Actor, Musician, Hell of a great guy!
Derek was nominated for a Gemini and Canadian Screen Award. Other shows you will recognize Derek from are Doc, SCTV, Red Green, Growing Pains, Newhart, Dallas, Who's the Boss, Cheers, Golden Girls, Little Mosque on the Prairie, Ellen, Get Carter, My Secret Identity, The Good Witch and now Kim's Convenience.
ATOTK (Jay Cooper): Honoured to be talking to you today.
DM (Derek McGrath): Oh for God's sake, that's very nice thank you. I'm totally up for the chat. Some days I'd rather not be alive but today is not like that at all (he laughs).
ATOTK: So you like the magazine or we wouldn't be talking today lol
DM: Yes of course I am and the funniest thing is I have this little place a favourite little dinner I go to called St Dave's Dinner just south of Lindsay and there was the Dec issue right there on the counter.
ATOTK: Linda Kash says hello and says your a doll.
DM: Linda's wonderful and she played my wife on the show Doc and she turned me onto the Kawarthas area back in 2002.
ATOTK: You have over 100 acting credits and counting. That's crazy to me! And nominated for a Gemini and Canadian Screen Award. Now SCTV and Red Green are favourites of mine but also you were on Growing Pains, Newhart, Dallas, Who's the Boss, Cheers, Golden Girls, Little Mosque on the Prairie, Ellen and, our Editor’s favourite, The Good Witch to name a few. And now on Kim's Convience.
DM: Yes The Good Witch and I just did a movie last year with the director of that show Craig Pryce called "The Mariguana Conspiracy".
ATOTK: You were born in Northern Ontario?
DM: Yes, I was born in South Porcupine. It is so small that there is no North Porcupine (laughs). I grew up in Timmins, described as the biggest little town in Northern Ontario, which is mostly bars and churches (laughs). My childhood growing up was bloody cold. A guy was on the radio one day and said ‘Morning folks. It's a little chilly out there. Minus 60 today, so you might want to think about not sending the kids to school. If you insist on them going, you might want to drive them. And if you can't drive them, tell them not to lay down and fall asleep as little ones do sometimes and gosh they just don't wake up again.’ (laughs) I was like Ma! Ma! Do I have to go to school? She said yup, your going. It's a rugged place and you have to be tough to handle it. I come from a large family, 10 kids and our parents and we moved around a lot. I believe before moving to Toronto at the age of 15, we lived in 11 different houses. We lived in one place that Jack Forbes (a professional skier that mysteriously disappeared in Europe) lived in and the house was all black. The rumour was he hid a fortune in the attic and sometimes at night I would hear people walking around up there. We didn't have a toilet we had an outhouse. And in that temperature you really would have to go or say I'll hold it until the morning. (laughs) One thing we never worried about was a white Christmas. The summers were always very hot And Oh my lord! The mosquitos! (he laughs)
ATOTK: What drew you into the arts and acting?
DM: My brother, Douglas McGrath, who is really a Canadian Icon. He did the first successful English speaking Canadian movie called "Goin' down the Road". He joined a company called Timmons Drama Guild of Northern Ontario. They were doing a play and looking for a young actor. My brother suggested me, I read for it and got the part. I think I wanted to be an actor since the age of 5 as my belief was I could sleep in and meet girls. (laughs) The girl part? True. The sleeping in part? No. (laughs) So I started getting parts and I did “The Hare”, which was about a guy that wanted to be a rabbit and played the sickly son. I did some radio plays, then moved to Toronto, and the first thing I did was ‘You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown’, in which I played Linus. So now I had a credit in the professional theatre, which brought more opportunities my way and I started getting work from CBC.
ATOTK: What was your biggest break in the day?
DM: That would have been States side with ‘Cheers’. After that I could go into an audition and say ‘Andy Andy’ so casting people didn't have to ask who I was. (laughs) Once I did that show was working a lot more. ‘My Secret Identity’ was a big hit also with Jerry O'Connell, which was shot here. Interesting, Jerry and I just did an episode of ‘Get Carter’ and we hadn't worked together in 29 years, which was a huge reunion.
ATOTK: The main characters/actors in a very popular show - are they great to work with or are some a nightmare?
