Interview: Michael Ironside Talks KNUCKLEBALL and Playing Tough Guys

Over the past forty years, Michael Ironside has become one of the most recognizable and respected actors in television and film. He is legendary for playing intensely intimidating characters and his distinctive voice has led to voice work in commercials and video games. Some of his most memorable performances include such films as Scanners and Top Gun. He was immediately intrigued by the script for the new film Knuckleball from Writer/director Michael Peterson and agreed to play the part of Jacob. The film also stars Luca Villacis as Jacob’s grandson Henry and Munro Chambers as Jacob’s mysterious and menacing neighbor Dixon. When Henry’s parents go out of town for a funeral, they leave him to stay with his grandfather on his isolated farm just before a bitter snowstorm hits. Henry is forced to fight for his life and in the process of trying to survive, he learns some truly terrifying family secrets. Dread Central was honored to have the opportunity to speak with Michael Ironside about Knuckleball, why he’s well-known for playing villains, and a lot more! Read on to find out what we talked about.

Knuckleball is in theaters and on VOD now.

Dread Central: What did you think of the script for Knuckleball the first time you read it?

Michael Ironside:  I read the script and I really, really liked it when I got the first draft. What I liked about the script was the central story of a lack of communication between characters and generations. I thought that that was absolutely phenomenal because I think that’s the biggest problem in the world right now. We’ve never had more opportunity to communicate, but so little is being said and so much of what is being said is misinformation that is being bastardized, twisted, and manipulated. That part of the script absolutely fascinated me. The idea of it being generational and between the grandfather and the grandson; It was just so intriguing to have different characters say the same things but from different points of view.

I think for me that is the center of the film. The lack of communication, the lack of understanding, the lack of familial tribal strength that we don’t have in society anymore, at least not the way we used to. And all the horrors that come from that; whether it’s world wars, ethnic cleansing, women being mistreated and misrepresented and used as sexual scapegoats; I mean all of it comes down to an inability to communicate with each other. That’s what grabbed me when I read the first draft of the script and that’s what we basically honed in on. How do we work on that? How do we work on the isolation that comes from a lack of communication; and from that isolation, all the anxiety and suffering, and so on, and make it entertaining? So, we eliminated the cell phone almost immediately (laughs).

DC: Jacob has a dark side, but he does seem to genuinely love his grandson. How much input did you have as far as how you portrayed the character and what was it like to work with Munro Chambers and Luca Villacis?

MI: The director Michael Peterson actually re-worked a lot of the stuff that was in the script. Mike and I both had the same central take on what was wanted to be said and what the script and story was about. I suggested Munro Chambers and Munro came on board. Michael went through about eleven or twelve different kids until he came up with Luca. This is his biggest and, I think, it’s almost his first job. He’s done other things, but for him to take on this character, and then we all gelled. Munro, Luca, and myself, we all had a sense of, this is different, you know? We were all able to play and feel safe at taking risks and I think it shows in the film.

Munro and I are friends and we have worked together before on Turbo Kid and one other film before this. He’s always been cast as the pretty little guy and I don’t mean that as being disparaging. He’s done it for a long time in things like Degrassi: The Next Generation. I said, “You need to do something where you are destroying or going to the other end of the spectrum with your emotions, and you have to let people know how you can suspend reality.” So, he was a little nervous about doing this, but when he came on board he completely committed himself. They added some special effects, some teeth, some makeup around his cheeks, and changed his hairline, stuff like that. All little subtle things that changed his face and made him a little bit different and he built his character to walk differently. When he looks up at that bedroom window when I’m hugging my grandson, it’s a real, wonderful, subtle moment for his character. It’s so over the top work in this film. The film becomes the main character, not us, if that makes any sense. When my daughter drops off my grandson, there is such a need for physical contact. We made the choice not to touch and just look at each other instead. I’m quite proud of the work we did on this film.

I don’t do press for a lot films. A lot of them are little juggernauts that propel themselves through the universe. Some films like this, where you take it on and it’s not the greatest budget, but you get the chance to bring a group of people together and all work together so well. The crew, for example, they were all wonderful. We were shooting in Alberta in this stark landscape where one day it was about twenty below and the next day it was just two below, and you would be grateful for that.  I think the cinematographer, Jon Thomas, should get a nod. He and Mike worked out a visual palette that runs congruent with what we were doing onscreen as actors. There’s that starkness, and at the same time that need for humanity in it; the absence of love, the absence of connection and I think it’s quite evident. I think Jon did an incredible job and also Michael Peterson directing. There is a whole physical tapestry that becomes this film, right from the opening shot and the aerial shots right down to the very end.

Somebody said to me, “It’s kind of like Home Alone, but on acid.” I don’t agree with that. Right from the very beginning, there’s a starkness about this; the communication between the family in the car; the anxiety between the husband and the wife; and the kid on the phone. There’s a stark landscape, there’s a family in a car with a mother who is taking anxiety pills, and a father who is driving and not communicating, and a kid on a cell phone playing a game. That’s the format for the whole film. We’re all present. We’re all here and nobody hears or talks to anybody. There’s no emotional commitment.

DC: Throughout your career, you’ve become well-known for playing villains or tough guys.  How did that come about and do you prefer those types of roles?

MI: It’s an old joke I’ve been saying for the last thirty-five years. If you kill one person with a shovel and somebody makes money off it, they really don’t want you to do anything but kill people with shovels. The shovel may become a truck (laughs) and the person you’re hitting may become Meryl Streep or something like that. It’s such a treacherous gamble financially and everything is about money. So, for people to trust that you can do something other than what you were perceived as, it’s a big deal. I think out of the three hundred or so films that I’ve made maybe thirty-five of them have been chosen because they affect distribution. Things like Knuckleball you choose because the script is wonderful and you get along with the director. Michael and I will work together again. As you can tell, I liked this project.



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