Paul Gross: The RD Interview

Actor and director Paul Gross talks Canadian talent, going grey and his new war movie, Hyena Road.

Paul Gross: The RD InterviewIllustration by Aimée Van Drimmelen


Can you explain the title of your film? What is Hyena Road

A few years ago, I went to Afghanistan to meet the troops. The experience was not at all what I had imagined. It’s a complex, chaotic place, both beautiful and harsh. When I was there, every road they were building had a nickname Canadians would find easy to remember. A lot seemed to be about beer-Route Molson Ice, Route Sleeman. With Route Hyena, the military wanted to the Panjwai district in the region considered to be the birthplace of the Taliban, one of the hardest places to control. 

What surprised you most about what you learned over there? 

Just how phenomenally complicated counter-insurgency is. To borrow a line from the movie: there is no winning-there’s just an end state laid down by foreign policy. 

Do you consider Hyena Road a political movie? 

I don’t have a position on whether we should be engaged in these types of conflicts, but once we were there, our military represented us with enormous dignity. I was interested in the semi-blind nature with which wars like this are conducted. I tried to convey the idea that nobody really knows what’s going on. Within the military, a sniper would have little knowledge of what an intelligence officer is doing and [vice versa]. 

The film has moments of levity: dancing, farting, Skype sex. Was it important to show that quality? 

Yes, because soldiers laugh a lot. When death is proximate, you need a giggle. 

On to more important matters: this film heralds your silver fox, or, in your case, snowy fox period. 

[My hair] has been like this for almost 30 years, but I always dyed it. Two years ago, I visited the Sahara. There was nobody there to dye my hair. I liked how it looked, so I left it. 

You have been referred to as a “stubbornly Canadian” artist. What does that mean to you? 

I’ve spent a lot of time here, though I’ve worked in the States, too. I feel most at home in Canada, but I’ve also been very lucky to be able to do the things I’m interested in doing here. A lot of people aren’t able to. 

What should our film industry be doing to keep talent from defecting? 

We need projects for our great talents. William Hutt was a stalwart of the Stratford Festival-he played in King Lear multiple times-but nobody ever made a movie for him. 

Speaking of stalwarts: you’ve been married to fellow actor Martha Burns for 27 years, which is hardly the norm in showbiz. Any tips? 

First you have to find somebody who is as patient as Martha, because without that, I don’t know where we’d be. I think respect is the most important thing-from respect comes patience. 

And when times get tough, you can always pull out your Mountie costume from Due South

If she gets a little bit criminal, that’s what I have to do.