Interview – Goon director Michael Dowse
– by Rachel Fox/Michael Dowse photos by Ryan West
Die-hard hockey fan and actor Jay Baruchel (Million Dollar Baby, Knocked Up) made a bold move when he decided to switch positions by teaming up with co-writer Evan Goldberg (Superbad, Pineapple Express, The Green Hornet) to pen the script for the new hockey comedy Goon.
The movie, which stars Baruchel, Seann Michael Scott and Liev Schreiber, is based on a 2002 book by Doug Smith. “It’s a very loose adaptation,” laughs Goon director Michael Dowse during an interview at the Shangri-La Hotel in Vancouver. “The real Doug Smith was a boxer, a hockey player and a mall cop in Massachussetts and that’s where the similarities end.
“Jay changed the character of Doug to reflect his late father’s experience, trying to play hockey as Jewish player in Montréal,” Dowse told us. “He wanted to personalize it. You write what you know.”
I had the chance to sit down with Dowse, whose resumé includes both of the FUBAR films and long-standing cult favourite It’s All Gone Pete Tong, recently during a promotional tour for Goon, which opens Friday, Feb. 24.
Movie trailer – Goon:
Rachel Fox: Are you a sports fan?
Michael Dowse: I am a huge sports fan. I played football in college.
RF: Your hockey team is the…?
MD: Montreal Canadians.
RF: I interviewed Jay Baruchel at the Whistler Film Festival; he mentioned he was more of a Habs guy…
MD: Same team. [laughs]
RF: Right. I knew that. Doug’s father in the film is played by Eugene Levy, who is sort of the Canadian Jewish go-to Dad at this point. What was it like working with him?
MD: A dream come true. At lunch I would pick his brain. He’s Earl Camembert! He’s amazing, and a great writer, too.
The biggest comedic influence in my life is SCTV, which I grew up watching. I have this thing in the back of my head, which is that I want to work with all of the members [of SCTV] that I can. What we tried to do with him, to make it a little different, was to have him be more serious. He was great at that.
RF: Seann William Scott is in the film, too – sort of an American Pie reunion, of sorts.
MD: Yeah, a little bit. I am sure the Americans are going to have a hard time figuring that out. “It’s Stiffler but that’s Jim’s dad…” They actually made the reunion right after.
Clip – SCTV:
RF: Let’s talk about the history of the hockey movie.
MD: It’s a spotted history, to say the least.
RF: What’s your favourite?
MD: Well, Slapshot has to be my favourite. It’s probably everybody’s favourite. It is the best hockey movie ever made.
In Quebec, there’s a ton of great hockey films. The Rocket, Les Boys. Even [Quebecois television series] He Shoots, He Scores [Lance et Compte], which I watched religiously, because it has titties in it, when I was thirteen…
RF: They’re still there.
MD: In Quebec, they seem to be able to really handle a good hockey movie but in English Canada, I don’t know what it is… The goalie’s gotta be a chimpanzee –
RF: I don’t think I’ve seen that one.
Clip – Slapshot
RF: There are some pretty hardcore sequences in the film. You have actors on skates.
MD: The main thing I was trying to bring to it was the speed. That’s what I love about the game, is how fast it is and how quickly it can change. That’s what I think separates hockey from most other sports, is how quickly the players are moving.
We wanted to make it look as real and authentic as possible, and that starts with skating. All the actors took it pretty seriously. I think they recognized the permanence of film and their ability to look like asses if they don’t know how to skate. I think that scared the hell out of them.
RF: So you had hockey boot camp?
MD: Seann is from Minnesota, so he is like, a quarter Canadian. He could skate a little bit. Liev is from Long Island, so he could too. But yeah, they trained for 6-8 weeks. Marc Andre Gagnier took it extremely seriously (not that the other guys didn’t). He trained his ass off.
RF: There’s a lot of blood in the film, and a feeling of the violence. It’s a definite part of hockey, albeit a controversial one. To some degree it’s celebrated, right?
MD: I don’t think we’re celebrating the violence. What we tried to do was celebrate this really misunderstood position in professional hockey. We wanted to show their bravery and their athletic virtuosity; it’s a tough thing to do. And there’s a great sense of sportsmanship. I wasn’t trying to glorify the violence; I was trying to be realistic with it and show the impact these guys have… have the audience experience what these guys experience. And I wanted to do good hockey and fight sequences, too. It’s funny; because it’s on a rink people think it’s glamorized, but if I was doing some cop film they probably wouldn’t care.
RF: My favourite parts of the film were the off-rink scenes involving the relationship between rookie goon Doug (Seann William Scott) and his rival, the veteran enforcer Ross (Liev Schreiber). They really counterbalanced the notion of violence for the sake of violence; it humanized that aspect.
MD: Exactly. That’s a huge thing we wanted to get across, that these guys are all friends and they all know each other. They’re like soldiers.
I think one of the sad things about what happens to these guys is just how disposable they are. In terms of the role of the “enforcer,” we’re starting to see the sole idea of a guy who is only there to fight, he doesn’t really have a place in the NHL anymore. I think what’s cool about the position is that it’s almost coming back to the way it was in the 1980s, where you have guys that can fight but they can also score 20 goals. They don’t have guys who can just fight, but players who are a little more fleshed out. I think if the “enforcers” start to play more hockey they’d probably have less problems in terms of the exit strategies of these guys. But I’m not a hockey player; I think these decisions are really best left to the leagues and to the NHL.
Goon opens across Canada on Friday, Feb 24.