Hailing from Alberta, Canada, multi-talented Paul Michael Gross acts, writes, directs, produces, composes, and performs music, and is best known for his starring role in the television police series Due South (from 1994-1999). The show followed the adventures of Royal Canadian Mounted Police Officer Constable Benton Fraser (played by Gross) and his half-wolf companion Diefenbaker (who was deaf but could read lips).
From 2003 until 2006, Gross starred in another Canadian TV series called Slings and Arrows that also featured his wife (Martha Burns), Stephen Ouimette, Don McKellar, and Mark McKinney.
In 2008, Gross released Passchendaele, a historical production based on his own grandfather’s experiences during the Battle of Passchendaele in the First World War. Passchendaele took home a Genie (Canadian cinema) award in the Best Motion Picture category in April of 2009.
Gross received numerous nominations and has won several Genies for his work in television in both acting and writing. He is married to award-winning Canadian actress Martha Burns and the couple has two children, Hannah and Jack.
Gross has appeared in many television shows and films. His latest, Eastwick, based on the 1987 film The Witches of Eastwick, premieres on ABC on September 23, 10/9C.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Hi Paul, thanks for talking with me. Have you been filming today?
Paul Gross: No, I go in at 11:30 tonight. We’re filming a lot of night scenes.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Tell me about Eastwick. Is it a little bit more “light-hearted” than the film it is based on (The Witches of Eastwick)?
Paul Gross: Well, it’s a more modern evolution of it, I suppose. It started with the Updike novel and then the film… this one is a different configuration. It has many similar qualities. Maggie Freeman is the creator of the show.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): How do you feel about playing the Jack Nicholson character of Darryl Van Horne?
Paul Gross: (laughs) First of all, I try to spend most of my time not thinking about that! It’s a bit daunting, you know. He’s kind of like Mt. Rushmore… you can’t really climb Jack – you may want to get that image out of your mind (laughs). But, seriously, when I’m actually doing the part, it feels like anything I do is sort of alright (laughs). So I can kind of do anything I feel like. You know it’s that kind of part that’s not particularly bound by limits.
He has a mysterious background, it’s very mysterious, and you don’t know really where he came from. There are a lot of questions about him and then most anything seems to be okay… as opposed to playing a policeman in a procedural where you’re pretty well bound by the reality of it. And, I live in a kind of unreal world, so it’s fairly liberating. It is a lot of fun working with the actresses on the show.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Yes, the three future “witches” (played by Lindsay Price, Jaime Ray Newman, and Rebecca Romijn)…are they already friends or do they meet each other in the town?
Paul Gross: They meet up in the first episode. They all live in the same town, but they never particularly had much to do with one another. In the pilot episode, their paths all cross. They cross because I need to get them all together. They don’t know that, but I’m behind everything. I’m the puppet master. So, things get more complicated.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): So, the three women are wishing for magical powers?
Paul Gross: Yes, I think it’s a little about wish fulfillment. But, I think it’s as much about releasing whatever is frustrating in their lives and empowering them to a great extent.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Jack Nicholson played the devil, didn’t he?
Paul Gross: Yes…but I’m devilish. Certainly there is something very dark and mysterious in his background.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): But, we won’t find out what that is in the first episode.
Paul Gross: No, I don’t think so. But, there’s enough for you know that there is much more to this guy than meets the eye.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): How did you get involved in the series, just read the script one day?
Paul Gross: Yeah, I read a whole bunch of scripts. I haven’t done anything in the U. S. in television in quite a while… you know I’m in Canada.
Anyway, they asked me if I’d be interested in doing it and I read it and thought it was pretty good and I came down and met with Maggie Freeman and David Nutter who directed the pilot. They were lovely and we had a great meeting and so I thought I’d give this a shot.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): I noticed that Veronica Cartwright is in Eastwick and she was also in the 1987 film.
Paul Gross: Yeah, she’s great. It has been very interesting working with her, especially the stories… none of which I can repeat, but…
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): At least give me one?
