Allan Hawco is one busy actor. The Canadian star widely recognized for his fan-favourite series Republic of Doyle is not only starring in the new drama Midnight at the Paradise, but is serving as Executive Producer on season two of CBC’s popular comedy, Son of a Critch.
Midnight at the Paradise, directed by Vanessa Matsui, follows three couples at various stages of their relationships as they converge for a screening at Toronto’s Paradise Theatre. Hawco plays Alex, who is engaged to Anthea (Emma Ferreira) when he returns to the city where he encounters his former lover, Iris (Liane Balaban) and her husband (Ryan Allen). Together, Alex and Iris revisit their past while teasing the idea of what a future together might look like.
Ahead of the world premiere of Midnight at the Paradise at the 2022 Whistler Film Festival (where you can now watch it online), we caught up with Hawco to discuss his role in the film, his career, and how The Wire’s Wendell Pierce helped him towards a career epiphany. Hawco reflected upon how the Canadian film and television landscape is changing for the better and giving the country a chance to flex our “superpower.”
The big world premiere of Midnight at the Paradise is tonight. Have you seen the film yet?
I’m not the type of actor that likes to watch themselves. In fact, I hate watching myself in interviews, and on camera. I spent a lot of time in my lifetime editing myself. But this one is different. I keep forgetting every time I see it that I’m in it. And I just love my co-stars’ performances. I knew it was one of those rare experiences where while we were doing it, we felt like we were doing something special. Now, whether other people feel it or not or you feel that, I don’t know. I’ve seen it four times.
Seeing that some of my friends who watched the movie didn’t even mention my performance is interesting because I think they just forgot. I feel like that’s a [good] sign.
So what made this project then different that you did want to watch it four times, and you did want to show it to friends?
Over the past six or so years, I’ve had a bit of a performance epiphany. When I was doing theatre in my early career, particularly doing theatre with my theatre company and with this particular director, Jason Byrne, I felt like I was able to find myself in a role. It took me a long time to get there, but I was able to find myself and then explore the role from a really honest place within. But when I started doing it on TV, I had a really difficult time accessing that. My solution for that at the time was to write my own shit. When I write my own shit, I can access it easily because I’ve created the part. But then when I finished doing Doyle, I was lost as to where that was.
I worked with Wendell Pierce on a TV series (Jack Ryan), and I spent a lot of time with him personally and professionally. When I watched him in the project afterwards, I had this earth-shattering moment of how he brings himself to a role – he’s completely different on screen, but he is very much himself. Long story short, in the midst of that epiphany, this movie came along and I felt like it was a place for me to feel, and I had been exploring it for a few years, but this was an opportunity for me to fully move.
When you choose your projects, are you looking for something different whether you are going to produce it, you are going to act in it? Is there a universal thing that has to get you regardless?
The dream is to be able to push yourself to as many different places as you can as an actor who is lucky enough to be in a position to be doing it. That’s the dream. You know, we don’t want to play one part for the rest of our lives. I want to be able to challenge myself in whatever way possible with as many people as possible. You want to work with the best and you want to be able to do the best work. And sometimes it’s a friend who has an idea and wants you to do something. Other times, like [Midnight at the Paradise] where I chased it and chased it. I wanted to do the script and I knew the script in the hands of Vanessa [Matsui] was going to be something not typical to these people.
Who is the character of Alex in the movie?
Alex has found himself at a place in his life where it’s really a midlife crisis. He’s going through this selfish experience with his fiancée. He believes he’s trying to do the right thing but he’s willing to blow everything up at a moment’s notice for a tiny bit of gratification. In my eyes, he’s a recovering addict and I think during the life of this film he’s totally using. He’s got his narcissism, he’s unable to contain it. I’ve never seen anyone as complex as that. It all explodes in this one night and that was a rare opportunity for an acting challenge to with to work with and to live in it.
What do you seek in a role? Do you have to relate to or identify with any aspect of the character when you take a role on? You seem to be the real opposite to Alex and what he stands for.
