Gemini and Dora Award-winning actor Eric Peterson is best known for his television roles in Street Legal and Corner Gas and for his stage role in Billy Bishop Goes to War . He is appearing in SEEDS at Toronto’s Young Centre for the Performing Arts (Distillery District) from Feb. 18 to March 10, and will be performing this spring and summer in Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre productions of You Can’t Take It With You and The Sunshine Boys .
Where did you see movies as a kid?
I grew up in Indian Head, Sask., and they had a movie theatre there called the Gary Theatre, named after the son of the guy who owned it. It was a town of 1,800 people, and we were one of the few in those parts that did have a movie theatre. It had that rococo design, a marquee that came out over the sidewalk, two posters on either side of the door and a little central box office.
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday was one movie, Thursday, Friday, Saturday was a different movie. Saturday afternoon was a special [kids]program. When I was small, I would go on Saturday afternoon. It was a huge thrill. Of course, there was no television. It was the highlight of the entertainment as a kid.
Did you stay in town long enough to take dates to that theatre?
Oh yes. When you got into high school, you were allowed to go if you had your homework done. When I got older, I was allowed to go on Friday or Saturday nights.
You could go to the Monday/Tuesday show and see two movies in the week. It didn’t matter what the movie was, you went to see all of them.
What movie stands out from those days of your youth?
The first James Bond movie with Sean Connery [ Dr. No] I still remember seeing that.
I’m not sure that I’d have become an actor if not for that theatre. It was as if there was a wall in the town and a curtain would draw back and there was a whole other world.
Do you still go to the movies?
I live in Toronto. I still go, but I don’t go as often. So much of the modern movie world is formulaic.
What of the modern theatre experience: the multi-screen humongous-plex arcade and food court-type place?
It’s a bit like going through an airport. It is a necessary evil, these kind of facilities, but all I want to do is get in the theatre and sit in my seat – but then I’m oppressed by the ads.
Technological advances have increased movie-viewing options. Does seeing films using more personal options – laptops and hand-held devices – deny the in-theatre experience you recall so fondly?
Oh yeah. One of my favourite movies is Lawrence of Arabia. I can remember first seeing that in university in Saskatoon. David Lean’s use of [Super Panavision] that big wide screen, doesn’t really work today. The size of the canvas they worked with back then was quite wonderful.
To draw viewers back into the theatres and away from personal devices, film studios are resorting to technology unavailable at home – Imax and 3-D, for example. Are they just gimmicks, or do they add to a film?
I think 3-D is a gimmick. The computer-generated stuff like in The Lord of the Rings is impressive and the special effects are amazing, but they are special effects. The real thrill is a good story and character.
Have you seen yourself on the big screen?
Yeah, in Billy Bishop Goes to War. The first time I have ever seen myself on screen.
How does it feel to see yourself 20 feet tall?
Pretty impressive. It’s quite a thrill, but it’s very difficult to look at yourself as a performer. You are dealing with an experience you had from the inside and, suddenly, you are looking at it from the outside. I’m not convinced looking at myself in any way helps me to be a better actor. I’d rather not see myself.
Do you clap at the end of a good movie?
I seldom clap, no. Now we’re getting to my preference for live theatre: where you are watching live people work and being live people as opposed to people watching a machine. A lot of modern cinema wants me to suspend my imagination to watch their imagination.
Do you stay to watch the closing credits?
A lot of times, I will. That will happen at a movie that works for me. I will just sit there in this altered emotional state. There is something quite calming about sitting there and watching these names go by and acknowledging this accomplishment, my appreciation of these people’s hard work.
On hand-held devices, credits must be unreadable. Not only does the small screen diminish a film, it diminishes credit to those who made it.
Oh, yeah. Cellphones and texting and small screens have replaced smoking as a habit. It is a way not to be in the present.
Is it a geezerish truism to believe that the movie theatre experience of one’s youth was better and richer than that experienced by today’s generation watching on laptops and hand-held devices?
It may be for me, but it’s a continually changing form. There is just too much in the culture to know good and worse. They are just not what I’m used to.
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