Jun 27, 2011

[INTERVIEW] Shawn Doyle (Big Love, Endgame)

Actor Shawn Doyle has been featured in a long list of television and film appearances, from small roles in hit American shows "Lost" and "24", and a bigger role in HBO's "Big Love", to his roles in Canadian programming like the mini-series "Guns" and the recently cancelled Showcase drama "EndGame".

When the show Endgame was cancelled, many of the show's fans went to the internet to make their voices heard.   On Facebook there is page set up to bring the fans together and to come up with ways of making their thoughts known to the executives at Showcase.

What is interesting about this is that it's not just fans that are supporting them, but also several of the actors from the show, including Patrick Gallagher (who plays head of Security at the hotel) and Shawn Doyle, who plays the main character of Arkady Balagan.

I reached out to Doyle recently to see if he wanted to talk about the show, the fans "Save Endgame" movement, and how he viewed the evolution of the character in a potential second season.

SFCB:  How did you get involved in the series, and what attracted you to the character of Arkady Balagan?

Shawn Doyle: I was living in LA, having just finished the HBO show Big Love and planning my return to Canada.   My Canadian agent contacted me and asked if I was interested in auditioning for this new show about a Russian Chess Master who is confined to a hotel, a character who never went outside.   I passed immediately; I couldn't think of a duller-sounding job than to be stuck on the same sets for seven months.  Monotonous. And at the time (and please don't take offense out there, all ye of Russian descent), I had no particular draw to playing a Russian character. I never had an adverse reaction to the idea, mind you, I simply had no immediate kinship. I'm just an Irish dude, after all.  AND, though I knew my way around a board, I had no strong pull to the game of Chess. 


Then Adriana Maggs, writer and director of my last film Grown Up Movie Star (see it. It was in World Competition at Sundance 2009) wrote and asked if she could give my email to Avrum Jacobson, Creator of Endgame.  He wanted to explain to me personally what a lousy decision I had made about his show.  Of course, he was right.  Through some very funny emails he convinced me that this could be an incredibly entertaining show and one helluva character to run with. And I read a couple scripts, which really hooked me.
I met with Avrum, the director David Frazee and Thunderbird honchos Michael Shepard and Joe Broido in Los Angeles to talk about it all.  In usual fashion, I sincerely questioned why they thought I was the right person for the job (I simply couldn't imagine me in the role) and suggested other amazing actors that could do it. They were insistent and we decided to give it a shot.  So they flew me up to Vancouver and we spent an hour messing around with the scenes, trying them this way and that, trying the character on for size. 

That session convinced us all that I was the right fit.  For me, the final piece fell into place and I understood the allure of this crazy character:  the only way Arkady would be successful was if the actor playing him managed to continually surprise himself in the moment.  For any actor, the challenge of taking risks and never knowing how things will play out is the ultimate drug: scary but oh so satisfying.  And, at that point, I was addicted and couldn't wait to start.

SFCB:  You have acted in shows using accents and dialects other than your own in he past.  In Numbers you used a Pakistani dialect, and in Endgame, of course, you used Russian.   Do you have the same dialect coach for each of your roles, or does each show or movie bring in another coach for you to work with?

Shawn Doyle: I like to have control over who to work with. There are many dialect coaches who know technically how to do it, but the actual sounds of the accent are only a tiny part of the equation.  What's more important is the character that is voicing them. Otherwise the accent takes over everything and the acting SUCKS.  So I tend to work with coaches who help me explore the character first and allow the "sound" to come from that.

For example, one dialect coach outlined very specific rules for doing a "Russian accent". But they were generic , stereotypical, and very limiting.  As I discovered Arkady, I knew he used his whole vocal range all the time and didn't limit himself to talking like Dolf Lungdren in Rocky 4. He needed dynamism and charisma.  Hence, my accent was borne from acting preparation, knowing Arkady had more of a subtle accent from his years of studying abroad and being on the world stage. More cosmopolitan and European.
 A wonderful dialect coach in LA, Rod Menzies, helped me with both this role AND Sir John A Macdonald (Scottish, Father of Canadian Confederation) for a movie to be shown later in the year on CBC. He's awesome, and a fine director, I'm sure.

SFCB:  How did you approach your role of an extreme agoraphobic?  Did you do a lot of research on agoraphobia?

Shawn Doyle: I've been around various people who suffer this phobia, and many others.  I just used that experience.  My belief is that at some point an actor needs to just get out of the way and allow the character to come through him/her. A bit like channelling or something.  

I know that sounds flakey!  For example, I had an actual panic attack while rehearsing a scene during the second week of shooting. Thought I was having a heart attack but wasn't, thankfully.  That's just the character finding his way through me, the actor's process. Aren't you glad you have REAL jobs?!?

SFCB:  At what point did you discover that the network was not sure about bringing it back for a second season, and do you know if that had any influence on how the season ended, as it pertains to the cliffhanger?

