Excerpts from an Interview with Kenneth Welsh
Conducted by Charles Prepolec on September 8, 2000
Copyright Muse Entertainment Inc. 2000
Cast as Watson in the new Muse Entertainment Inc. production of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" is Edmonton, Alberta born actor Kenneth Welsh. Best known for his portrayal of convicted killer Colin Thatcher, Welsh has also appeared in more than 30 films including  “Legends of the Fall”, “The Freshman”, “Crocodile Dundee II” and “The House on Carroll Street”. To American viewers, he is likely best known for his performance as Windom Earle in David Lynch's "Twin Peaks". I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Welsh for an upcoming issue of Scarlet Street.
Excerpts are presented here, but be sure to pick up issue number 40 of Scarlet Street later this fall, for a full article plus interviews with Matt Frewer and director Rodney Gibbons. Scarlet Street can be found at all good magazine retailers. Visit the Scarlet Street site by clicking here. These excerpts are used with the kind permission of Scarlet Street Magazine.
On playing Watson:
Q: How did your involvement with the Holmes film come about?

KW: Well, how simple can it be? My agent called me and said they were shooting another version of Hound of the Baskervilles in Montreal. "They’ve offered you the role of Doctor Watson, here’s the amount of money, will you do it?" I said yes.

Q: Had you read any of the Holmes stories prior to your involvement with this project?

KW: No

Q: So you are coming to the character cold?

KW: Well, I mean I’ve seen some of the old movies, you know, and I’m familiar with the archetype. But I’ve never actually read one except I think in comic book form. I think my son had a couple of them. I’ve seen a production of Sherlock Holmes…something about the serpent.

Q: Oh, the Speckled Band

KW: The Speckled Band yeah. I saw that on stage years ago. My cousin played Sherlock Holmes in it. It was in Vancouver…at the Playhouse.

Q: So how did you prepare for the part then?

KW: How did I prepare? Well, I grew a moustache (laughs) I ah…read the script I um, I don’t know, I kind of…I guess after reading the script I… you know, decided I wasn’t going to try and play everyone else’s Watson.

Q: So did you then find yourself going back to Doyle’s text and read up on the character?

KW: Well, I had my friend Charlie Dennis look up for me the biography of Watson in the Detectives Dictionary and found out that he was a number of things I didn’t realize. You know that Watson is sometimes played as a man that is, how shall I say, short of breath and overweight.

Q: Did you find yourself looking at older productions or films or television programs?

KW: No, I did not, not in this case. No I…I thought, well you know I’ve got enough sense to put Watson in. I’ll just play it the way it’s written you know. Although in that episode he is pretty much on his own.

Q: Were you a little surprised that Watson in essence carries the story?

KW: Yes I was. I was surprised and delighted because I haven’t been number one on a call sheet for a few years now.

Q: What if anything is there about Watson that you like, or anything you dislike about him?

KW: Not a thing. I love him. I think he’s a beautiful man. He’s very compassionate, kind, interested in people, explorative, concerned about Holmes’ drug habits and unafraid to express an opinion. I think he’s really kind of an admirable sort of man actually.

Q: So how much of Kenneth Welsh is there in Watson, or do you tend more towards a Holmes type personality?

KW: Oh, no, no, no, I’m very much like Watson, I think. Except I think I’m probably more scatterbrained like Holmes, in real life. I have no idea what is going on around me. And so playing Watson is kind of like an alter-ego thing…someone that is really organized and efficient, observant and disciplined. None of which I am, so I think it is really interesting to play the opposite end as who you might like to be as well.

Q: It appears that this project is turning into a string of features for television?

KW: Yes, something like that…a string of television features, yeah. I’m really enjoying him because Watson is such a main featured character all the time.

Q: Well the current script seems to be fairly faithful. He’s intelligent, articulate and resourceful.

KW:  Absolutely. And they intend to keep it that way. You know, a man that is physically fit. I can remember when we had to trudge up some hillside and somebody suggested, the cameraman or somebody said, “Well I suppose that Watson will appear out of breath or something.” The director said “Not our Watson! He can climb any mountain like this one. Remember Afghanistan.”
On period characters and costumes:
Q: Now you’ve been in a number of period pieces, notably as "Thomas Edison: Wizard of Light", Sherrif Tynert in "Legends of the Fall", and of course your roles in "Love and Larceny" and "Grand Larceny".

KW: And “Hiroshima” as Harry Truman. Which is a period as well.

