Since graduating from the National Theatre School (NTS) almost 12 years ago, Allan Hawco has rapidly become one of the school’s most illustrious graduates. And he did it the Canadian way.
Hawco has built his most successful enterprise, an action-packed CBC television series called “Republic of Doyle,” on his home turf in St. John’s. It routinely draws one million viewers per episode and has been sold to 100 countries. In addition to playing the dashing young private eye Jake Doyle, Hawco is the show’s co-executive producer and head writer, a situation beyond the wildest dreams of most Canadian actors.
Not many of them are routinely referred to as “hotties,” either. Nor do they get to give George Stroumboulopoulos lessons on how to speak “Newfie.”
So it’s not surprising that Hawco, who was born on Bell Island, received the Canadian Television Hall of Fame Outstanding Achievement Award in September.
Last week he paid a visit to Montreal to speak to a new generation of students at NTS. While in town, he also met with “Republic of Doyle” fans at a local pub.
Having never attended a fan event for a Canadian TV star before, I decided to combine interview and sociological study within the space of one convivial evening. I soon discovered that Hawco fans, about 20 per cent of whom at this event were Newfoundland-connected, are among the nicest people you’d ever want to meet.
And they seem to know each episode of “Republic of Doyle” by heart. One woman had driven all the way from Ottawa with her three children.
Hawco handled the crowd of about 50, which had been invited as the result of a contest on Twitter and Facebook, like an experienced politician. After a couple of video clips, he talked about the show, then answered questions.
He topped it off with a speed-date moment at each table, in order to get acquainted, sign autographs and pose for buddy shots. All of this was orchestrated by his public-relations man, former Montrealer Jonathan Schwartz.
As the guests began to arrive, I asked Hawco if there was any danger of him becoming Jake Doyle.
“No,” he replied. “Because I write and I produce the show. I edit all the cuts. I know the distinction between this guy and who I am. Someone like Jake, he’s such a great character to play and a great character to write. He’s a real hero and I love that. He has a lot of qualities that I simply don’t have. I think a lot of us fantasize about having those traits. And I don’t share a lot of them.”
One trait they don’t share is a fear of commitment. Doyle is ever the wavering bachelor, but Hawco recently tied the knot. And he’s very glad he did. “She’s awesome,” he said of his new wife, Carolyn, a Newfoundland journalist.
What triggered the founding of the “Republic of Doyle”?
“I first had the idea when I was at theatre school here,” he said. He talked it up to his classmates and teachers back then (he graduated in 2000), but nothing came of it until much later, after he had moved to Toronto.
When things happened, they happened quickly, he said.
“I was in a pitch meeting with CBC. I pitched it and it ended up getting the green light. When you have these kinds of ideas, you never know what’s going to happen.”
With “Republic of Doyle” in its third season (Episode 8 airs tonight), Hawco is smiling.
“I’m a happy guy,” he said.
He’s also looking remarkably trim and fit. As he explained to his fans, having a million people watching you can be a powerful incentive to eat right and work out.
Did he anticipate the success of the show?
“You set out in the beginning with the notion that you have something to offer,” he replied. “Otherwise you wouldn’t be doing it, right? But you have no idea whether anybody is going to see that vision. And you also don’t have any idea how it’s going to come out of your head. It takes such a massive machine to get it out there. You just kind of spew this thing out into the world without knowing how it’s going to be received. You just kind of close your eyes and cross your fingers. The fact that it has struck a chord with people? No. I had no idea.”
One of his most recent coups was landing Russell Crowe as a guest star on “Republic of Doyle this season.” Gordon Pinsent and Victor Garber have already appeared on the show. Another high-profile guest was Shannon Tweed, who is also from Newfoundland.
What did NTS give him?
“The National Theatre School gave me everything,” he replied. “There isn’t a moment that goes by in my professional life that I don’t access something that I learned in my training at NTS.” Handling a $23-million budget for a series, however, was something he had to learn “on the run” with the backing of pros.
Hawco has his fingers crossed that Season 4 of “Republic of Doyle” will come to pass. But his St. John’s film production company (Take the Shot Productions) has other projects in the works, as does his theatre company (the Company Theatre) in Toronto. And he likes to keep in touch with theatre students, such as those at NTS, because “someone in that class might be hiring me in 15 years. The way I look at it, nothing is forever.”
“Republic of Doyle” airs Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. on CBC.