Gordon Pinsent: Actor Known for Playing Twinkle-Eyed Rogues

From a New York Times obit by Ian Austen headlined “Gordon Pinsent, Actor Known for Playing Twinkle-Eyed Rogues, Dies at 92”:

It took a spell as a private in the Canadian Army and years bouncing between odd jobs, including berry picker, sign painter, meter reader and ballroom dance instructor, before Gordon Pinsent finally achieved his childhood dream of becoming an actor. But his work experience left him completely unprepared for playing the male lead in “Years Ago,” an autobiographical play by Ruth Gordon. Before his first performance, on a stage in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Mr. Pinsent needed to study the techniques of other cast members in the dressing room to figure out how to put on his own makeup.

Mr. Pinsent, who was long famous in Canada, but who did not gain wider international recognition until one of his final performances, in the 2006 film “Away From Her,” died in Toronto.

Mr. Pinsent was 75 when the Canadian filmmaker and former actor Sarah Polley cast him in her directorial debut, “Away From Her,” as a man who loses the affections of his wife, played by Julie Christie, when she is institutionalized because of Alzheimer’s disease. The film, which was based on Alice Munro’s short story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” received two Academy Award nominations.

In his review for The New York Times, A.O. Scott described Mr. Pinsent as “a marvelously subtle actor with a rich voice and a shaggy charisma.”

Like many Canadian actors, Mr. Pinsent moved to Hollywood early in his career. The only significant role he had in that period was the president of the United States in “The Forbin Project,” a 1970 film about a supercomputer that launches a nuclear missile at the Soviet Union in an uncontrolled fury. In his review of that movie, which retains a cult following, Vincent Canby of The Times commiserated with Mr. Pinsent and the cast about the difficulty of having to act with a mock computer. “This must be worse than playing opposite a small child, or a dog, or a porpoise,” he wrote.

But major success eluded Mr. Pinsent until he moved back to Canada. Through a decades-long career there, he played a wide variety of film and television roles, and became particularly well known for portraying twinkle-eyed rogues from Newfoundland, his home province. As a result of Mr. Pinsent’s stardom, other performers from the sparsely populated island became disproportionately represented in Canada’s entertainment industry.

“Pinsent was the first, the pioneering figure of Newfoundland pop culture that would come to populate English-Canada film and television for decades with performers,” Tom McSorley, the executive director of the Canadian Film Institute, said.

Mary Walsh, a film and TV actor from Newfoundland who was inspired by Mr. Pinsent and who acted with him, said in an interview, “If there were such a thing as Newfoundland royalty, he would be the king.” She added, “Gordon really opened that door for us to see that it was possible.”

Gordon Edward Pinsent was born in Grand Falls, Newfoundland, the last of eight children, two of whom died in infancy. His father, Stephen Arthur Pinsent, became a cobbler after illness forced him out of a job at a paper mill. His mother, Flossie (Cooper), was a domestic servant before marriage.

Mr. Pinsent wrote in his memoir “Next” that he was so mesmerized by the movies shown two nights a week at the theater in Grand Falls that at age 15 he joined his sister Hazel in Gander, Newfoundland. World War II was winding down, and the large airfield in Gander was the main refueling point for flights between North America and Europe that included Hollywood stars heading over to entertain the troops. Mr. Pinsent wrangled a job as a busboy at the airport hotel.

Mr. Pinsent recalled his delight when poor weather stranded film’s nobility at the hotel. “I was walking around them, in this other world of fancy china and crystal, thinking I was King Tut, happy to be emptying ashtrays as long as I could see actors going by.”

Mr. Pinsent came to Canada in 1948 as an immigrant — Newfoundland was still a British colony at the time — with the goal of becoming an actor, but he ended up doing military service for want of a job.

Mr. Pinsent’s acting career had its shaky start in Winnipeg simply because that’s where he was discharged from the Army in 1951. It was also there that he married Irene Reid, the sister of a friend, and they had two children. They were divorced by the end of the decade, when Mr. Pinsent left for Toronto.

In Toronto, Mr. Pinsent found work in a variety of stage roles and at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. His career was cemented when he was cast as an idealistic member of Parliament in “Quentin Durgens, M.P.,” a CBC television series that ran from 1965 to 1969.

His time in a fictional Canadian Parliament led to the White House in “The Forbin Project” and an often frustrating period in Los Angeles. After six years, Mr. Pinsent returned to Toronto with a script he had written about a carousing, remarkably irresponsible paper-mill worker whose antics ultimately bring grief to all who are close to him. That script became the 1972 film “The Rowdyman,” with Mr. Pinsent as its star, which is widely seen as a classic of Canadian cinema. Leah Pinsent, who is also an actor, said that her father often said he might have become the character he portrayed had he remained in Newfoundland.

Mr. Pinsent played a wide range of roles in his long career, but he was frequently seen in stories about his home province including “John and the Missus” (1987), the story of a town’s collapse after the closing of a mine, which he directed and wrote, based on his novel of the same name; and “The Shipping News” (2001), an adaptation of E. Annie Proulx’s novel.

Well into his 80s, when a series of medical conditions slowed him down, Mr. Pinsent continued working. He appeared in “The Grand Seduction,” another tale of Newfoundland, in 2014, and gave voice to the elephant king in “Babar and the Adventures of Badou,” an animated TV series that ran for three seasons starting in 2010.

“When you’re in our 80s you can still have your best idea tomorrow,” Mr. Pinsent wrote in his memoir. “Retirement is never an issue. Retire from what?”

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