No Place Like Home
By Jacqui Underwood
Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, David Cubitt has clicked the heels of his English brogues and landed back home. After ten years of living in apartment-hotels, developing his art in television studios and on film sets across North America, one of Vancouver's more successful thespians has decided there's no place like Lotus Land.
At 35, he has bought a comfortable architect-renovated house in Point Grey, an environment where he grew up and where he is determined to re-establish his roots. Heís also embarking on a new direction in his career.
David is not your stereotypical actor. Providence seems to have been with him from the beginning. When he first walked onto the audition set of the Vancouver-produced Super Channel music variety show Nitevision in 1985, his great looks and unassuming attitude caught the attention of the producers. ďAlthough the least professional, he was the most natural,Ē says former Nitevision host J.B. Shayne, who remembers fellow actor Davey Longworth remarking, ďThe camera loves this guy.Ē With just a documentary film and a couple of childhood commercials behind him, he was hired as a comedy skit actor, playing roles from teen idol to skateboard hustler.
There were a few years of youthful struggle, learning his craft, before he got his second big break in 1991. He went on location to the Canadian Rockies for the Frank Marshall feature film Alive, based on the true story of a South American soccer team that were forced to resort to cannibalism in their struggle to stay alive after their plane crashed in the Andes. David co-starred as one of the survivors.
CTV followed with series regular parts, a cowboy on Lonesome Dove and a conniving member of the Channel Ten news team on ENG. There were several more film roles and television appearances, but it was his character Jack Larkin, the straight-shooting investment broker for Gardner Ross on the hit Global TV series Traders that made David Cubitt known to fans across Canada. He won a Gemini award for ďBest Actor in a Continuing Leading Dramatic Role,Ē during his first season on the show and soon made Harry Rosen the suit of choice for up and comers on Bay Street and Howe Street.
You would have thought that with his trademark charm and classic good looksóthe sculpted jaw line and the subtle sensuality of his intense hazel eyesóthat he would have been snapped up by Hollywood. CBS did come knocking in 1997, but his work stateside was short lived. Both television shows, Michael Hayes with David Caruso and Turks with William Devane, were cancelled within a year. After more than four years of back-to-back TV series roles, including the CBC mini-series Major Crime, David began to suffer burnout. He started turning down parts, ďperhaps beyond the point of prudence,Ē he admits in retrospect. But his choosiness has given him time to re-group and to ponder his real-life role. To give some thought to what really matters.
This year he has fallen in love (although itís not the first timeómore later) and after years of restaurant food, he has started to learn to cook. He is pondering the idea of producing. He has more time to spend with his family. His cultured British father David Sr. and vivacious Dutch mother Yeta (from whom he inherits his sociability) have been helping him with his new garden. Heís renewed ties with old friends he grew up with on the West Side of Vancouver. He makes time for tennis with grade school chum James Alden and University Hill pal John Perkins Jr., who was also one of the architects who renovated his home.
And his work has become deeper. Last year he took a creative leap in the making of The Perfect Son, an independent Canadian feature film, in which David co-stars with Colm Feore and Chandra West. The industry-respected independent American film broker John Sloss, the man who marketed Boys Donít Cry, has picked it up for distribution. The film has also taken a triple sweep in the North American fall film festival season.
As our city turns its cinematic eye toward independent films with the 19th Annual Vancouver International Film Festival, there is the usual common thread. No commercial celluloid tales spun by the Hollywood dream machine. Instead, a diversity of films with a large artistic range: 320 from more than 50 countries. American, European, Asian, Middle Eastern, African and Latin flavours and, as always, a strong Canadian contingent, including The Perfect Son. I was lucky enough to break this news to David Cubitt, as we chatted over tea and classical music on the sundeck of his Highbury Heights home.
Jacqui Underwood: The Perfect Son is premiering this month in both the Toronto and New York Film Festivals, and as we conduct this interview Iíve got some news for you. The Vancouver International Film Festival has verbally confirmed it will be part of this yearís Canadian line-up.
David Cubitt: No, really? God, Iím thrilled. Youíre the bearer of good news. I couldnít be more excited. Itís a great homecoming gift. For me, making The Perfect Son was a transformational experience. It changed my course, what I want to do, the kind of work I want to pursue. I cannot deny how much I enjoyed the process of making that film.
JU: It gave you a new creative injection.
DC: I loved the script immediately. Leonard Farlinger wrote and directed it in Toronto and his wife Jennifer Jonas produced it. The script was based on the true story of his relationship with his brother and his family, after his fatherís death. Between the director, the producer, the director of photography and the actors, it was a purely creative process. It was showing up, looking at the script and saying ďOkay, whatís the best way of doing this?Ē It was one of the most fulfilling things that Iíve ever done. And it turned out to be a beautiful film. It was also my favourite kind a storyóa story about relationships.