I think if I’m wrong for it, I won’t even pursue it. You’ve got to go with your gut about whether you’re right for it. Whether you’re right for it, for me, means whether I can access the parts of this person and they can be familiar to me and I can live in it, honestly. Alex is a great example. I’m nothing like him. I know tons of people like him, and I definitely know there’s a part of me that could be him. Thankfully, it’s not my upbringing, my parents, my siblings, or whatever. I got the right amount of love. I didn’t do drugs, whatever, whatever. My life didn’t go that way. But I can see the split, splintered reality in the multiverse where I did, and it’s not far away from me. The only way for me to approach that is to live in it to find a place of myself in it as myself, and then from there, let the words and the text and the story of this guy just reveal itself. I did a ton of prep work to access that amount of myself in him.
Having said that, you know, I’m not going to shy away from playing someone who I have not seen myself in. Maybe I would just have to do more work to find what it would take for me to become this person.
I did this Irish play I was referring to earlier called A Whistle in the Dark where I played a person who is not me at all. But we had this intense, organic rehearsal process of an insanely, brilliantly written script with well-defined characteristics, a really brilliant roadmap of the script, and I feel like I’ve never been more myself in a performance in my life than I was in that role.
Yeah, that’s an interesting way to approach it and look at it in that sense.
I’m making this shit up as I go along. I’m 45 and I had this epiphany with Wendell Pierce when I was 39. Where the fuck was Wendell Pierce when I was 24? And was I open enough to see it?
I’ve talked to him about it since. We were texting and talking and I told him. He is such an actor’s actor, he’s so generous to his people. He really, really is open, and recognizes talented people. So I told him I was like, I think you just changed my life. He’s so generous and lovely about it. You know, he’s also like, zero ego.
We talked about your friends watching the movie and their reactions: what’s your reaction to this stage in your career?
It’s funny about film because in theatre, you never see it. You can lie to yourself all day and I did many times in my career. Then you could do something on film or on camera and you can lie to yourself and say, well, it’s probably not as bad as I think it is. Some of the other things that I’ve done, I look back and I’m like, I wasn’t my best, I didn’t bring my best shiny self in that I wasn’t fully inhabiting the person as me. And that’s why I’ve been focusing my life on now in my career.
You might think it’s shit. I just don’t care. And that’s another wonderful thing. I’m super proud of what we did with [Midnight at the Paradise], and I think it’s liberating.
That’s the way to go.
There’s no other way, because what can you do? You can’t control it. You’ll go mad. And I did for a large portion of my career, went mad trying to control that. I’ve had conversations with so many wonderful actors about this thing. You reach it and you can let it go, but I never thought it would be possible for me.
I’ve had conversations with actors who say they got so hung up on what are the reviews? Why are people saying that? It negates everything else in their experience once it’s out there and they’re reading what other people think.
Imagine being in a play. Opens in Toronto and you’re 22 and all of the reviews come out on opening night and you have a fucking run to do and they say, “It’s shit”, or almost worse, they say, “You’re a revelation” or something. So then you get out there thinking, well, I’m the shit. You immediately lose it. So you train early not to read reviews or worry about that part of it, but the idea of performing or presenting yourself as a character is just death. It’s unsatisfying.
Something that is satisfying: Son of a Critch. Season two is coming and you’re an Executive Producer on it.
It’s one of my best friend’s shows and myself and Perry Chafe who’s my co-showrunner, and writing partner, we’re both Mark [Critch]’s really close friends. All those gifts come and that show is so special. I do a very different job on that show I’ve ever done. Like capital “P” producing in a way that wasn’t ever something that I was interested in doing, but I really love doing it. I love doing it to support my friend, I love doing it to support the show. It’s a really great job.
What is it about Mark’s story that you think people are really connecting with? Because people just absolutely love it!
Malcolm McDowell said, “You know, this shit happens to everybody. It’s just how you tell it.” Mark is an insanely brilliant mind and storyteller and so many people from so many different backgrounds talk to me about the show, relating to the show from their experience, and identifying with so much of it.
Growing up in Newfoundland, you must really have some similar experiences you can relate to with Mark’s stories.
Sometimes his stories, I’m like, dude, you’re fucking stealing my life. We have so much in common that way, we’re both of the time of the place. I think what’s special about the show is he is so gifted. I hate talking so much about him because I don’t think he does this about me [laughs]. So why am I doing this for him? But I joke, I joke. He’s so quick and I don’t know unless you spend a bit of time with him or see him in person. He is so sharp. He’s one of the funniest, sharpest people I’ve ever met.
