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Paul Gross

Director, Writer, Actor, Producer
(b. April 30, 1959 Calgary, Alberta)

To many people Paul Gross will always be Constable Benton Fraser, the upstanding Mountie who helped bring peace, order and a Canadian sense of civility to the streets of Chicago in the television series “Due South.” In reality, Gross is something of a Renaissance man: actor, playwright, director, producer, composer and singer. With his matinee-idol looks and a reputation as a hell-raiser, he has also become an advocate for the Canadian television industry and an outspoken critic of Canada’s labyrinthine funding system.

The son of a tank commander in the Canadian Armed Forces, Gross moved every eighteen months or so during his childhood, living in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany. While living in Washington, D.C. in his early teens, he was introduced to acting and performed in stage plays such as The Canterbury Tales and Faustus. By the age of fourteen he was appearing in television commercials, which eventually enabled him to finance his drama studies at the University of Alberta. At the age of sixteen, he spent a summer at the Stratford Festival on a box office internship. The experience left an indelible impression; as a young man he vigorously worked the circuit of regional theatres and developed his writing abilities.

Inspired by the dark worlds of American playwright Sam Shepard, Gross’s first play, The Deer and the Antelope Play, won the Alberta Cultural Playwriting Award in 1981 and the Clifford E. Lee National Playwriting Award in 1982. His second play, The Dead of Winter, enjoyed a successful run at the Toronto Free Theatre in 1982, where he was playwright-in-residence. He was invited by artistic director John Neville to be playwright-in-residence at the prestigious Stratford Festival, where his play Sprung Rhythm was produced in 1984. He then moved to the Grand Theatre Company in London, Ontario, where he held the same position under Robin Phillips. Soon after, he began extending his writing skills to television. His screenplay for “In This Corner,” an episode (directed by Atom Egoyan) for the CBC-TV series “For the Record,” earned him a Gemini nomination in 1986, while his CBC dramatic movie Gross Misconduct (1993), also directed by Egoyan, drew wide critical acclaim.

Gross continued acting for the stage, winning Dora Mavor Moore Awards for his lead performances in productions of Romeo and Juliet (1985) and Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Toward the Somme (1988). He also stayed active in film and television; he made his film debut in Vic Sarin’s Cold Comfort (1989), had supporting roles in Married to It (1991), Whale Music (1994) and Paint Cans (1994), and appeared in a number of television series.

In 1994 Gross signed on for “Due South,” a weekly series on CTV in Canada and CBS in the United States. The show ran for two seasons before being cancelled, and was then resurrected for two truncated seasons in syndication. Gross assumed new duties as executive producer and writer and reportedly earned an estimated salary of $2 to $3 million, making him the highest-paid performer in the Canadian entertainment industry. He won three Geminis for “Due South,” two for acting and one for writing. The show itself has been broadcast in 110 countries.

With experience as executive producer under his belt, Gross formed his own production company, WhizBang Films, and has starred in movies the company has produced for television, such as Murder Most Likely (1999) and H2O: The Last Prime Minister (2004), which he also wrote.

After playing Hamlet to good reviews at Stratford in 2000, he began co-writing the script for Men with Brooms (2002), which he starred in and directed. Produced by Robert Lantos and also starring Molly Parker and Leslie Neilsen, the film focused on a ragtag group of curlers who re-unite according to the last wishes of their deceased coach. Set in an economically depressed small town, the film shares similarities with the popular British film The Full Monty (1997). A widely released mainstream comedy, Men with Brooms was a box office hit in English Canada, earning close to $4 million.

In 2003 Gross would take on another popular and critically acclaimed role in the television series “Slings & Arrows.” Gross plays Geoffrey Tenant, a beleaguered and broken theatre director who retired from acting after suffering a nervous breakdown during a performance of Hamlet. Tenant is named the interim Artistic Director of the fictional and floundering New Burbage Festival (based on the Stratford Festival) when the festival’s director dies, only to return to haunt Tenant as a ghost – a recurring theme throughout the series in which the theatre season’s production problems mirror the play being put on by the company.

In a case of art imitating life, “Slings and Arrows” takes some thinly veiled shots at Canada’s circuitous and clumsy arts funding and administration system through its depiction of New Burbage Business Manager Richard Smith- Jones (series creator Mark McKinney), a bungling “numbers guy” more concerned with the festival’s balance sheets than its creative vision or artistic integrity. Indeed, the battles fought onscreen between Geoffrey Tenant and Richard Smith-Jones reflect many of Gross’s own concerns about the Canadian film and television industry. In 2005 Gross – along with Gordon Pinsent, Don McKellar, Sarah Polley and others – lobbied in Ottawa to draw attention to the lack of dramatic series being made in Canada, placing the blame squarely on the Canadian Television Fund (CTF) and conventional broadcasters. Later that year, the Fund relinquished its administrative role to Telefilm Canada’s Television Business Unit.

