 or older. I just find it so well written that I don't feel I have to do much other than do what they want me to say.
GM: I think you're being very modest. But I do remember now that you mention your dad, my dad would say, 'Dumb! That's just dumb.'
EP: Yeah. And I think, probably, I'm of the age, too, that it may be that men don't age... It's hard to age as a man and not become a grumpy old fart. (laughs) I know myself, so I keep saying I'm doing my dad, but probably I'm doing these aspects of myself that have become very, kind of, to the fore. And I mean, there's a lot about Oscar, too, that they've written. He's quite infantile and really that's why people put up with him. I think Emma puts up with him and his son puts up with him because it's like having not an old grumpy guy around so much as the tantrum of an eight-year-old. There's no harm in him in particular.
GM: And there's such great attention to detail. For instance (I point down at his velcroed runners).
EP: Oh, these are... absolutely. I've sat out on the street here. I'm sitting in front of the hotel in my costume and a guy comes up to me and says, 'There's a house up for sale here. Do you know what the price they're wanting for it?' I'm totally taken as a local. I'm so flattered.
GM: As I pointed to those [his shoes], I thought, 'Oh my God, what if they're his own shoes!'
EP: I've been tempted to buy some! (laughs) They're damn handy to put on and off. And they're cheap as anything. Once you get rid of the laces, the price is halved. (laughs)
GM: When you talk about Canadian comedy acting series, you think of... not many, for one thing. You think either they last for three weeks and nobody watches it, or they last 15 years... and nobody watches it!
EP: The Beachcombers. But it wasn't a comedy series, was it?
GM: It kinda was. But now this show, you're pulling in more than a million a week. It's unheard of.
EP: It totally surprised me. Totally surprised me.
GM: And yet you knew how good it was reading the script.
EP: Yeah, I knew it was good, but again, working in the context of Canadian television period, and it's very hard for any Canadian show, it seems to me, to get over a million. Back in the old Street Legal days, we used to hit a million. But I haven't heard of those figures... But what also surprised me was the first show was over a million. This wasn't growing to anything like this. It just seemed to come out of the gate full-blown. Now, I know we gave away free gas in Toronto (laughs), but I had no idea it would be quite as effective as it turned out to be!
GM: I have a friend from Saskatchewan who has a theory. You know how when the Roughies play in Vancouver, all the Saskatchewan people, no matter how many years they've lived out west, will go? So he was saying that anyone in Saskatchewan and anyone who's left Saskatchewan will watch it. There's a guaranteed audience right there. You'll get a million every week for the rest of the run.
EP: That would be nice. But the thing is, with those ratings, you can't get a million unless the cities watch. You can't get a million rating unless Toronto's watching, Vancouver. I guess Montreal doesn't really count in that little argument. I mean, you have to have the cities watching. But it's a very interesting point that he makes. Because I think in general – I will go out on a limb here – in general, Canadians suffer from a kind of thirst for their own product, culturally, that they admire. I'll put that proviso on it, too. And it's hard for a Canadian audience because we've been trained by the Americans so much that it's very hard to satisfy both those things with a Canadian audience, I think. That is that they go, 'Well, this is too good. This is really good.' And with this show, they go 'This is good' because they're laughing out loud at it. I watch the show and I actually laugh out loud at it. Not at myself, but at the stuff in it. I find myself, 'Ha! That's funny!', you know? And geez, I hardly ever do that. So I think there's that element of it. And the other thing has to do with not only being in Saskatchewan. You could extrapolate that to a larger level and as a Canadian you go, 'Yeah! We can do it!' Or 'We have it. It's mine.' There's a special connection to it in a country where it's very hard to get that special connection. Our connection is usually to an American show.
GM: It's amazing how this little town of 400, or whatever it is, appeals to all the people in the cities, as well as the people in the small towns.
EP: But that's because of the writing, too. There's kind of a hip humour to this. There's a contemporary, hip humour. When I watch it, I go, 'Yeah.' A guy my age, or in my time, we wouldn't have done that. That comedy that Brent is writing – the word play, the juxtaposing of stuff, as well as doing this kind of traditional Canadiana – that's all there, but they've built on top of it this humour. And I think that's what's really... And I say 'hip' humour, but it's a sophisticated, contemporary humour that they have. And it would play in America.And it would play in Australia. And it would certainly play in England and other English-speaking countries.
GM: Do you think it will?
EP: I have no idea. I have no idea. I mean, it depends on what CTV has in mind for it. They don't ask me! (laughs)
GM: It is universal, even though it's very specific.
EP: That's where universality comes from, isn't it? That's the only way you find it. You can't be general. That's not the same as being universal.
GM: Too many people try to be general, hoping...
EP: Well, once we went to the market, as a cultural raison d'être, as opposed to, 'We're a small country, we have to subsidize our culture'. Once you go, 'Well, we just have to sell it to the Americans', I mean, I don't know how many projects I've been in that have been set in some town in North America, which is not Canada or Mexico. And with that kind of generality, it's very hard to get something special.
GM: So how long do you think this thing can run?
EP: I have no idea. I go, 'I hope we do another year!' (laughs) I don't dare even... I would like it to run forever.
GM: And it could.
EP: I guess. But I just hope we keep getting another season out of it.
GM: Did you do more episodes this year?
EP: We did 12 last year and we're doing 18 this year.
GM: How do you think they compare?
EP: I think they're still as wonderful and funny. I was worried because a man of my limited imagination, you go, 'Geez, how will they ever think up more plots that are as funny as the ones we just did?' You know, it's like Faulty Towers. I'm a huge fan of that. They only did a specific number. And I understand that because he did all the funny ones he could think of, and why start doing mediocre ones? But I've found all of these scripts this year just as funny.
GM: I've seen Brent's standup hundreds of times, and he seems to have a limitless supply of ideas. And anything is funny coming out of his mouth.
EP: He's a wonderful standup. And he's so wonderful in the show because he keeps that persona that he does in standup. He hasn't gone into any psychological... And most of the time he's straight man. He's setting up other jokes.
GM: But making fun of people in a quiet way.
EP: Yeah, yeah.
GM: Kind of Seinfeld-like in that he's really just playing himself. He's not a trained actor. He's reacting to the actors around him.
EP: I think he's been very smart in the way he's played it.
GM: Did you have a favourite scene or moment from last season?
EP: I have to admit I really liked when Oscar built his own coffin. I thought it was a very funny set-up. The scene that Janet and I did in the church and Oscar goes in and goes 'You got ripped off, buddy.' And then he gets so enthusiastic about building his coffin. He gets it built, and then he sees it and realizes his own mortality. And goes, 'Oh my God, what have I done?' And then he makes a bookcase out of it. I just thought it was a neat little... That was one of the funniest ones.