North of 60 Interview: Ron White

Ron White's extensive screen career has included roles in theatrical films,
TV movies, and TV series. He played test pilot Jack Woodman in "The Arrow,"
swimming coach Gus Ryder in "Heart: The Marilyn Bell Story," and Bob
Haldeman in "Kissinger and Nixon." He has guest starred on "Black Harbour,"
"Due South," "Street Legal," "E.N.G," and many other series. Recently, he's
had a recurring role in the CBC series "Tom Stone."

During this interview, we were joined by "North of 60" publicist Fran Humphreys.

"Another Country"

PW: In "Another Country," you play Roger Lucas. He's one of the people involved in the hydro deal, correct?

RW: Yes. I brokered the deal. I got a fella from California who represents the California Power Corporation. That's where all the money is, and they're the people that want the dam built. So I'm sort of the middle man. I know the band, and I'm using those connections to further the deal...although I don't know why we're even contemplating giving water to California, 'cuz within a couple of years, it'll be in the ocean. [all laugh]

PW: As a northern Californian, I want to point out that if it weren't for the southern Californians, we'd have plenty of water!

RW: I believe that. You've got a desert a mile away and you're watering your lawn. It just makes no sense whatsoever. And they're just going to suck everybody dry. They don't care. I'm sorry...

(Click on photo for larger image.)

PW: No, I agree with you. Like I said, I'm from up north. You're welcome to trash the southern Californians! But I digress....Back to "Another Country." So does Roger Lucas deal with the band pretty straightforwardly, or is he one of those can't-be-trusted outsiders?

RW: Well, I can't say without spoiling the plot, can I! [laughs]

PW: True, that might be a problem!

RW: Well, there's a number of possibilities in this script. It is, after all, a mystery. So I'm one of the people upon whom suspicion falls [for a murder].

PW: Since you're out here in Bragg Creek, you're obviously in some scenes that take place in Lynx River. But I presume you were also filming in Calgary?

RW: Yeah. Teevee is to come to Calgary and address the power commission, and he gets in trouble.

PW: I think the scene I saw you filming yesterday, even though we're very near the end of the shooting, that scene takes place rather early in the movie, right?

RW: The band council meeting? Yes, that's correct. And then I come back to the reserve towards the end of the picture. And that's where a lot of suspicion is reflected on me.

The "North of 60" experience

PW: You've never been on "North of 60" before, have you?

RW: No, but I have sort of a connection with "North of 60." I initially read for the role of the Mountie that went to John Oliver. It was pretty close, but they gave it to John, which is fine.

PW: Really? You might have been Eric Olssen?

RW: Yeah. Wayne Grigsby and Barbara Samuels are great pals of mine, and had been for years and years since the "E.N.G" days. But they ended up getting John Oliver. Then when John left, they wanted me to do it. So we talked and they took me out to lunch and all that sort of thing, and it was very flattering. But I couldn't do it, I was doing something else. So they got Robert Bockstael, and he did a great job.

I've always been kind of afraid of doing a television series anyways, because I get bored quickly. I have a very restless nature, and I didn't want to screw it up for everybody. I didn't want to say, "Yeah, I'll take that gig" and then end up five episodes later saying, "Oh, get me out of Calgary!" And that's always been my fear. But as I'm older now, I feel less that way, more inclined to do television series. But I don't do that much episodic television at all. If I really like it or there's a good friend of mine in it, I'll do it. But there's a ton of series that I don't do.

PW: So how's it been working with these folks? Did you watch "North of 60" much when it was on the air?

RW: I saw it a few times. Not a lot. I don't watch television that much. But certainly if you're going to be doing something, you watch a couple of episodes and familiarize yourself with everybody. But I know all these people, and I watched a few episodes when it first came on.

PW: You mean you know the people from working with them on other projects?

RW: Yeah, jeez, I've been in the business a long time, so I just know so many people. Every time I turn around, I'm, "Oh, my goodness, there's so-and-so." And some pals of mine are on this. Like Tim Webber's an old friend of mine.

FH: And now you and Tim are on "Tom Stone" together.

RW: I just can't shake him! If I do anything out west, Tim's gotta be in it, I guess!

PW: So you didn't feel like the new kid on the block coming out here.

RW: No, not at all. First of all, this is exactly the same production crew that's on "Tom Stone." And the director is the last director I worked with on "Tom Stone," Gary Harvey, who I think it fabulous. Dean Bennett, the DOP [director of photography], is just great. So it's the same bunch there. Plus I've met a few folks like...I didn't really know Dakota House, so it's been interesting to get to know him a little bit, but I knew Tim Webber and Lubomir Mykytiuk and several other people. Tina Keeper I'd met before.

