In keeping with modern political times, Fred Ewanuick is on a campaign of sweeping change.
In his own unique, unforceful way, Ewanuick says there are absolutely no similarities between his beloved Corner Gas character, Hank, and his title role on Dan for Mayor (premiering Monday on CTV). And he really means it.
"For one thing, right from the beginning, we decided Dan would never wear a hat. And so far, so good," says Ewanuick, speaking over the phone from Whistler, B.C., amid the Olympic Games.
And, this time, Ewanuick is the star of the show. Paired with Hiccups, which stars his former Gas castmate Nancy Robertson, on Monday nights, Dan for Mayor spins off Ewanuick's TV persona, albeit from a different perspective. On the new show, the good-natured comic actor is smarter, funnier and actually connected to the world around him.
Perhaps fittingly, the career path leading Ewanuick, 38, to his own TV series reads like a Canadian slacker success story. Of Italian-Ukrainian lineage, his family ran a trucking business in his hometown of Port Moody, B.C. While in high school, he took theatre arts, "but I came up with every excuse in the book not to have to do the plays because I was so nervous and shy," he recalls.
Ewanuick eventually enrolled in a local college to study English, women's studies and theatre. . He failed all three. He then auditioned and was accepted into the college's two-year theatre intensive program. He lasted one year. "I actually got asked to leave the theatre program," he says sheepishly.
But providence arrived from, of all people, his godmother, who worked at Science World in Vancouver. "She told me they needed show people," Ewanuick says, "and since I had theatre on my résumé, they hired me. I got paid to do these little theatre shows and science demonstrations for kids. I loved it."
Thereafter, Ewanuick applied his energies to acting full-time. He studied intensively with revered Vancouver acting coach Shea Hampton.
He made his small-screen debut - playing a gnome - on The Addams Family in 1998. Next came a succession of guest shots, on both Canadian shows, including Cold Squad and Da Vinci's Inquest, and U.S. network series, such as Dark Angel, Monk and Tru Calling, that were filming in town.
All Ewanuick's legwork and training coalesced in early 2004 with the arrival of an unassuming little Canadian sitcom called Corner Gas. Series creator and executive producer Brent Butt took the central role of genial Brent Leroy, who ran a gas station in fictional Dog River, Sask. Ewanuick was an immediate fit as Brent's childhood, and childlike, best buddy Hank, a genuine prairie dog who loved the Saskatchewan Roughriders and always wore a hat; every day was a bad-hair day for Hank.
The job lasted six seasons, with Corner Gas regularly pulling in a viewing audience of a million-plus weekly. By Ewanuick's account, the show hit a groove by the second or third season, by which point all the actors stopped acting and simply became the characters.
"It didn't feel like work and everyone couldn't wait to get on set every day. I learned a lot from Corner Gas."
Those lessons transferred over to Dan for Mayor, which is set in the fictional burg of Wessex, Ont., and casts Ewanuick as easy-going barkeep Dan Phillips, who exhibits some very un-Hank-like brash behaviour in the opening episode: When Dan's ex-girlfriend, Claire (Mary Ashton), announces that she has recently become engaged, his immediate response is to blurt out that he's running for mayor. "Hank would probably go burn down her shed or something," Ewanuick says.
Booked for a 13-episode run, Dan for Mayor was created and written by Corner Gas veterans Mark Farrell, Paul Mather and Kevin White, who devised the title character with Ewanuick in mind.
For Ewanuick, the big change is longer work days. "I'm sort of doing Brent's job now, acting-wise," he says. "On Corner Gas, I was only in a few scenes each episode; now I'm in every scene, every day, which was an adjustment. I really underestimated the workload."
But the everyman is not complaining. There are few homegrown actors who can jump from one prime-time series to another one and Ewanuick is wise enough to appreciate the difference. "Oh, it's rare, and I'm pretty grateful," he says. "In the Canadian TV industry, we don't have the luxury of waiting around or being choosy. I know I was really lucky to go right from Corner Gas into this new show. It wouldn't have been much longer before you would have seen me doing commercials for the local audio-video store."
Dan for Mayor launches on March 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET on CTV.