By: Michael D. McClellan | Don’t sleep on Bryan Demore. Let’s get that out there straight away. Introspective, articulate, nuanced, this handsome York University theatre graduate has dramatic range and acting chops to burn, going full throttle one moment and displaying a deft touch the next, his performances loaded with the stuff that draws in an audience and holds it hostage, daring it move. Canadians are known for their equanimity, but the stereotype only applies to Bryan Demore if the scene calls for it. Put him on stage or in front of a camera and this cat flat-out brings it, wielding a go-for-broke edge to his acting that keeps you wanting more.
Pump the brakes.
That’s high praise bordering on hyperbole – and yet you’ve never heard of him. I get that. But here’s the deal; how many of you reading this piece know an extraordinarily gifted artist or musician who just needs one break to go from emerging artist to household name? Happens all the time – you need look no further than American Idol for proof. Just as Jennifer Hudson. Or Carrie Underwood.
What –still scratching your head?
Fair enough. Let’s back this train up, and, in the immortal words of Ayn Rand, ask the most fundamental question:
Who, exactly, is Bryan Demore?
Demore is a West Coast guy with a Canadian twist. Born in Coquitlam, BC, two hours north of Seattle, Demore fell in love with acting at age four, watching Harrison Ford outrun boulders and outsmart Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark. He jokes that he wanted to be an archaeologist when he sat down to watch the movie, and then afterwards realized that he wanted to be Indiana Jones instead.
“One of my first memories,” Demore says in his distinctly Canadian accent, “is that my parents didn’t have a lot of money, so they created a movie theatre in our house, with a blanket over the TV. They revealed Raiders to me very dramatically, and I was immediately hooked. It transported me – it was the ultimate adventure, the place I would want to be if I could be dropped into world that wasn’t of this world. It was make believe entertainment, but it was also very influential in terms of shaping my interest in acting.”
Dream deep, as they say, for every dream precedes a goal. And having the right support system in place to feed, care and nurture those dreams makes all the difference in the world. In Demore’s case, his childhood was the perfect creative storm, igniting and fostering both his imagination and his career goals in the process.
“My father was a guitar player,” he says, “which meant that I grew up in a creative environment be default. He played in the States and in Canada, so I got interested in the arts through my dad. I was obsessed with movies for as far back as I can remember. I’ve always had an innate desire to act, and my parents were great – they started taking me to auditions when I was super young. I started developing my own projects at sixteen, and now I’m twenty-eight and doing what I love.”
“My father was a guitar player, which meant that I grew up in a creative environment be default. He played in the States and in Canada, so I got interested in the arts through my dad. I was obsessed with movies for as far back as I can remember. I’ve always had an innate desire to act, and my parents were great – they started taking me to auditions when I was super young. I started developing my own projects at sixteen, and now I’m twenty-eight and doing what I love.” – Bryan Demore
Inspiration comes in many forms. Acting as a visual medium provides aspiring actors a deep reservoir of creative stimuli – there are literally tens of thousands of movies available at the touch of a button. Who were some of the actors that provided inspiration for Demore at a young age?
“Harrison Ford, obviously. Then there came a point that I started to obsess over The Godfather movies, as well as anything that Robert De Niro and Al Pacino played in. Their movies are the templates for a lot of young actors, especially males. And when I actually started studying acting, I fell in love with the work of Phillip Seymour Hoffman – he’s been a huge inspiration for me in terms of his choices. We don’t look the same or go after the same parts, but his ability to dig into specificity impresses me. And he listens really well. A lot of actors just like to talk and let themselves be heard, but he’s an incredible talent in terms of the things he can do without the need of a monologue.”
Our Skype video session settles in on another source of Demore’s inspiration – fellow Canadian and creative icon Robert Lepage. A playwright, actor and director, LePage is the founder of a multidisciplinary production company called Ex Machina.
“I saw his show The Anderson Project when I was nineteen,” Demore says, “which really helped me in terms of developing my own work. It’s a solo play inspired by the life and works of Hans Christian Anderson – it’s a modern fairy tale, confronting the themes of modernism and romanticism. A great show. He’s a giant in the field, and his work is known internationally. I respect LePage immensely.
“I saw his show The Anderson Project when I was nineteen, which really helped me in terms of developing my own work. It’s a solo play inspired by the life and works of Hans Christian Anderson – it’s a modern fairy tale, confronting the themes of modernism and romanticism. A great show. He’s a giant in the field, and his work is known internationally. I respect LePage immensely.” – Bryan Demore
“The past couple of years I’ve been getting into John Cassavetes filmography. His work in terms of bucking the normal trend, and in the development of independent film at all costs, even if it meant doing it illegally – remortgaging his house several times, for example [laughs] – and what he was able to get on screen is just incredible. So, he’s an inspiration in terms of his creative genius and also in terms of getting it done at all costs. And I also draw a lot of inspiration from the visual arts world; I’m always amazed at how artists are able to take something that we look at one way, and then somehow flip it on its head.”