PW: So they're nice to newcomers, are they?

RW: Sure. Why wouldn't they be?

FH: After frosh! "North of 60" frosh. You know, hazing.

RW: I'm too old to be hazed!

PW: Well, it sounds like you're enjoying being out here.

RW: Yeah, but I've been fightin' a bug. But this is my last scene today and I head out tomorrow, back to my wife and my six-month-old baby.

PW: Little boy? Little girl?

RW: Little boy. So I'm really looking forward to that.

"Tom Stone"

PW: So you're a regular in "Tom Stone" now?

RW: I'm kind of a semi-regular. I'm Conrad Peters, the bad guy, the diabolic lawyer. It's fun and I've really been enjoying it. Getting a chance to do this was a kick, because it's all the same producers and everything as "Tom Stone." They asked me to do this and I said "Sure. That'd be great."

PW: Conrad Peters is the right-hand man for Art Hindle's character, right?

RW: Yeah, Art Hindle plays this character who's ultra-rich, in Calgary. Based on a true character, I'm told--who I'm sure isn't as diabolical as Art Hindle! And anything legal--or illegal--that needs to be taken care of to make things smoother for Art Hindle's character is passed on to me to accomplish. I'm a very bright lawyer.

PW: So you do some of his dirty work?

RW: I sure do. Or hire people to get it done.

PW: And this is a recurring role.

RW: Yeah, I did six episodes.

PW: Where are you based?

RW: Toronto.

PW: So you had to come out here to do those episodes. Any idea yet whether you'll be back for the second season of "Tom Stone"?

RW: I have no idea. The final episode of the season ends with me carted off to jail, so I can't see how I can get out of an attempted murder charge.

FH: On the other hand, drama being drama, stranger things have occurred.

RW: Yeah, J.R. Ewing came back! So I don't know whether I'll be coming back or not. Depends on what I'm doing next year.

"Black Harbour" and "Trudeau"

PW: You mentioned knowing Wayne Grigsby and Barbara Samuels. You worked with them in one or two episodes of "Black Harbour."

RW: Yeah, we go back quite a ways, to their "E.N.G" days. When they were doing "Black Harbour," they chatted with me about being in that series, but I didn't want to be in the series. But down the road, they kept saying, "Is there a kind of character that you'd want to play?" Finally I bit, and I said, "Okay, here's the character that I want." And I described kind of a rowdyman, like the Gordon Pinsent character. I said, "Create a character like that, and I'll play that."

So they went off and created a four-episode arc for me that had absolutely nothing to do with the rowdyman. So I wasn't going to do it, but then Wayne came to Toronto and we sat and talked, and he talked me into it--as he can talk anybody into anything. And I had a ball doing it. They treated me like a king. It was just fantastic. I've never been treated better. They're just high-class people. But that doesn't hide the fact that they did not do what they said they were going to do! [all laugh]

PW: What sort of character did you end up playing?

RW: He was the long-lost brother of Rebecca Jenkins' character. She goes and finds her mom or something like that, and then discovers me. And her mom's dead, our mom's dead. I can't really recall now. But he was a ne'er-do-well and stuff like that.

PW: That sure sounds like the rowdyman! Your guy wasn't as charming?

RW: Well, he was charming, I suppose, 'cuz, I mean, I can be charming. [all laugh] But it just didn't have that kind of arc at all.

PW: But you did those four episodes anyway.

RW: Yeah, and I had a ball. And then they split up. Wayne stayed in Nova Scotia, and now he, of course, has Big Motion Pictures in Halifax. And Barbara's on her own in Toronto putting together TV series and films and things like that.

PW: Have you done work for either of them since?

RW: Not for Barbara, because I don't think she's had anything really up and running yet. Wayne, I just finished doing a cameo in "Trudeau."

PW: Aha. Who did you play in that?

RW: Maggie's father, Jimmy Sinclair. You know, whenever something comes up, Wayne always thinks of me, so it's a great relationship, I really like him a lot. And I met Andrew Wreggitt out there, 'cuz he was writing for "Black Harbour." Then that part came up--Conrad Peters--in "Tom Stone," and Andrew called me and asked me if I'd like to do it. And I said, "Uhhh, it's a television series..." So he laid out the whole character for me and assured me that he was writing them--which he did not. [all laugh] Well, he wrote several of them.

Anyway, I'd do anything for Andrew. He's a great guy. And it was a fabulous production crew, and again, you're treated really, really nicely. And also after September 11th, it was deader than a doornail in Toronto, so it really came along at the perfect time for me. I had a brand-new baby at home, so it worked out really well that I had this gig to keep the cash flow going.

