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Interview: Stephen McHattie Talks ‘Dreamland’

May 25, 2020Ben MK

Whether you know him as Dr. Reston on Seinfeld, Vaun on The Strain or P.T. Westmorland on Orphan Black, you've undoubtedly seen something from Stephen McHattie's vast filmography. More recently, the veteran Canadian actor starred alongside Elijah Wood in the suspense thriller Come to Daddy, but he's perhaps best known for his starring role in director Bruce McDonald's Pontypool. Now, McHattie has re-teamed with McDonald for Dreamland, a followup to Pontypool with arguable parallels to the current pandemic.

I caught up with Stephen McHattie to chat about Dreamland, his upcoming projects, and how COVID-19 is reshaping the film industry.

First and foremost, how have you been adjusting to the new normal that we're in? What do you miss the most and how have you been keeping busy during the quarantine period?

McHattie: Well, I hope it's not a new normal. It seems absurdly, crazily, horribly abnormal. I have a little farm, so I'm busy all the time and I paint — but just seeing friends and people being relaxed around each other is what I miss most. I was supposed to be doing a movie — Nightmare Alley. Guillermo del Toro asked me to do it about a year ago. I was supposed to be shooting it in March, and I just got an email that they’re hoping to start up again in September.

Dreamland isn't your first time working with director Bruce McDonald, who I believe wrote this film specifically with you in mind, as a followup to Pontypool. What is it about him as a filmmaker that drew you to the movie?

McHattie: Luckily, I've worked with [Bruce] a lot. I've probably done a dozen projects with him. I had done a short, five-minute movie — I think it wound up on Bravo or something — about the death of [trumpet player] Chet Baker, imagining three different scenarios for how he died. It worked out pretty good, and so I showed it to Bruce, and he said, "We should do something with this." Then we got together with Tony Burgess, the writer, and kicked it around. So it sorta developed like that.

You also play a dual role in the film. How did you go about keeping those two performances separate from one another? And what were the pros and cons of acting opposite yourself?

McHattie: They each were in such different worlds, it wasn't difficult to delineate the two. And I didn't want to put too many tricks into it to make them different. In the end, they really are the same character, so it was fun doing it. And doing scenes with myself on the other side [laughs] — it was fun. You have someone else stand in for you when you’re doing one side, to do you on the other side, and then you switch. I had a great time doing it.

The cast also includes other iconic names as Henry Rollins and Juliette Lewis. What was it like working with them?

McHattie: It was great. We were over in Luxembourg and everybody got along great. I had a few scenes with Juliette, which was wonderful. And Henry is a very hard worker, as an actor, so you have to respect that. We were always thinking about doing it in Havana and Brazil, so when we wound up in Luxembourg, it was a place I had never been before and I'd never ever thought about it other than being a place where banks have head offices. But it really worked out well for the movie. It was very dreamy being there.

Were there any scenes that were especially memorable for you to film?

McHattie: I really loved doing the scene where I'm dancing with [my wife] Lisa Houle. That was a memorable scene. I just watched [the movie] for the first time not too long ago, and looking at it in whatever the hell we're in the middle of now — it made a different kind of sense to me, the way our leaders are reacting to this current situation. Our whole leadership is exposed right now.

You have another film coming out that just wrapped late last year called Most Wanted, which stars Josh Hartnett. Can you tell me a little bit about that one?

McHattie: Yeah, we did that in Thailand. It's a real-life story about a guy who got hung out to dry by the RCMP back in the '90s. [He] wound up in prison in Thailand. It's quite a story, and the guy who lived through it is quite a guy. I was out of the country at that time, so I wasn't really aware of it. But it's appalling how he wound up in prison and why he was framed — not just that he was framed, but why he was framed is quite a story.

Once film production does resume again, how do you think things will be different?

McHattie: It's kinda difficult when you don't know if production is going to get rolling again. And, if it does, how much red tape is it gonna be before you can walk on a set. A medical for an actor, when I started, used to be one page. Now, it's about ten pages. I hate to think of what it's going to be when we start back up. I always thought you paid your money and took your chances in life. It was a guarantee there were no guarantees. But people seem to want guarantees now for something that is impossible.

Dreamland is available on VOD May 29th.

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