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Bruce Greenwood juggling big and small films on both sides of the border

People wait for the Service Canada centre to open on April 2, 2014 in Montreal. The Canadian economy closed out 2014 by losing 4,300 net jobs in December, a slight dip that left the unemployment rate unchanged at 6.6 per cent, Statistics Canada said Friday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

TORONTO – In a rare moment of relaxation, prolific Canadian actor Bruce Greenwood gushes about a simple pleasure he’s rarely afforded — lounging on the couch.

“I get zero down time,” Greenwood says in a recent interview from his adopted home in Los Angeles.

“I lay on the couch yesterday for the first time (in a while) and I was reading a script and I kind of laid it on my chest and I nodded off on the couch. And I went, ‘I haven’t done that in two years.’ It was amazing.”

Greenwood notes he just finished work on Carl Bessai’s theatre comedy “Rehearsal” and the Dan Rather-focused film “Truth,” with Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford. Before that he had just come from Budapest where he did “Good Kill” with Ethan Hawke.

Then there was the drama “Fathers and Daughters” with Russell Crowe and the low-budget feature “Wildlike,” shot in Alaska.

“I know there’s a couple I’m forgetting,” he says of the marathon of work that took up the past year and a half.

Of all of those, “Elephant Song” was a special project, he adds.

The slow-burning drama centres on a troubled young man named Michael, played by Xavier Dolan, who was the last person to see a missing psychiatrist, played by Colm Feore. Greenwood plays hospital director Dr. Toby Greene, who is called in to find out what happened to his colleague and determine what role Michael may have played.

Meanwhile, Catherine Keener co-stars as a wary nurse who cautions Dr. Greene against getting too close to Michael and his dangerous mind games.

Greenwood says he fell in love with the script about 20 pages in, and immediately called Montreal-based director Charles Biname to tell him he wanted to accept the part.

Once he got on set, he relished the long conversations they shared over how best to tackle the labyrinthine tale.

“We spent a lot of time talking about tone and detail and how close we wanted to play the cards to the chest, how tight we wanted Greene to be with his emotion,” says Greenwood, who is up for a Canadian Screen Award this weekend for best actor. The film is also up for best adapted screenplay.

“And it’s rare you get to really discuss that in exhaustive detail with a director. Usually the director is busy and leaves you to your own devices.”

Biname notes that the script is based on a play of the same name, which largely takes place in one room. For the most part the play features just two characters.

Playwright Nicolas Billon did the adaptation himself and opened up the tale considerably by adding in a heartbreaking secondary story about the painful past shared by the nurse and Greene.

“It’s like a puzzle — you open the box, you see the pieces but you really don’t know what the picture is going to be. You have to assemble it. It’s proposed as an enigma, a thriller of sorts for the audience.”

He adds that Dolan lobbied hard to win the part of the enigmatic Michael. They met for lunch and spoke at length about the project, with Biname admitting he questioned whether Dolan could set aside his own directing impulses.

“You don’t want to have two directors on set. It’s like two captains on a ship,” he said of Dolan, arguably better known these days as a director for his Cannes smashes “Mommy” and “I Killed My Mother.”

“I said, ‘I just want to make sure that you’re not coming in as a director-actor, but as an actor-actor.’ And after that hour we spent together he said, ‘I totally trust you and I’ll just be an actor.’ Which is what he did.”

“Elephant Song” opens Friday in Toronto and Ottawa, on March 6 in Vancouver, and March 27 in London, Ont., and Charlottetown.

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