Fans of the hour-long action-packed crime series Covert Affairs will probably recognize Canadian actor Ian Fisher immediately from his recurring role as Patrick on the fifth and final season of the Golden Globe nominated series, which aired internationally on USA Network last year.
While Fisher undoubtedly displays his capacity for drama in the fast-paced series, an aspect of his craft that he has shown through his performances in multiple other high-profile productions as well, the actor is also equipped with an unparalleled sense of humor and incredible comedic timing—something that easily shines through the text over the course of the interview below.
Last year Fisher both co-wrote and starred in the acclaimed production of “World Pride and Prejudice,” which ran during the 2014 World Pride Festival in Toronto at The Second City. He also recently wrapped production on the film Glory River directed by Black McWilliam, who produced the film The Little Deputy, which was nominated for awards at the Sundance Film Festival and SXSW Film Festival earlier this year.
Fisher’s unique upbringing, which he reveals in the interview, has allowed him to understand some of the most challenging characters and bring them to life on both the stage and screen with seamless precision. To find out more about this dazzling star, make sure to read below!
You can also find out more about his work through his IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3965339/?ref_=fn_al_nm_2
Where are you from? When and how did you get into acting?
IF: I’m originally from Vernon, a small town in the mountains of British Columbia. I’ve lived in Toronto for the last six years though.
I was always a pretty big dreamer. When I was a kid, I wanted to do it all. I wanted to be a doctor, a lawyer, a spy, even being a jewel thief looked pretty intriguing. I was pretty disheartened when I learned that even in a best-case scenario I’d likely have to pick only one of those things to dedicate my life to, since pursuing any of them would take so much time. So I decided if I wouldn’t be alive long enough to do everything, why not just pretend to do everything. Plus I didn’t really know what any of those jobs really entailed outside of what I saw on TV, so I guess the answer was in front of my face the whole time.
My father died when I was three. He was this local legend in terms of athletics; he was one of those guys who was good at any sport he played. We had tons of photos of him skateboarding, surfing, skiing, playing baseball, and that’s pretty much all we knew of him, so growing up, my younger brother and I had this desire to become that in a way. And my brother was, he was the best natural athlete I’d ever seen but unfortunately for me, I wasn’t. I really had to work hard to get good at things. Eventually, by persistently practicing I got decent enough at most of them that I could compete but on the way up I was on a lot of losing teams, if I even made the teams at all. In university, during a pick up game of basketball or something, I heard someone describe me as a natural athlete–I kind of scoffed at that. None of it was “natural.” It was all hard work. I was never really a natural anything until I started acting.
I’d always done voices and accents for as long as I can remember, and once I started doing plays, it started to all come together. I finally knew what it felt like to stand out in something. I quit the high school basketball team to do a play and since I’m not 6’8, I haven’t really looked back.
I booked my first paid job in 2009, the first TV audition I ever went to, and within a few years I was working consistently, so I guess that’s when I became a professional technically.
Can you tell me a little bit about the film and television projects you’ve done?
IF: My most prominent role was a recurring role on the fifth and final season of Covert Affairs where I played a young CIA agent named Patrick who was the personal assistant of the director of the Domestic Protection Division, Calder Michaels (played by Hill Harper from CSI: New York, Limitless.) At first I approached the role with the mentality, and I stole this line from Ocean’s Eleven, but it stuck with me: “you want him to like you, but forget you.” So I’d always enter the room with that in mind. Since there are so many classified conversations in a CIA office, I wanted to get in, and get out before I heard something above my pay grade. My main job on the show was to show up and deliver bad news.
During the later episodes, since my character was so involved in his boss’s life, I was one of the few characters who knew that Calder was having an affair with an escort. So in addition to managing a CIA director’s professional life, I was also juggling his personal one. Since so many characters get killed on that show, I was always nervous that I would get a script and it would say that my office would get blown up or a stray bullet would come through a window. Unfortunately for everyone, the show ended on a cliffhanger so we’ll never really know the fate of Patrick. But I like to think he’s out there in an alternate universe, stressed out and delivering bad news perpetually.
