Aidan Quinn in Alberta last March with MacKenzie Porter and friends
TURNERVALLEY, Alta–Canadian actors are always getting busted in Hollywoodfor their accents. Nothing causes a director in L.A.to yell, “Cut!” faster than an “oot” or “aboot.”
Yet you seldom hear aboot an American actor attempting a Canadian accent.
So thanks for coming oot, Aidan Quinn.
“All I’m trying to do here is not stick out like a sore thumb to Canadians as a non-Canadian,” says Quinn, who plays a cowboy-outfitter in “The Horses of McBride.” Inspired by a true life horse rescue in the British Columbia wilderness, the outdoor adventure premieres Sunday at on CTV.
The 53-year-old spent several weeks north of Calgaryon the production last winter and spring. Kari Matchett (“Covert Affairs”) co-stars as his character’s wife, Avril. MacKenzie Porter (Dinosapien”), who grew up in Medicine Hat, Alta., plays teenage daughter Nicki. The daughter dreams of one day becoming a mountain guide like her dad. In the movie, she’s the one who discovers that two starving pack horses are trapped behind a wall of snow in the Rockies.
The story was inspired by the actual 2008 rescue of two horses, dug out of prison of snow atop B.C.’s MountRenshaw. The screenplay, written and directed by Anne Wheeler (“Bomb Girls”), is based on the attempts of the Jeck family and the community of McBride to rescue the horses.
David Jeck was the real life outfitter Quinn is more or less playing in the movie, and it is Jeck’s voice Quinn listens to between takes on his iPod. “I’m not trying to do the most incredibly authentic, perfect, wrangler-cowboy-outfitter,” he says, ducking out of the cold into an open barn for an interview. “I’m just trying to take out the sounds that will make people watching TV go, ‘Oh, he’s American! What’s he doing playing that guy?’”
Quinn (right) co-stars on CBS’ Elementary with Jonny Lee Miller
Quinn is no stranger to accents. He’s tapped into his Irish heritage for film roles in “Michael Collins,” “Evelyn” and others. “My parents are Irish immigrants so the house was always full of Irish and English people,” he says, “so as far as doing Irish accents, that gave me a leg up.” When he was a lad, his family also moved back and forth between Chicagoand Rockville, Ill., and Dublin and Birr, County Offaly, Ireland, so Quinn heard more than his share of local dialects.
Co-star Matchett had the opposite problem on the “Horses of McBride” set. She was born in the small town of Spalding, Sask., and grew up riding horses in Lethbridge, Alta.
The Canadian girl, however, has lived for years in Los Angeles, starring in U.S.network shows such as “Invasion” as well as stints on “24” and “ER.” She’s so used to having her Canadian accent drummed out of her by U.S.directors, it was almost a challenge to find her real voice on the “McBride” set.
“The words I’m always busted on come out “sourie” instead of “sarry” or “mum’s” instead of “mom’s,” she says of her American experiences. She admires Quinn for paying strict attention to a dialect coach on the set. “It’s actually kind of upped my ante with trying to have a Canadian accent.”
Quinn feels if Matchett and other Canadians have to curb their open vowels the least he can do is open his. He says he was “kinda shocked” when Matchett told him she never heard of an American actor doing a Canadian accent before. “I said, ‘Whaaat? What are actors supposed to do? You’re supposed to do the accent of the people you’re playing.’”
Quinn loves Calgary and keeps coming back. He has great memories of shooting the 1994 feature “Legend of the Fall” in Alberta alongside Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins. It was on that set where he first met John Scott, the legendary horse wrangler who tended to the two underweight rescue horses used on “McBride.”
“Fantastic to work with him again,” says Quinn, who spent a week before “Legends” getting comfortable in the saddle under Scott’s tutelage. “He’s the reason I wasn’t thrown off.”
Quinn also shot the 2007 HBO film “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” in and around Calgary, picking up one of his four Emmy nominations. While he’s lived in his share of big cities (and now works near his home in New York on the CBS drama “Elementary”), Quinn can’t get enough of the farm setting north of Calgary where much of “McBride” was based. He gestures to the snow-topped Rockies lit in their full majesty on a brisk but sunny day on the set. “It’s a pretty phenomenal place to come to work,” he says.
As for the old actor’s adage never work with children or animals, Quinn says horse feathers. “I think there’s nothing better,” he says, “because horses don’t act. That’s what you want.”