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From Hollywood to Broadway to… Durham?

There are many notable individuals residing in North Durham, and yes, we even have one who has won a Genie and a handful of Gemini awards. Of course, it is none other than Kenneth Welsh, one of Canada’s most well-known actors. His forty years of experience stretches from Stratford and Broadway to Canadian films and television and Hollywood blockbusters. He has appeared in more than 240 movies and television shows and has an extremely recognizable face.

I first met Ken Welsh a dozen years ago, and we have stayed in touch. When I asked him about doing this interview, he said he would love to, as long as we could do it over lunch at Marwan’s. Sitting on the patio with a famous film star, makes for a continuously interrupted meeting, but to watch him interact with people, was amazing.

The day after my very first interview with Ken Welsh, back in 2010, was quite tragic. He had an accident with a farm implement and ended up in Sunnybrook hospital for a lengthy stint. I called him to see how he was, and he told me to come down and visit him. I did, and as we were chatting, Christopher Plummer walked in. Immediately there was affectionate, sarcastic banter going on, and I could sense camaraderie between them. “I miss Chris,” Ken said as he stared across Queen Street. “The world has lost one of its finest.”

Ken has charisma with strangers, making them immediately warm up to him. A trait, which no doubt, has aided him in his long career. Born in Edmonton, Ken got the acting bug through sheer coincidence. He took drama in high school because it was an easy credit. His teacher arranged for some unique plays, into which Ken sunk his teeth. He enjoyed it so much he attended the National Theatre School in Alberta. “My instructor, Gordon Peacock, told me that I would be a natural, as I possessed charm, ability and sex appeal.” He laughed loudly as he spoke. “I hope I still have it,” he added.

Ken left Alberta and headed for Stratford, where at 26, he played Hamlet for seven seasons. From Stratford, he made his way to Broadway. He enjoyed success and lived there for 12 years. In 1982, he was lured to Montreal for a short time to star in the miniseries Empire, Inc.

He won his third Gemini for his performance as Colin Thatcher in Love and Hate, the first Canadian film to top the Nielsen ratings. Ken played opposite Kathy Bates in the 1987 film Frankie and Johnny. His numerous film credits include The Day After Tomorrow, The Aviator and Legends of the Fall. In 2004 Ken added another award to his vast collection; he was made a member of the prestigious Order of Canada.

I asked Ken what his favourite role has been, and he immediately said that of Angus MacNeil in Margaret’s Museum, a role for which he won a Genie as Best Supporting Actor. “I truly enjoyed working with Helena Bonham Carter [in the role of Margaret MacNeil],” Ken said.

Kenneth Welsh lives in a country setting, just outside of town, and when he is not portraying famous people, he putters in his garden. I asked him about a net he had in front of a window. “I’m trying to keep a bird from constantly flying into it,” he replied. Apparently, a robin is desperately trying to get into Ken’s house through the window.

I had to ask how an international celebrity ended up in North Durham. Ken moved to the area in the early nineties after living in Toronto for a year. A visit to friends in this region was enough to attract him to our peaceful community.

I was curious how the pandemic affected him. He simply smiled and said he had done eight projects and was filming his ninth. Along with two episodes of Charmed and a stint on the new Star Trek series, he also played Mr. Miller in ‘The Middle Man’. “It was a humbling experience because I played opposite Don McKellar, a truly fine actor,” Ken explained.

I was trying to phrase my next question in a way that would not offend him, and when I asked if an eighty-year-old actor still had opportunities for good roles, he smiled. “It is a great stage in life,” he explained. “I can pick and choose what they send me, as money is no longer the driving force behind my work.” He paused to reflect. “I love what I do.”

Next time you watch a film on Netflix or munch on some popcorn at a theatre, who knows, you may be watching a film starring our very own Kenneth Welsh.

Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award-winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Watch his show, ‘Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel’, on Rogers TV, the Standard Website or YouTube.

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