I’m very excited about a film I did recently called Glory River, which is about a small town obsessed with its hockey team. It’s kind of along the same lines of what Friday Night Lights did with football. The film, which is actually intended to expand into a series after the festival circuit, shows that even if you’ve been the best on your team your entire life, the odds are still so small at actually making it professionally. I play Noah Gallagher, the town’s star player who, for as long as he’s been able to walk, has been told he’s destined to make the NHL. He has the entire community’s hopes and dreams on his shoulders, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to pan out after all.
As good as he is, he’s still not good enough. It’s tough since there’s never been a back up plan for him, if he fails at this then he feels he’ll have nothing else left, which is a lot of pressure for a teenager. My character has a working class single mother whose played by Rachel Hayward, who’s sacrificed her entire life for this goal for him by working a brutal job on the oil rigs up in northern Alberta, so if he fails, he also feels like he’s failing her. She’s a drunk who’s relentless in the pressure she puts on him to succeed, so there’s also that weighing on him on top of everything else.
I had worked with the film’s director, Blake McWilliam, on another film called Camp about a year ago, and when I heard about this project I was really interested. I never actually played hockey myself, nor did I really follow it, but it’s still such a part of Canadian culture that it’s impossible to be completely removed. The fictional town, Glory River, for which the film is named after, for me that was my hometown of Vernon. I knew these people, I knew this world, even if I wasn’t directly involved in it.
I was also very interested in Noah’s relationship with his mother, since I was raised by a single mother myself, this really resonated with me. Initially there was a concern about casting me since they wanted someone who had actually played hockey, since there would also be a lot of in-game footage. Because I had this relationship with the director from our last film, I was lucky enough to have a line to talk to him. So as I was testing for the part, I was also able to talk to him about the story, and I was able to share with him my personal experience with my mom. I think that really helped me get the role, because even though hockey had never been a part of my life, I knew this character better then anyone. What he was going through was similar to what I had gone through in my own life in a way. Hockey can be learned, what it feels like to be raised with one parent cannot.
A lot of my training has been method based, and I always like to draw from my own life for my characters. This character and I shared so many similarities that I already had a head start, and I was really dying to bring him to life. After I booked the part, I actually hired an All College Hockey America player to work with me privately on my own hockey skills. I knew I’d never really be able to become a great skater or hockey player in only a few weeks, however I wanted to be able to cheat it enough in between stunt double footage that I didn’t look like a complete idiot. So I got her to make sure I was never holding a stick in a way that looked awkward, or doing things that they would never actually do. I still have a little scar on my ankle from skating in brand new skates as much as I did during those prep weeks. I’m very proud of this film and excited to see what happens with it, and if it does become a series, I would love to remain involved with it in some capacity. It’s currently playing at the Calgary International Film Festival on Sept 29th and Oct 4th.
The Epitaph is a film I co-wrote and produced with funding from the BravoFACT foundation and Bell Media. It’s directed by Kris Holden-Ried (The Tudors, Lost Girl) and will air on Bravo. The main concept of the film is: “What would you do if you knew the day you were going to die, but not the year.”
It’s a unique twist on a story about fate. This was a very cool experience because it was the first time that something I had written, was being produced and will air on a major network. Plato Fountindakis, who was an executive producer on the SyFy series Lost Girl for five seasons, came onboard early as our executive producer and was a really great mentor for me. I had produced small films and web series’ before however this was the first time I was involved in something this big.
I initially had the idea for the concept while bored at a bar one night and I turned to my friend and asked “If you could know the day you are going to die, but not the year, would you want to know?” It all grew from there. My co-writers Jason Gosbee, Scott Cavalheiro and I really started exploring that concept. Since we use a 365-day calendar, I’m fascinated by the fact that every year we pass the day that will eventually be our last without giving it a second thought. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, all these days with so much meaning, but the one that will have the most effect on us and our loved ones, remains a mystery –until it happens. Your kids or friends or family will be aware of a day that you pass blindly every year, that right now means nothing to you, but they’ll never forget. So in the universe we’ve created with our film, this day is no longer a mystery. We get to see the effect that knowledge of your own fate has on the world. Ideally, we want to expand it into a full-length feature or TV series. I do also make a cameo in the film. My own little ode to Hitchcock.
You get approached all the time to work on projects with people, what makes you pick one role over another?
