Noah Reid and Melanie Leishman are killing time and laughing up a storm when I walk into a downtown Toronto boardroom to talk to them about their recent partnership in the Canadian produced comedy Old Stock (opening this Friday exclusively at the Carlton in Toronto). They share little of the strange fashion sense of their on-screen counterparts (Reid in a flannel shirt and bright red toque instead of a sweater vest and Leishman in a seasonally appropriate dress instead of dance instructor duds), but the chemistry between the co-stars – who play romantic interests to one another in the film – is natural to see.
Reid (best known as the lead in Michael McGowan’s Score: A Hockey Musical) plays Stock, a young man only a few years removed from high school living in a retirement home with his grandfather following a rough patch in his life. He’s become so acclimated to his surroundings after a couple of years that the home has no choice but to kick him out in hopes that Stock will go on living his life instead of spending an unconscionable amount of time wasting away. The motorized wheelchair riding vest aficionado sets about uneasily coming to terms with the world around him with the help of Lieshman’s Patti, an equally fresh out of high school woman doing dance therapy at the home as community service for destroying property in conjunction with a nasty break-up.
We chatted a bit about almost method acting in auditions, wearing sweater vests, dancing terribly, scooter envy, and creating likeably flawed characters. We also asked what they’re up to in the future, and talked to Leishman about the status of the Todd and the Book of Pure Evil animated film.
Dork Shelf: How did you guys come to get involved with Old Stock?
Noah Reid: The good old audition process, you know? The first time I came in I met (director) James Genn and Dane Clark, the writer, and I was dressed in this sweater vest and a shirt. I biked over to the audition in the rain and I was soaked.
Melanie Leishman: I remember you had really wet pants.
NR: (laughs) Yeah, my pants were really wet.
DS: You were even more method with the character than you thought you were going to be just wearing the vest.
NR: (laughs) Totally.
ML: I was just so charmed. If anyone asked me we were done right there. (laughs)
NR: And that was the day I met Mel, and we got along pretty good. It was just the kind of script that you just read and you know if you went to see it you would just like it. I could also see a lot of little pieces of myself in there. Anytime you feel like you see something you could do or you can relate to, you wonder if you have a shot. Then once you have a shot at it, it’s even better. And then we got to make a movie! It was pretty cool.
ML: I had been working the summer before with James on Todd and the Book of Pure Evil, and he had been talking about this independent feature that he had been working on and developing and it sounded amazing. Then I was lucky enough to actually read it and thought that it was REALLY amazing. (laughs) I asked early on if I could come in and audition for it, and James was all for it. I came in once and read by myself and then once later with Noah (pauses, looks at Noah), and then we got to make a movie! (laughs)
DS: One of the things that’s interesting about the film is that you are playing characters that are pretty likable, but they’ve done some things in the past that can be seen as not being so great. These are the things that kind of lead to their situation now, and they aren’t really all that cool…
ML: Or REALLY cool depending on who you ask! (laughs) Not in Noah’s character’s case, but in mine, at least. (laughs) I guess if you’re a teenager, it could be a cool kind of revenge.
DS: How do you guys make these characters kind of sympathetic and funny while staying true to what they have been through, since you guys haven’t had similar things happen to yourselves?
NR: To me, I just love imperfection in a character. The kinds of characters I’m drawn to in films and plays and whatever are people who are kinda unlikable, but in spite of that you kind of want to like them. I think Stock is a really nice guy who’s just having a really rough go. He’s taking steps to sort of correct things that have happened. They’re usually the wrong steps and he’s letting everyone around him down that he cares about and that care about him. He’s struggling and I think that he knows what the right thing to do would be, but he just can’t do it. That’s what I like about him. He’s not handling anything well, and to me that’s a deeply human thing. I love playing that. I love playing people that are messed up in that special kind of way.
ML: I think there’s a real authenticity in that, and that’s what appeals to me. I don’t think there’s anyone on Earth that doesn’t have things going on that they aren’t proud of. This might be on a greater scale, but it’s true and you just have to move forward. You can make these things a part of your past, but it’s dangerous to make it part of your present. I think that’s one of the best things to play. I think my character just realizes all the good things in Stock and doesn’t want a repeat of what she already went through.
NR: And for you I think it’s a little bit of having to do that one thing that can help you get over a period that wasn’t all that great. You kind of left that behind in a way, and that’s the point that Stock needs to get to. He’s having a tough time getting to the other side of things, accepting, and moving on. I think that’s the universal key that people kind of grab onto. Stock thinks a lot about the past and he can’t move forward so he lives his life completely in neutral. And he wears a lot of sweater vests. (laughs)
DS: Did you get sick of wearing all those sweater vests?
NR: (laughs) I don’t wear them on a daily basis in my own life, but it was actually pretty fun! It was great fun to put those sweater vests on because they were his uniform and putting them on just kind of adds that extra element to the character. Then you have a sense of who you are. When I put it on, I just knew what to do. It sounds strange, but the sweater vest kind of gives you a physicality, in a way. If you’re playing a cop, you put on that uniform and you feel a bit more like a cop. You put on a sweater vest, and you feel like someone who thinks they’re an old person. That was really helpful. And our costume designer, Ruth Secord, was really great and finding these drab sweater vests. (laughs)
DS: You also have to master being on a scooter, and at one point you both end up riding on it. What was it like going around on that all the time?
