The cast and crew of the film Knuckleball was at the Fantasia Film Festival to showcase and celebrate the latest film from director, Michael Peterson. It’s a tense thriller set in a barren snowy landscape where everyone may not exactly be who we think they are. The film stars Michael Ironside as the rough around the edges grandfather, Jacob who is unwillingly looking after his grandson, Henry (played by Luca Villacis). Munro Chambers plays a nearby neighbour who may or may not be friendly.
Ron : Michael, I just wanted to start by saying I saw Knuckleball last night and enjoyed it.
Michael : Thank you. We’re all very proud of it.
Ron : To someone who’s never seen this film what would you say it’s about?
Michael : It’s about familial communication or general communication. The lack of the attempt to tell the truth. The lack of the attempt to educate from generation to generation. It’s all about separation. The only person I touch is my grandson. It was a specific choice. I don’t touch anyone else in the film.
Sometimes the most distance that can be felt in humanity is in a family. It’s that foot and a half away that can be felt between a father and a son, or a mother and a daughter, or a brother to a brother. That’s what attracted me to the project.
I play three different characters in the film. Nobody knows it because they’re all in the same body. I’m playing the father who has a history he can’t repair with his children. I’m playing the grandfather which is pretty close to my dad. I tried to play tribute to my father with that. Then there’s another character which is a compromised version of Monro Chambers character’s need for a parental person. So I chose three very specific sets of emotions and they all come out as one character in the film.
I think Michael (Peterson, director) did such a wonderful job of telling a complicated story in a very simplistic and barren format. There are people who have been coming up to me after seeing the film saying “That reminded me of a place” or “the time I was with my Uncle Jim.” That’s the highest compliment for Michael and myself. We created something that addresses the need for people to talk to each other or to touch or hug, y’know?
I almost died of cancer about seven or eight years ago. I was told I had a 60 or 70% chance of not making it and then I made it. From that I made a commitment to talk to people more. I want to find out who I am and who I’ve been before I leave here and the only way to find that out is to bounce it off other people. There’s a great statement that says ‘You are your actions.’ You are not your clothes, your money or your job. You are what you do and how you do it. I’ve been working on that for three decades.
That’s a long complicated answer. It’s present in this film with those three characters I mentioned. One is a bully, one is broken and damaged and the other is trying to be as loving as possible.
Growing up in the East end of Toronto my dad insisted we have dinner every night as a family. I do it with my family, with my daughters. It’s interesting sometimes dinner will go for two hours or an hour and a half. Sometimes it will go for 30 minutes. Usually some physical or emotional occurrence of the day gets discussed by somebody.
Ron : There’s a scene in the film where Jacob does that with his grandson. He makes sure they have dinner together.
Michael : I love that scene. I’m a director too so I was looking at it thinking ‘How’s Mike going to do this? We’re all backlit.’ There’s all that storm and light outside the window. Then there’s us between the lens. It kind of underlines the separation between the two. It gives it this isolation feel to the whole film. I’m here and he’s over there on the other side of the table.
Ron : Even with the exterior shots you feel the isolation, like in the opening scene.
Michael : I said to Michael “You know winter films don’t really fare that well.” He said “Yeah I know but it’s really important to the film. It’s either here or where do we find a desert.” I think Michael is going to be an incredible filmmaker.
Ron : With this film for sure. Working on Knuckleball, it’s your second time working with Munro Chambers.
Michael : Third time.
Ron : Oh Really? So when you guys are playing these roles does it feel like friends together again or is it more about recreating yourselves as the current characters you’re playing?
Michael : We’re friends. We met on Turbo Kid and had an instant friendship. He’s very well crafted, almost completely self taught. I suggested don’t take acting lessons at this point because it could screw you up. We met and there was a connection. When he comes to Los Angeles he stays at my house. Actually he’s flying back to Los Angeles today. He’s got an audition for a Broadway play. There was an immediate communication between us. One was out of respect for me on his part. Once a conversation started I knew he was more than capable. It’s a lot like playing tennis. A lot of times you go to have a scene with somebody, you hit the ball at them and you have to hit it back to yourself because they don’t return the ball. They don’t understand the scene or they’re too busy worrying about how they look. With Munro he’s always supportive of the scene.
There’s an old metaphor that a scene is like stained glass. We’re just the light underneath it. The director says softer, brighter and he chooses which way around the stained glass to reveal it with the master shot or close up. Munro has got that. On this film I suggested him. Michael came to see me and I said “I know who can play this part; it’s Munro Chambers.” He’d been playing all these cutesy teenage parts and he embraced this role immediately. I said “You’ve got to show the breadth of what you can do by going the complete opposite.”
Ron : The first time I saw Munro in the film I had to do a double take because I wasn’t even sure it was him.
Michael : He’s got prosthetic teeth and they changed his hairline. I told him “To have the craft and tools as an actor you have to display them and if people only see you as this huggy face, cute body well… you’ve got to show people the range you have in your tool kit and your ability.”
Ron : Maybe you guys are going to keep this working relationship going on.
Michael : We’re actually going to try and stay away from each other for awhile. There is a film I’m going to do now called American Desert, that’s about meth amphetamines and stuff like that. I even suggested a part for him in the film and then thought ‘Naw.’ I told him about it, we discussed it and he also said he didn’t think so. I think it’s important for him to get back to playing a romantic lead now.
We’re supposed to be doing Turbo Kid 2 in the spring. I’ve met with the directors and they’re trying to figure out how to do it and when to do it since it’s a Canadian and New Zealand production.
Ron : That’s right it is. What is it you like about this Fantasia Film Festival?
Michael : What I like about this festival is that there are people who are looking for validation. They look different, feel different, are not the run of the mill, part of the horde. This festival celebrates being individual and being special. It allows the person to feel special without judgement. Look at last night: I was doing interviews with people and some of them have more ink on them than a book. Then the next person walks up and is clear skin and conservative as possible. With both we’re there having a beautiful in-depth conversation. They’re not the clothes they wear. They are their own actions by asking questions and listening. You don’t get that in the mainstream media because it’s pretty much controlled by profits.
Ron : Speaking of mainstream, are you looking forward to Top Gun 2 even though you’re not in it?
Michael : I’m curious about it, but I don’t really look back too much. I’m more interested in what’s coming. The fact that Tony (Scott, director) is not going to be on it is kind of sad. So many components of the original Top Gun have passed. I’m glad Val (Kilmer) is there. He’s a straight shooter who I think get’s misrepresented in the press because he won’t play the game.
Ron : Thank you so much for your time.
Michael : Did you get all you need?
Ron : For sure. I want to also thank you for your inspiring words at the Q&A yesterday when you said the biggest sin you can commit is to have a talent and let it go to waste. Use your talents.
Michael : Absolutely. That’s why I said it. Now go and use your talents.