If Rick Roberts wins the Canadian Screen Award for his portrayal of Jack Layton in the CBC biopic Jack, he won’t be there to accept it; he’ll be in Victoria, playing Stephen Harper.
“Michael Ignatieff for the hat trick,” he jokes during a break in rehearsals for Michael Healey’s Proud, which opened at the Belfry on Thursday.
Roberts, 48, obsessed over getting the physicality right for Layton – watching videos, growing a mustache, and dropping weight. This time around, preparation was more cerebral, such as reading Paul Wells’s The Longer I’m Prime Minister. (Although Roberts says he shares one physical characteristic with Harper – “Lego hair.”)
Proud imagines a different outcome to the 2011 federal election, with Harper’s Conservatives – and not Layton’s New Democrats – dominating Quebec, propelling the party to an even bigger majority.
The Hamilton-born, Edmonton-raised, Toronto-based Roberts has also portrayed Harper on stage in skits at Toronto’s Wrecking Ball; and on screen, the murderous cult leader Jim Jones, and Conrad Black’s brother.
He’s not into playing politicians – that’s a coincidence – but in good, meaty roles. “Rob Ford is the only [politician] I look at and see this incredible story there,” he says. “I have a feeling I will not get the nod for that one. But I can always dream.”