ML: That was the most fun, but it was going so slow that nothing bad was ever going to happen.
NR: It’s a very safe vehicle. (laughs) You just kind of clamp down on thing and it just goes. It doesn’t go immediately and there’s a speed crank, and it’s kind of cool and weird at the same time. I was actually kind of jealous because there’s an actor in Stratford that I’ve sadly never worked with named Bill Needles, and he would always show up at the stage door before a show, and he has a scooter, but the speed dial on his wasn’t like mine. It just had a turtle on one end and a hare on the other. (laughs) There are only two speeds. I wanted that one! (laughs)
ML: The hare would have made it a lot more fun! (laughs)
NR: We could just crank that thing to rabbit and just GO.
DS: Hopefully this interview doesn’t inspire any older people to do anything too reckless.
NR: It’s really tough to be reckless on those things. Believe me, I tried! (laughs)
DS: You guys have a really great sort of back and forth as I can see, but in the movie you guys are also really good at acting awkward next to each other. How did you guys develop your on-screen relationship?
NR: For the most part I think that awkwardness was pretty brilliantly written into the story. I think it’s something Dane – sorry, Dane – probably has a lot of experience with, and I know I do. We all go through various phases like that, and it’s really fun to play that. Even when we’re doing those dance moments, there’s a great physical kind of awkwardness to it, too. It’s just two people trying to figure out how to be around one another. And a huge part of it was Mel, and I knew this movie had to be done with her. We just got each other’s energy really early on and it just fit the tone of the script and it was just fun to play with that stuff.
DS: You guys also have really interesting chemistry with the people playing your father figures in your lives. What was it like trying to figure that out?
ML: It was a lot of fun. I really recognize the kind of energy that a character like Patti’s dad would have. He’s kind of bewildered that she would just get drunk and hang out in a treehouse and he’s kind of sad about where and how she’s been living. That just kind of developed organically, but it helps to work with really great people.
NR: Yeah, that was the same sort of way with me and Danny Wells, who plays my grandfather, and that’s interesting because I think it’s a different kind of relationship. For Stock, that’s his father figure. And Danny was awesome because he comes from a really old school comedy background. It was just great to listen to him tell stories about hanging out with Sinatra and writing songs for other people and all sorts of things. This guy has lived a life that’s just so fantastic and colourful and he just brought so much of that into his part. It was great fun to work on scenes with him before hand and figure out where the jokes and beats were. I think that for me it was great because Stock has this kind of numbness that James was always pushing me towards, and Danny is such a vibrant person off screen and in character that it’s a great play on how the old guy is the young guy and the young guy is the old guy. They’re working their ways towards a similar goal. But again, there’s also some really great writing in there. It’s fun to play within that structure, and when you have actors like this it’s fun to play all the time.
DS: How much did you know about dance going into playing someone who’s forced into being a dance instructor and doesn’t really know much about doing it?
ML: Well, I actually danced really intensely when I was young. I was even working with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. But now, sadly, I really only dance at night…
NR: What, like at a night club?
ML: (laughs) Only on a pole! (laughs) Oh, God I keep putting my foot in my mouth today.
NR: (laughs) But that’s so endearing!
ML: But I was new to doing the waltz, so that was fun. But just being there around all these older people really made that scene what it was. I could have taken professional lessons, but I honestly learned the waltz on YouTube, which I think if you want to learn how to dance awkwardly, that’s the way to go. (laughs)
DS: Noah, since you’ve done a pretty high profile big screen musical before did you ever walk in and watch them dance and think they were a bunch of amateurs?
NR: (laughs) Nooooo. The musical I did luckily made sure that I escaped doing any actual dancing. I’m not the world’s greatest dancer.
DS: As evidenced by this film!
NR: It was perfect! I only do musicals that do not require my character to dance. (laughs) But playing off physical awkwardness is always so much fun. I was grateful to not sing in this one, too. (laughs)
ML: Yeah, and I know I still draw on that dance training. It really helps you with your physicality and to actually be awkward. To even play awkward you still kinda gotta know the rhythm of your own body. When you know what your body can do you can better decide what you want to do with it.
DS: So what’s next for you guys?
ML: I actually just did a musical! Not a word of a lie. It’s called Stage Fright, and that’s with Meat Loaf and Minnie Driver, and I’m not sure when exactly that’s going to be released. But that was great.
DS: And you also have the Todd and the Book of Pure Evil animated movie potentially in the works.
ML: Yes! So we reached our goal of $75,000, which means we are going to make the animated feature, and that’s so exciting because I love Todd. But now we’re trying to raise another $25,000 so we can have a live action musical sequence in it. So, yeah, nothing but wall-to-wall musicals in the works for me apparently. (laughs)
NR: For me, I have a couple of plays coming up in the future in Toronto. I have a play at Soulpepper coming up called Parfumerie, where I’ll be writing the music and performing in it. That will be around Christmastime. Then looking ahead to 2014 – because theatre looks way, way ahead like that (laughs) – I’ll be doing a play called Dead Metaphor, a George F. Walker play, at the Panasonic Theatre. Outside of that, there’s been a lot of workshopping and coming up with some pretty good new ideas.