Their now iconic Canadian mockumentary series was cancelled this month after seven adventurous seasons. Perhaps it is a sad moment in Canadian television history, for we’ve grown rather fond of Julian, Ricky, Bubbles and the others, whatever their foibles, if not because of them. But as they say, all good things must come to an end, and going out on top is never a bad option. Trailer Park Boys has justifiably developed a large and rather energetic following, not just in Canada but, remarkably, around the world (the show was just launched, for instance, in Poland on Comedy Central Polska). And no doubt it will survive for years in syndication. Which perhaps raises the question, why quit now?
Nevertheless, a sequel to the rather ineffectual Trailer Park Boys: The Movie, tentatively entitled Countdown to Liquor Day, is scheduled for release in October of 2009, and one hopes it sticks more closely to the gritty television series both in spirit and form than the first movie did, though either way true fans will want to see Ricky, Julian, and Bubbles in what may be their final appearance. Hard as it is to imagine, the boys will be moving on to bigger and better things. But one has to wonder what Robb Wells (Ricky), J. P. Tremblay (Julian), and Mike Smith (Bubbles), really plan to do with themselves once the show is history. For the last seven years they have appeared in public almost exclusively as their characters, not as themselves, and one would be hard-pressed to give a summary profile of these actors, these men, apart from the roles they animate so hilariously in the series.
Here at TORO we were asked before we spoke to the trio if we wanted them in or out of character. It posed an interesting question. We discussed it at length and decided that perhaps it would be intriguing to interview the actors as themselves, not in character, since we knew almost next to nothing about them. Maybe they would shed some light on who they really were and what their dreams and aspirations were; it’s all one can ask of an interviewee. The results speak for themselves, perhaps not as comical as one would anticipate, and perhaps not as illuminating as one would hope. The three actors, even after being interviewed, remain somewhat mysterious. And one can admit a tendency, even when speaking to Mike Smith, for example, as a very thoughtful Mike Smith and not as Bubbles, to forget that these guys are not the characters they play. That the blokes on the Trailer Park Boys are inventions, albeit very believable ones, is something this interviewer had to keep reminding himself. Perhaps not a bad thing when all is said and done. Then again....
Q: The original pilot was much more serious, with characters addicted to coke, etc. Julian and Ricky try to rob a bank, get caught and go to jail. How and why did you make the transition from the dark pilot to the lighter more ridiculous comedy it is?
Robb: Well we did one pilot before and it was, I think, more comedy than anything. And then we tried to go a little darker.
Q: Trailer Park Boys has been a phenomenal success in Canada, and has become a staple in Canadian culture. Is it safe to say you haven’t been received as well south of the border? Is the show so Canadian as to escape the sensibilities of our American friends? And what about around the world, do others get it?
Mike: No, it actually airs in quite a few countries around the world. And it does well, it translates well in most places. It airs in Germany and it’s dubbed, and in Poland, and in Italy where it’s dubbed, and places like that. People actually watch it.
Q: I’d love to watch it in Italian.
Mike: I would too.
J. P.: The Italian Bubbles sounds like Scooby-Doo [laughs].
Mike: So it’s going to start airing in the U.S. in January on DirecTV. We’re looking forward to just seeing basically how it does.
Q: Do you have a sense of its importance as a Canadian cultural entity, of the strong affection Canadians have for it and its characters?
Mike: Oh yeah, for sure. We do a lot of travelling for public appearances in character and stuff, so we get to see first-hand the impact it has on people around the country. Our fans are true fanatics.
Q: Are you conscious of it as a study or examination of living on the margins of society? Underneath all the laughter this does seem to resonate, and perhaps gives the show its pathos.
Mike: It is about people who are down-and-out. But we don’t get carried away with the socioeconomic thing.
Robb: People like this exist.
Q: Do you think the movie did justice to the dark comedy, tempo and, well, gritty feeling, of the TV series? Is it just that this is very much a television entity? Or is it a question of finding the right script?
