ROLEAU, SASKATCHEWAN -- It's the second-to-last day of shooting of the highly anticipated movie, Corner Gas. I am ushered into a darkly lit room called the video village to sit and wait out the filming of a scene before I can interview Brent Butt, creator and star of the Corner Gas TV series that is phenomenally popular in Canada.
Margaret, the movie's kind publicist, asks me to take a seat. "Here, sit there in Brent's chair or Kathy Blevins'; go ahead and I will come back for you in a bit," she says. I do as I am told and choose Brent's chair. It's bigger and looks cozy. I relax and look ahead at the three monitors going in front of me. I am peering into the iconic gas station as the actors block, or mark out, where they will stand for an upcoming scene.
I am almost caught red-handed in his chair moments later as Butt enters the video village room to show someone something funny on his phone. I sneakily transition without getting caught to Kathy's chair, avoid embarrassment, and breathe a sigh of relief.
The gas station set in "Dog River," a.k.a. Rouleau, Saskatchewan (approximately 40 kilometres from Regina) remained intact over the past five years since the series wrapped and played host to tours and sold many a souvenir.
But now it's alive with Corner Gas action again. Hank (played by Fred Ewanuick), Brent Leroy's best friend on the series, appears first on stage left followed by Brent and Wanda (played by Nancy Robertson), the quirky gas station cashier, and Butt's real-life wife.
Soon after, the blocking is complete and the scene begins rolling. I peer at the monitors again and admire the on-set action of the rolling cameras and actors delivering seamless lines. After three takes, the scene is nailed. The director, sitting in front of me, yells, "Cut." It's time to sit down and talk shop with Mr. Brent Butt.
Born and raised in Tisdale, the extremely funny comedian and actor known for his dry sense of humour, opened up on growing up in Saskatchewan, travel in Canada and, of course, reuniting with the cast for the Corner Gas movie due out in December 2014.
"It was wonderful. We don't get to see each other a lot and it was great coming back and going through the motions again. It was such a big part of our lives," said Butt in regard to filming again with all his castmates. "It felt like only three weeks had passed."
He said his return to the role of Brent Leroy was easy. "I hardly even look at this as a role to play. Brent Leroy is basically me. I put on a different shirt and a different watch and I am done," shared Butt. Acclimating back to the show also proved to be simple, but he pointed out the major difference was felt in the pacing of the writing, moving from a set scale of 22 Minutes to that of a 90-minute feature film.
So what can viewers expect?
"The stakes are raised; it's a bit of a bigger story," Butt added.
Five years later we find our heroes picking up where the series ended. "The town is in very bad shape and, like a lot of rural communities across the country, they are finding themselves in situation of 'Do we shut everything down and walk away letting it become a ghost town? Or do we dig in our heels and fight for this place where we have lived our lives?'"
The series, which resonated so broadly across all demographic and geographic regions in Canada, had a massive audience averaging over 1-million viewers per episode -- incredibly rare for a show in this country.
We chatted further about why Corner Gas was able to gain such mass appeal. I stated to the actor, speaking on behalf of proud Saskatchewanians, we "just get it," noting the rural nuances we know and love from the series that make it feel like it was made just for us. However, Butt asserted, "Everybody gets it."
"It's not barley jokes. It's about these people and the situation they are in," he went on to say. And, in regard to locale: "It really could have taken place anywhere as the characters are very archetypal, and there's universality to it."
He explained how that "feeling" and appreciation for the show and its people-focused stories has broad appeal that reaches far beyond the borders of the province. "You go to Ontario or Manitoba, or wherever I travel doing stand-up, the number one thing I always hear about is Corner Gas, people want to talk about it."
He acknowledged, of course, there is value added if you are from Saskatchewan. "Saskatchewan is the backdrop; it's the postcard -- because of where it is and what you see [on the show]. You don't have to talk about it a lot. It just kind of is. The horizon is there, the fields are there and that sky is there."