Thunder Bay native Kevin Durand has made a name for himself as a new go-to source for delightfully evil characters in TV and film. Whether it his role as the mercenary Martin Keamy in Lost, the Paul Bettany-bashing angel in Legion, the neo-Nazi hit man in Smokin’ Aces, or the Southern-drawl spouting robot hater in Real Steel, Durand has proven himself to be an actor who delights in being bad.
This week he returns as a more lovable character in Edwin Boyd: Citizen Gangster, albeit one that’s still a bank robbing cop killer. Durand plays Lenny Jackson, one of the key members of the infamous Edwin Boyd gang that went on a string of bank robberies and prison escapes in Toronto from 1949-1952 and became a bit of a media sensation in the process. The feature debut from writer/director Nathan Morlando is a meticulously researched and ridiculously entertaining romp that is easily one finest Canadian films of the year. We got a chance to chat with Durand about the film, the unique challenges of portraying a real person, his favorite collaboration with Martin Lawrence, and the joys of playing a bastard.
Dork Shelf: How did you first hear about the project? From what I understand Nathan Morlando has been working on it for years.
Kevin Durand: I was sent a script and was completely blown away. I could see the 13-14 years that he put into it, because everything was so clear and the characters were so rich. I knew I needed to meet this guy. I met Nathan on Skype with his wife and producer Allison Black, who’s also amazing. I was really intrigued by the script and the story, but then when I met them, it was a no brainer. I just had feeling that he was going to knock it out of the park and he did.
DS: Had you heard anything about the Boyd Gang before getting the script?
KD: I didn’t know who they were, but as soon as I read the script I wanted to know more about them. Of course I started on Wikipedia (laughs) then I started searching through biographies and news articles. I read as much as I could about them, specifically trying to find out as much as I could about Lenny Jackson. When my Uncle Tom found out I was playing Lenny from The Boyd Gang, he lit up like a Christmas tree. He remembered hiding in his basement convinced that The Boyd Gang was going to break into his house, steal everything, and kill them. Their reputation was so elevated by the media. They weren’t out to kill anybody, but it was interesting to hear about that media blitz and the reaction it caused.
DS: Were you able to find much about Lenny because his life is not quite as well documented as Edwin Boyd?
KD: I found nuggets of information and I had to do a lot of dot-connecting. But Nathan met Lenny’s son and they had a good conversation. Luckily, I had that conversation to use as a resource. Also, the way Nathan and I worked together allowed me to bring humanity and a certain nobility to him, even though he acts in devious ways.
DS: Through that conversation with Lenny’s son or any of the hours on interviews that Nathan did with Edwin, did you hear any anecdotes or pieces of information that really stuck with you and informed the performance?
KD: To be honest, the best bits of information that I got were through the literature, really. I thought it was so fascinating that this guy served overseas for five years in the Second World War and even though he was on the front lines, he was never injured. Then he came home and everybody he grew up with had perished overseas and he was lost. So he started riding the rails like many young men of that era did and lost foot almost immediately. There were certain little nuggets like that. Like how Edwin Boyd talked about how even though Lenny only had one foot, he was the fastest runner he had ever seen. To me, that meant this guy was a fighter. He was the biggest guy in the cage and was going to do whatever it took to get that across. There was also this immense love between him and his wife. I read that eight years after he was executed, she drank herself to death. That’s pretty quick. I’ve got some drinkers in the family and eight years… wow. So it was just little things like that I put together. Enough to get a sense of who he was.
DS: Having worked with many established directors before, how did you find Nathan Morlando stacked up as a first-time filmmaker?
KD: He killed it. He killed it. Never raised his voice, knew exactly what he wanted, but at the same time had this confidence level that you rarely see in first time feature film directors. If you had ideas to bring to the table, he was always down for the greater good. A lot of the time that meant us sitting down and bouncing ideas off each other until we got where we wanted to go. It was a great collaboration and that’s a huge part of why the performances all through the movie are really good and fleshed out. Everyone got a chance to contribute and I think everyone did such a great job.
DS: I really enjoyed the relationships between you and the other members of the Boyd gang. Did you try to spend time together off set to build up those relationships at all?
KD: Oh completely. Scott and I…Lenny and Edwin weren’t best friends. There was this constant energy and friction between them over who was the leader of the gang. So we kind of had that a little bit in real life, fed into it, and it read on screen. We also all lived on this one floor in Sault Ste. Marie, so it was almost like we were in the flophouse. We were constantly together. I actually trained Joseph Cross and Brendan Fletcher, so it was almost like we were in the army barracks together. We got really tight. We didn’t rob any banks, but we thought about it.
DS: How did you find coming back up north to shoot in Sault Ste. Marie?
KD: I’m from Thunder Bay, so I felt completely at home. I felt more at home there than I probably have on any other set because the people of the Soo remind me a lot of the people that I grew up with. Very loyal, generous, polite, kind and strong. I had no issue with the cold either. I love it. I kind of miss it.
DS: You’ve done quite a few villain roles—
KD: Oh yeah, I’ve done my fair share of those, especially in America.
DS: Do you have to find something in all of those characters to make them empathetic like you did with Lenny or do you like to revel in being bad for the sake of being bad?
KD: It’s in all of us, you know? If you’re driving to work in bad traffic, someone cuts you off and is completely disrespectful, that thing can rises inside all of us. But also, when I first really got interested in becoming an actor, I started out with King Lear and did I ever want to play Edmund. I would take his monologues and recite them on my own. I wasn’t even 100% sure if I wanted to be an actor, but I knew I wanted to play Edmund. I never had any interest in Romeo or Hamlet. I always wanted to play the bastard. I find that’s often what I gravitate towards now as well. You know, a great multi-dimensional bastard is always so much more fun than a hero. Especially when you’ve got to walk around and be a nice Canadian guy most of the day.
DS: As a character actor who has been in so many projects, do you find that people will sometimes recognize you, but not know what from and demand that you tell them?
KD: Constantly, constantly. It’s interesting. I actually really dig it because when I started out my big inspirations were guys like Gary Oldman and Tim Roth. These cats who would just disappear into these characters, and that’s what I want to do. So, when people are like, “What do I know from?” and I name a couple of things, I’ll normally hear back “There’s no way that was you.” To me, that’s such a great compliment. It makes me feel like I’m doing something right.
DS: Your next movie is Cosmopolis and I was wondering if you have any lasting impressions of working with David Cronenberg?
KD: He completely lived up to and exceeded my expectations. When I got the job I did a dance of joy because I’m such a massive fan and I started prepping three months before I shot. So when I got to set I could just sort of follow him and his calm, cool, collected, meticulous methods. Everyone on that set was so happy and calm and focused. It was a really great way to work. I hope I get to do it again. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but it’s very poetic and will be up for interpretation. It’s not a movie that follows the rigid North American film formulas, which was so exciting to me.
DS: Was there more fake blood on that set or Resident Evil: Retribution?
KD: Oh man, Resident Evil takes the cake for fake blood. My god! There’s a lot of fake blood, lots of bullets, lots of burning hot shell casings from automatic weapons flying at your face at all times (laughs). It was good fun. The zombie people will love it.
DS: Finally, the most important question. Which movie of your have you watched more often, Big Momma’s House 2 or Wild Hogs?
KD: Oh my god. I would have to say Wild Hogs. They’re both Martin Lawrence movies. Me and Marty…thanks for bringing that up (laughs). Actually Big Momma’s House 2 was my first American movie and got me my papers, so I’ll always have a special fondness for that fat suit.