The note is right at the top of my email invitation to interview Canadian actor Colm Feore: “As a reminder, Colm is pronounced [C-uh-lum].” Like a newspaper column. There’s even a link in case I need to hear it out loud.
So it’s not the first question I ask, but I do have to come back to it. How often do people get it wrong, and how much does it bother him?
“The name gets messed up but I don’t care as long as the hiring continues,” the 62-year-old replies with a genial grin. “My parents are both Irish, God rest them, and this was perhaps the least Irish name they could come up with. My mother wanted to name me Dermot after my father. My father wisely said no. Colm was a compromise.”
Feore, “feore” the record, is one syllable, like a Norwegian fjord. “I accept fee-or-ay,” he says. “I don’t mind being mistaken for an Italian. In fact, I’m rather proud of that.”
He takes some good-natured potshots at fellow performer Colm Wilkinson, famous for roles in The Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables and other musicals, and who pronounces his name somewhere between “calm” and “comb.”
“Colm Wilkinson, he hung out with a lot of English people. English people have a problem with the name Colm. Why? Because it looks like the back end of Malcolm. Malcolm without the Mal is just — ” He makes a strangled noise: “cllm.”
“And once in a bar in Stratford I bumped into Colm Wilkinson — whose mother calls him ‘C-uh-lum,’ by the way — and I said why have you done this to me? You’re famous and rich. I was going to be skirting along on your coattails, but not if I have to explain the difference between your Anglicized version of our Irish name.”
He continues: “It was exhausting. I finally had to go forward and make the best of it on my own.”
But as he says, as long as the hiring continues. And it does. Feore has a role in My Salinger Year , a new film from Quebec director Philippe Falardeau, coming to theatres Nov. 13. You can see him as German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun in the first season of For All Mankind on Apple TV+. (The eagle-eyed thespian notices my model Saturn V rocket during our Zoom call, the first time a celebrity has turned the tables on me this way.)
I don’t mind being mistaken for an Italian. In fact, I’m rather proud of that
But the reason for our chat is his role as the narrator of True North Heists , a new audio series developed by Canadian Audible Originals, and available free until Oct. 27 at www.audible.ca. The 10 episodes introduce us to such Canadian true crime stories as Toronto’s Boyd Gang, “gentleman bandit” Bill Miner, and that time thieves stole $18-million worth of maple syrup from a Quebec storage facility. (It doesn’t get more Canadian than that.)
Feore’s favourite episode is the tale of family man Ken Leishman, also known as the flying bandit. In 1957 he flew to Toronto from Winnipeg, politely robbed a downtown bank at gunpoint, and then offered to buy the astonished manager a drink before making his escape. He’d needed money for Christmas presents for his five children
“Ken Leishman is a guy who’s criminal because the opportunity presented itself, he had the skill set to take advantage, and he had the need, he had a real human need,” says Feore. “As other human beings we appreciate that. We don’t necessarily devolve into criminality, but I think we admire the boldness and the kind of audacity of those people who will.
“And limited bloodshed, please,” he continues. “Because there’s no need. We can achieve what we want through persuasion, intelligence and planning, and there’s an awful lot of that in True North Heists .”
When I tell Feore that these tales remind me of Canada’s Heritage Minutes (except longer) he in turn reminds me that he’s been part of those, too. “I have done the Heritage Minute thing as well because every Canadian actor has done everything,” he says. “I am John McCrae. You may see me on Remembrance Day. My Heritage Minute is old but is replayed regularly.”
It’s hard to think of an actor more pan-Canadian than Feore. He starred in the 2006 bilingual box-office hit comedy Bon Cop, Bad Cop . In addition to 60 seconds as the author of In Flanders Fields , he has played such famous Canadians as Glenn Gould and Pierre Trudeau. Previous audiobook credits include reading Mordecai Richler’s Solomon Gursky Was Here , and Justin Trudeau’s Common Ground — in both official languages.
You could make a case that he’s a decent American actor too, having played such real-life figures as Alexander Hamilton, Caspar Weinberger, D.W. Griffith, William Tecumseh Sherman and Admiral Husband E. Kimmel. His film career has also included smaller roles in such Hollywood fare as The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Thor . (He refers to director Kenneth Branagh as “Kenny.”)
But he’s tickled to be part of True North Heists , in part because it takes him back to the glory days of radio. “Radio was for the longest time the best method of telling stories across the country to the farthest point. Anybody who could get a signal could get a story. Imagine us sitting around a fire, we’re all staring off into our own version of space, at the stars, at the fire embers, and we’re listening to the elders tell the story of our history.”
And whereas many artistic endeavours have found it challenging to debut during a pandemic, to Feore this series almost couldn’t be better timed.
“It corresponds to this weird pandemic situation that we all find ourselves in,” he says. “There’s a lot of time for reflection and introspection, knowing who we are and where we’re from in order to begin to decide where we might be going, and who we might be going as. And I think: just because our borders are closed it doesn’t mean that our minds have to be.”
True North Heists is available free until Oct. 27 at www.audible.ca.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020