Thursday, February 23, 2017

Chris


There are actors around whom you can build a show, a movie, even a television series. Every now and then, one comes along with enough talent to allow you to build a world. Chris Wiggins was of the latter group.

I can't remember when I first met Chris. To be honest he'd been a fixture on Canadian television since my childhood, starring in episodes of "Last of the Mohicans", "R.C.M.P", "The Unforeseen" and just about every other CBC drama, including "The Best Damn Fiddler from Calabogie to Kaladar" which won him a Canadian Film Award as Best Actor in 1969.

His voice was just as pervasive in commercials and a raft of animated series like "Captain America", "Spider-Man" and "Rocket Robin Hood" as well as more than 1200 radio plays.

Around the time I started acting professionally, Chris had his own series, "Paul Bernard, Psychiatrist", a remarkably creative 5 day a week 2 hander.

The first show we worked on together was the CBC series "The National Dream" though we didn't have any scenes together. He was Donald Smith, one of the driving forces behind the construction of the first railway to link Canada from coast to coast, while I was some Ontario farm boy drafted to fight in the Riel Rebellion. But at one point in the story, the visuals cut from Chris to me and I felt like I'd finally "arrived" as an actor.

We worked together many times after that, often in animation. In Nelvana's first animated film, "The Devil and Daniel Mouse" Chris was the Devil and I played the rodent.

He wasn't the kind of actor who talked craft a lot or worried directors about motivation or what his best side might be. He just turned up on time and did the job. One of those classic journeyman performers who'd do his take, then sit nearby reading the newspaper or doing a crossword puzzle until the next set up was ready.

Then he'd step in, matching exactly the energy, focus and performance as if no time at all had passed.

He was the only actor director Stefan Scaini and I even considered for our first Christmas collaboration "The Silent Bell", a seasonal charmer that won a bunch of awards and returned every Christmas for a couple of decades largely on the basis of a wonderful performance from Chris.

Where I got to know he and his talents best was on the "Friday the 13th" series. Jack played Jack Marshak, an expert in the occult whose primary practical responsibility was to explain the "mystic shit" that went on each week, so our series leads John Lemay and Robey could go about fighting the weekly mayhem.

During the entire run of the show, I can't recall him ever asking for an explanation of whatever made-up supernatural powers were at play. He just made it real. By the end of the run, he was an integral part of every episode.

And if any of the above gives you the impression Chris Wiggins was some kind of Thespian drone, you couldn't be more wrong. He was always charming and fun to be around, laughing and sharing anecdotes about the famous and infamous in the biz whose paths he had crossed.

One of my favorites was about receiving a call from a cleaning lady while he and his beloved wife Sandra were on vacation. One of the pipes in their home had sprung a leak. Chris told the cleaning woman where to find his address book and the number of their plumber.

A couple of weeks later, on some film set, he was approached by Christopher Plummer wondering why he'd been pestered to fix the pipes at Chris' place.

Chris Wiggins passed away yesterday in a small town care home far from the bright lights of show business, ending a long struggle with Alzheimer's.

In many ways his final moment reflected his life, just quietly going about the business at hand.

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