There was always something that nagged Paul Gross about his famous role as respectable Mountie Benton Fraser on the mid-nineties television drama Due South.
“I never actually had a gun, I had a wedge of wood in my holster,” admitted Gross during a recent interview to promote his coincidentally-named new film, Gunless. “So getting to go to work and actually have a real Colt .45, that was just heavenly.”
Although Gross stopped short of insisting a real gun was his impetus for taking on the role of a gunslinger in the new Western-style comedy, he does accept that the weapon informed his portrayal.
“They’re kind of amazing to hold,” said Gross. “I was practising constantly, drawing it and spinning it and trying to do tricks with it …but it’s still in the back of your head (that) this is something that could actually kill people. It sort of does something to you.”
For Gross, it aided in developing The Montana Kid, a bewildered American outlaw that stumbles into a fictional Canadian town and challenges the local blacksmith to a showdown only to discover the hamlet’s sedate inhabitants literally gunless — a circumstance that, for an American gunslinger anyway, is utterly confounding.
“(The Western genre) isn’t a naturally Canadian form. It’s really an invention of Hollywood to represent or speak to something about the American frontier spirit,” said Gross. “You couldn’t get away with making High Plains Drifter and set it in Medicine Hat…but you can import a gunslinger and drop him into a Canadian setting and then you have Gunless.”
Of course, Gunless isn’t the first movie of Gross’ that boasts Canuck roots. He wrote, directed and starred in 2008’s Passchendaele, the award-winning drama about one of the most traumatic wartime battles in Canadian history.
But as Gross discovered, turning Alberta foothills into a muddy Belgian battleground wouldn’t compare to the staggering conditions the actor faced in blistering southern B.C. when he shot Gunless last summer.
“I find the heat hard to work in because my brain just kind of short circuits. I just feel sort of stunned all the time,” chuckled Gross before pausing to reflect on his character. “Thank God, I didn’t have to be too smart!”