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After playing Layton, actor Rick Roberts tries Harper on for size

Rick Roberts as the Prime Minister in Proud by Michael Healey.

David Cooper

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.")

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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."

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