B.C. Actor Was Camping With His Family When He Picked Up A Best Actor Award
Barry Pepper won an Emmy Award Sunday night, but wasn’t there to pick it up. He had a previous commitment — a family vacation.
“We’re in the mountains,” he said by cellphone Monday. “It’s an annual trip that I plan, so I didn’t want to break that commitment.”
As it turned out, he got the best of both worlds: a great day in the foothills of the B.C. Rockies, plus the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Mini-Series or Movie.
He didn’t watch the Emmys on TV, but got the news soon enough.
“We were watching a herd of elk that had just crossed us on the road,” he relates.
“We were out hiking and when I got back to the vehicle I saw a message on the phone. It was about eight or nine at night; it was a nice way to cap the day, for sure. Seeing some Rocky Mountain elk, having a glorious day in the mountains, and then to get that message, that was pretty nice.”
The 41-year-old Campbell River native received the Emmy for his portrayal of Bobby Kennedy in The Kennedys, a miniseries that stirred up a lot of controversy in the U.S. The series drew flack from the Kennedy family, was dropped by the History Channel in the States, then was alternately praised and savaged in the American press.
“It was understandable that the critics were as polarized as they were in the United States, because politically the U.S. is totally polarized,” said Pepper.
“So the critics were either Democratic or Republican in their views, and they either loved it or they hated it. ... Some of the reviews said things like ‘ham-fisted hatchet job,’ and other reviews said ‘the best thing ever put on television.’
“At that point I just stopped reading,” he laughs. “There’s just no winning that one.”
Pepper sees his win as a vindication for the production.
“It’s such a cool validation for so many people that worked on that production,” he says.
“It was a gruelling, challenging project: to have it recognized this way, with the Canadian Geminis and now with the Emmys, it makes me feel very, very good for all the people who were involved, that worked so hard.”
Pepper may not be as famous as Tom Cruise, but he has quietly assembled quite a resume. He burst onto the Hollywood scene in 1998 as the God-fearing sniper in Stephen Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, received a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of baseball great Roger Maris in 61, then was cast by Clint Eastwood in another Second World War film, Flags of Our Fathers.
He landed a role in the Coen Brothers remake of True Grit by making them a demo reel of his character Ned Pepper; made a great bad guy in Casino Jack; and appears in an upcoming film by the legendary director Terrence Malick.
He is quite proud of The Kennedys. He spent months getting Bobby’s accent down, and brought in Oscar-winning makeup artist Christien Tinsley to help him transform into a reasonable facsimile of the iconic politician.
“We sat down and went through all the photos we could find of Bobby, analyzed his face and figured out how we could adjust my features prosthetically,” he said.
“And then hired a tremendous dialect coach by the name of John Nelles. You bring in the right people and they make you look great.”
Pepper hasn’t had any feedback from the Kennedy clan about his performance, and probably won’t. But he came out of the experience with tremendous respect for Bobby Kennedy.
“I admire the fact that he spoke from his heart,” he said.
“He was one of the very few politicians I’ve ever heard speak with such genuine emotion and honesty about subjects of love and compassion, freedom and equality. It was such a difficult time in America ... [and] he spoke about compassion, not only for Americans but people all over the world. He really stood by those values, and lived and died fighting for them.
“It was such a refreshing thing to study, and to hear those speeches, and to understand who the inner man was. He was a really remarkable human being, and I think he would have made an extraordinary president, had he lived.”
Not a standard Hollywood answer, but Pepper is not a standard Hollywood actor. He may have a house in L.A., but he’s a British Columbian to the core.
His family has been in B.C. for generations: his great-grandfather built the first log cabin and log schoolhouse on Denman Island in the 1870s. His family spent five years sailing around the South Pacific when he was a child, then returned to Denman, where he grew up.
“It was sort of a mixture of hippies and farmers and artists,” he said.
“It was a really interesting place, very eclectic. One of those neighbourly kind of places where nobody locks their doors. There’s no police, no dogs with collars, everybody’s kids are welcome in everybody’s house. There’s barefoot dances and farmers markets, very Canadian west coast.”
After high school he moved to Vancouver and studied acting. He eventually moved down to L.A., but also keeps a place in B.C.
“I’m a bit of a hippie gentleman farmer,” he said.
“I have an orchard and a big organic garden, and I live on the ocean, so I fish and I hunt and just raise my family the way I was raised. It’s a real striking contrast to Los Angeles.”
Raising his family the way he was raised means bypassing an awards show for a family vacation.
“We woke up today, and some of the higher mountains around us are all kissed with snow, capped with snow,” he said.
“It’s beautiful — the elk are bugling, the coyotes are howling at night. It’s just beautiful. We camped on an alpine lake and there’s ducks and geese flying in here ... it’s just really just spectacular. We’re so blessed to live in B.C., aren’t we?”
By JOHN MACKIE, Vancouver Sun