Eye Weekly interview
by Gord McLoughlin

A second youth. MacIdeas remounts their successful debut production.  

Katharine Isabelle hasn’t been on stage since she was four. Sure, she’s on of Canada’s hottest film and television actors, already a veteran at 22 with star turns in Ginger snaps and Falling angels. But when she was cast in the Toronto production of Kenneth Lonergan’s This is our youth, she says, “All my friends were like, ‘Katie, that’s real acting. Can you do that?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. I guess I’ll see.’”

Co-star Jason Lewis, best known as the sensitive Sex in the city hunk who tamed Samantha’s wild heart, is also making his stage debut, at age 33. His fair hair coloured a jarring deep black for his role, the supermodel-cum-actor offers Isabelle some buttressing words of reassurance, even as she swears they’ll have to stand behind her with a pointy object to keep her from bolting just before her first entrance.

“What do you know?” she asks well-intentioned Lewis, then answers her own question in a sudden Russian accent. “You know nothing. Nothing.”

“It’ll be no problem,” says Lewis, playing along. “Unless of course you choke and loose your voice and you can’t speak and you freeze up.”

Isabelle is fighting a summer cold (stupid over-chilled taxis!) that already threatens to steal her voice, just as she’s learning to project it for a live audience. When Lewis begins to suggest a remedy from Whole Foods, she cuts him off. “This is far beyond what homeopathics and, like, extracts of berries can do for me.”

Of course, it’s just anxious self-deprecation, says Marcello Cabezas, the third cast member of This is our youth ad the only holdover from last January’s attention-getting and favourably reviewed production. “Granted it’s Jason and Katharine’s first play, but the instinct they show on a daily basis – the specific choices an actor makes – is amazing.”

Cabezas, 32, is co-founder of macIdeas, the producing company that managed to attach an even higher-profile name to the project, that of returning director Woody Harrelson, who divides his time between the play and acting in an American film being shot here. With a film in the Toronto Film Festival, television projects in the works and the play Matt & Ben opening next month, this is a Canadian company that paddles it’s own canoe.

The company includes well known Derrick Chau among it’s handful of producers, and the board chairman is financier Matthew Bassett, son of the late media baron John Bassett and TVO chair Isabel Bassett.

Cabezas acted as a teen but “I went to a prep school where I was trying to do the cool thing, trying to find the high-profile things, and it kind of made me get away from what my true path was.” He adds almost shamefully. “It caused me to get involved in, you know, sports.”

At 26, he chucked the lucrative advertising world for a faith-filled leap in to theatre. Cabezas agrees that his previous stint in the business world may explain some of macIdeas’ aggressive mondus operandi.

“I don’t know why more people aren’t [drafting foreign actors],” he says. “We are an international city. But it’s not just about, you know, bringing American talent in.” The company’s biggest idea is to concoct projects that attract talented artists, hoping to generate a tide of interest, not to mention Toronto entertainment dollars, into theatre. “I think Woody will go on record to say his experience last year directing This is our youth was on of the highlights of his career,” says Cabezas.

Lewis says he was drawn by the productions integrity and by Lonergan’s celebrated play, about the disaffected children of ’80s New York wealth.

“It’s one of the best written pieces of material I’ve ever looked at,” says Lewis. “To get to be a participant in that and also have such a meaty amount of work to engage with is just a great challenge.”

Three years ago, Lewis had set his sights on writing. “I was living like a hermit and playing at being a novelist,” he says, “but not really doing much practically.” So he sold his house and spent almost four months camping through the American Northwest and into Canada, accompanied only by his three dogs.

“It was a lot of self-reflection, less the need to present myself and be on for anybody, just more on how I wanted to exist.” He resolved to concentrate on his acting, moved to New York and got the casting break that made his chest, bare ass and charismatic smile a part of television history.

Other than some savvy about lighting and visual storytelling, Lewis says he brings none of a model’s emoting techniques to acting. “With modelling,” he says, “you’re communicating through the lens, whereas with the acting you’re creating a reality in front of the lens, rather than trying to project.”

Lewis bristles at the suggestion he’s here to legitimise his acting. As for Isabelle, she’s here on Al Pacino’s orders.

She appeared with the acting legend in the 2001 film, Insomnia, sharing an intensely emotional scene in a car on the Alaskan highway. “We were locked in a car together for like six hours, and one of the things he was just harping on was that that if you ever get a chance to do theatre, you really, really have to do it.”

Then she saw her friend, actor Brendan Fletcher, take the lead in a Vancouver production of Peter Shaffer’s Equus. “I left there in tears, sobbing and dry-heaving for two hours. I was completely traumatised by his performance and I admired what he did so much.” With much less stage time than her co-stars, she considers the play to be her perfect introduction to theatre. “I don’t have nearly as much stuff as Jason has to work with.”

Lewis says he may take a look at any good reviews but he doesn’t read a lot of his own press. “Certainly if everybody in the whole place thinks I suck ass, I might be a little affected and disappointed and read some of [the bad ones],” he says.

But he’s hoping for a mix. Better yet, he says’ he just going to go by Isabelle’s opinion. (“Yeah, right,” she injects.)

“If I get a thumbs up, I’m good,” says Lewis. “If I get thumbs down, I’ll just wallow somewhere in a drink afterwards.


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