By Clint Buehler
Lorne Cardinal has a natural flare for comedy, as evidenced by his performances in TV series such as “Blackfly” and “Corner Gas,” and memorable side gigs such as hosting the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards.
But he has also proven his mettle as a serious dramatic actor, as a director, and as a playwright.
He is currently demonstrating both the comic and serious sides of his acting in a production of “Thunderstick,” at Theatre Network here. It’s a joint production with Saskatoon’s Persephone Theatre, where it played before moving to Edmonton. He directed the play, written by Metis playwright Kenneth T. Williams, a decade ago in Toronto, and ended up taking on the Jacob role.
The two-character play is a particular challenge for Lorne and his co-star, Craig Luzon of Royal Canadian Air Farce fame, as they switch roles on alternate nights. They play mismatched cousins on the trail of scandalous political intrigue. The cousins, both journalists, have been separated since their youth on the reserve and are now brought together by unexpected circumstances. Jacob , the boozy journalist, is the more challenging and complex role of the two, while Isaac, the well-travelled and more world-weary photojournalist, comes off more often than not as the straight man to Jacob’s excesses.
A lively comedy with some serious edges, it begins as one cousin throws up on the Prime Minister, and only gets more frenzied as they are launched into jail, heartbreak and a road trip into the Ontario backwoods chasing the story of their careers.
Both Lorne and Craig are hoping that their production, and others with Aboriginal casts and themes, will attract Aboriginal audiences, and inspire them to become regular theatre-goers and even aspire to careers in theatre, television and films as well.
Even prior to the opening, the production garnered an inordinate amount of positive coverage in both the Saskatoon and Edmonton media.
Lorne credits two particular influences for his success—his upbringing and his formal training.
I first met Lorne and his older brother Lewis when they were young boys, being raised by their father.
Their uncle Harold was the ground-breaking president of the Indian Association of Alberta, and their father, Don, was the vice-president. We used to tease the boys about their “lobbying”—sitting engulfed in big chairs in the lobbies of hotels, waiting for their father to get out of meetings.
In those days, Don had some problems with alcohol, “so we not only learned about what to do, but what not to do. (But) he gave us our strength.” Don would soon return to the “Red Road” and become a traditional healer. Over the decades, “he helped so many people,” Lorne says, prior to his untimely passing.
And Lorne wasn’t the only one to benefit from that sometimes challenging upbringing. Lewis has become an influential educator and a powerful advocate for Native and social issues.
Lorne says the nomadic nature of his early years contributed to his comedic bent. Moving often from school to school, he found that being the class clown eased his transition into new situations, and reduced the number of beatings he had to endure. “People liked me even though I was terribly shy and frightened.” It helped, too, that he had an older brother to back him up.
The formal training came at the University of Alberta, where Lorne was the first Aboriginal person to graduate (in 1993) with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in acting. (Other graduates from the program include Kenneth Walsh and Paul Gross.) Lorne’s first formal acting class was at Caribou College (now the Thompson Rivers University) in Kamloops , BC, which recognized his achievements last year with an honourary doctorate.
Looking to the influences that helped to create his own success, Lorne’s advice to aspiring young people is: “Get the training. Learn the techniques. Learn the craft. There are so many aspects; you can’t rely on talent alone.”
While raw talent helps—and Lorne certainly has it—he believes the path to success can be slower and less certain for those who learn on the job, both in finding opportunities and in developing and growing their competence. He credits the fast start and ongoing success of his career to that formal training.
Over the years, Lorne has fashioned a career of memorable characters and performances on television, in film and on the stage, as well as directorial successes and memorable gigs hosting numerous awards shows. And there are more on the horizon.
His TV credits, in addition to Corner Gas, include regular roles on Lonesome Dove, North of 60, Firefly and Jake and the Kid, as well as guest roles and directing gigs on several other TV series, including Renegadepress.com, Relic Hunter, Rabbit Fall and Moccasin Flats, voice roles on the stop-action series Wapos Bay, and numerous performances in both TV movies, and big screen movies where he appeared with such major stars as Al Pacino, Hilary Swank, Robin Williams, Susan Sarandon and Gary Sinise.
Whenever his schedule allows, however, Lorne looks for opportunities where he can pursue his first love, performing in and/or directing live productions on theatre stages.
His theatre credits include the Factory Theatre’s Jim & Shorty, and Native Earth’s Red River, The Baby Blues, Generic Warriors And No Name Indians and 60 Below, which earned a Dora Mavor Moore nomination for Best Production in 1997. His performance in Edmonton`s Theatre Network`s High Life earned him a 1999 Sterling Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He also received 1998 and 1999 Jessie Richardson Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor for his roles in the critically acclaimed Only Drunks & Children Tell The Truth.
Lorne’s current project, the pilot of which has already aired on APTN, is “Wolf Canyon,” which he`s hopeful will be picked up as a series, not only by APTN, but by other channels. It stars Lorne and Kevin Sorbo (Hercules,) with an ensemble cast, as bumbling actors on a bad U.S. television show being filmed in Canada.
Lorne plays Hoyt Talbot Jr., a veteran stuntman who`s fallen on his head too many times. Sometimes, he says, he`ll just start blurting out lines from a totally different movie, or he`ll do a shoulder roll in the middle of the street because he thinks the cameras are rolling. “Or he hears gunfire and goes into platoon mode.“