Say hello to the East End bad guys

Unless you’re a sci-fi fan with a ‘Total Recall’ memory, you may not recognize this hardworking actor from east end Toronto. Even his name sounds tough: Michael lronside. Imagine Jack Nicholson in a bad mood!

East End native Michael Ironside is known for playing the bad guys, including Richter in Total Recall.
East End native Michael Ironside is known for playing the bad guys, including Richter in Total Recall.

Though he has over 200 movie and TV titles to his credit, lronside still sees himself as a regular working guy. He was playing the evil Richter in the original Total Recall (1990) when his knee gave out. The second unit director asked him, “What was that look on your face?” lronside was worried, “I can’t roof anymore, I can’t work on ladders.” The man looked at him in disbelief, “What are you talking about? You’ve done some 80-odd movies, you’re co-starring with Arnold Schwarzenegger in a big budget film and you’re telling me you can’t roof anymore?” (CBC, strombo.com)

lronside ruined his knees playing football and working as a roofer all over east Toronto. Born in 1950, he was the oldest of five kids in a blue-collar family crowded into a narrow row-house near Queen and Carlaw. (Nowadays does anyone grow up with 96 first cousins living nearby?)

The scent of the ColgatePalmolive factory filled the air. lronside won a writing contest at Riverdale C.I., then attended the Ontario College of Art. While striving to be a writer and working construction, he got into acting. He moved to L.A. in 1982: “My idea was to survive.”

Over his long career Ironside has played a lot of tough guys, but his toughest battle was surviving two bouts of cancer. He’s also had both knees replaced with titanium, but he’s still out there working hard. Back in 1990 he pointed out, “I get to chase Arnold Schwarzenegger around and punch him and live to talk about it. I wouldn’t change that.” Arnie called lronside “a very giving guy” and “livery sweet.” Just don’t tell anyone that, it might ruin his reputation.

Ironside says he’s been stopped by police who figure he’s wanted for something. If you spot Robert Joy (CSI: NY) around the Beach (visiting his sister), don’t worry, he’s nothing like the crazed killer in Ragtime (1981) or the nasty drug kingpin on Republic of Doyle. A Rhodes Scholar, Joy loves Shakespeare, basketball and daughter Ruby.

Scarborough’s Jeff and Michael Wincott aren’t much like their roles as ‘heavies’. On playing the nasty Guy of Gisborne in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves (1991), Juilliard graduate Michael explained, “I never get the girl. I always die. That is the catch with playing bad. I’m actually a very romantic person and I would love to play in a love story.” But then, “it’s always so much more interesting to play the villains.” Ever on the lookout for that next job, “character actors…they are as leaves in the wind.”

Toronto-born Berton Churchill (1876-1940) made a career out of playing characters people love to hate, though he turned down the endearing role of The Wizard of Oz (1939). He’s best known for playing pompous buffoons like the crooked banker in Stagecoach (1939), but offscreen Churchill was a champion of performers’ rights, one of the six founding members of the Screen Actors Guild in 1933. He was so well-respected that legends like John Wayne and Clark Gable requested that Churchill be in their movies. Ronald Reagan, a ‘B’ actor at the time, was so impressed with Churchill’s abilities that he told the supporting player he would be a star soon. Churchill replied, “My friend, I am not star material. I like what I am now. I’ll bet you’ll be President of the United States before I ever become a star.”

Berton Churchill visited his mother and sister in Toronto every year. While preparing for a run on Broadway in 1940 he passed away suddenly. In 1981 President Reagan invited Churchill’s daughter, Mary, to his Inauguration and presented her with a cheque for $50 to settle the ‘bet’. She never cashed it.


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