IF: I’m often excited to play all kinds of characters, and I’m confidant playing a range of different people. What’s harder for me is putting my ego aside and turning things down when I’m not right for it. I think as young actors we sometimes just want to be working or we feel like we can do anything, even if the character is not right for us. So sometimes I have to reevaluate a script, or a project and say, “No, I’m just not the guy,” even if I really want to be. It’s way more beneficial than trying to force something that isn’t working. A great script or a great director can be a game changer too. After Glory River, I’ll do anything Blake McWilliam wants me for. He’s truly an actor’s director and I did some my proudest work on that film because of the freedom and environment he created on set.
Can you list some of the theatre projects you’ve participated in up until now, and the roles you’ve played?
IF: The last live show I did outside of comedy clubs was a sketch show called “World Pride and Prejudice” at The Second City. We wrote and performed it over the course of a year through the Second City’s signature style of writing through improv. It ran during the World Pride festival in Toronto in 2014. That was lots of fun. Being on the same stage that John Candy, Dan Akroyd, Eugene Levy, all these great comic actors have been on, that was really an honor.
For the most part, outside of comedy, I stopped doing live theatre a few years ago. I’m such a big fan of film as a medium and the spontaneity of doing it authentically or differently take to take. Once you do it once, you don’t have to try to recreate anything, the camera’s already captured that moment, so you have room to play and try new things. I find that happens in the rehearsal process of a play, but is often lost in the performance since you might find something great once, but then you try to hit that again 8 times a week for 3 months. Too many actors make the mistake of trying to get it right again, instead of just working moment to moment. There are actors who can pull it off and love doing it but for now, I want to work with the camera.
What has been your favorite role so far and why?
IF: That’s tough. I don’t know about a favorite but right now my top 3 would be, Covert Affairs, Glory River, and Reign. All for different reasons. Playing Patrick on Covert Affairs gave me an opportunity to work with some great actors who really knew their characters. I came into that show for the final season so by the time I was there some of them had been playing these characters for four or five years, so it was really valuable to see how they would talk things over with the writers or directors. Because the nature of episodic TV, almost all of the episodes have a different director, so that gave me an opportunity to see a range of styles and work with a variety of different people. Even though we were the same characters, on the same sets, each director had their own take and vision for their episode. It was also cool because by the time I got there the crew had been making this show for five seasons so it was such a well-oiled machine. They already had a system in place, I was coming into their world and they really made me feel welcome.
I loved playing Noah in Glory River because of the personal connection I felt to him, we came from very similar worlds. We were both raised by single mothers, both from small towns and both have big goals. I knew I could do him and that story justice. It’s a story that is so engrained in the lives of Canadians, and I was really excited to be able to bring it to the screen. That was a really great set experience and it gave me a chance to see parts of the country that I had never been too before. We shot it in Red Deer, and Edmonton Alberta, two cities I had never been too prior to doing this film. It was great to work with these local crews and seeing Alberta’s film industry first hand. Working with the director Blake McWilliam and the Director of Photography Mike McLaughlin is always a lot of fun. Because we’d already done one film together in the past, it was like being on set with your friends. Both of those guys are so good at what they do; it was really great to not only have respect for them as filmmakers, but to also enjoy being around them as well. Because we know each other, and each other’s work, we already have a trust built in. We never have to doubt what the end product might look like, so it’s one less thing on the mind. That gave us all the freedom to take some risks and find some really nice stuff for this film.
Reign was a great experience because that was the first time I got to play a character from a different time period, so even on the level of costumes and accents it was unique to me. It’s not everyday that you show up to work and there are horses and castles everywhere, at least it’s not for me. I’m a big history fan and this show allowed me to go back in time for a little bit, or as close as I’ll ever get to being able to actually do that. Director Jeff Renfroe was really easy to work with, he really trusted what I prepared with for the character, which gave me the confidence to just go to work.
What is your favorite genre to work in as an actor?
