WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 22, 2017
 
Blog TALKING TO
HUGH DILLON
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As the lead singer of The Headstones, Hugh Dillon became Canada’s first homegrown, home-ground rock star. He was the portrait of the artist as an angry young man. But Dillon’s anger was cool. And it produced some amazing music as well as some great sound bites. “No bullshit” would almost become his mantra when talking to press about his band, his music and now, as he becomes one of Canada’s major television and film stars, about his performances.

“What makes this album special?” someone would ask. “No bullshit.” “Do you think you’ll be able to reach a larger audience?” “Who cares?” And he’s on to the next interview.

Director Bruce McDonald cast Dillon as the lead in his ode to rock ´n´ roll, Hard Core Logo, giving the rocker his start in film. Since then, he´s has become the star of several television series, including Flashpoint and more recently Durham County.

Dillon met with TORO in a ceiling-to-carpet-windowed room on the 16th floor of the Corus Entertainment head office. The view of Lake Ontario is stunning but it gives way to his presence. Even after a full day of cameras and press, he’s up for conversation. There´s no mohawk like there used to be. Mike Sweeney, the detective he plays on Durham County, is bald. But he owns this new style, the same way he´s owned everything in his career, even the setbacks. This is him. No bullshit.

Q: I’ve known of Hugh Dillon since my days of listening to The Headstones. It’s always struck me that if you´re heading a punk band you need to have a large dose of anger. Life’s been pretty good to you lately, what do you do with that anger when it disperses?
A: Yeah. All of us come to that crossroads and with me that anger turned inwards into self-destruction, and so I had to figure that out. And once you realize there’s no one else to blame you can’t lash out at other people and blame them for your issues. It turned things around. What it did was it freed me, it gave me focus. I could look at art in terms of liberation.

I love acting for that. And I love music to this day for that, because the funny thing about being youthful and bulletproof is that if you´re lucky you’ll outlive it, and if you’re not you burn out. It’s a long story, to answer your question. Once you get rid of that anger you get to experience art and a generosity and a camaraderie with other artists that is what originally got you into a rock band, or a punk band or whatever collective you got into. Anger is just one emotion. But there’s more, there’s so much more.

Q: But sometimes anger can take us places.
A: Yeah, sure it can. It got me here [laughs].

Q: I read somewhere that after a while you got to stop playing rock, you got to stop playing punk because after a certain age it doesn’t mean anything anymore.
A: It doesn’t mean anything anymore. It doesn’t. Song writing is one thing. You never have to stop putting words together or writing stories or telling them anyway you want. But you can’t write the same song over and over again, it’ll just make you angry.

Q: And you’re right back where you started.
A: Yes. It becomes a vicious circle.

Q: Did The Headstones played hard because they lived hard?
A: Well, that was part of it. It was a very authentic rock ´n´ roll unit and it went on for a long time. And it was the real deal, and it was a lot of fun. It was like anything – anything after a five- or six-year mark takes a downturn or implodes or explodes. We were just hard enough. There’s this Bob Dylan song that I love, "Tangled Up in Blue" – Drove that car as far as we could and abandoned it out West – and that’s what we did.

Q: Not surprisingly, your early appearance on film was in collaboration with director Bruce McDonald.
A: He set me up, him and Callum Rennie both. He taught me how to conduct myself in this form of entertainment. He taught me about filmmaking and acting and the honesty of it, and to bring the passion I have for rock ´n´ roll and find a way to make it work in film. If it weren’t for him I wouldn’t be here for the very simple reason because he’s such a kind, generous person and that is so disarming to a person like me.

That’s why I kind of like this world. Now I’ve met the people in Durham County who have the same kind of generosity of spirit and kindness. It makes you work harder. You want to give to these people because they’ve given you an opportunity to be yourself and to create something in an environment you feel empowered. And Bruce gave me that. And he also taught me to do it without the use of drugs and alcohol

Q: TORO had a conversation with Bruce about that recently. One of the things I put forward to Bruce about you, and I meant it as a compliment, and I thought later that perhaps you might not....
A: [Laughs.]

Q: Is the idea of you being the Canadian Bruce Willis.
A: That’s fine.

Q: Bruce [McDonald] thought you might be OK with that. He said you were a fan of Die Hard. [Ed. note: Bruce actually said, “I don’t think Hugh has anything against Die Hard."]

TORO´s interview with Bruce McDonald

A: He got it wrong. Die Hard’s a good movie, but what I was a fan of was Twelve Monkeys. Because I just thought, "Holy fuck! That’s that guy from Moonlighting!"

I’m a fan of actors in general – actors, musicians, writers and filmmakers – that’s where my heart is, and that’s what took me a long time to figure out. I spent a long time searching for this kind of home. Now I see other people creating these great things.

I remember when I was in The Headstones and I got a record deal. I remember what it felt like out there in the world and how music changed so drastically in terms of Seattle and rock ´n’ roll – the whole face of rock ´n´ roll changed. And I was lucky enough to get a record deal at that time, I was in my 20s, and it just felt like that whole renaissance, and that something is happening and it was cool. I played rock ´n´ roll for a long time, and then The Spice Girls, "Fuck! What the fuck happened?"

