To be a Newfoundlander

Tara Bradbury
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There was a time Shawn Doyle avoided his home province. Not any more.

Shawn Doyle stars as Pete in “The Disappeared,” now playing at Empire Theatres Studio 12 in St. John’s and will chat with Angela Antle at the theatre following tonight’s 6:30 show. — Submitted photos

There was a time when actor Shawn Doyle would get offered film roles back here in his home province, but would turn them down, always finding one reason or another why he couldn’t do it.

All that changed with 2010’s “Grown Up Movie Star,” a Sundance Film Festival award-winning film written by Adriana Maggs and filmed in St. John’s and Flatrock. Doyle had left Labrador, where he was raised, for Toronto’s York University when he was 16, and says he had a self-imposed sense that he’d be judged for having left if he ever came back.

“When ‘Grown Up Movie Star’ came along, it was just so good that I couldn’t say no,” Doyle says of being offered the role of Ray, a disgraced NHL star and single dad. “It was scary to come back and shoot that movie and to be a Newfoundlander again; to actually take all that on. I really feel that’s changed who I am as an actor, because it really brought back who I was into my work again.

“For me now, it’s going to be important to always keep a connection to the east coast and that feeling, because I feel that’s kind of intrinsic to who I am as an actor, and I remember that now. “

Doyle has made appearances on shows like “24,” “Lost,” and “Desperate Housewives,” and stars in the Showcase series “Endgame,” playing Russian chess genius Arkady Balagan. Earlier this year, Doyle won a Canadian Screen Award for Best Performance by a Lead Actor n a Television Film or Miniseries for his portrayal or first Canadian prime minister John A. MacDonald in the CBC-TV movie, “John A.: Birth of a Country.”

He also stars in “The Disappeared,” a feature film by award-winning Nova Scotia author Shandi Mitchell, which is opening at Empire Theatres Studio 12 in the Avalon Mall in St. John’s today for a two-week run.

Like “Grown Up Movie Star,” the film’s script was too good to pass up, Doyle says, even though he was cast at a time when he had just come off six months of “Endgame” filming, and was longing to have a break to rest and spend time with his family. Starring alongside Doyle in “The Disappeared” are Brian Downey (also a local native), Billy Campbell, Gary Levert, Ryan Doucette and Neil Matheson.

The film takes place in the North Atlantic. A fishing boat has sunk, and its crew has escaped in two small dories, drifting without any sign of being rescued. They decide to try to paddle hundreds of miles to shore, battling the waves, each other and themselves.

Doyle recently won an ACTRA award for Best Performance-Male for his role as Pete, whom he describes as the most aggressive of the characters; cantankerous and a troublemaker. A hard case, Doyle says.

“It’s all really a mask for his fear and loneliness,” he explains. “I think, for him, the film is a journey towards feeling some sort of sense of belonging and bonding with these men.”

For Doyle, acting is less about playing a character and more about finding a character’s traits within himself, and exposing different facets of his own personality. With Arkady, for example, he was able to explore his intellect and ability to be sophisticated in a certain way. Pete is about his hidden sense of fear or loneliness or anger, he says.

“The Disappeared” was shot in the ocean off the coast of Lunenburg, N.S.

“We would take a Zodiac ride about a half an hour out, so we were out in the wild ocean, because we needed to have a horizon that had no land in it,” Doyle says. While the cast was in the two dories, the entire 15- or 20-person crew was perched on an 18 by 26-foot raft.

“It was interesting, because, first of all, you wouldn’t want to be the first actor to get seasick,” Doyle says. “If any of us got seasick, the whole production would go down, because really you couldn’t shoot anything without all of us. Brian got pneumonia and had to soldier through it, but none of us got seasick, thankfully.

The film was shot as the weather dictated: for a storm scene, actors and crew were forced to wait for a time when the weather was rough enough and the waves big enough to make it look realistic. Other times, they needed calm water, clear as glass.

“It all seemed to work like nature was giving us gifts every day,” Doyle says.

The challenge with shooting a feature film on a relatively small budget is there are no shots to waste — everything has to be perfect from the get-go, so scenes take longer to set up, especially when the set is rolling on the waves in natural light.

“You only get one or two shots at the actual takes, and then you move on,” Doyle says. “Even though that’s not the ideal situation, I think it added an urgency or an immediacy to the film, you know? You’re just trying to pull everything together to get it done, and I think that actually adds energy to the film.”

“The Disappeared” debuted in Newfoundland and Labrador at last October’s St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival, with a sold-out screening at the LSPU Hall. It has screened at other Canadian festivals, included the Vancouver International Film Festival, where it was nominated for Best Canadian Feature Film.

Doyle is in town for a special screening of the movie at 6:30 this evening, after which he’ll participate in a question-and-answer session hosted by Angela Antle. He is looking forward to having the film on the big screen in his home province, he says.

“I’m very excited to do it. ‘Grown Up Movie Star’ kind of cracked me open and made me remember how important my heritage is. And I love it — I love shooting in Newfoundland. It just feels very comfortable and exciting and I hope to do more and more of it.”

“The Disappeared” will run at Empire Theatres Studio 12 daily at 1 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. until May 3. More information on the film can be found online at


Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Organizations: Movie Star, York University, NHL CBC

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Toronto, Nova Scotia North Atlantic Lunenburg Vancouver

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