"The Arrow"

PW: So if you don't like doing TV series, I guess that leaves TV movies and films.

RW: I do a lot of television movies.

PW: On that subject, let's talk about "The Arrow." Tell us a bit about your character, Jack Woodman.

RW: He was based on a real character. He was in the air force and wanted to be involved in the creation of this fantastic plane. The air force put in the order which got the A.V. Roe Company running to build this plane, so my character was on site making sure that it was being done, watching it develop. The character ends up having a tremendous affection for the plane, and meets friends along the way, and then suffers like the rest of them do when Diefenbaker does his outrageous action.

(Click on photo for larger image.)

PW: I'm trying to remember that last scene--doesn't Jack help them steal one of the planes before it can be destroyed?

RW: Well, they're about to hijack the plane and take off, and then his boss comes screaming down and says, "What are you doing?" And it looks like [Jack's] going to get caught. But [his boss] ends up giving the thumbs up, so I get on the plane with the character played by Aidan Devine, the designer of the plane.

PW: Who had never ridden in it...

RW: Right. So he and I take off in the plane.

PW: Wasn't it Woodman who was the test pilot for Avro?

RW: He certainly wanted to be the first test pilot, but then they brought Jan Zurakowski in.

PW: Ah, right, Jan Zurakowski--played, of course, by Lubomir Mykytiuk. And yet, you're still speaking to Lubo after he aced you out of the first flight of the Arrow! [laughs]

RW: It's just the movies! But yeah, it was pretty hard for Jack Woodman to watch somebody else take the controls of the plane for the very first time. But, you know, he's a cool guy, and he swallowed it and took it up the second time.

PW: That was a wonderful miniseries.

RW: Yeah, it was great. I really enjoyed it.

PW: I hope more people in the States get a chance to see it sometime. I don't think it's aired down there yet.

RW: I don't think so. People don't know what the Arrow is. It was such a psychic wound in this country that people remember that. But they have no reason to remember it in the United States.

PW: Not to mention that we Americans don't exactly come out looking good in that story!

RW: Well, the Bomark missile system was purported to be the greatest national defense tool known to man, and we were forced to buy it for almost five hundred million dollars, and two years later we scrap 'em all and have to buy jet fighter-interceptors--guess from whom?

PW: That would be, um, uh, ummm...

RW: Gee...the Americans maybe? [all laugh] I love America though. But I have some issues!

A note from Patty: I happen to have a fondness for the Arrow myself. I bought
an Arrow model and a DVD of CBC's miniseries when I was at the Canada
Aviation Museum viewing remnants of one of the original planes. Here are
some good starting sites for more information about this wonderful aircraft.
They offer links to many other Arrow sites:

  • CBC Archives (includes actual CBC audio and video clips from the Avro era)
  • Canada Aviation Museum
  • Wikipedia
  • CBC home video store (where you can buy the DVD of the miniseries)

  • Other projects

    PW: So what else have you been up to?

    RW: I've been doing a number of good Canadian stories lately. We did "The Marilyn Bell Story" and I played the coach of Marilyn Bell. And another that just aired a little while ago, I did "Tagged: The Jonathan Wamback Story," about this 15-year-old kid in Newmarket [Ontario] who was beaten so severely by other kids that he was in a coma for seven months and almost died, and his parents had to re-raise him completely. It was a very gripping tale, and very well executed. John L'Ecuyer directed it, and I played the father.

    PW: Anything coming up that you can talk about?

    RW: Well, there's things in the air I don't want to chat about in case they don't pan out. But what I really want to do is a play, and it looks like I'll be doing "The Iceman Cometh" pretty soon. The role of Hickey is something I've wanted to do.

    PW: That would be back in Toronto?

    RW: Yes.

    PW: Do you do much theater?

    RW: Whenever I can. It just doesn't pay the bills, you know. So I do like one or two a year if I can.

    PW: What was the last one you did?

    RW: The last one I did was George F. Walker's new play. It's called "Heaven," about a human rights lawyer who's just had it. It's a wonderful, wonderful play, a terrific role for me, and it was a big hit in Toronto, thankfully.

    Acting in Canada vs. the U.S.

    PW: Fran, you had some things you wanted to ask Ron about, didn't you?

    FH: Yeah. It's 10 years of "North of 60" now. It's a phenomenon.