And then again in my life to be in this renaissance in Canadian filmmaking and television is exceptional. Durham County is just mind-blowing. I knew it when I read the script. And I knew it when I read the script for the original pilot for Flashpoint. I just thought, "These are exceptional. Whether or not anybody hears or sees them around the world is not the point. It’s an exceptional, passionate piece."

What I find fascinating is meeting the people behind it, the producers and the writers before it´s cast, before anything else. And it was like Hard Core Logo. I met the producer and the director, Bruce, and they were looking at me as "the guy." So I got in at that level. That’s when I love it, when you’re talking to people. It’s the page and when you’re talking to the people who are going to create it. And when they give you that vibe of honesty and integrity you think anything could happen, this could be a hit. I find what [McDonald] taught me then is happening now. Tarantino picked up Hard Core Logo. Who’d have fuckin’ thought that? People didn’t even want to make that fuckin’ movie, let alone with me in it. Bruce fought hard for me; that’s why I’m forever in his debt. A decade later I find the same qualities in the producers of the shows I’m working on now. It’s exceptional.

Q: Flies in the face of the idea that filmmaking can be a breeding ground for pettiness and backstabbing.
A: I think somebody like me couldn’t work in that kind of environment. That’s where the punk background still exists because I just wouldn’t put up with it.

Q: That comes out a bit in a scene from the first episode of season two in Durham County, when your character chastises his daughter Sadie [Laurence Leboeuf] for her unsportsmanlike reaction to a bad call. Sadie responds with, “You’d have done the same thing, dad.”
A: That’s right.

Q: By the way, very professional of you to keep bringing up Durham County during this conversation because I’d get lost in the punk rock.
A: [Laughs.] That’s good. I love that lyric, "I’d get lost in the punk rock."

Q: Use it.
A: I will. "I’d get lost in the punk rock," let me write that down. [Scribbles on press release].

Q: Durham County – there’s something of a Twin Peaks going on here.
A: I never watched Twin Peaks. But what I find is that Durham County is hypnotic. I put this show on and it’s addictive. There’s something to be said for these filmmakers. Adrienne Mitchell’s got such an eye and such a vision. And her and [writer] Laurie [Finstad-Knizhnik] working together, they’re like Jagger/Richards. It’s fucking awesome to watch them go. And sometimes scary when all their attention turns to you. It’s a demanding trio, Adrienne, Janis [Lundman] and Laurie, the three of them because they are intellectual heavyweights.

Q: Do they have a bit of the punk rocker in them?
A: Oh fuck yeah. Adriane was. She was punk-rock chick. They all were. That’s why I think I relate to them. They have an uncanny ability to distill the truth out of all the bullshit that’s happening. That’s why we’re such great allies. I’m just 100 per cent committed to these folks and their project I’d follow them anywhere.

Usually you can find fault with somebody’s motives, but not these women. And the only way for you to win is to be acquiescent. The same with Bruce. Because I want to learn; I want to figure out how to get there. And so everything they say is there to help you. The writing is one thing, but the way it’s shot is so beautiful, and you got to get your head around it sometimes because the character is here but you don’t see the whole vision. And they’ve got such patience that they will explain the whole thing to you. They are just such powerful women and they got such vision. It’s exciting to be a part of it. They’re really unstoppable and they have such integrity. That’s what we were talking about with rock ´n´ roll. That’s why in the early days with punk, it was fuckin’ honest. You’re out there and you’re rockin’ there’s no bullshit. Everybody fuckin’ tell the truth and there won’t be any bullshit. And this has a lot of the same properties.

Q: You suggest the best strategy is to be acquiescent. Isn’t that a bit like needing to know the rules before you break the rules? You can only be acquiescent when you know you’re strong enough to fight?
A: Maybe "acquiescence" is the wrong word. You know what it is? It’s the ability to listen to someone else and having the patience for them to explain it. With me sometimes the bluster is just hiding the ignorance. I might have a big fuckin’ opinion, but a lot of times it´s just ignorance and once somebody has the patience to learn how you operate and educate you on things then things are a lot better. Sometimes it´s just fear.

Q: You did get some recognition from Tarantino through Hard Core Logo, but when checking out the cast list of Inglorious Basterds I don’t see your name.
A: [Laughs.]

Q: Is it going to happen? Is a Tarantino project coming down the road?
A: Who knows? I’m very happy doing Durham County. It doesn’t get any better than Durham or Flashpoint. If something else happened, it would be great. And if I could do another movie with Bruce McDonald that is where my sights lie. Quentin Tarantino is a master, anything would be great with him. But it’s not something I need to complete my career. My world is very full, I’m very satisfied.

Season 2 of Durham County is airing in Canada this summer, on TMN and Movie Central (Mondays at 9pm for both). Durham County will premiere on American television this fall. Season 1 will air on Ion Television, Mondays at 10pm, starting September 7.

Thom Ernst is a Toronto-based film writer and critic and the producer/interviewer of TVO´s long-running movie program Saturday Night at the Movies. For more from Thom, visit the Saturday Night at the Movies blog.

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