Picture the scene: A fancy hotel suite in Toronto with an array of sofas and seats. The three Trailer Park Boys walk into the room wearing their trademark outfits. John Paul Tremblay (who plays Julian) is in his black T-shirt with rum and Coke in hand. Robb Wells (Ricky) is in his usual cheap athletic wear, hair in a pompadour. And Mike Smith (Bubbles) has his Roy Rogers shirt.
Do they lounge on the sofa chairs as film and TV stars usually do? No, the three are sitting in a row, hunched behind a buffet spread. Smith is sipping a can of energy drink called Full Throttle. He immediately asks the others whether they are supposed to be in character or out.
Usually the three only do their interviews in character, since the whole gimmick behind the Trailer Park Boys series and now Trailer Park Boys: The Movie is that they are poor, swearing hosers being filmed by a documentary crew. But even as themselves, the actors aren't light years away from the boys.
Wells, for one, who is 35, sounds exactly like Ricky in the character's more solemn moment, as he explains that "You draw on different things. Some of it is from people you knew growing up. One third of the character I'm based on a guy [I knew]who constantly messed up words, and I'd write them down. There are different bits and pieces of a few people."
Wells talks the most and with his direct stare, seems to blink his eyes far less than most people.
Then Tremblay, 38, starts speaking quietly. Like Julian, he's not entirely sure of the exact words when describing the uncanny fact that somehow every fan of the show, without exception, either seems to know someone like the boys, no matter what part of Canada they are from or they seem to have known the characters themselves.
"You hear that from everybody. Everybody knows a Ricky, Julian or Bubbles and went to high school with these guys or lived next door to people like us. It's unreal," Tremblay says. He is originally from Halifax and grew up in the same neighbourhood as Wells in the Dartmouth, Nova Scotia suburb of Cole Harbour. Wells is originally from Moncton. Tremblay apparently rode around a lot on his dirt bike back then, while Wells played soccer, eventually gaining a spot on the Nova Scotia provincial team while in high school.
The two became friends with Trailer Park Boys creator Mike Clattenburg. Fast-forward to the late 1990s, when the three made the short film One Last Shot and the tiny 1999 indie feature Trailer Park Boys.
Producer Barrie Dunn saw the film at the Atlantic Film Festival and sold the idea to the cable network Showcase. But he left one the most subtly funny, smaller parts to himself, playing Rick's ex-trucker dad Ray on the show, who opened Season 6 last spring with a story line about his habit of peeing into plastic milk jugs like he did in his trucking days and throwing them randomly around the trailer park. ("The way of the road, Bubs," he tells Bubbles, who is aghast.)
Meanwhile, Smith, 34, grew up in Thorburn and played hockey and guitar. By the early 1990s, he was playing in the band Sandbox, signed to EMI and Nettwerk Records, and recorded two albums. He then got into soundtrack composing and sound recording at film shoots. A friend of Clattenburg, he was the sound man for the original 1999 film. That's when he introduced Bubbles to the director.
"It was a character that I had done for years, just goofin' around," Smith says, in a voice obviously completely unlike Bubbles's. It's more like an adult Opie, two or three octaves lower and gruffer, but with a boyish edge to it. And unlike the others, he doesn't have makeup on for the day's publicity shots, as he sits in the middle of the three in front of the food, sipping on the energy drink.
"I was goofing around doing that character on set between takes and stuff, putting on the glasses. Mike saw me doing this one day and told me to come to his house one night. He wanted to interview this character. So he set up a camera. I put the glasses on, and he started asking me these questions. I didn't realize it at the time, but he was getting me to do an audition."
Bubbles then became the lead of another short film by Clattenburg, The Cart Boy, shot on digital video mainly to introduce the character to Showcase. Although the network gave the show ample freedom with its swearing, gunplay and trailer-park stereotypes, it was unsure about Bubbles, which on paper seemed rather dead and derogatory.
Smith in person is obviously the most unlike his character. He has none of Bubbles's breathlessness, and without the Coke-bottle glasses, his eyes look a little red and strained. The three are in the middle of rounds of interviews, many in character. Smith says that doctors have told him the glasses help his vision because it gives his eyes a workout.
Like Bubbles, Smith acts like a balancing force between Tremblay and Wells. While the two sit fairly stoically at the table playing with the Danishes -- this is out of character, right? -- Smith shows an extra human side.
"I ruin more takes than anybody from laughing. I'll just crack up at something another guy does," he says.
"We're all at that level," given the seven seasons they've now shot together, plus the movie, "that if one guy breaks, that's it. We all break," Wells says.
Is there still room for the characters to grow and more seasons to come? The boys think there are many seasons to come, and Clattenburg is convinced there could be a sequel to the current film. Not to be confused with the original 1999 feature, the new film feels a lot like the series, yet introduces the characters at Sunnyvale trailer park for audiences who don't know them. Clattenburg, and the boys are so happy with Season 7, that they think, edited down, it could become a sequel to the film.
Meanwhile, the new film is still looking for a U.S. distributor. Clattenburg says the Trailer Park Boys series easily plays to American fans, who have sent messages to him, having seen the series off the Internet . Yet he and the film's producers, including executive producer Ivan Reitman, are looking to the possibly of introducing it to American audience at the Sundance festival in January.
In the meantime, do the boys ever get sick of each other after all these years, especially Tremblay and Wells who have known each other for so long? They all live in and around the Halifax area. Season 7 was even written in Wells's garage in Dartmouth, surrounded by motorcycles, broken car parts and propane cans. Tremblay and Wells even once owned a chain of pizza restaurants together called J.R. Capone's. Smith, meanwhile, has opened his own called Bubbles Mansion in Halifax. No, they all agree with a shrug. It just feels like family.