Gross’ attempt to finance his next feature film, the passion project Passchendaele (2008), would face similar hurdles. In addition to accessing public and private funds he also courted private investment, a rare occurrence in Canadian film, to fund the film’s $20 million budget. (One of the key investors was Alberta’s provincial government. Premier Ralph Klein, not known for his support of the arts, became a huge advocate of the film.) Gross plays Michael Dunne, a shell-shocked soldier who returns home from the trenches of WWI and falls in love with a nurse (Caroline Dhavernas), a story based loosely on his grandfather’s experiences. Gross also produced, directed and wrote the film’s screenplay and composed part of the music. Passchendaele was met with a critical drubbing following it’s premiere as the opening night gala at the Toronto International Film Festival, but went on to earn a reported $4.4 million at the domestic box office, comprising half of English Canada’s total take that year. For both Men with Brooms and Passchendaele, Gross toured the country extensively to promote the films. During interviews, he at times criticized what he saw as the excessively arty nature of much of Canadian cinema. Passchendaele went on to win five Genies, including best film.

Gross continues to act for both feature films and television, such as the ABC dramedy series “Eastwick” and the jocular Canadian comedy-western Gunless (2010). A classically trained guitarist, Gross is also an avid musician and performs frequently with his rock band The Bonemen.

Film and video work includes

Hangin’ In series, 1982 (actor; TV, one episode)
Hangin’ In series, 1984 (actor; TV, one episode)
Turning to Stone, 1985 (actor; TV)
In this Corner, 1985 (writer; TV)
Air Waves series, 1986 (actor; TV, one episode)
Chasing Rainbows mini-series, 1988 (actor; TV)
Cold Comfort, 1989 (actor)
Divided Loyalties, 1989 (actor)
Street Legal series, 1989 (actor; TV, two episodes)
Getting Married in Buffalo Jump, 1990 (actor; TV)
The Ray Bradbury Theatre series, 1990 (actor; TV, one episode)
Buried on Sunday, 1992 (actor)
Gross Misconduct, 1993 (writer; TV)
Aspen Extreme, 1993 (actor)
Due South series, 1994-1996 (actor, 41 episodes; writer, music, two episodes; TV)
Married to It, 1993 (actor)
Tales of the City mini-series, 1993 (actor; TV)
Paint Cans, 1994 (actor)
Whale Music, 1994 (actor)
XXX’s & OOO’s , 1994 (actor; TV)
10th Annual Gemini Awards, 1996 (host; TV)
Due South series, 1997-1999 (actor, 26 episodes; writer, 3 episodes; executive producer, 12 episodes; music, one episode; TV)
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, 1997 (actor; TV)
The Battle of Vimy Ridge, Parts 1-4, 1997 (narrator; TV)
The Red Green Show series, 1996-1998 (actor; TV, five episodes)
Witness to Yesterday series, 1998 (actor; TV)
Murder Most Likely, 1999 (actor; executive producer; TV)
Men with Brooms, 2002 (director; co-writer with John Krizanc; actor; co-music with Jack Lenz)
The Eleventh Hour series, 2003 (actor; TV, one episode)
Royal Canadian Air Farce series, 2003 (actor; TV, one episode)
Slings & Arrows series, 2003-2006 (actor; TV, 18 episodes)
H2O: The Last Prime Minister, 2004 (co-writer with John Krizanc; actor; executive producer)
The Rick Mercer Report series, 2004 (actor; TV, one episode)
The Greatest Canadian mini-series, 2004 (host; TV)
Wilby Wonderful, 2004 (actor)
The Eleventh Hour series, 2005 (actor; TV, one episode)
Burnt Toast, 2005 (actor; TV)
The Outsider, 2006 (narrator)
Prairie Giant: The Tommy Douglas Story mini-series, 2006 (actor; TV)
Hockey: A People’s History, 2006 (narrator; TV)
Hooked on Speedman, 2008 (actor)
The Trojan Horse mini-series, 2008 (co-writer with John Krizanc; actor; executive producer; TV, two episodes)
Passchendaele, 2008 (director; writer; actor; co-producer with Francis Damberger, Frank Siracusa; music)
The Road to Passchendaele, 2008 (executive producer; TV)
Cra$h & Burn series, 2009 (executive producer; TV, three episodes)
Eastwick series, 2009-2010 (actor; TV, 12 episodes)
Gunless, 2010 (actor)
Men with Brooms series, 2010 (narrator; executive producer; TV)
Hobo with a Shotgun, 2011 (co-producer with Rob Cotterill, Niv Fichman, Frank Siracusa)
The Yard series, 2011 (executive producer; TV, six episodes)
Breakaway, 2011 (executive producer)

By: Andrew McIntosh, Ayesha Husain