    RW: It really is. I was talking to the guys last night, we were having a quick drink downstairs, and I said, "How many other actors in this country can say that they've been involved in a show for 10 years?" It's kind of amazing. And it's maintained its popularity. It's just so great. I mean, "Beachcombers" and a couple of other things maybe. But certainly the best one ever done that lasted that long is "North of 60."

    PW: You'll want to quote that, Fran! "The best one"!

    FH: I'm gettin' it!

    PW: And still so popular.

    RW: Yeah, on the way home last night, we pop into a 7-11--somebody needs cigarettes or a coffee or something--and the gal behind the cash register is, "Yes, can I help..." and stops dead, looks at Tim Webber and doesn't say anything, just points at him. "You'''s 'North of 60'!" It's really amazing. You don't get a lot of recognition in this country. I've been doing it for 30 years, and most people think I went to high school with them or something. But that's the nature of this industry in this country. Because lest we forget, there are only 30 million people here.

    PW: Less than the population of California.

    RW: I know, and we keep comparing ourselves to the States, which is perverse.

    PW: Actually, some of us who observe both the U.S. and Canadian acting systems think there are some advantages up here. It seems like the Canadian actors take more varied roles and thus become better actors.

    RW: Well, that part of what you're saying I absolutely agree with, because what they are stunned by--and I mean stunned--in New York and California is just to look at my resumé. And believe me, I'm not bragging at all. I've just played a million different parts. If I put everything on it, it would be four or five pages long, and every conceivable kind of part you can imagine. And every conceivable medium.

    But that's the nature of the beast in this country. And it's fabulous. It gives you a roundness of career that they have no concept of in New York and L.A. Even these guys like many movies has he done? He's a gargantuan star, and I've done probably twice as many movies as him.

    PW: I think the classic example of the versatility of Canadian actors was a few years ago when Patrick McKenna won Geminis for both comedy and drama in the same year.

    RW: Oh, it's insane. There's no way that a guy that does his kind of work on "The Red Green Show," hardly ever would you see a crossover like that [in the U.S.]. It's just so specialized in the United States. You're a dramatic actor. You're a comedic actor. You don't do TV. Although there's not nearly the kind of nose up in the air that there used to be about, "Well, I'm a feature actor; I don't do TV."

    PW: A bunch of series have just come on that star film actors.

    RW: And wonderful they are, too. The "Max Bickford" thing with Richard Dreyfuss, the courtroom with Sally Field. Wonderful actors and very well written shows.

    PW: I think the versatility you get up here is better for both the actors and the audiences.

    RW: But you know, it has its downside too, a little bit. Only in the sense that you're considered a journeyman.

    PW: Because you haven't specialized?

    RW: Because you've done everything. I guess because you haven't specialized. So, I guess it's the way of the beast, too, because they're paying the freight, Americans, when they come up here. So they want their boys and girls in the lead roles. But there's very, very few people that actually have a breakout role. Like for instance, Henry Czerny in "The Boys of St. Vincent." All of a sudden he's in movies with Tom Cruise. And Graham Greene in "Dances with Wolves" and things like that.

    But I have no regrets. I decided early to make my stand in this country, and I felt it would make me happy at the end of my days. I remember one time, one of my heroes is Gordon Pinsent, and I was quoted in an article saying, "I want to have Gordon's career." I really do. He's a renaissance man. He writes, he does everything. Writes books, novels. And Gordon called me and says, "Yeah, you can have my career--when I'm finished with it!" [all laugh]

    PW: Which I don't think is going to be anytime soon!

    RW: No, hopefully. But he stuck it out here.

    PW: Do you ever go down to the States to work?

    RW: No. I have no desire whatsoever to do that.

    PW: Didn't mean to imply that you should! I was just curious.

    RW: No, no, a lot of people ask that. I don't have anything against the States except that I would probably have to move to L.A., and I wouldn't want to raise my son in Los Angeles.

    PW: Well, I want to assure you that some people in the States are noticing and enjoying the wide range of things you do. When I mentioned to a friend that I might be interviewing you, she said, "Be sure to tell him how good he was in 'The Arrow'!"

    RW: Oh, that's wonderful. It is. 'Cuz it is such a smaller nation here, we tend to kind of have blinkers on. We don't sort of become aware of what else is goin' on or how other people perceive what we do, and if it's actually getting out there. But every now and then, there's moments where you go, "Wow! People really are seeing this." So it's great.

    PW: And we'll be looking forward to seeing you in this new "North of 60" movie, too.

    RW: Well I hope you all like it!

    PW: Thank you.

    RW: My pleasure.

    Back to Patty's "North of 60" page

    Text and photos (c) 2002 Patricia F. Winter.

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    Last updated 6/19/09