Canadian content, Sopranos style
Globe and Mail
Montreal — When the first episode of the final season of The Sopranos is broadcast on Sunday, Quebec fans will be especially titillated: Two new characters are French-speaking Québécois smugglers who do business with the show's rough-and-tumble protagonist, Tony Soprano.
Denis and Normand are petty thugs who irritate Tony (played by James Gandolfini) because they speak joual (Québécois slang) and he can't understand them. They sell him prescription drugs that have been stolen from the Quebec health-care system, medication that is past its expiry date. This is not a problem, they advise: Just change the best-before date and the drugs are as good as new.
The petty thugs are played by Quebec actors.
Denis is portrayed by Philippe Bergeron and his sidekick Normand by Christian Laurin, and the duo are now reckoned to be something of a first: Quebec's seedy underworld finally making its debut on U.S. TV.
A funny thing happened on the way to New Jersey, as the Montreal-born actor Bergeron tells it. The Los Angeles-based 47-year-old landed his role through a strange and unusual contact: Guylaine Lecours, a fellow L.A. resident and Québécois expat who is a dental hygienist.
She was cleaning the teeth of one of the producers and writers for The Sopranos, Andrew Schneider. "He asked Guylaine if she could help him come up with some dialogue, to make a scene authentic between Tony Soprano and some greasy French Canadians," Bergeron recalls. "She said she didn't think she could do that, but she said she knew an actual greasy French Canadian. She gave him my name and number. Then she told me that someone from The Sopranos would be calling me. I was like, 'Yeah, right.' "
But shortly after Lecours and Bergeron spoke, Schneider called him to ask how petty Québécois Mafioso might bicker. In the following weeks, they had several long phone calls, during which Bergeron would explain how two characters of this type might operate. "Of course, writers for this show needed to know how the Québécois swear. I discussed the obvious: tabernac and calice [swear words derived from the Roman Catholic Church] had to be included."
Bergeron had a request: that the characters go by the names Denis and Normand, two childhood friends of the actor. Bergeron says his old friend Denis knows of the tribute, but Normand, whom he has lost touch with, does not.) Then it struck Bergeron. "I said to Andy, 'You know, I could play this part.' He asked me to send in a head shot to their offices in New York. Then they asked me to send in a DVD to their casting office in Manhattan."
After auditioning in New York, he got the part.
Filming the episode was thrilling, Bergeron says, and he drew on the petty crooks he knew while growing up in Ville St. Laurent, north of Montreal. "There was a dire bar there, where I bought my first beer when I was 14. I would skip school and go there. It was called T.P. and there were always petty hoods around. This Sopranos appearance is my homage to them."
"Doing The Sopranos made me very proud to be a Quebecker. When you're away from Quebec, there's a tendency to dilute your Quebec persona. Some people might not like the way we're represented in the show, but it's entirely authentic."
Thursday, April 05, 2007
This will be good.