On Tuesday I posted the Part One of my Q&A with actor, Patrick Cook, as we discussed how he approached playing Gilbert Blythe in the current production of Anne & Gilbert: A Musical at The Guild in Charlottetown, P.E.I.
Sidebar: Everyone I’ve recommended the show to and has had the opportunity to go has not been disappointed. So if you are planning a trip to PEI this summer, go. Also by birthday is coming up…so…
Today’s discussion dives into some of the questions I had about what it means to play a literary heartthrob like Gilbert. I am excited about this because I’ve been dying to see how my theories about the Perfect Man Archetype applies to those who play him.
There was a bit of a fangirl moment when I met Patrick and Ellen at the conference in June. I think I’ve said this before, I almost didn’t get up and meet them because I got all shy and self-conscious. But thanks to my friend, Holly, I got up there and I have a series of photos to prove it. So much that we could really make a Gilbert Blythe Meme.
But over the last few weeks, I’ve had the rare opportunity to get to know the man behind the character, a supportive actor and friend who adores his two dogs, Henry and Finnigan, and seems to enjoy experimenting with homemade wine.
Mel: Do you feel like you learn something new about Gilbert every time you play him? If so, can you think of a moment where this happened and how you responded?
Patrick: I do but I’ll be honest, not every show. There are always moments to discover but sometime when you find that special moment in a scene you hold on to it. That being said, I remember discovering such moments in the cafe scene at the end of the show just before Gilbert gives Anne the letters from her parents. I found some comic moments and the audience responded extremely well. But then instead of playing for the laughs and the lightness of the scene, I switched it more of an earnest and sincere delivery. And the reaction from the audience totally changed. They weren’t boisterously laughing, but drawn into the sensitivity of the scene. At that moment I understood, that Gilbert has grown up, he has matured, he has become a man. The man for Anne.
Mel: That is one of the things that I respect about the show is that we see that both characters have to do some growth to be worthy of each other.
Compared to the other productions of Anne & Gilbert that I’ve seen, there is such a palpable chemistry between you and the actor who plays Anne Shirley, Ellen Denny. How did you both work together to create your relationship on stage?
Patrick: That will forever be something that I don’t think I can fully express in words. I love Ellen. She is the most generous, patient and intelligent actors I’ve ever worked with. All things that I relate to and respect. So my job has been easy.
As you know this isn’t the first production we’ve work on together, we had never met or heard of one another before that first rehearsal of Sweeney Todd. Within days I felt safe with her, and that as an actor is one of the biggest strengths to have in an acting partner. I’m a lucky guy.
Mel: Ellen had similar sentiments in her interview. I suspect that what you have is rare and that resonates with the audience.
You were probably aware that during the L.M. Montgomery conference, there were many tweets of admiration about Gilbert, and your interpretation of him; including things such as, “Wet t-shirt Gilbert” “Hot Gilbert” or “Gilbert as the Canadian Darcy.” As the actor playing this role, how do feel about this connection between you and Gilbert? Do you think who plays a character influences our perceptions of them?
Patrick: Well, that is an extremely flattering thing to hear. We all have warped perceptions of how we look, but that’s a different blog. It’s a surreal feeling to be in a show where the first number is a chorus of girls singing about how beautiful and wonderful you are.
When Gilbert is off stage it seems to be all anyone is talking about. I’m sure all the previous Gilbert’s would agree with me when I say, it’s a nice feeling. But the actor then has to go out and live up to that standard. It’s a double edge sword really. If you only look the part, that can only last for so long. Because of Gilbert’s charming disposition I feel he wins over the audience more so than looks alone. The writing is there to support that. So yes, I feel as though the actor does influence how the audience perceives them.
Mel: I would say that is definitely true. An expectation that the actor is somehow the character s/he is playing. Writers fall into this trap sometimes, too. Readers confuse our characters with who we are. Certainly fans of Montgomery’s works tend to blur the lines a bit. But she almost wishes us to.
In that same CBC interview I mentioned on Tuesday, you say that you had a “strong love for Gilbert Blythe.” I’m wondering if you could please expand on this. What are the qualities that you admire in him? Do you think that it part of what we see when we watch you play him?
Patrick: I do love Gilbert. I’ve always admired his duality in how he sees the world. He has the ability to be so carefree and aloof about the world one moment, and so focused, grounded and hard working the next. He has a heart of gold and just like everyone else, is flawed. He’s stubborn, opinionated, and self-centered. But so is Anne. Sorry, I just had to put that in there because I don’t want Ellen to think she’s off the hook.
All of these qualities I relate to. There are so many similarities between Gil and I. So almost once a day, I get to go out there and exercise this emotional gambit and it, in turn, almost feels therapeutic for me. Whatever I may be dealing with as Patrick, I get to go out as Gilbert and find a release. So you definitely see that, Gilbert is even helping me, and I’m grateful for that.
Mel: What do you think are the qualities in Gilbert Blythe that make him so attractive for viewers/readers? How do you think that your production of Anne and Gilbert enhances people’s interpretation of him?
Patrick: Well, I think Gilbert is Canada’s version of the all American Boy. He’s smart, funny, handsome, charming, strong, loyal, romantic, sensitive, thoughtful, selfless, independent and hard working. And those are just his bad qualities. No, I’m kidding. I think the attraction to Gil for many female readers and viewers is that he loves one person wholly and completely.
For male readers I think it’s his charm and sense of humour that they relate to. He never stops pushing Anne’s buttons, but he does it in such a way that he can almost cross the line and get instant forgiveness. It’s a “bewildering gift”. He knows when to deflate a situation with humour, but also isn’t afraid to stand his ground and raise his voice. It’s this duality that I think make him so “perfect”.
You want the strong man in your corner, but also a sensitive fun loving friend. He really is both. This production in particular allows the dichotomous characteristics of Gilbert to be shown throughout this chapter of his life. And being able to see the relationship between Anne and Gilbert, through the relationship of Ellen and I, has allowed those moments to become highlighted in a way that is very special and unique to this production.
Mel: What is it about Anne and Gilbert’s relationship that draws people in?
Patrick: They love a challenge! They love to fight! And they each love to win! A partner pushes you and challenges you in a healthy, loving way. And at the core of their relationship I believe this is the case. So watching their competitive nature is on par with a spectator sport. Even though Gilbert always wins!!!!
Mel: Ha! So he thinks…
Now a bit about you. Your Twitter and Instagram feeds seem to have two very specific focuses: your puppies and what’s on for dinner. First off, Finnigan, your Morkie. Named after a James Joyce character, from Mr. Dressup, or just because he seemed like a Finnigan to you?
Patrick: My morkie, Finnigan. He’s my guy! My sister had a child and named him Casey, and so I thought it only suiting to go with Finnigan to complete the pair. Mr. Dressup was a popular show for my siblings and I back in the 80s.
Mel: Brunch lover. Ribs. Wine making. What is on tonight’s menu?
Patrick: I love good food, and I love making good food. And this was my first attempt at making my own wine. Not half bad actually. Tonight is leftovers…sorry, I was gonna lie but it’s leftover Spaghettini and Bolognese sauce.
Mel: Bolognese sauce is always better the second day anyway
Both Anne and Gilbert are characters that many readers (and let’s face it the elephant in the room, TV Viewers) have specific notions about, but both Patrick and Ellen have found a way to find their unique take, embodying their characters, but also embodying the relationship between Anne and Gilbert, to create something incredibly unique.
My deepest gratitude to Patrick and Ellen for taking part in this Q&A, for giving us insight into the creative process of embodying character.
On August 19th, the series will conclude with Sandra Nickel, as we merge these insights with the writing process.