JU: Itís about a man coming to terms with his brotherís sexuality through the tragedy of AIDS.
DC: Mostly itís about the healing of the family. He didnít know his brother was gay when he was growing up and not getting along with him. Neither of them got along the father. Through the crisis of the fatherís death, both of them are forced to face all their fears. And they both come to terms with their relationship with their father, post mortem.
JU: Is acting something you have to do?
DC: I spent a fair amount of time doing workshops for a number of years. I was devoted to the study and definitely lived like a pauper for those years, eating eggs for every meal. I was totally consumed with the craft and unable to do anything else. It was like the school of humanity...looking for your own truth in order to bring it to characterizations. It was a lot of searching and an exciting way to learn, rather than university, which I found boring by comparison at that time.
JU: Has the blush left the rose?
DC: Itís a little different now, itís not quite as exciting anymore. Iíd like to find that place again. Iíd like to do another project, like The Perfect Son. It was one of those projects where I thought: ďThis is why Iím doing what Iím doing.Ē
JU: Is there a reason Hollywood isnít calling your name?
DC: Iím starting to think that life is more important than ambition. If I was purely ambitious, Iíd be in California, but I hate it there. I donít like Hollywood and everything that it connotes. Humanity gets compromised in Hollywood for the sake of ambition. Itís also too hot and dry.
JU: There must be an upside.
DC: My girlfriend is there.
JU: Twenty-nine year old Canadian actress Chandra West, your co-star in The Perfect Son. She played the love interest. Was there a love interest off the set?
DC: We actually met a number of years ago through mutual friends, and then we worked together on The Perfect Son. But we didnít start seeing each other until last Christmas when she came up from LA to visit family on Vancouver Island.
JU: A long-distance relationship?
DC: Chandra has been in LA for five years and has her own life in Hollywood. She would rather live in New York or Toronto than in Vancouver.
JU: Could you live in New York?
DC: I just did a pilot for a TV series there a couple of months ago. It was great. Chandra was there and we had an amazing time enjoying the theatre, music, galleries and restaurants. But to live there would be like starting over. I could definitely live there if Chandra was doing a show and we were there for five years. But I wouldnít want to raise a family there.
JU: Itís been said of David Cubitt that ďhe loves to be in loveĒ. . .that youíve had many loves.
DC: (Laughs) I donít know anybody who doesnít love to be in love, not a single person. Who wouldnít want to love and be loved? I am serious about my relationships and go into every one, as long as I can remember, looking for a partner in life.
JU: What makes a successful man?
DC: I probably have a fairly conservative belief system in that respect. I think loving and respecting your partner and raising a healthy family makes a successful man.
JU: Being here in Vancouver, living life on your own terms in this beautiful home that youíve just bought, is that not a mark of success?
DC: Itís the result of a modicum of success.
JU: What drives you in your career?
DC: When I first started out studying acting I wasnít very well received. I didnít get a lot of positive reinforcement, so I never felt as though I really fit in or had to fit in. Because that need for approval wasnít on my back, I was able to find out what was honest to me in my work. Thatís the driving force, to find truth in what Iím doing.
JU: Have you always wanted to be an actor?
DC: I really didnít figure it out until I started hanging out with JB Shayne and doing his video show, Nitevision. JB is a genius. Thatís when I learned what acting was and really fell in love with it. I started studying with the actors from the show. I was going to UBC at the time but soon realized I needed to study acting full time, so I joined the program at Langaraís Studio 58. That was my first rejection. I went back to university and continued with auditions. Then I got my first break. Stuart Aikins cast me in the Hollywood film Alive. My career was kick-started.
JU: You are best known in Canada for your Gemini-winning role as the savvy deal-maker Jack Larkin in the Global TV series Traders.
DC: People really liked the character. Jack Larkin funneled all the coping skills that he could manage in one direction and focussed them on work. He wasnít that successful outside of the office. He was driven to compensate. Because of Jack, there were some stockbrokers in Vancouver who wanted to pitch deals to me. I think they would be sadly disappointed if they realized how different I was from the character and how much I actually knew about the business (Jack Larkin laugh).
JU: Why did you leave Traders?
DC: There was great writing on Traders and it was a great group of people to work with. I just needed a change. I had being doing the same character for three years. When I was offered a development deal to do television with CBS, I jumped at the chance to try something different. They created the Chicago-based cop show Turks.
JU: I loved your good-guy cop character in Turks. I think he was very close to the real David Cubittóthe genuineness, the loyalty to family.
DC: Youíre probably right. I really enjoyed the Turks role.
JU: During this time you turned down a lot of roles but you did say yes to the mother network and accepted an offer to play in the CBC TV drama mini-series, Major Crime.