Shawn Doyle: The writing and shooting of a show takes place LONG before a network decides to put their thumb up or down.  I didn't find out much before you, and the cliffhanger was meant to be just that, a cliffhanger for the next season.  Which we all strongly believed would be forthcoming...

SFCB:  Ever since the news that the show was not being renewed, the fans reaction has been amazing and they definitely don't seem to be going quietly into that good night, so to speak. They have been getting out the word for the writing campaign to contact the executives at Showcase.

There are a lot of shows whose fan seems to halfheartedly make their voices heard, and then there are others such as those fans of the CBS series "Jericho", and WB's "Veronica Mars" that go above and beyond, even getting some of the actors and creators in on it.  In that vein it's very similar to "Endgame" where even some of the actors such as yourself, Patrick Gallagher and Torrance Coombs have stopped in and shown their support.

Talk about how it's felt to see the fans, not just Canadian, but world wide, so completely embrace your character and show to the point that they are using their time and energy to make sure it continues.

Shawn Doyle: For me, the fun of what we do is the actual doing.  SHHHH, don't tell anyone but I haven't even seen most of the episodes, because I know what happens!  Watching oneself, for many actors, is worse than shaving our heads with cheese graters.  

But to find out that our work has affected people around the world to the degree that they are willing to fight for a future...that is the most gratifying feeling we can have as actors;  To witness, firsthand, that our work actually MEANS something to someone...wow.

SFCB:  How do you envision the character of Arkady continuing in a potential second season?  With the knowledge that he gained in the season finale, Arkady doesn't seem to be someone that easily backs down from what he would perceive as a formidable foe.

Shawn Doyle: I'll leave it up to the genius of Avrum's mind, but I would love to further explore Arkady's phobias, his insistence at keeping Rosemary alive by hunting down her killers, and his deep-seeded desire to keep living in the face of such profound loss.

SFCB:  You have worked on various projects, both in Canada, such as Guns and Endgame, and on American shows such as Big Love and 24.   Would you say there's any real difference between working on a Canadian production as opposed to an American one?

Shawn Doyle: Money.  Not talent.  Money.

SFCB:  Speaking of the Mini-series Guns, here in the States there is a lot of gun violence.  And whenever a tragedy happens such as Columbine, or the recent shooting of Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, there's usually an outcry for gun regulation.  Due to the power of the NRA here, that usually doesn't get very far other than rhetoric.

One of the common refrains we hear is how Canada has pretty much the same level of gun ownership as we do, however the number of gun deaths each year in Canada is far far below what we experience, and so we should model our gun laws and regulation after Canada.  In fact Michael Moore famously featured this in his Academy Award winning documentary "Bowling For Columbine".

Do you think that's reality, or is it sort of like everywhere else in the world where certain areas seem to be more crime ridden than others, and people tend to only focus on the numbers that make their case?

Shawn Doyle: Yes.  Gun-control is not something I'm an expert in, but I will say this:  how could we possibly have the same amount of gun ownership that USA has when our population is a fraction of yours?  The math doesn't add up.  

Yes, we have pockets of crime and gun violence here in Canada, mostly in Toronto and Vancouver, but the numbers and access to weapons is nothing compared to the States.  This, of course, is not to say we don't have serious problems that aren't growing each year, as more and more guns make their way over the border...

SFCB:  In closing, what would you like to say to all the fans of the show from all over the world that have been fighting to keep this show on the air?

Shawn Doyle: We have chosen to tell stories.  That's what we do.  And like all artists everywhere, it ain't always easy to get the stories out.

We couldn't be any more grateful for all you people out there helping us get our story out.  You rock.  Thank you.

SFCB:  Thank you very much, Shawn, for your time.


  1. Thanks to both Shawn Doyle and Gary for an awesome piece. Here's hoping we see more adventures of Arkady and friends at the Huxley Hotel VERY soon!!

  2. Awesome piece Gary. And thanks to Shawn Doyle for taking the time to do the interview. I just know we can get a season two, and more!

  3. Thank you to Shawn Doyle and Gary for taking the time to answer some of our questions! Awesome! Hope to see more of Endgame next season. *fingers crossed*

  4. Linking this to my fanpage!


  5. such a great interview! it should go on a magazine! really!

  6. Every interview I read just makes me want more of Arkady. I'll even take a webseries. I just want to see where Arkady can go.

  7. Could the author of this piece contact me. I'm trying to reach Mr. Doyle (or his agent, more likely to start) for a story in our paper.


    arobinson (at) thetelegram.com

  8. @Andrew:

    I have forwarded your message to Shawn.

    Thank you.


Feel free to leave a comment below. Any racist, homophobic or otherwise discriminatory type comments will be deleted. If it gets bad, I'll just turn on comment moderation again. You don't have to agree with my views, but as this is my blog, I will demand that you be respectful while disagreeing.