By rights, Henry Czerny should be sound asleep. After four weeks of 17-hour days on his latest movie project, a dark comedy called The Michelle Apartments, the obligatory wrap party kept Czerny up until six in the morning. But six hours later, at this lunch meeting at a restaurant near his east-end Toronto home last week, the 35-year-old actor is animated, witty and personable—nothing like the reticent Brother Lavin who burned up the screen in the 1992 CBC-TV movie The Boys of St. Vincent. He even managed to put in his routine morning jog. “Classic Type-A” Czemy explains. “I just have one of those metabolisms.”
A good thing for him. Since his breakthrough in Boys, which prompted The New Yorker to describe his performance as “miraculous,” Czerny has put together a hectic string of projects that would make many actors drool. In The Michelle Apartments, directed by Canadian John Pozer (The Grocer’s Wife), Czemy plays a government tax auditor caught in a swirl of murder and sex in a weird little one-industry town. In When Night Is Falling, an offbeat love story by Toronto director Patricia Rozema (I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing) that completed filming in Toronto in May, Czemy co-stars as a conservative boyfriend cuckolded by a mysterious lesbian. He also recently wrapped up a starring role opposite Lolita Davidovitch in the made-for-TV court-
room drama Trial at Fortitude Bay. And in August, his Hollywood debut in Clear and Present Danger—a designated blockbuster starring Harrison Ford—will hit the big screen across North America. In short, Henry is hot.
And he seems to find it all a little surprising. “Even as we sit here,” Czemy says, sipping coffee, “I’m thinking, What bloody right do I have to talk to somebody from Maclean’s magazine about my life? What would it be to anybody?’ ” For the record, Czemy was bom in Toronto in 1959, the last of three children of working-class Polish parents—“about as far removed from an artistic background as you can get,” he says. But as the youngest child, he had to work on his attention-getting skills. That turned him to drama, such as it was. His first role: second shillelagh to Lucky Larry Leprechaun in a kindergarten play. From those humble beginnings, Czemy went on to receive formal training at the National Theatre School in Montreal. “I felt like a complete misfit,” he recalls, “wondering what the hell I’m doing here and will they ever find out that I’m really just a kid from west-end Toronto.” After graduating in 1982, he went on to perform onstage across the country, from Ottawa’s National Arts Centre to Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre and the Stratford Festival. By the late 1980s, he had established himself as a seasoned veteran of Canadian theatre—a long way from Lucky Larry. Still, he seems to have really come into his own offstage, in television and movies. In The Boys of St. Vincent, director John N. Smith’s film based roughly on the Mount Cashel child-abuse scandal in Newfoundland, Czerny’s startling portrayal of Brother Lavin, the nefarious orphanage director, won well-deserved praise from critics. Czerny is still earning accolades south of the border, where the three-hour film debuted in New York City movie houses last month. That response clearly gratifies the actor. But the depth of his portrayal—the result of hours of
■ I research into the psychology of sexu13 al abusers—has left some scars. ‘To 12 this day,” he says, “I can’t watch Boys 11 without feeling that dysfunction, that
lz loneliness. Even as I talk about it “ now, it’s welling up.”
When Czerny describes his profession, there is a hint of the gears at work behind his deep-set blue eyes. His film-acting technique, he explains, arose from “watching myself make a lot of mistakes before I got to a point where I knew, relatively, how to move a limb, how to move an eyebrow.” He describes his approach to acting as “workmanlike” and says it is a style he shares with costar Ford in Clear and Present Danger. In this, the third movie based on the novels of best-selling author Tom Clancy, Czerny plays scheming CIA agent William Ritter, who goes head-to-head with Ford’s hero, Jack Ryan. Ritter is yet another unsavory character for Czerny. And that concerns him—he flirted with typecasting earlier this year when he played a child abuser in Ultimate Betrayal, a CBS TV movie based on a true story. “I’m not auditioning for heavies any more,” he says. “All you need is one more and, man, you’re busting butt to try to get people to see you differently.”
If sheer force of will is any guarantee of avoiding the pitfalls of fame, Czemy need not worry. In his spare time—what little he has of it—he reads scripts, searching for the right part. Or he indulges his passion for carpentry, another thing he shares with Ford. “I can’t relax,” Czemy says. “My idea of hell is being on a beach with no volleyball.” He admits that, yes, his hyperactivity sometimes drives his fiancée of two years, law student Anne Kendall, crazy. But if relaxation comes hard for Czemy, a taste of success has made him more at home in his actor’s garb—and the work, after all, is the thing. “For the first time, I no longer want to be taller,” says the actor, who is five foot, nine inches tall. “I no longer want to be a kid who wasn’t from west Toronto. I’m now happy being Henry.” Lunch and three cups of coffee later, he says his goodbyes. He is going home, finally, to get some sleep.
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