J. P.: No, I don’t think it did it justice – it didn’t translate well. I think it can with the movie we’ve got coming out next year. I think you’ll see it does translate, or will translate, very well on the big screen. The movie we did last year, or two years ago whenever it was, that was like a joint effort with an American company and there was definitely American influence there.
Q: Don’t get me wrong. The movie was okay. But I love the television series: it’s a different animal.
Mike: The movie was Hollywood-ized, for sure. It sort of missed. It did stay true to the TV show as much as it could have, but it was what it was. The movie that’s coming out next year is much more like the TV series, more back to the roots of the show, more documentary style.
Q: And that’s very much the magic of it, that grittiness, that blurring of the line between documentary and drama.
Mike: Yeah, the new movie’s a lot more like that. We tried to stay true to the original and I think we did.
Q: How do you approach character and plot development? Is it season to season, or is there a bigger overarching narrative – or is it all ad libbed?
Robb: Most of it is season to season, though some stuff is thought out in advance, including some stuff that you don’t necessarily get to use. Everything is fully scripted, but we do get to improvise from the script and, well, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But we always try to stick to what works.
Q: The show portrays the lowest common denominator in society, yet each episode has strong themes of friendship and family values.
Robb: That was always the goal. To have these crazy characters, but when you strip all the guns and swearing away it comes down to family and love.
Q: Describe if you will the staging and filming of the shootout scenes? They’re hilarious. Everyone’s just firing at each other (without much provocation) and barely aiming, but the minute someone gets hurt, everyone stops. How’d that develop and how much fun is it to act out?
J. P.: Part of it came from – so many people in the world carry guns and probably 70 per cent are scared shitless to use them. So it’s like you’re trying to scare people more than kill them.
Mike: Yeah, it’s a total satire of, you know, the ridiculousness of guns. Everyone’s firing at each other and Ricky will say, “Someone is going to get hurt here.” And they’ll stop.
Q: I interviewed Spencer Rice of Kenny vs. Spenny and he talked about pushing the envelope in terms of blurring the lines between real life and the show. As actors, you’ve managed to keep your real selves almost completely cloaked. At what point does the identification with the character stop and start?
Mike: For me I was a huge Spinal Tap fan. Spinal didn’t do any interviews with their actors out of character. I remember being a kid and seeing them on Saturday Night Live, and they played a song called “Christmas with the Devil.” And then they did an interview, and, I was only a kid, but I remember thinking that they were a real band. And then I saw the movie. A lot of people didn’t know – even with the credits and the actors names and everything – people didn’t know they were not real. Something about that stuck with me.
Q: I guess you must run into that a lot, where people have a hard time separating the TV characters from the actors.
Mike: We run into fans all the time that deep down must know these characters aren’t real, but they don’t seem to want to believe that. They want to believe that they are these real people that they can talk to and get to know. We do so much stuff in character, like public appearances and stuff, and people everywhere want to talk to Ricky and Julian like they’re real people.
Q: But you guys have pushed the envelope. As I said, you’ve been remarkably cloaked, as actors, as flesh-and-blood human beings. But it makes me wonder what happens at the end of the show. There’s talk of it ending in 2009.
Robb: That’s what they’re telling us, yeah. As for what we’re going to be doing after it – there’s a few projects we’ve been working on over the years. And maybe it’ll be time to develop those, I guess.
J. P.: We’ve had talks about playing ourselves in another show. We’re trying to develop that now.
Q: Mike Clattenburg announced that the sequel movie, scheduled for Canadian release in October of 2009, will mark “the end of Trailer Park Boys,” and that no additional seasons will be made. It’s been a good run. What’s your feeling about it coming to an end?
J. P.: We’re sad.
Mike: Yeah, it’s sad.
Robb: But it’s kind of mixed emotions, too, because we’ll be working on new stuff.
Q: What about creating a Trailer Park Boys movie franchise down the road, Ã la James Bond?
Robb: Well, I guess time will tell. All that will have to be worked out, I guess.
Mike: Yeah. We’ll see.
Salvatore Difalco is, among many things, senior writer for TORO and the author of Black Rabbit & Other Stories.