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ACTRA's Hardacre Considers Himself 'Grassroots Actor'

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Richard Hardacre, the new national president of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), is a native Canadian with a loving attachment to New York.

In an interview last week, Hardacre, who began his two-year presidential term at the end of May, spoke of having a mother born in Manhattan and recalled journeying to the Big Apple as a young actor in the early 1980s. He was following his heart, he said -- in love with acting, but also in love with an American actress who was living in Manhattan. She was a Tony Award nominee, but that's all he would say about her.

He was trained for the stage, earning a degree at the University of Western Ontario and working in the classic tradition of Shakespeare and Chekhov.

"Only in the professional world did I begin working in new plays," he said. In 1976, his professional work led him to become a member of ACTRA, as well as Actors' Equity Association in both the United States and Canada. He is still a member of American Equity, but on "honorary withdrawal."

In all, Hardacre spent four years in New York, experiencing the life of most struggling actors, earning a living by tending bar: "I never want to do that again," he stressed. He took classes at HB Studio, studying with Carol Rosenfeld, Sandy Dennis, and Uta Hagen. There he moved away from the classic acting tradition and into "a much more gut-related style of acting."

"New York is the theatre capital of the world, and my roots were in theatre," he recalled. "But I found myself put up against people who sang and danced better than I could." So he began working in experimental theatre around Washington, D.C.

Then, Back North

By the mid-'80s, Hardacre had decided to move back to Canada, where he began working with the Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. The festival runs from April to October and, he said, "to have six or eight months of work with a rep company is great fortune for an actor."

About that time, a Canadian tax shelter led to a boom in film production, and Hardacre found himself working regularly in movies and television. Now, a quarter of a century later and in the top leadership role at ACTRA, he still leans toward a simple, hard-working view of the artist's life.

"I consider myself a grassroots actor," he said, speaking pleasantly by phone from ACTRA's national office in Toronto. "I came out of theatre. I'm not a celebrity. I've worked consistently in Canada. What I've learned as a grassroots actor is that the public wants more of us on their screens."

And that leads Hardacre, in his role as ACTRA leader, to a major issue close to the heart of his union:

In the early '90s, he and others involved in the union "recognized, with the amount of production happening in film and TV, there wasn't a great amount of good roles for Canadian actors." In recent years, the union has also witnessed -- and fought -- the dwindling number of homegrown dramas on Canadian television.

Those problems led Hardacre to become a member of ACTRA's national council in 1995. Now, a decade later, as he takes the union's helm, he believes a turnaround may be happening.

"Film production is so migratory, it will go where producers get the best deal," he observed. "Canada has a significant amount of foreign production, but not healthy homegrown production. Our broadcasters on TV for a decade now have made huge profits in just simulcasting U.S. productions already available on major networks. ACTRA has seen some success for real growth of Canadian production, but we have some distance to go."

Hardacre hopes to make up that distance during his tenure as ACTRA's president. He also hopes to continue the bond that ACTRA has with the actors' unions in the United States. He noted that he's a good friend of John Connolly, national president of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), and added that ACTRA has worked with Equity, AFTRA, the Screen Actors Guild, and other North American actors' unions through the International Federation of Actors.

In taking office at the end of last month, Hardacre summarized the test facing ACTRA:

"The greatest challenge to our culture is a global industry that considers Canada as a branch plant. Our theatre and recording artists have already created a unique voice for Canada. Now it's ACTRA's turn to build on this momentum and inspire government to create a solid cultural policy. We're holding the nerve bundle of the Canadian spirit and if we protect it, our film and television industry can help weave the fabric of our culture -- one that can't be torn by global pressures."

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