Busy though they are, what with their hilarious new show Almost Heroes set to premiere June 2 on Showcase at 9 p.m., Calgary-born show creators and executive producers Jason and Ryan Belleville (the latter of which also stars in it) and hilarious fellow Canuck actor/improv virtuoso Colin Mochrie (Whose Line is it Anyway?) were cool enough to chat with Cadence.
Poignantly close to home, the Bellevilles’ latest project (both have amassed an extensive list of credits in TV) follows the slice-of-life adventures of Terry (a refined and prosperous Harvard Business School attendee, well played by Battlestar Gallactica’s Paul Campbell) and his not quite down-to-earth brother, Peter (Ryan), as they both set out to save the family comic book store from bankruptcy.
Ryan comments that “[Jason and I] love working together, and we wanted to do something about brothers, obviously, because that was close to home for us. And family is always a great dynamic because you can’t walk away from each other. It’s great for drama, the fact that you have to be tied to these people even if you don’t – you have to love the people, but not like your family.”
Although Terry may love his brother, it’s understandable why he doesn’t appreciate him too much; after all, he has come home from school for his father’s funeral only to find out he must ditch his long-term career plans and help his sibling save the family business.
Friction aside, Peter and Terry are family in the end, and as Jason adds, “For this show, the brother dynamic – when I was younger, and I was working too hard, this guy [looks to Ryan], my brother, came along and reminded me to play more . . . and I try to remind him to be a little more serious. And that’s sort of the bedrock of the relationship of the brothers. Terry is the serious guy who’s got his life pulled together, and Peter’s the goof-off, but they both need each other; they both need to be more like the other one a little bit.”
For Terry though, the fact remains that he now finds himself back home and working in the same old strip-mall, a place which holds a few memories too many. As Jason states, “It is a return to that kind of old social structure where Terry, who’s worked so hard to reinvent himself as a cool guy and a success who’s not associated with this world, has to come back and work the comic book store with his brother. Besides, [it’s] the store where the popular girls used to make fun of them, and [it’s] beside the sporting goods store where the owner [is] the same jock who treated him like crap in high school. You’ve come so far, but you’re back . . . ”
Jason goes on to say, “We call it a purgatory . . . You’re in your mid-20s or early 30s sometimes, and you’re not a doctor, you’re not a lawyer, you haven’t really found that niche. You don’t know what you are — you’re not a kid; you’re not a grown-up – and so you’re there. And some characters, like Boyd [Colin Mochrie, awesome as usual as the mall's, as Jason describes, mysterious "Yoda character"], maybe have gone away and come back to it.”
Having drawn upon a lot of back-home working experiences, Colin remarks, ” . . . I was dressed as a giant chicken, handing out fliers. It was pretty bad; got attacked by a Doberman [laughs].” The show’s extremely talented crew and cast (which also includes Lars and The Real Girl’s Lauren Ash as long-time Sassitude employee, Bernie; Chloe’s Meghan Heffern as Bernie’s boss, Candi; two-time Canadian Comedy Award-nominee Dave Hemstad as the sporting goods store’s manager, Dan; and The Border’s Athena Karkanis as property manager, Rayna), have succeeded admirably in bringing the show’s strip mall setting to life.
It’s the sort of rundown shopping – and socializing – centre that’s best described in the following quote from Jason: “Just having any place where the only mall near you was the crappy mall – you don’t want to go there, but you still go to it because the good mall’s farther away. We built that perfect, hopefully, crappy mall where it’s the coffee shop nobody really wants to go to, the comic book store that the patrons go to – everybody else goes to it because it’s kind of there. The same with that girls clothing store you wouldn’t go to if you had three minutes more to go to a place where they didn’t just sell jeans.”
Shooting in their own private mini-mall and working with the tightest of shooting schedules, Colin looks back very fondly on the whole experience: “It has the elements of magic, I find with this show – just the entire cast that came together, each person brings so much stuff to their character. And as people that bring so much stuff to the table, it’s fun. The crew – unmatched I think – I’ve worked a lot, but this has been a great crew. Everybody just fell in love with the project, and you know, the tone was set by these guys [motions to Jason and Ryan], you see them working off whenever they – watching them have a conversation about it: ‘So, do you think–,’ ‘Yeah–.’ They never finish a sentence yet they somehow come together and write this magical comedy. It felt like one of those lucky properties where everything has come together, and having seen it, it’s just marvellous.”
Indeed, when it comes to working 17-hour days, filming with complex shots and longer takes, and covering 13 or 14 pages of script a day – as the Bellevilles report – such high and inspired morale is key.
On inspiration, Colin says, “My wife [Single White Spenny’s Debra McGrath] inspires me; not only with the business part, but how she lives her life. She’s a much better person than I am, so I sort of strive for that – fail a lot, but I learn from it; so she inspires me. She’s a quality person and she’s really – we’ve been married 22 years, and I’m such a different person from the man that married her – in a better way.”
Meanwhile, the Bellevilles find inspiration in each other, as Jason reports, “Obviously our parents pushed us in this direction. We have a lot of friends, influences, but – we’ll work on stuff separately through the years. But it’s always better when we’re playing together.” Ryan adds, “I’ve never done anything as good as I’ve done with my brother . . . You have that competitiveness, where you’re always trying to one-up each other, but then the supportiveness. It’s really important, somebody who you can really commit to telling good comedy; it’s important.”
Even though a little inspiration one can get one far, dedication, hard work, and a willingness to fail is absolutely essential, as Ryan states: “Do be happy to fail, and get up, put yourself out there. People always want to sit there and go, ‘How do I get that? I want to be a comedian, how do I get that?’ ‘Well, do you go on stage?’ ‘I don’t.’ Go on stage, fail, write a script, show it to somebody. If somebody tells you that your very first script you ever wrote isn’t good, and why it’s not good, don’t go, ‘Ohhh, they’re wrong.’ Just go, ‘Maybe it isn’t.’ Write another script. You can always get better, but you have to be willing to fail and accept that it’s an inevitable part of getting better.”
Colin adds, “And keep at it because it’s hard enough in the business anyway – it’s hard in Canada because of various restrictions. But man, if it’s something you’re thinking about giving a try for a couple months or a year, you can’t, you have to go in it full-time. . . . We’ve all been through times where it’s really rock-bottom: ‘I have no idea how I’m gonna make rent . . . ‘ As I say, you gotta do it; failing is – especially in comedy, you can’t read a book . . . you have to be in front of an audience and see what people laugh at, what your weaknesses and what your strengths are.”
As Jason says, “Because we have weaknesses – and that’s important – not being afraid and learning from the failures.”
For more info on Almost Heroes, be sure to visit the show’s page.