Writing in The Globe and Mail, theatre critic Ray Conologue said, “Paul Gross… is so good-looking that some women sitting near to me on opening night would forcibly argue that the only thing he could do wrong would be to go home alone afterward.” Mention that to the citizens of Osoyoos, British Columbia, however, and you may get a quizzical look or two.
“I’d go into the 7/11 to get milk and I looked unhinged,” says Gross. “The good people of Osoyoos [located in the southern part of the Okanagan Valley near British Columbia’s border with Washington state] had never seen anything like this so they wouldn’t even sell me milk at the 7/11.”
No, Gross hasn’t been tragically disfigured or succumbed to the ravages of age. In fact, in middle age he’s looking as matinee idol handsome as ever, a fact he tries to hide in Gunless (which opens on April 30, his 51st birthday), by covering his famous face with a mop of matted, dirty hair. In this western comedy he plays The Montana Kid, an 1880s American gunslinger who comes North, finds nobility and becomes, well, gunless.
“You know, there are those decisions you make every once and while that are really stupid,” he says. “I woke up one morning before I went out to BC and I thought, ‘I think he should have long hair.’
“I said to Bill [Phillips, the film’s director], ‘It’ll work. Trust me. If it doesn’t we can just cut it.’ I don’t know if you’ve ever had really long hair or extensions, but don’t. If someone comes up to you on the street and says, ‘Hey I can give you long hair.’ Just don’t talk to the guy. It takes about 112 hours to get them in and they are applied largely with a nail gun. They are just driven straight into your skull and then you are stuck with this long hair. It’s appalling. It gets in your mouth, in your food…
“On top of that, we get out to the set and it was 312 in the Kelvin scale. That’s 45 degrees Celsius. 312 Kelvin. I looked it up. And something went wrong with the hair. It started to mat. Particularly on the right side. It looked like Princess Leia on meth… a cow patty set sideways on my head. We could not untangle it so then we just cut it off. So I had one short side and one ridiculously long side.”
No wonder he got strange looks at the convenience store, but the hair and the trouble shopping for milk weren’t the most difficult part of the shoot.
“The worst thing really was the dust. If you saw pictures of the crew they are all wearing bandanas, masks and ski goggles and the actors are all standing there sucking back clouds of it. It’s like the clouds out of Iceland. They stop planes in this kind of stuff, but we kept shooting.”
Thankfully the dust didn’t last for the whole shoot and Gross developed a fondness for Osoyoos.
“I didn’t know this area of the country existed and I’ve seen a lot of Canada. I encourage everybody to go. It is absolutely staggeringly beautiful.”