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A retrospective by Carole Gordon
"High winds in this Northern sky will carry you away,
You know you have to leave here, you wish that you could stay.
There's four directions on this map, but you're only going one way -
- due South Theme by Jay Semko and Bryan Potvin
At its heart, due South was a journey - for Benton Fraser, from the Northwest Territories to Chicago and then back home; for Paul Gross, it was the path to international recognition.
"I first came to Chicago . . ."
When Paul Haggis (whose credits since due South include the Oscar-winning movies Million Dollar Baby and Crash) was commissioned by CBS President Jeff Sygansky to write "a series about a Mountie or a trapper or somebody who comes from way up north to big city USA", he was less than enthusiastic.
"I thought it was the worst idea I'd ever heard! . . . But the more I thought about it, the more I saw the comic potential in such a situation and I began to see that I could twist it around a bit and have a lot of fun with the characters." - Paul Haggis, due South Companion by Geoff Tibballs
From this starting point, he created the characters of Benton Fraser and Ray Vecchio - characters of depth and complexity that took the stereotypes of how the Americans picture the Canadians and vice versa and gave them a surreal tweak.
"Now there's a country that knows what to export!"
"It's odd, because even as the author, once you breathe life into characters, you can't help but believe in them. I just have to remind myself that the character of Constable Benton Fraser that I created sprang out of my head, and had the values that I imbued upon him. His charm and wit, bravery, humility and loyalty are attributes that, whether they exist in others or not, we should continue to strive to attain. Fraser exists, and always will, exactly as I created him on page one, coming across the pass. He's a fabulous character, if I say so myself. I just love him." - Paul Haggis, due South newsgroup, December 1999
But casting the parts of Fraser and Vecchio proved less than straightforward. These special characters required very special actors to embody them on screen.
"We searched forever to find a Mountie," he recalls. "Early on someone had brought Paul Gross's name up to me and I asked, 'Who the hell is he?' They sent me a tape of a drama Paul had done where he played a character during the War of 1812 or something like that [Divided Loyalties]. He was sitting astride a horse and I said, 'He looks terrible. Why do I want this guy?'" - Paul Haggis in ETV Magazine, February 1997
At that time, Paul Gross's career was beginning to develop with his roles in films and TV. Reading his way through piles of increasingly dire film scripts while living in Malibu, he received Paul Haggis's script for the pilot episode of a show about a Mountie who hunts down his father's murderers. And the rest is history? Well, not quite.
"At the time I just wasn't interested in doing a series. I didn't want to get locked into something for a long period of time. . . . Anyway, they approached with an offer and I didn't even read the script." - Paul Gross Cult Times Christmas Special 1996
But eventually he did read it.
"Some months later they came back and asked me if I would at least read it. I did and thought it was one of the funniest things I'd ever read. I'd done a couple of other projects before starting 'due South' including 'Tales of the City' which, along with 'due South', were the two best scripts I'd seen. It appeared the only sensible course of action was to do it."
Paul Haggis again:
"I finally said, 'OK, I'll meet with this guy.' He walked in and after talking to him for three or four minutes I knew that he was Benton Fraser. He had such a wicked sense of humour. I was so glad that he accepted the part. Paul was the only person that I found who could do the role and walk that fine line between the drama and comedy."
"I'm looking for a Detective Armani . . ."
Nor was casting the role of Ray Vecchio any easier.
"I looked forever for Ray", Paul Haggis said during an IRC chat on 25 November 1996. "David finally came in to read, and the first thing he said was 'I can't play this guy'. But the way he said it, I knew he WAS Ray. So I told him not to bother reading that day, to go home, take his time with the material and come back. So he did, about two days later. And he says to me: 'Now I KNOW I can't play this guy'."
But, although David wasn't convinced he was the right actor to play Vecchio, Paul Haggis continued to offer David the role and, eventually, this Mountie-like persistence paid off.
Even the critics agreed that Paul Haggis had got the casting exactly right:
"Gross not only plays a great straight man to the gregarious Marciano, but he pulls off his own character without turning it into a comic figure. Marciano, for his part, proves he can deliver better than Domino's pizza." - Susan Young, September 1994