Glen Gould was born the day after his uncle, Donald Marshall Jr., was sentenced to life in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. The shock sent Gould’s mother into labour.
Four decades later, “Junior,” as the late Donald Marshall was called, continues to influence Gould’s life – and career – as an aboriginal actor.
Just how much is apparent in his performance in Charlie Zone, a violent thriller featuring the darker side of Halifax as its backdrop.
Gould stars as a washed-up aboriginal boxer, Avery, who works on the waterfront and becomes involved in a plot to abduct a junkie. Halifax has been divided into three zones as part of a citywide policing strategy – Alpha, Bravo and Charlie. Charlie Zone is the North End of town, which has a lot of crime.
In addition to the relentless violence, there is an underlying theme of marginalized people – first nations, junkies, gang members, ethnic groups –fighting to fit in.
No stranger to this shadier side of life is Gould, who comes from Membertou, N.S., a Mi’kmaq community in Cape Breton. “You’re drinking, you’re fighting downtown, you’re doing drugs, you’re selling drugs sometimes. I’ve been there, I’ve done all that,” he says, noting there is a feeling of “despair” for aboriginal and other youth in Cape Breton.
Cape Bretoners Michael Melski and Joseph LeClair wrote the film that Melski then directed. It had its premiere at the Atlantic Film Festival in 2011, where it won best feature and Gould took home the outstanding performance award.
“Everybody in the film is culturally dislocated,” says Melski, who made the movie for $1.23-million. (This is Melski’s second film; he is also a playwright.) In addition to Gould’s character, there is a young white female drug addict, who comes from an upper-middle-class background, and a young African-Canadian man and a Lebanese-Canadian character, who runs a crack house.
Although the film was made several years ago, the idea of trying to escape cultural stereotypes and isolation resonate today in the Idle No More movement.
The two main characters, Gould and the young junkie, initially hate each other but begin to recognize a common desire to be better, says Melski. They become allies in that fight – just as Gould and others have become allies in the fight for aboriginal rights.
“I am very vocal when it comes to aboriginal rights. I mean, I grew up in a political family. I can’t help it, it’s in my blood,” he says.
But he struggled growing up. He quit school after Grade 8. With no job prospects, Gould had a lot of time on his hands to get into trouble.
At 17, his parents shipped him off to live with his uncle, Junior Marshall, in Halifax. Gould had grown up travelling to federal penitentiaries in Dorchester, N.B., or Springhill, N.S., to visit his uncle, who spent 11 years behind bars before being acquitted in 1983.
His eventual release sparked a commission that laid bare the prejudices against aboriginal people in the justice system. Later, Donald Marshall Jr. fought a court battle that changed the way aboriginal fishing is governed.
“He took me under his wing,” recalls Gould. “He told my Mom, ‘If you’re having a hard time I’ll give him a kick in the butt and straighten him out.’”
Around that time, filming began on Justice Denied, a movie about Marshall’s life. The courtroom scenes were shot in Halifax, and Gould was an extra. He became hooked on acting.
In Billy Merasty, the actor who played his uncle, he saw a “real native guy” who was succeeding. Merasty told him about Native Earth Performing Arts in Toronto, a non-profit organization that helps aboriginal actors.
Gould went there – and eventually landed a role in a play on Ontario’s Manitoulin Island. His acting career took off from there – although there have been a few bumps along the road.
Most recently, he produced and directed a play, Thunderstick, in Toronto, starring two aboriginal actors. Gould is also one of the stars in APTN’s Cashing In, a dramatic comedy that revolves around life at a casino in a first-nations community in Manitoba.
Self-taught as an actor, Gould has learned from his famous uncle, who was just 55 when he died in 2009 of kidney failure.
“I learned a lot of good morals; how to protect yourself. There are people out there you can’t trust,” he says.
He also learned how to fight.
“The last punch in the opening fight scene [in Charlie Zone], I actually hit the guy and cut his eye open.… I hit him and I was like, ‘Ow, damn,’ and he went down and he didn’t get up,” recalls Gould. “That was a left hook, which was my uncle’s signature move.”