DC: It was very good script and a great project to do because I was working with one of my closest friends Vince Gale and Nick Campbell, who is also a great guy.
JU: Was playing a pedophile a challenging role?
DC: My process is very much about moment to moment, believing in what I have to do at the time. He was definitely a f***ed up character óstunted at an early age and in lot of pain and a lot of fear. Its sounds so acty shmacty, but itís not. I felt isolated and scared most of the time. That made it strong visually. The tension in my neck and shoulders actually physically contorted meóthrew the whole angle of my head off.
JU: Do you think youíll ever get into writing?
DC: More and more as I want to leave home less and less. Iíve dabbled with some scripts. Actually, I think there are a number of things I could do other than be an actor. Iíd love to direct because I think I have an affinity with actors and understanding the process. I have also always enjoyed photography.
JU: What do you do to get away from it all?
DC: I run in the University Endowment Lands on Point Grey, which are incredibly beautiful. I also run along the beach at Spanish Banks. Running is very meditative.
JU: It helps to keep you grounded.
DC: I canít focus on something unless Iím genuinely interested. I get distracted. When Iím professionally engaged in somethingóthatís probably the most productive I can ever be. I somehow muster up all my resources at one time. I click on. It could be when Iím reading a script I have to do next week, or when I hear ďroll, action. . .Ē It just works.
JU: To be unconsciously in the moment.
DC: For those of us who are lucky enough to be doing something that we enjoy, itís a privileged place to be. Whether it is acting, building, or gardening, or whatever it is that you get some sort of fulfillment from, Iím sure we all get into what some call the ďalpha state.Ē I know that sounds pretentious, but there is a zone where you get past time and you lose a sense of your consciousness because you are so involved. Thatís a great place to be.
JU: Whose work do you admire in the acting fraternity?
DC: I like Daniel Day Lewis, a lot; I like Jack Lemmon; I like Gene Hackman, a tonóI think heís amazing.
JU: Who has been your biggest influence?
DC: I never fashioned myself after anyoneís style, but I definitely went through my ď20 year-old phaseĒ watching all the James Dean and Marlon Brando movies because they were exciting. . .they were pioneers. Dean had a sweet vulnerability about him, while Brando was just such a f***ing man.
JU: Didnít you wear a ripped white T-shirt when you auditioned for Nitevision?
DC: That was a joke...My Streetcar look. (laughs)
JU: Are there any particular directors or writers whose work you admire?
DC: I really, really like John Cassavetes. I donít think Iíd like to be Cassavetes, but I sure like his maniacal approach to his work. Heís a maniac for truth and dredging it up. Itís exciting and painful and beautiful all at once. He worked with his wife, Gena Rowlands and the group of actors that were also family. They created together. They would workshop together, that would become the writing then they would shoot it. It wasnít about vanity and money. It was about the work. I loved his ethic.
JU: Do you have a favourite film?
DC: I really loved The Last Picture Show. I think thatís maybe one of my top three favourite films. Peter Bogdonavich is also one of my favourite directors. He only did a few moviesóan interesting career. I loved the Godfathers, Apocalypse Now and Rumblefish. I like Francis Ford Coppola a lotóespecially his early stuff. I think heís a great director.
JU: So is there something good about Hollywood?
DC: There are great people and beautiful things done and made in Hollywood, there is just a lot of other stuff that I donít want to live around. People come from all over the world to become a star. Itís all about ambition and being a star. They are willing to sell their souls in pursuit of that dream. Those are not the kind of people I want to be around.
JU: You have done a lot of work on independent films. Is that a preference?
DC: The immediate appeal of independent films is that you can get good material that isnít pandering to money. For an independent film, you donít have to be a star in the Hollywood sense. Generally they canít afford big-name stars. Although, more and more people are responding to good scripts whether there is money or not.
JU: Are you settling in Vancouver for good, re-establishing your roots here?
DC: I want to. Thereís always a friction between planning and work and relationships. Chandra and I have to be together and we both have to compromise for that. Sheís going to spend some time here. Iím going to spend some time in LA with her. Who knows? But this is where Iíd like to live.
JU: Just to play devilís advocate. . .if Hollywood offered you a leading role in a commercial film that didnít have the elements that inspire you as an independent project might, but it offered big money. . .what would you do?
DC: That would be interesting. I could use the money to finance my own independent project! I still audition for stuff in Hollywood. I just donít want my entire being to be there.
JU: You donít want to be another Richard Gere or Brad Pitt?
DC: God no, I donít want to be any of those guys. Look what happened to Marlon Brando and his life. My ambition is not to be a big star as an end in itself. I already make enough money to live comfortably. But Iíd like to make enough money to have complete security for a family and choose the work that I want to do and the people that I want to work with, my friends and those I love. That would be the greatest thing. If I could make a living here, why would I want to go there? I like to play in my own sandbox.
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