I’m really proud of it. We built that infrastructure in Newfoundland through Doyle and to be able to have the opportunity for others to be able to avail of it. Right now we have a three-show crew, when we started we had half a crew. Now we’ve got so many shows happening there. The government is invested in the incentive. Programs have been secure and overnight, you know, we went from spending $20 million a year to $150 million a year in employment and services. I’ve been a big part of that and that’s been a big part of those darker years where I wasn’t acting as much. I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on that stuff and producing.
When you look back on your career up to this point, is there one project, one moment that you are the proudest of that maybe even in some of those darker, slower moments that’s what’s getting you through and motivating you?
My first instinct is Whistle in the Dark, the play I was telling you about. Why it’s so fresh in my mind is the guy who plays my father on Doyle, Sean McGinley. I just went over to Dublin to see him do the play. The director of that play is Jason Byrne and Jason directed me in my production of it 14 years ago, so full circle. McGinley played Harry in its first Irish production and I played Harry in the Toronto production before McGinley and I ever met. So when we did meet, we both had this insane passion for this play and that character, and it made it a wonderful father-son dynamic because we both felt like we were born from the same character.
He’s like an Irish Hamlet, and as a Newfoundlander, I connected with him deeply. It changed my life as an actor because it allowed me to become fully immersed in the role organically, in a way that I didn’t know what I was doing at the time, but I knew I had to get back to it. I spent the next 14 or 15 years trying to get back to that feeling, which is where I’m approaching the work from now, but with the knowledge of how, and then of course, there’s Doyle. Like changed my life and my career and my trajectory. And as a writer and as a producer and as a showrunner, it was the most satisfying experience that anyone could have.
Does it surprise you that the people still have a love for [Republic of Doyle] and those characters?
It’s wild. Getting stopped on the street in Dublin over that part, not anything else I’ve done. People were really passionate about it. It’s the gift that this industry doesn’t always give. I recognized the day that it was happening and that it landed with people that I was like, this is the thing I always wanted. You want to make work that people are connected to, that they care about and they love. And then that you don’t. They don’t so much. They just don’t. You’re doing stuff that nobody gives a shit about.
Or nobody sees.
Or no one ever hears of, never goes anywhere. That’s the journey for almost all of us, really. And then the lucky few of us do hit something that people are like really taken by. I was immediately grateful because I was in behind the curtain, seeing how we were making the cookies. It was a really interesting experience to happen at that point in my career because then you’re like, Well, this might never happen again. And that’s fine. But it didn’t inflate my ego to be like, Wow, I’m a bit of a star. You walk around in your in your safety zone and everyone knows who you are. But the minute you try to get into like a nightclub or something downtown Toronto, like, no way, move along.
Do you think the Canadian film and TV industry is changing for the better if you look back to, say, when you were getting Republic of Doyle going?
When I started producing my own material, I had a mission to take on a certain challenge about quality and accessibility to an audience. Consistently making world-class material in a way that our industry used to be perceived as a joke, particularly domestically, by Canadians. People would be like, Oh my God, they look so Canadian. I feel like that’s no longer a thing. There are so many wonderful creators that have stayed, so many writers and directors who’ve been given their chance.
It’s not a coincidence that the diversity and inclusion conversation has changed the game because only a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny portion of our population in the creative world was getting access to the green light. Even just thinking about our crews, creative, creative heads, keys, not our directors, it was all dudes, right? And that’s white dudes in particular. And now it’s changing. We’re not there yet. But that conversation, I think, is leading to [change]. Of course, it has to.
Exactly. It’s refreshing, the different stories we get now. Not everything or everyone looks the same.
You open up to other people’s stories. Canada’s landscape is not one thing. We’re all a mix of so many amazing things and so many children of people who are new Canadians have in their experience. That story is interesting and everyone leans in from the journalistic perspective to those stories, but they weren’t getting an opportunity to have a voice in the film and television world, in the creative world, in the theatre world. It’s [now] going to be the saviour in what makes Canada stand out in a marketplace that’s saturated with so much originality. I think that’s our superpower.
Midnight at the Paradise is available to screen online until January 2 as part of the Whistler Film Festival. Son of a Critch season two premieres on CBC Gem on January 3. You can also catch all six seasons of Republic of Doyle on CBC Gem.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.