Paul Gross: Nope, they’re all filthy.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Art you living in Canada now and commuting to LA?
Paul Gross: Yes, I’m kind of going back and forth… more or less commuting. It’s not quite working out as smoothly as I’d like it to but, it’s a nice five-hour commute.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): You are certainly no stranger to series television as you starred in Due South, which was a comedy.
Paul Gross: Yeah, it was a comedy inside of a procedural, I guess. I mean, you know I don’t think CBS ever really knew how to sell it… how to tell people what it was.
Things were so de-compartmentalized in those days several years ago – either you were a drama or a comedy. But, I always thought of it more as an urban fable. Anyway, that show went on to play around the world – I think it played in every country on the planet.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Leslie Nielsen guest-starred in a couple of episodes. He is such a funny man.
Paul Gross: He’s a good friend of mine and he kind of invented a certain kind of dead-pan comedy that’s just hilarious and so many people have gone on to emulate that. He had a big influence on how I would play Due South because he was there fairly early on so he was a great mentor.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): What did you do after Due South ended?
Paul Gross: I did another film and another series in Canada… I just stayed there really and worked. I did a show that did play down here called Slings and Arrows. I think it played on the Sundance channel. And I did a World War One movie called Passchendaele.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): I’m a history buff so I was interested in that…did the idea for the film come from your grandfather who was in the First World War?
Paul Gross: Well, my grandfather was there… I mean, he was there pretty much for the duration of the conflict. You know, l think, like a lot of guys from wars, he just didn’t talk a lot about it.
I guess I was about 15 or 16 and I was just bugging him constantly. You know, “What’s it like to kill Germans?” So, finally one day he started talking and the story he told me was about the Battle of Passchendaele and ever since then I’ve had an abiding interest in that war.
I always thought it would be nice to do something about it eventually and luckily enough… and it took a long time, it wasn’t like I said, well let’s make a film and we ran out and made one. It took years and years to figure out how to finance it and all that.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): You wrote it, starred in it, and directed it.
Paul Gross: I know, ridiculous (laughs). Fundamentally though, I just did it because it’s cheaper… one guy does three jobs.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Yes, I guess you don’t have to pay two of those guys, huh?
Paul Gross: (laughs)
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Which one do you like best… writing, acting, or directing?
Paul Gross: I don’t really see them as being all that different. I mean, they are all part and parcel of just telling a story. For that film, I just thought I should direct it because it was something I knew more intimately than anybody else.
To be honest with you, it’s been kind of like a holiday working on Eastwick to not carry the burden of producing it as well or worrying about the light going down and all of that sort of stuff. To just go in and say what I’m told to say and wear what I’m told to wear and stand where they tell me to stand is kind of fun.
It really kind of depends on the project. But, I have for the last 10-15 years kind of been doing things that I’m interested in doing and been lucky enough to find the money to be able to do them and that has been enjoyable. But, I needed a change of pace, I think, so that’s why I decided I’d do this.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Are your parents still in Canada?
Paul Gross: Yeah, they’re still there, although I’m not exactly sure where they are. They launched themselves off on this long trip that started a couple of months ago to Europe, then the Balkans… if they’re not back now, they should be getting back soon.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Your mom’s a writer also?
Paul Gross: She’s written a lot of non-fiction books, historically based. She’s from Alberta. My dad was in the Canadian army, so we bounced around the world some.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): What do you do when you’re not working?
Paul Gross: Well, I’ve been working on a new script for the next film I want to direct, but it won’t be for a couple of years. I also have a production company in Canada and my time is taken up kind of back and forth and with emails… but I’m keeping busy.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): So, you have no hobbies?
Paul Gross: No, although I took some surfing lessons. I thought since I’m going to be in California, I should try that. And, now I think I’m going to take that up because it’s a lot of fun and I’m terrible at it (laughs).
Interview by Melissa Parker
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