Actors are not always fond of playing older than they really are but Paul Soles makes the sacrifice in the new CBC digital comedy My 90-Year-Old Roommate.
I guess vanity goes out the window at 86.
Soles plays the roommate/grandfather to Ethan Cole, who co-created the series with Josh Shultz. Generations clash and hilarity ensues.
The veteran Canadian actor has done everything in a career that stretches back to the late ’50s.
“I was in London, Ontario, when the London Free Press…got one of the first seven private TV licences,” he says. “Walter J. Blackburn, who owned the outfit, was a very far-thinking man. From the ground up he build one of the first private TV stations in Canada.”
Soles did everything there, from farm and weather reports to morning and children’s shows. “We did a weekly show called Act Fast, which was a charades show.”
Soles is probably best remembered for a job he did 51 years ago: voicing Hermy the Elf from the holiday favourite Rudolph The Red-nosed Reindeer. His stint as the “law-breaker” on the late ’60s series This is The Law was a CBC gem.
“I’ve been lucky at my time in the wheel,” he says. “If it hadn’t been for being cast, almost by accident, in a production of the Scottish play, Macbeth, with Christopher Plummer and Glenda Jackson, I would never have been confident enough to take on Stafford when I was asked.”
Soles, as you would expect, has great stories. He spent six months on that production of Macbeth and recalls Jackson holding a series of seminars for the younger members of the company.
“She would conduct these masterclasses — how you read the verse,” he says. You attend a few of those and you feel very lucky and very enriched.”
He recalls being enthralled just sitting and watching revered radio actor John Drainie record a commercial in the early ’60s at radio station CKEY.
“Here I was, sitting opposite from him in the studio watching him prepare and deliver this two minute commercial. This is like sitting beside Laurence Olivier or Orson Welles. What excitement! A good way to start. Lucky way to start.”
Cole based the series on his own relationship with his grandfather, who played the older gentleman in the earlier incarnation. That was featured on Funny or Die and also drew 3 million hits on YouTube.
Cole scored a grant from IPF and pitched the series around; CBC Digital picked it up.
Soles kids he won the spot picking up a pension cheque at CBC. Actually he auditioned with several other seasoned actors.
Much of the dialogue is improvised. “Paul’s hilarious, we weren’t going to try and write his lines for him,” says Cole.
Soles says he polished his improv chops a few years ago in Toronto with Ian Ferguson’s “Sin City” stage shows at Second City.
My 90-Year-Old Roommate deals with modern dating hook-ups such as Tinder. Sole says he’s getting comfortable with the jargon of the millennial generation. “This is like a post graduation course in language.”
Cole, 30, doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with Soles. The younger man says he was inspired somewhat by Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm when he created this series. Soles not so much.
“I’m not a big fan of Larry David because he’s an obnoxious son-of-a-bitch,” says Soles.
Quick Ethan — get that down for future episodes. You can watch My 90-Year-Old Roommate now here.