Nova Scotia-born actor Stephen McHattie has appeared in enough high-profile films (A History of Violence, The Fountain, the upcoming Watchmen) and television (he played Elaine’s over analytical boyfriend Dr. Reston in Seinfeld) that he should be a household name by now.
And yet, even with over 150 credits under his belt, the rugged, intense thespian is rarely given the opportunity to take the lead. Which is what makes director Bruce McDonald’s new satirical thriller Pontypool — opening next Friday — such a blood-spattered treat.
Not only is the film an ingenious twist on the tired zombie movie formula, it also asks McHattie to carry its dramatic weight almost singlehandedly.
Pontypool sees him essay the role of small town talk radio DJ Grant Mazzy, a disgraced big city shock jock who is exiled to the Mayberry-esque Pontypool as penance for speaking his mind once too often. When a mysterious disease infects the English language itself, turning its victims into babbling cannibal monsters, Mazzy stays on the air, even as the phonetic dead claw at his doors.
It’s a dream role for McHattie who invests the snarling Mazzy with enough back-story to make him a fully fleshed out character.
“I tried to capture that nowhere thing that talk radio guys have.” says the soft-spoken thespian about his mike-wielding alter ego. “They never tell you anything about themselves; they’re not big on bio. They also always have these physical trademarks and seem like they came from another era so I decided to wear this big cowboy hat, to give him that affectation.
“I kind of thought of Mazzy as this early Don Imus, the way he was in the ’80s when he was funny, y’know, before it got all political and ugly.”