Forwarded by Susan Bunting
 
Originally posted by Tara O'Shea 

From "Paul Haggis gets his due".  by Ray Conlogue G&M 28/02  (note for
americans unfamiliar with it: the G&M describes itself as "Canada's
National newspaper" although those of us in the regions tend to complain
about its Toronto centredness...)
Paul Haggis(PH) likes to  say that " having herds of sacred cows on both
sides of the border" is the key to his success as a Canadian writer in
Hollywood.  Who's to disagree?  This is the guy from Lon., Ont. who picked
up 2 Emmys for scripting the superb thirtysomething series and now DS, his
strange and enormously successful coimedy about a Mountie in Chicago is
nominated for 14 Geminis.

For the 41 yr old Haggis, the success of DS is  a kind of exoneration.
Like most Canadians who have done well in Hollywood he's been called a
sellout, a panderer to US writing and worse.  "Canadians are struggling to
find an identity that pleases everyone and offends no one" he says, during
a break on DS's set in industrial district of west end Toronto.  "we hold
these deep resentments of our neighbours to the south and what makes it
worse for us is...they just think we're cute!"

It is true of course that Americans are not very knowledgeable or curious
about Canada.  It is a truism that you don't try to sell them a TV show or
film with a Canadian setting.  But now, sudeenly, Paul Gross, is playiign a
squeaky clean Mountie tracking down a killer in Chicago, in a show where
teh character underscores his Canadianness at every possible opportunity -
and the Americans love it.  With upwards of 25 million viewers it is one of
the big hits of the 94/95 season.

You would think that PH would be delighted, after 17 years in Hollywood
craftingin one liners for Tracey Ullman and Valerie Harper, with this
sudden opportunity to show his long represssed roots.  but he doesn't see
it that way.

To begin with, the show wasn't his idea.  And when it was proposed to him,
by Canadian producer Robert Lantos and CBS pres. Jeff Sagansky - it had the
musty odour of ripping off someone else's comercial success.  " what they
wanted was a Canadian version of "Crocodile Dundee", he recalls with a
grimace, referriong to th e hit 1986 movie starring Paul Hogan.  A hick
from nowhere who surprises the Americans. I remember saying"c'mon guys
don't all my Emmys count for anyhing?"
But Lantos and compnay knew that PH's perculiar talent was just that, a
loathing for stereotypes that runs so deep that he can't resist poking fun
at them and twisitng their stale little toes.  Eventually his comic genius
transforms the cliche into something rich and strange.  And so it happened.

What he came up with is something he calls a "pervesely moral show".

Hence Constable Benton Fraser. Unlike Crocodile Dundee, he weilds no giant
knife; in fact he has no weapon at all.  A man who conquers by being smart
and good.   And he is not at all a fish ou: Gorss' Fraser is so blithey
self sufficient that he doesn't even notivce he's in Chicago, mcuh less
worry about it...

Still quotiing form the G&M - 28/2/95 PH gets his due - R. COnlogue
""But my father saw how frustrated I was  and he said, look go to
Hollywood, I'll pay your way for a couple of years, and we'll see what
happens"
He and his wife Diane ( fromwhom he is now divorced) set up shop in a large
apartment in Glendale thath there shared with 3 other couples. "we coudn't
afford a car, so we bouth a moped"  After a hungry year or so, the CBC
called to ak him to write the piolt for "hangin in". PH wrote 10 episodes
from Hollywood which paid some bills, and gained him a modest reputation
back in Canada, but did nothing for him in the U.S.

Fianlly I met a guy who had a asfript ocntract, but his writing partner was
refusing to write and he was afraid of losing the contract. DO I said I'll
do it.  But the other guy  had already taken my share of hte money, and he
felt bad asking me to wrok for nothing, so I said, I'll take that chair you
got  fromt he Salvation Army. I sitll have it in my bedroom.:
That script was his entree into Norman lear's production company, the
beginning  of his rocky but on balance sucessful career

PH has a brillant turn of phrase.  he describes his attitude to his work
for example ad " vacillating between hubris and self immolation" few can
match his undrstanding of the tropes of popular culture.  At the same time
a streak of adoloescent touchiness or fearfulness, prevents hism form
moving in the direction of serious writing.  For some time, he recalls, he
wrote film scripts ("hyscological thrillers" ) in the slack periods between
paying jobs. But these personal projects without anybody hovering over his
shoulder did not come to much.
"I hate to say it, but I'm best when given a direction" he says beginning
thoughfully and then lapsing into habitual irreverance: " I completley
ignore it, of course".

LAst year his Pacific Palisades house slid down a hil during hte eathquake
in LA.  CBS News' Conni Chung came out to interview him in the ruins of his
home.  weasn't it traumatic she asked - and in his heart PH no doubt
agreed.  Rich or poor it's not eay to see your house pounded into kindling,
But his sense of the essential absurdity of it all - himself, his
lifestyle, Chung and her cameras - raced in to save him from celelbirty
self pity. " I pointed out to her that it wasn't so bad: nobody was dea.
That morning I'd read about a woman who was found frozen to her floor in
Detroit".

And then having pinched himself awake, he went back to work in the TV
dreamhouse."

DIdn't mean to take up so much band with on this folks, I started of
summarizing but found that Ray Conlogue's writing said it all so much
better himself.

Catherine in Nova Scotia - who stayed home from work today because the
local RCMP were warning motorists off the roads because of ice conditions,
and now hopes that they  won't come after her for copyright violation!!!


Still from the G&M 28/02/95 " PH gets his due" by R. Conlogue
" Once he invented Fraser, PH found the character's vacant goodness an
extremely strudy support on which to erct a scaffolding of absurditiy.
The episode broadcast jsut before Christmas, for example involves bank
robbers disguised as Santa Claus.  By following a narrow logic, the police
decide to interrogate every stret corner Santa inthe city.  They become so
obsessed withthis modus operandi that they become blind to common sense -
 a situation PH evokes visually by having reindeer that nobody notices
wandering through the police station,

"DS lets us set up our own reality and then violate i.  We hope that the
aduience cares enough about the characters to followthem from cowardice to
inane silliness and back again. I would rather try that and fail than do a
conventional show."

PH's subversive approach to TV has not always succeeded. As a young writer
he got himself hired by Norman Lear and was eventaully made producer of
"The Facts of LIfe" the long running ( 1978-1988) series about girls at a
boarding school.  There his subversive instinct go the better of him.  " I
said to the team, whay don't we try making this show actually funny/"  his
"cockiness" as he puts it, was not appreciated.  2 episodes after he was
fired.
Disaster struck again in 1990 with "CIty" a showcase for Valerie Harper.
It was politaical starire at 8:30 in the evening. People hated it.  In one
episode a city employee, a Cuban woman, has a box of paper clips on her
desk and sees and image of the Blessed Virgin in it.  This upsets City Hall
because you can't have a miracle on city propoerty.  It violates the
separation of Church and State."  He says the network censors "still talk
about the amount of" enraged  mail that episode generated. The show which
had its debut in Jan '90 was off the air by June.

PH can afford to enjoy these failures (he relishes them in fact, becuase
he feels they contained some of his best wrting) becuase of his succeess.
It was after all very likely back in 1973 that he would finish out his
life working for his father's construction business in London, (Ontario
that is) and indulging his creative side in amateur theatre there.....

TO BE CONTINUED AGAIN>>>>