IF: Drama and comedy are my favorites; I’m lucky enough that I happen to be a strong dramatic actor, who is also funny. In a perfect world I’d love to do what Jamie Foxx or Robin William’s can do and have done. These guys are Oscar Award winning actors, who are also great stand ups and have done great comedies. You’re telling me Ray is that funny in Horrible Bosses? The fact that that’s the same guy is very impressive. Two very different skill sets and to be a master of both is incredible. I love making dramatic movies. I’m a big fan of subtlety and working with people who live as truthfully as possible under the circumstances. But comedies are also great, and they seem to stay in people’s consciousness in such a lasting way. I love going to the movies in the fall when all the Best Picture nominees are coming out, those are my favorite type of movies to watch, but comedies touch people in a different way. People from my generation still quote Anchorman, Mean Girls, or Superbad. Those are the movies people watch over and over again. So I’d love to be able to have a career in both. I’d love to be in the kind of films Paul Thomas Anderson or Wes Anderson make…maybe I just have a thing for Anderson’s…
What separates you from other actors?
IF: I’m not afraid to work for it. A lot of actors I know sit around and wait for the phone to ring. Which is so deadly. I did that for about 2 months after I got my first agent and I started to go crazy. That’s when I first started taking classes. Now I’m always training because whether or not I’ll get auditions or offers is out of my control, but if I’m always practicing, then I’m always getting better, and when those opportunities do come up, I’m even better and more prepared then I would have been. Actors are often entitled and they feel like they don’t need to work for it. If a musician never worked on their strings or a basketball player never took shots outside of games they would be awful, but often actors think they’re an exception. If I’m not shooting anything then I’m taking a class, writing or doing stand up, or producing my own stuff; but I’m never sitting around. I don’t want to look back in ten years and think that I could have done more or blame anyone else for how my career went. If I’m up against someone for a part, they better have done their homework, because I definitely did. I’m also in a smaller boat because I’m not a comic actor who also does drama, or a dramatic actor who also does comedy. It would be hard to box me into one category. It’s two separate stands for me and I’m lucky enough, or have practiced enough to be exceling at both at the moment. In a dream world, I’d love to have careers like Marlon Brando & Dave Chappelle. I guess Jamie Foxx pretty much did that…and he also sings right…that guy’s a talent.
What would you say your strongest qualities as an actor are?
IF: I’ve been told that it’s interesting watching me think. Which I think is a great compliment for an actor– that there’s lot happening behind my eyes. Whether we’re doing a comedy or a drama, if we’re doing a scene together I’m going to really be listening to you. I’m also an experienced improviser, which allows us to go off script and improvise dialogue or situations if desired. Comedy and drama are obviously different but at the same time, they aren’t, so much of it is about good listening.
What projects do you have coming up?
IF: The Netflix original series Between has been picked up for a second season, I guest starred in one of the last episodes of the first season and it looks like my character is potentially coming back for season 2. I play John, a devout Mennonite who finds out one of the lead characters, Gord (Ryan Allen) has been having an affair with my wife Hanna. (Rebecca Liddard.) My character shows up and creates quite a conflict and we haven’t seen how it’s resolved yet. It ends on a cliffhanger, and I’m very curious about what happens next and am excited about the possibility of coming back and exploring that further.
A new episode of my series The Party Show will be coming out soon. We’re always in a state of making one of those when we can.
What are your plans for the future?
IF: Planning to move to L.A for 2016, in addition to TV & films, I’d like to take some UCB classes and to start doing stand up regularly in L.A. And also surf a few times a week. It’s been awhile since I’ve surfed without a wetsuit. In-N-Out Burger, that’s on the list.
What do you hope to achieve in your career as an actor?
IF: I have some big goals, but at the end of the day I want to make the kind of movies or TV that I like watching. When I was a little kid my mom used to dress up to watch the Oscars. I would love to be able to take her there someday.
Why is acting your passion and chosen profession?
IF: Being funny is like having a super power. I was never the bravest, best looking, fastest or strongest, but I’ve always been able to make people laugh. That separated me and gave me something special. I attribute so many of the good things in my life to my sense of humor. Most of my friends or my relationships, professional and personal, wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for that. I don’t want to just be a really funny stockbroker, or the funniest guy at the party. If I don’t do something with this it seems like it’s such a waste. Quite simply, I’m good at this, I love doing it and I work very hard to be better and better. I truly believe I’m not suited better for anything else. Oh and the money.