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Theatre & Performance ‘My head’s just swimming right now.’ How Canadian actor Nicholas Campbell is preparing for The Father, the acclaimed play about dementia

Nicholas Campbell poses for a photograph at the Coal Mine Theatre in Toronto on Jan. 18, 2019.

Christopher Katsarov/Globe and Mail

In Between the Acts, The Globe and Mail takes a look at how artists manage their time before and after a creative endeavour.

Forever remembered for his starring role in the television series Da Vinci’s Inquest, the three-time Gemini Award winner Nicholas Campbell turned heads last year at Toronto’s Streetcar Crowsnest theatre with his scene-stealing supporting role in Jez Butterworth’s transatlantic hit play Jerusalem. Now, Campbell’s back on the boards for the lead role in a production of Florian Zeller’s acclaimed play about dementia, The Father. With one day of rehearsal under his belt, the charismatic 66-year-old actor spoke to The Globe and Mail about learning his lines and losing his mind.

There was a screening last year of my 1994 film Boozecan. The theatre was jammed. I don’t even have a copy of that film any more. I took my copy to Russia, where I was pitching a film on the KHL, the professional hockey league. I got to meet one of the big oligarchs. I was taken over there, everything paid for, for four weeks. But the film never happened. I left them my copy of Boozecan and the episodes of Da Vinci’s Inquest I directed, but they never sent them back to me. I won’t bother replacing them at this point. I’m always losing things.

I’m doing a new production of Florian Zeller’s [The] Father. We just had three or four days of round-table readings, just trying it out and joking and analyzing it to death. It was great.

The reason this play has all these prizes is that whether you’re reading it or watching it, it gives you the sense of what it must be like losing your marbles. It’s so skilfully done.

Campbell, photographed in rehearsal with Michelle Monteith, is starring in The Father at Toronto's Coal Mine Theatre this February.

Christopher Katsarov/Globe and Mail

My head’s just swimming right now. Today was our first day of rehearsals, and I haven’t been on stage for a year. It’s daunting. It’s like you’ve never done it before. The first day you put a play on its feet, you feel like that. It’s probably normal. Everybody goes through it. Or at least they say they do.

There are 14 things going through your mind. You’re worried about remembering your lines. I’ve always done it where I don’t get rid of my script until the last day of rehearsals – until they force you to hand it over. We really don’t have a lot of time with this production, so for the last three months I’ve been trying to remember my lines. The problem with that for me is that when I’m not rehearsing it, there’s a good shot it’s going to come out like The Lord’s Prayer. There’s no thought behind it – I’m just reciting it. So, I have that to worry about.

Ever since I had my stroke a few years ago, I’m constantly looking for signs that I’m losing my marbles. I don’t even smoke weed any more, because I’m so worried about it. But, so far, I’m okay.

I don’t mind reading for a part. But these days, I have to read for everything. I’ve never been accepted in the theatre community here. They don’t come to me, probably because I’ve done so much television. Maybe they think if they cast me, I’m going to blow them off.

I’m in the CBC series Coroner. I’m loving it, and I hope they ask me back for the second season.

I prefer theatre, though. I’m not worried about the money. I have a few beans put away. I get money from ACTRA. We paid off our two condos. So, I can get by on what theatre pays. If I could go from theatre job to theatre job, I probably would. Especially if it’s as good as this play I’m doing now.

The Father runs Feb. 6 to 24 (Feb. 3 and 5, previews) at Coal Mine Theatre in Toronto.

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