02/08/2014 09:00 EST | Updated 04/10/2014 05:59 EDT

King Lear a challenge Colm Feore eager to take on

King Lear is a brute of a play, considered one of William Shakespeare’s most demanding and heart-rending pieces. But that doesn’t deter Canadian actor Colm Feore, who will play Lear at the Stratford Festival next season.

Lear is a role that’s been performed by an impressive roster of actors, from John Gielgud in 1931 to Christopher Plummer in 2002 (also at Stratford) to Frank Langella's current New York production. British actor Ian McKellen is said to have dreaded playing the role, but performed it brilliantly. Feore, meanwhile, is relatively sanguine about the challenge.

“The only risk for me is that I’ll discover that I’m a dreadful actor, in which case I’m sure there will be people who will be happy to tell me,” he told CBC’s Michael Enright.

King Lear revolves around an aging king seeking to divide his kingdom between his daughters. When he declares he’ll leave the largest share to the one who loves him most, Goneril and Regan — both duplicitous — rush to flatter him. Cordelia, his favourite, admits she has no words for how much she loves him. Furious, Lear disowns her. He realizes too late that Goneril and Regan are treacherous: he and his world come apart at the seams.

King Lear has been mounted in every conceivable shape and form, from a 1960s gangland setting to an Australian Aboriginal reimagining of the play. One theatre director described the production as a “mountain whose summit had never been reached.”

Feore uses another metaphor to describe it: “I see Lear like cello strings, stuck in a barren [Samuel] Beckett-like landscape, played by the wind. And I hope that, in my own raggedness, I can suggest something of that.”

After spending 13 seasons at the Stratford Festival, Feore left in 1994 to pursue what’s since become a wide-ranging and successful television and film career. He’s played Cardinal della Rovere in The Borgias, Glenn Gould in Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould and Pierre Trudeau in the miniseries Trudeau. Other credits include starring opposite Denzel Washington in Julius Caesar on Broadway and roles in Bon Cop, Bad Cop, Thor, Law & Order, 24 and The West Wing.

Known for his preparedness, Feore has been working on his Lear for at least a year. While playing Shakespearean parts is nothing new for him, his goal is to bring humility to each role.

“I am just an actor. I think one of my great strengths is that I recognize my limitations,” he said.

“I’d like to do it well, but all I can promise you is that I’ve been working really, really hard. And if it’s dreadful, I’ll have only myself to blame.”

Tune into The Sunday Edition this weekend for Michael Enright’s full conversation with Colm Feore.