SAINT ANDREWS – Actor Eric Keenleyside, who currently plays the mayor of Smallville in the television show “Superman and Lois”, has a unique connection to Charlotte County. He was born in St. Stephen, and spent the first three-and-a-half-years of his live living in Saint Andrews, followed by visits back to the area with his family. His father, a biologist, worked at the Huntsman Marine Science Centre doing research for several years before transferring to the University of Western Ontario.
“I was born in St. Stephen rather than in Saint Andrews because there was no hospital,” said Keenleyside. “There was a hospital in St. Stephen, so my mom and dad hopped in the Volkswagen and drove that road, and there I was.”
Keenleyside said he even though he didn’t live in Saint Andrews for a long period of time, he has some very fond memories of the area, specifically Katy’s Cove. He said after moving to London, Ontario, his father would bring undergraduate zoology students to the biological station and the family would often tag along.
“Several times, we went with them for the trip, because my mom and dad still had friends there,” said Keenleyside. “My favourite memories are actually from when I was really little. The things that I remember most vividly are a place called Katy’s Cove, and I don’t even know if it’s still there.
“I just remember it as the most magical place. There were tiny little boats that kids could scoot around in. Everybody went there. It was always crowded in the summer time, and lots of fun and picnicking and sunshine. That’s what I remember the most about Saint Andrews.”
Keenleyside said he was interested in science, particularly physics, in high school, and while he considered a science-based career, his lifelong love of acting took him in another direction.
“It’s in my mind that what I wanted to do was physics,” he said. “The other subject that I really, really liked was science, and physics. I got to thinking about, well what do you do with a degree in physics? You either do research, and work in a university or you work with some military company developing weapons or something. I thought, ‘I don’t really think physics is the thing for me’. Plus, the allure of the theatre, movies, and all that was just too strong. I love doing that. I’m very, very privileged to be able to do what I love to do.”
From the time his family moved to London, they would attend all of the Stratford Festival each summer, from Shakespeare plays to musicals and more. He said he “really fell in love with that”, and the idea of being in theatre. Upon graduating from high school, Keenleyside chose to attend the University of Windsor, where he studied theatre.
“I got a job as an apprentice at the Stratford Festival, so that was kind of my dream job. Then, I started working in TV and movies. I’ve done some theatre since then. Theatre is really what I love to do, and I hope it comes back soon, because I miss going to the theatre.”
In the beginning, Keenleyside said his family wasn’t overly enthusiastic about his career aspirations.
“They had me figured for anthropology or something like that,” Keenleyside said with a chuckle.
Keenleyside has had roles in dozens of movies and television shows, and said most of his roles are small to medium-sized. He has had continuing parts in a few television shows, but he prefers to focus on acting and not be in the spotlight as a celebrity. He said he is more of a character actor.
“I do a lot of dads and cops and friendly neighbours and racist jerks, things like that.”
Keenleyside said his favourite thing that he has done thus far in his career was working on a movie called, “The Interpreter”, starring Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn. The movie was shot in New York City, and Keenleyside played the assistant head of security for the United Nations.
“We actually shot in the United Nations, which was the first time that has ever been done,” said Keenleyside. “It was really magical. My granddad used to work at the United Nations, so for me it was kind of like a church in a way. It was a sacred kind of a place. We got to shoot action sequences right in the general assembly and all that stuff. That was really wonderful.”
So, which does Keenleyside prefer; acting in movies or for television? He said each has its own draw. He tends to prefer the content of movies, because there is a bigger story to tell. Often, when he is working in television, he is doing guest appearances, or two or three episodes of a story.
“That’s nowhere near as fulfilling as telling a story from beginning to end,” said Keenleyside. “There’s that about a movie. You get a character that something happens to and something happens in the story, and you get to participate in that. The best part about all of it is the collaborative story telling. If you’re working with people who are interested in working as an ensemble and working with other people, there’s a lot of scope for figuring out what you’re doing as you go. That’s what I really enjoy, and that can come in TV shows and it come in movies.”
A family man and homebody at heart, Keenleyside loves to work around the home. But, he is all seriousness when it comes to acting. He said he loves doing domestic things such as walking his dog and looking after his teenage children.
“When I’m working it’s pretty intense, and I’m often away from home,” said Keenleyside. “When I’m not working, I have lots of time to do other stuff. It can be tough on my family if I’m away for two or three weeks at a time.”
Currently, Keenleyside is working on a show called, “Five More Minutes”, which he described as a “Hallmark-type Christmas movie”. He plays a grandfather who appears in flashbacks.
“It’s a really fun kind of a thing to do,” said the actor. “I’m playing hide-and-seek with a young girl. The young version of the heroine of the story is remembering her grandpa. He owned a Christmas store. So, there’s a lot of fun in that. Playing with kids is great fun.”
In addition to working on the set of Five More Minutes, Keenleyside is also working on season two of Superman and Lois.
So, how has the COVID-19 pandemic affected Keenleyside? He said Superman and Lois is produced by Warner Bros., and they offer COVID testing three times weekly.
“I’ve done pretty well during the pandemic, in terms of being able to keep working.”
Keenleyside is also working on a series of television movies called, “Martha’s Vineyard Mysteries”, which although is set on the East Coast, it is actually being filmed in Victoria, B.C.. He plays the chief of police in Martha’s Vineyard, which just happens to be the “number three character in the series”.
“You could say it’s one of the biggest parts I’ve ever had. To me, the size of the part is not what’s important. It’s what’s going on.”
The actor truly enjoys working on mystery and horror movies, although he is not a fan of watching horror movies. He said the actors in these types of movies are “tricking people and sort of luring them”, and this is why people go to horror movies in the first place. He said it is fun to be able to be able to create that feeling in people.
Keenleyside isn’t one to get overly star struck, but he said he sort of was that way with Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn while working on The Interpreter. He was also impressed by actor Ian Holm, and enjoyed working with him on the set of an adventure-comedy called, “Beautiful Joe”.
“It had Billy Connolly in it, and Ian Holme, who was just something about being in scenes with him that inspired me always to be a better human being, not just a better actor. His attention and his way with acting was just really, really inspiring to me.”
When asked if he has any advice for young people who want to go into acting, “Write your own movies,” said Keenleyside. “Shoot them on your phone. Edit them on your computer. Learn about how those things work and don’t work. Lighting and sound and props and script are all extremely important parts of the business, and actors very often don’t know anything about them.
“But, if you do it yourself, you learn those things and you have respect for the people that are doing those jobs when you’re working. If you make your own movies, you make your own mistakes. It’s little things like that that are important to making films that a lot of people don’t even think about because usually they’re done proficiently by the pros.”