Rest assured, everyone, Don McKellar has no trouble peeing in public.
“If anything, I pee too often in public,” he declares, with not undue pride, during a call to the Straight from Toronto. “It’s sort of the opposite problem.”
This might seem like a frivolous and possibly very immature way to begin a conversation with the talented actor-writer-director, at least until you catch Episode 3 of Michael: Every Day, the CBC series that premiered January 15 with McKellar at the helm. It’s based largely on the many and varied phobias plaguing McKellar’s friend and series cocreator Matt Watts, and it was really only a matter of time before Michael—also played by Watts—would be working through his lavatorial stage fright in the comfortable clinical setting of a Sunday-night sitcom.
“This show is all about normalizing these anxieties,” McKellar says. “It’s a comedy, but, on the other hand, the issues that these people are facing and their symptoms are serious, and they’re very common. Matt’s character has general anxiety disorder, which manifests itself in lots of ways.
“And Dr. David Storper has depression,” he continues, referring to Michael’s cognitive-behavioural therapist, played by the show’s third creative partner, Bob Martin. “We don’t want to diminish the impact these things have on people’s lives. They’re real.”
All seriousness aside, the overarching joke here is that Michael and David share a sweet kind of codependency that ultimately blurs the line between their professional and personal relationships, a dynamic that was first established in 2011 with Michael: Tuesdays and Thursdays. Returning to the characters at the behest of the Ceeb after five years has been “intriguing”, in McKellar’s word, even if the call was unexpected.
“We thought it was sorta nuts,” he admits with a chuckle, “and then quickly, actually, we saw the fun in it.” Presumably, everybody also saw the good sense. In a landscape filled with so-so Canuck comedy, Michael: Every Day is a gem, smartly written (novelist Lynn Coady is actually responsible for the notorious third episode), beautifully acted by a cast that also includes Tommie-Amber Pirie as Michael’s ex and Ed Asner as David’s therapist, and then shot in a pleasingly crisp and angular style by McKellar.
It’s another worthy entry in a remarkably long and novel résumé that stretches back to McKellar’s 1989 writing-acting debut in Bruce McDonald’s Roadkill. He’d go on to win international renown as a screenwriter (Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, The Red Violin), while remaining an inspired oddball on both sides of the camera with projects like 1998’s Last Night. If some might view more mainstream-leaning directorial efforts like 2013’s The Grand Seduction as a mark of McKellar’s versatility, he prefers to put it down—ironically enough—to being “the man without fear”.
“Just to be clear, I have all sorts of psychological problems,” he says, with audible glee. “I’m just not particularly phobic. But I do get distracted easily and I think that, fortunately, in this case, it’s resulted in a really diverse career that’s gone off in lots of different directions. I think my impatience and my lack of focus has sort of worked out for me. But it could also take a devastating turn in the other direction.”
It’s nice to know he’s scared of something.
Catch the first two episodes of Michael: Every Day at www.cbc.ca/. Episodes 3 and 4 air on CBC TV on Sunday (January 22).