Peter Rowe [Interview]


Today’s interview subject is a man who did one specific thing that initially made want to have him on the site. And oddly enough, it was an acting gig, which turns out to not really be his main gig. It’s actually Canadian filmmaking legend Peter Rowe! And the acting gig I am speaking of was also wildly specific, which was his portrayal of the late and brilliant Hunter S. Thompson in the docuseries Final 24. I will admit, it’s not the most glamorous interpretation of the final days of HST, but I was still so intrigued to ask the man who was tasked to portray the ailing Thompson in this series how that experience was to do so. So, I hit up Mr. Rowe and graciously enough he accepted our invite. Which is something we are always so grateful for here at TWS. Tomorrow, Feb. 20th, is actually the 15th anniversary of Hunter taking his own life, making many of the events that Rowe depicted on screen, 15 years ago today. It’s so hard to think about such a loss, but knowing it was Hunter’s choice should give us a bit of peace, I suppose.

And as I began to do a bit more research on this fella, I came to learn that Peter has done some amazing work in just about every field imaginable in the world of film and television. From writing and directing to special effects consulting and cinematography, there really isn’t anything that this man can’t do! For over 50 years, the 3-time Gemini Award nominated Peter Rowe has been bring so much joy to the world through his work, and we are so excited to be able to share a few words from him today. So Folks, please enjoy some wonderful words from the brilliant Peter Rowe!




What initially inspired you to get into the world of filmmaking? Was it something you had dreamt of doing since your youth, or did you happen to find yourself in this world one day?

There was very little local filmmaking going on in my youth. Instead I first worked in live theater – three seasons of Summer Stock theater in the U.S. and Canada as an apprentice and Assistant Stage Manager and Lighting Technician. There were no film schools at that time, except for UCLA, USC and the Lodz School in Poland, and since none of them were in the cards for me, I instead attended McMaster University  in Hamilton, where I pretended to study philosophy and in reality became film reviewer for the student newspaper, and then one of the founders of an underground filmmaking group we named the McMaster Film Board. We managed to scam some money together from the university to be able to make a number of films, some of which I directed, others I photographed. Our group attracted a number of budding actors and filmmakers, some of whom, such as Eugene Levy and Ivan Reitman went on to Hollywood fame and fortune. One of our sexy wilder efforts led to some notoriety, including a lead story in the big newspapers and on the CBC National News, which led me to…


What was your first paid gig in the world of entertainment? And were there any sort of lessons learned from this experience that still affects your work today?

My first job in the film biz was working as an assistant film editor and projectionist at the CBC. Realizing that if I stayed there it would be a very slow rise through the network, I left after three months, and then, with the help of my calling card underground experimental film made at McMaster, joined a wonderful film company / film co-op called Allan King Associates, run by iconic doc maker Allan King and his filmmaking partner Richard Leiterman. I got to work on many films there, and most especially got to produce and direct my first feature, which was titled The Neon Palace. From there I continued to work as a freelance filmmaker both on projects I initiated and ones I did for others. I’ve made over 190 films, including ten features, such as Treasure Island, with Jack Palance, The Best Bad Thing with George Takei and Lost!  with Ken Welsh, Helen Shaver and Michael Hogan. In the 80’s and 90’s I mostly did dozens of episodes of dramatic television series. In this century I mostly have done documentaries. My most notable was 49 episodes of the series  Angry Planet. In 2013 I wrote a book about it all titled Adventures in Filmmaking, that is available on Amazon. The book gets lots of great reviews, and so did most of the films.



I recently caught an acting performance you gave on the series Final 24 in which you portrayed a personal hero of the mine, the late Hunter S. Thompson. I am very curious as to how this experience was for you? What kind of research went into the process of becoming such a legendary figure?

Through my career on stage and in film I continued to dabble in acting. In 2006 I learned of the series Final 24 and that the producers were planning a one hour special on the last 24 hours of the life of Hunter S. Thompson. I auditioned for the lead part and got it. I simply researched the part by re-reading the books of his I had read, and reading the early ones (like The Rum Diaries) I hadn’t. It was generally a ball shooting the film. Snorting  cocaine (icing sugar), guzzling bourbon (apple juice), berating my “wife” and generally behaving like an asshole, improvising wild dialogue, shooting guns (blanks, but still fun) and blowing stuff up – what’s not to like? It was a strange shoot for me, because my own father had died in hospital the day before the first day of the film, and Thompson killed himself, he claimed, because he didn’t want to end up like his father, lying in a hospital with a dozen tubes stuck in him. I did it in tribute to my father, a writer himself, and though no fan of Thompson or television, was a big supporter of my filmmaking and a believer in the showbiz adage that the show must go on. The film is available on YouTube.


If you were handed the opportunity to create a biopic, with unlimited resources, of any legendary figure in Canadian history, who would it be? 

It isn’t a hypothetical question. For years I have been trying to make a film about the world’s first movie star, Canadian born actress Florence Lawrence. My film is not a biopic but rather a re-imagination of Lawrence’s life, based on the novel by William J. Mann, titled Biograph Girl. Instead of our story ending with a Hollywood suicide in the 1930s, as the real one did, our film imagines that she did not die but instead was rediscovered in the 1990s and then turned, by a down-on-his-luck documentary filmmaker into a star (of TV and tabloids) all over again. My partner on the project is Canadian star actress Jennifer Dale, who’ll play Lawrence. We’ve had fun doing about 15 drafts of the script. It’s a good one. Who knows, at this point, whether we’ll find the financing to make the film, but we keep working on it.


When you look back on a career spanning over 50 years in the business, what would you say you are the most proud of when you look back on it? Not one project in particular maybe, but your career as whole.

I am very pleased that in the sometimes shaky world of filmmaking I never had to “get a real job” and instead continued to keep working and have fun in a biz where every day is different from the last. I’m also pleased to have two daughters who have continued in related fields, one as the co-anchor of the evening news at WKBW-TV, in Buffalo, and the other making expedition films and teaching adventure filmmaking on National Geographic Society student expeditions. As for my own projects I’ve enjoyed almost all of them, but probably none more than filming adventurer George Kournounis as he hosted my series Angry Planet, filming in the most remote parts of 40 countries on all seven continents. Its available on Amazon Prime.



What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

I’m focused these days on two things – painting – I paint mostly pop art work that I display in Toronto galleries and on my Instagram (peterrowepicsandpaint) and Facebook (peter.rowe.123276) sites, and writing. I am deep into a new book titled Music vs The Man, that is about the long-running contentious relationship between musicians, singers and bands, and the authorities – police, border guards, mayors, the FBI, the Kremlin, etc. Hope to soon have a publisher for it.


What was the last thing that made you smile?

Probably an episode of The Simpsons (over 30 years of brilliance) or maybe Jiminy Glick (Marty Short, also a McMaster alumni, is the greatest ever). Or maybe Colbert or one of the other late night comic geniuses. We live in a crazy age of politics that has led to a golden age of both comedy and journalism.

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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