DM: I've never worked with a nightmare but some can be a little full of themselves and unprofessional. I have heard stories though, and when I was doing Cheers there was a whole thing about Shelley Long. I was talking to George Wendt (Norm Peterson) and asked him what's up with Shelley, as everyone seems to be walking on pins and needles and she's been nothing but nice to me. He says, well she's a little bit of a, how do I call it, PurrFectionist. One thing I found irritating was we were rolling along, set it up, block it and run it at 5 pm with the producers and writers and Shelley would say ‘maybe I shouldn't wear that hat or maybe I should wear that hat’ and just stop the flow constantly and nitpicking. Another story is George Wendt almost killed me. (laughs) He's a big boy and in one episode Shelley asks me if there is anything I'd like to do and I say be an actor and she says the same so we did the scene from Othello. Meanwhile I saw Ted Danson's character kissing her (and I'm in love with her) and my character is a very polite psycho and I start strangling her (in character) and it never happened in rehearsal, but George rushes to her rescue and sits on my stomach. All 300 plus pounds. (laughs) Brandon Tartikoff, who was the head of NBC came over after the scene and says ‘You know how you just tried to strangle her I've been wanting to do that for years’. (laughs) So I guess she did have some issues.
ATOTK: People would think it's a glamorous thing to be in these shows and having trailers and dressing rooms?
DM: It varies a lot. Obviously, if your a regular on a show, things are pretty nice. But on the way to getting that series it was a little rough. I remember buying peanut butter, bread and rice as those things will go along way and have $9 in my account and wonder how the hell and where I'm gonna go from there. But somehow, I always tell people, I depend on miracles and think something wonderful is gonna happen and then it would. When I did Doc I was down to nothing in the bank account. First thing I did was go to accounting and ask for an advance on my first weeks’ salary. (laughs)
ATOTK: Voice over work like Inspector Gadget, amongst many others. How does that work? Do you mimic what you see on a screen?
DM: There was a time when the cast would get together and read through the script. Nowadays, no. They found people were having too much fun, laughing and making up our own lines. (laughs) So now you go in by yourself and the director will read the other lines and you say your lines by yourself, do a couple of passes through and your job is done. You don't have to look your best and have a coffee and ‘thanks Derek, be on your way’. Also, now for your auditions you just do it at home with your own computer before you ever have to go to the studio for the take and it saves me hours driving to the city and pay to audition, which is essentially what that means.
ATOTK: The farm allows you to do auditions not only for voice over but acting?
DM: I’m very fortunate as there are two houses on the farm. The other house has an awarding winning film maker and her mother who is a producer, so I call them up and say ‘Hey guys what are you doing today?’ (laughs) The part I don't like is the fact I don't get to see and hang out with my friends and fellow actors and go for coffee. It's just not as social as it use to be you know.
ATOTK: You’re also a musician/songwriter/singer. Do you find writing and recording is also not as social now?
DM: It's true and I think it affects the music. When I did my last CD I called everyone to come to the studio and when together they asked "’What are we recording today Derek?’ I said nothing we're just gonna play and get a feel for what this music is and all get on the same page. Then we can hit record. I did do vocals by myself or just a few players together but when you’re playing with a group you inspire each other.
ATOTK: When did the music start for you?
DM: I describe acting as my craft and music is my art and my heart. I'm a singer/songwriter and never really did enough with it as I'm not a businessman. While others would be out peddling their stuff I'd be home writing songs. I’m not kidding, I've probably written 800 to 900 songs. I'll record on the computer with some different chords and play it back years later and go what the hell is that? I have no idea how to play that chord ever again. (laughs) I will get into a fever for years and write and record and then nothing for a few years. I get into a fever with music more than acting as I like acting and sometimes I really love it, but not to the profound level as music. I forget everything and myself sometimes and just get carried away with it in the here and now. Swept away I guess you could say. When I play my guitar something just drops into me and I have to follow it. When I bought this house I went down to Omemee and purchased a rocking chair and just sat there watching these two birds with my guitar and immediately started writing a song.
ATOTK: Being a songwriter myself, what's some of your frustration points in writing?
DM: Well the bridge makes the difference between a good song and a great one. Also writing with rhymes and you've got two verses ending with ‘bed’ and ‘read’. So you get to the last line in the last versus and you go, man, there isn't anymore F’n words that end with ‘ead’ to finish this and I'm not gonna repeat one in the song but there all gone! I can't finish this great F’n song because there's no more ead’s! (laughs)
ATOTK: Best gig you ever had?
DM: I've got to say the tv show ‘Doc’ because I got to play very dramatic scenes and be funny as well. I make a distinction between humour and comedy. ‘Kim's Convenience’ is comedy and I love working with all of them but humour and being real with a little bit of a blush to it, if you will. With ‘Doc’ you could have tears in your eyes in an episode or deal with your pregnant wife and wear the sympathy packs with the big belly. Play it straight but with humour.
ATOTK: Favorite food?
DM: Puttanesca. Italian pasta and people beg me to make it. Beverage? I have to have coffee and I love red wine but have to say orange juice.
ATOTK: I thank you so much for your time.
DM: Can't wait to get you out here on the farm and create some musical magic. Thank you, Jay.