Barry Flatman laughs after being told he sounds like Donald Trump when he describes what it was like making Private Eyes.
“The producers are great people, and they hire great people,” he says, unwittingly mimicking the U.S. presidential hopeful. “They are all terrific people.”
The prolific Victoria-born actor, whose lighthearted crime drama series premières May 26 at 9 p.m. on Global TV, chalks it up to unbridled enthusiasm.
“It was such a joy to work on. I’m very proud of it,” says Flatman, who plays Don Shade, a blue-collar hockey dad whose son Matt (Jason Priestley) is a Porsche-driving former professional hockey player-turned-P.I. Each week, Matt and feisty partner Angie Everett (Cindy Sampson) trade tips and barbs while investigating high-stakes crimes.
While hockey is a key ingredient, playing the game wasn’t a pre-requisite. It didn’t hurt, however, that Flatman is a longtime Toronto Maple Leafs season-ticket holder and a rabid Montreal Canadiens fan.
A side benefit, he says, was getting to work with another West Coast native — Vancouver-born Priestley. “I love the man. He’s a total pro and he plays hard every day and he’s a great father,” says Flatman, a proud father of two himself. “I’d take a bullet for him.”
Not that Flatman, 65, needs another brush with death. When he turned 55, the Hamilton-based actor, who once appeared in one of London Life’s Freedom 55 commercials, was diagnosed with oral cancer.
Ironically, unlike the young retiree he portrayed, retiring at age 55 wasn’t an option or even a desire for the former cigar smoker.
He did, however, have to turn down a role in the Michael Douglas thriller The Sentinel to have critical surgery that removed part of his tongue.
He also had to undergo six months of intensive speech therapy, but it didn’t diminish his determination to “get on with it,” says Flatman, who is now cancer-free.
The actor, who has also had both knees replaced, was soon trekking in the Himalayas and resuming his career. “This is one of the happiest times in my life,” says Flatman, who arrived back in Victoria Thursday as part of a western Canada road trip from Calgary with his girlfriend, Wendy O’Brien.
These days, Flatman, who has played lawyers, cops, judges, reporters, police chiefs, generals, CEOs, headmasters and American presidents (Earth: Final Conflict), is acting his age more.
“The parts are less, but you’re never too old for this,” he says. “I always think of Chief Dan George [The Outlaw Josey Wales], and how old he was when he did those films.”
Flatman’s credits, which stretch back to guest-starring roles in 1980s TV shows such as Night Heat and Street Legal, include his high-profile gig as the voice of Honda, playing U.S. presidential nominee Martin Sheen’s campaign manager in David Cronenberg’s 1983 thriller The Dead Zone, voicing Gyrich in the X-Men cartoons, roles in Cruel Intentions 2, Saw III and appearances in the TV series Hannibal and This is Wonderland.
More recent credits include the TV movie Amber Alert, the upcoming Colin Hanks comedy No Stranger Than Love, playing General Bennett in The Kennedys mini-series and playing Joseph M. Schenck, the Twentieth Century Fox chairman who helped launched Marilyn Monroe’s film career, in The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe.
Then there’s his role as Wally Semenchko, the tough security chief for Stavros Milos (Oliver Platt), the Supermarket King of Minnesota, in Fargo, the TV series.
“I put on 40 pounds to play that guy,” said Flatman, who got to stare down Billy Bob Thornton. “Wally was a sociopath, basically, and massive. If he was hit by a car, the car would go to the hospital.”
Flatman, who also appeared in the final three episodes of the AMC series Hell on Wheels, has played some juicy roles onstage, too. He earned glowing reviews for playing Big Daddy in a production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Montreal’s Segal Centre, and George W. Bush in David Hare’s searing political drama Stuff Happens.
Flatman says he has a hard time looking at what he does as “a job,” and never takes it for granted. “If you work at something you love, you never really work a day in your life,” he says, hastening to add that rarely a day goes by when he doesn’t wonder where his next paycheque is coming from. “In this industry, there is no safety net, so you had better be on top of your game.”
It’s that uncertainty that prompted Flatman, a former president of the Actors’ Fund of Canada, to join the board of the Toronto chapter of PAL (Performing Arts Lodges), the charitable organization that creates and sustains affordable housing and support services for performing arts workers in need.
“We’ve created a place where you can age with dignity within these communities,” he said. “You never know when calamity is going to hit.”