TORONTO-The striving 30-somethings may have moved to Calgary to strike it rich in the just-opening Six Figures, but the actors who play them actually hooked up in Vancouver. Vancouver-based JR Bourne and B.C. native Caroline Cave play Warner and Claire, a couple with two children who are chasing the Canadian dream, or at least the Ralph Klein version with maximum income and minimum tax. (Six Figures opens on Friday [March 17].) But their dream turns to nightmare when Warner's job goes off the rails and Claire finds herself on the receiving end of a blunt object. The disgruntled husband is the prime suspect-but did he do it?
At the Hotel InterContinental just before the movie's premiere at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival, Cave, Bourne, writer-director David Christensen, and cowriter Fred Leebron give the Georgia Straight the story behind Six Figures in a series of one-on-one interviews.
Originally from Toronto, Bourne is a fixture on the B.C. scene, with steady work in both Canadian and American films and roles in many locally made TV series (including Stargate and Godiva's). During last September's festival, one of his recent made-in-Vancouver projects, The Exorcism of Emily Rose (in which he plays a lawyer assisting Laura Linney), is number one at the box office.
As Bourne sips green tea-a clear sign that he's gone West Coast-he explains that "the role [of Warner] scared the shit out of me. Which made it all the more desirable to do."
Part of the challenge was trying to decide whether or not his character really was capable of attacking his own wife. "He loves his children and he loves this woman. He's just completely dissatisfied and unhappy with where he's at in his life," Bourne says. "He's trying to live up to all these standards, and I think everybody can relate to that at some point in their lives."
To get a handle on the role, Bourne took his acting coach's advice and invited his on-screen wife on a date, in character, just after they flew from Vancouver to Calgary. "It was fun," he recalls. "We made the reservation under those names. And we saw how people reacted to us." Claire proposed, Warner accepted, and it looked like they'd live happily ever after. So how did their unsuspecting audience respond?
"I think people sort of saw us as very much in love. When we went out to dinner that night, it was a great place in our relationship. Our waitress was quite taken with how infatuated we were with each other. She even brought us a free dessert."
Cave agrees it was the perfect date to prepare for the movie. "To see how we might behave in the world as Claire and Warner and how people responded to that behaviour was really fascinating."
The leading couple's approach to getting into character was a good fit for first-time feature director David Christensen, who was making the jump from documentaries (War Hospital) to drama. "Someone said to me, 'Whatever you do, don't cast actors; cast relationships.'?"
Cave says she instantly clicked with Bourne, but they didn't meet until a few weeks before shooting. Cave was in Vancouver visiting family after playing the prototypical social climber, Lady Macbeth, at Theatre Calgary. So she and Bourne hooked up at-where else?-Starbucks. "We met in a Starbucks on Denman [Street], and that was it; we spent the whole day together. We spent nine hours working on the script. And we were inseparable for the next five days."
Cave was born in B.C., went to high school in West Vancouver, and spent two years at the University of Victoria before heading to Calgary to study theatre at the University of Alberta, then moved to Ontario to perform at the Shaw Festival. When she spoke to the Straight, her most recent B.C. gig was starring in The Syringa Tree at the Vancouver Playhouse.
Having lived in Calgary, Cave found the characters in Six Figures eerily familiar. "The truth of where these people are placed in their lives and in this world and in Calgary is so resonant for me," she explains. "It epitomized the struggle of the young WASP in that city. It's a crazy town now, it's so wealthy."
Cowriter Leebron-the author of the novel Six Figures-isn't sure how well the story reflects Calgary, because he's never been there. His book was set in the boomtown of Charlotte, North Carolina. But he says Christensen's movie nails the boomtown vibe and his narrative. "The four or five leads-I thought they were flawless," Leebron enthuses. "And David captured the book better in his ending than I captured it in mine."