Story by Morgan O’Neal
Cardinal has long been a well-known name in Canada, especially in the West. And Lorne Cardinal, who plays the quirky police officer Davis Quinton on the off-beat CTV hit show, Corner Gas, has now made the name known much further a field, as there is a good possibility that the half-hour television show set in the fictional Saskatchewan town of Dog River, will sooner or later be sold to international media companies. Cardinal is more than an actor though, he also directs. He is a son, a brother and a husband in realm life, and an avid observer of reality. Lorne cardinal sees his ability to observe as having helped him to achieve the success he enjoys today. He has learned his craft by paying attention to the teachings of others and by close observation of the talent around him. Even now, as an established actor/director, he still tries to absorb as much information as he can from his colleagues and his surroundings, to better himself and improve on work. Cardinal currently which but his talent is not limited to acting.
Born in High Prairie, Alberta, Cardinal spent most of his formative years on the Sucker Creek First Nation and in Edmonton.. He has previously appeared in television shows such as North of 60 and renegadepress.com, as well as live theatre productions, which in recent years has led to his foray into directing. He has put that experience to use in directing an episode of Moccasin Flats and four episodes of renegadepress.com. Although directing demands an entirely different set of skills the challenge is one he gladly accepts. “It’s incredible, it’s stressful, it’s incredibly creative; you are surrounded by creative people all the time and the buck stops with you,” he says. “You have to make every single decision.” The experience has been a huge learning curve for Cardinal and he admits he’s made some mistakes, but he welcomes these as lessons in learning the craft. Cardinal credits the support of the crew behind him, going above and beyond to do its best work, as a blessing that has made the learning process that much easier.
For some actors, the path is clear at a young age. For Cardinal it wasn’t so cut and dried. In his early twenties he spent time working at a newspaper as a photographer, then freelanced for a year and a half before deciding to go tree planting in B.C. After the season was over he decided to return to school. He attended Caribou College, now called Thompson Rivers University, and signed up for basic courses that piqued his interest. He saw an introduction-to-acting class and figured it looked like an easy way to pick up credits, so he enrolled.
The class was “fantastic,” and it was due to the instruction of Dr. David Edwards, that Cardinal was turned on to the theatre.. “I did my first one-act play and it was the first time, when I stepped onstage, it felt right. It felt like this is what I should be doing,” Cardinal says. Edwards encouraged Cardinal to seek more training if he wanted to pursue a career in acting. Those words stuck with Cardinal and have sparked his drive to absorb as much of the business as he can. Proof of Cardinal’s drive to become the best he could possibly be came while he was attending the University of Alberta in Edmonton, where he enrolled in the Bachelor of Fine Arts acting program. In the first year of his studies he received a call from his agent about a show called North of 60. He was asked to read for one of the lead characters, but when he found out the show was starting production later that year, he turned it down.
Cardinal made the difficult choice but it was the correct decision in the end. “I’ve turned a lot of work down, actually, when I was in university, because for me the most important thing was getting my training. I didn’t want to short-change myself. And you know how tempting that is just to jump at the work because it’s there – but I chose not to. I chose to actually finish my training and get my degree.” Cardinal has learned from others that it was not only important to develop his craft, but also to have an awareness of the work being done around him. To this day Cardinal puts that advice to work. He watches the director’s work between his own scenes, and observes the rest of the crew doing their jobs, and he believes it has made him a better actor.
“It’s just something I’ve always done. I’ve always just paid attention to what’s around me. The only way to learn is by paying attention. It’s having that attitude of taking the whole picture of theatre, from the first day of rehearsal to the closing, and all the steps in between. It’s very much like a team sport,” he says. “I played a lot of rugby growing up and that’s what taught me about teamwork. I take that experience and put it right into the theatre and it’s a perfect fit. It’s about team play; it’s about supporting the story. And if you have a small part you do that small part the best as you can to support the story. It’s part of the links, sort of the stronger that you are the stronger the story becomes.”
Cardinal has experienced first hand how the strength of a story can touch more than just the actors playing the parts. Early in his career, he was doing a play with Native Earth Performing Arts in Toronto. The production was called 60 Below, a play written by Leonard Linklater and Patti Flather. Cardinal played a town hero named Johnny, who had died and returned as a ghost to visit his friend Henry. The townspeople thought that Henry had something to do with Johnny’s death. Only Henry knew that Johnny had actually taken his own life, but he keeps the secret to himself, even after being sent to jail. In the end, Henry tells his girlfriend and Johnny’s wife the truth about what happened and lets go of the painful secret he had been carrying around. Following a performance of the play, the actors were backstage changing out of costume and a young man popped his head in and thanked the crew for the show. The crew said thanks and went back to what they were doing. But the young man interjected again and told them they didn’t understand. His best friend had killed himself a few weeks earlier and the man had been thinking of doing the same thing, but the play had changed his mind. He realized he would be hurting more people in the long run by taking his own life.
“That’s the point,” Cardinal says. “That’s when, to me, everything – reviews, awards – that doesn’t mean as much as affecting somebody like that. And that’s what I hope my work does, is affects people. Lets them know they’re not alone; lets them know there are other options, other ways to look at things and that there are people who’ve been through it and who have survived through it and can help.” Cardinal himself knows something about survival – he learned it from his parents and other relatives who struggled with haunting memories of residential schools and other demons, such as alcoholism. .”Both my father and my mother are residential school survivors, as are most of my aunts and uncles,” he says. “And growing up under the effects of that has been brutal.” Even through his pain, however, Cardinal’s father Don Cardinal made sure to pass on words of wisdom to Cardinal and his brother, Lewis. “Even when he was down and at his lowest point, he always managed to sneak a lesson in there,” Cardinal says.
He recalls a time when his father took him and his brother out to every bar on the “skids” in Edmonton. They would have a beer at each place. His father would tell them to take a look around. “This is what will happen to you if you let this,” he’d say, pointing to the beer, “grab a hold of you.” This memory has always stuck with Cardinal, and because of that he made sure he followed a different path than his relatives who struggled through painful times. The life lessons he took from his father were tough, but they worked. “It’s a shame, because you see so many beautiful glimpses of beautiful people, but then they’re in so much pain and turmoil that it’s just heartbreaking, to see that waste of talent and gifts that were given to each and every one of us, and to see them not fulfilled is very heartbreaking.”
Constable Cardinal is a very funny man on television. In fact, to my mind he’s the most capable actor in Dog River, and that is saying a lot; because as television goes, this time CTV got it right, Corner Gas is a great half hour of Canadian comedy, funny, unique, and polished. And having grown up in a small a small Saskatchewan town exactly like it (long before there was any such thing as an Aboriginal cop), I know how difficult it can be to make comedy out of a one-horse town in the middle of nowhere, at least if you have to live there. So the Constable is a very funny character. Lorne Cardinal, on the other hand (the man, the son, the brother, the husband) is a very serious man, and seems to be doing what he does so well for all the right reasons. He is a credit to the name Cardinal, and (I believe) he will become–if he is not already–a sort of national treasure. The guy is a great actor.