Q: Right. Do you find it more challenging or rewarding playing in historical settings? Are you drawn to period characters?

KW: Well, I really do like it, because there is a certain kind of style you can play. The costumes are so elegant you know, from the end of the nineteenth century. You know, the walking stick…and there is a kind of attitude you can play which is kind of fun. I like wearing the Homburgs and the stiff collars. I just like the look of that. I think it suits me.

Q: I would agree. Do you find it easier to step into character when the costuming is different from your day to day clothing?

KW: Well, this is a good question to ask, because in this case I had to shed another character in order to take on this one. Some of the costumes were worn directly in something, which you may or may not ever see, which has been put on the shelf. Its called “Revenge of the Land”, which is a period piece from the same period that was shot two years ago. Unfortunately it was shot by Cinar, which is now bankrupt and has to pay off its debts before any of its films can be released, but CBC was supposed to air it last year and they didn’t. And now I understand it may be in this Fall season, but I very much doubt it. Anyway, I wore some of the exact same costumes I wore in that.

Q: Is there something you enjoy as an actor about playing real individuals?

KW: Oh yes, I like it when there is some sort of blueprint based on a real person. Then you can do all kinds of interesting research and try to come up with a portrait. It’s like when an actor is given the chance to paint. It may seem painting by numbers, but its not. When you do your research then you can transform yourself according to the color of that character. The more you discover about it, the more detail you can put into it. I truly enjoy that kind of research and learning about people like Edison and Truman, and even Thatcher. It is always a great study for me to unearth details about someone’s life that I am about to become. I think that’s really great fun. It really is an extra dimension.
On working as an actor in Canada:
Q: Growing up in Edmonton must have presented it’s share of challenges to someone breaking into the entertainment industry in Alberta?

KW: Well, yeah, because there wasn’t one. I mean that all I knew was that I wanted to be an actor you know. So again, I’m always in fortunate circumstances. I seem to have a blessed life. I was born and raised in a province where drama was a curriculum choice, unlike any place else in Canada at that time. It was all because of a certain few people who decided that this was a good thing and lobbied the government for it. So, you know, I took my credit course in high school because somebody told me it was easy and I became completely enamoured of being an actor when I was fifteen. And then, there, of course was the greatest theatre department in North America, right there in Edmonton. I can remember, in fact, when I was in my third year at U of A, we hosted the North American Theatre conference. That was a very, very exciting event because Alberta was very highly regarded. So I got the best instruction a person could have, but I then didn’t know where to go from there. I was tempted to go to New York, because a friend of mine then went on to the Neighborhood Playhouse from U of A. I got a scholarship to go to Carnegie, but there was this new thing called The National Theatre School.

Q: In Montreal.

KW: Yeah, and I thought, well, if I’m going to make my life out of this I’m not going to stop my education here, I’m going to get as much as I can. That was my thinking then, and it was the right thinking. So I applied for NTS, I auditioned and I was accepted and spent three more years there. By that time, I was out in the open enough. As you said, being a boy from Alberta, there isn’t a lot, I mean you are isolated, I had no idea what to do. No idea where to go to be an actor. But by the time I got out of theatre school, you know when I got my first job, I auditioned for Stratford, which had been an ideal of mine. I found a home there for seven years. I got a very nice start in Alberta, being in the right place at the right time.
On the nature of Television in Canada:
Q: It strikes me that as Canadians we do a lot of true life programs. It occurs to me that you are in quite a few of them.

KW: I seem to be.

Q: What do you think it is about Canadians that seem to draw us to true life stories on television?

KW: Hmmm…I think it’s partly accident. I think it comes from a group of people at the film board, years ago, who basically created a Canadian style of film making, and it was pretty much documentary. And a lot of their focus, for some reason, was on Canadian figures or Canadian stories because that’s what part of their mandate was.

Q: Well exactly.

KW: That kind of spread and it became a sort of Canadian hallmark, to concentrate on stories about ourselves. I think it’s also because of our isolated community and the need to, like the CBC mandate, to kind of tell Canadians their story in order to keep us together in some sense. To share stories about people, either notorious or legendary, in order to have a kind of unified look at ourselves.
For companion interviews with Matt Frewer and director Rodney Gibbons plus a full article on the production of "The Hound of the Baskervilles"  please pick up Scarlet Street Number 40 which is on sale as of November 20, 2000. Visit the Scarlet Street site for more information on the best magazine for lovers of classic mystery and horror!
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