Demore is a graduate of the prestigious theatre school at York University. Located in Toronto, York has an international reputation for turning out diverse and talented graduates in the fields of dance, design, digital media, film, music and theatre. Mark Irwin, cinematographer for such Hollywood hits as Me, Myself & Irene, Scream, and There’s Something About Mary, and Rachel McAdams, the award-winning actress known for her roles in Mean Girls and Wedding Crashers, are prime examples. For Demore, his experience at York was alternately rich and conflicting.
“The head of the voice department at York is David Smukler,” Demore says. “He runs a voice workshop out of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver called The Voice Intensive, which is basically a team of all the best voice teachers in Canada and the States. It’s a four week program, and they normally don’t take on people as young as eighteen, which I was at the time. But he really liked my cover letter and decided to take a chance on me. It was an incredible opportunity. At some point David asked me about my post-secondary education, and he was the person who recommended that I consider York. So I applied, was accepted, and decided to take a chance an move away to Toronto for theatre school.
“It was an interesting experience. The theatre program had a lot of money at the time, most of that coming through private donations, but this was before the recession hit. And there were a lot of extra bells and whistles in terms of directors that they could pull in, which appealed to me. Unfortunately they’ve been hit a bit financially, and I saw some of that while I was there. It’s not the department’s fault, it’s just a matter of having some valuable funding cut out from under them.
“But my experience at York was really, really good. I have an incredible network in terms of friends and colleagues. I’m in Toronto right now working on a show with a director that I’ve always wanted to work with, which wouldn’t have been possible without deciding to go to York. But no situation is ever perfect, and I’ve never been a fan of the gigantic machine that some of these types of universities can be. You see the political side of things come out more, and with so many students you become a bit of a cog in a machine. But in terms of the theatre department itself, I had a really, really positive experience. The directors that they were able to pull in, and the mentorship within the graduate program were definitely valuable resources and great for me.”
Not content to stop there, Demore decided to augment his education with travel abroad, with stops in Central America, London, and Paris. So how, exactly, did this phase help him to grow as an actor?
“I just watched an interview with Emma Thompson, and she was talking about taking time to get away, and how it is completely integral to any artist, because it gives you a new fire, and it reinvigorates through life rather than work. I agree with her completely, because acting is about looking at the world through someone else’s point of view. You might have to play Joseph Stalin, and while you may not agree with that point of view, you’re looking at life through a different lens. And I think when you travel, it forces you to see life through different lenses to a certain degree. You visit Nicaragua or Costa Rica, and you see people who are severely poor, but they have a different view on life because that is their life.”
Today, Demore is putting the finishing touches of a project, Cassavetes-style. The independent film is titled Just Living. It centers on addiction and recovery, and is based on the poetry of fellow Canadian Patrick Lane.
Demore: “I started reading Patrick Lane’s stuff at York, and at the time I don’t think I was able to fully conceptualize it. But I knew that there were a lot of similarities between us, in that he grew up in a mill town in Northern British Columbia, which is where my family is from. Just the way he wrote, I realized that his story was very similar to my family’s story structure. It was something I could relate to innately. To steal a line from Truman Capote, when describing his affinity toward Perry Smith, one of the killers from his book In Cold Blood: ‘Then one day, he walked out the back door, and I walked out the front.’ That fits in this situation. I think that I understand the structure that Patrick Lane writes within, and I get the metaphorical narrative, so I was attracted to that when I started putting this project together.”
Like all good projects, Demore knew that he would have to pitch Just Living to the decorated poet. And that would prove to be just the beginning.
“When I talked to him we connected immediately,” Demore says. “I think he saw a young artist who wanted to develop his own work, and he was very gracious to allow us to use his poetry for the project. It was a very difficult process from that point forward, because this is an independent film and I had to rely on my own funding, as well as my co-partner’s funding, and we learned a lot of life lessons along the way. It was an experience to be sure, but all that really matters is what you have on film, and what we have on film is really, really good. We’re in post-production now, and prepping the film for submission to festivals.”
All of which begs the question: Does Demore have a preference when it comes to his acting? Is he a film guy? Or does he perhaps find himself gravitating more to the stage?
“I don’t really have a preference,” he says thoughtfully. “I find that they share a lot of similarities, but there are some complete differences between the two. With theatre you’re having to carry your character’s arc every night. In film, your character’s arc is being cut up – maybe you’re shooting the last scene on the first day, because it’s at this certain location and they can only get that location at that specific time. So you don’t ever really get that full arc with film. There are only a handful of directors who are so specific that they want the movie shot chronologically, but it’s very rare. From an actor’s point of view, those are the biggest differences.
“As an actor, I feel that theatre training can only help when it comes to film. You need a lot of endurance to be a theatre actor, and in film that endurance helps with the long days that come with shooting on location. And there are some movies that have a ton of dialog, like something that Aaron Sorkin might produce. Theatre acting gives you the endurance chops that translates to film, I think. If you can carry a three hour version of King Lear or Macbeth then I’d say you’re going to be okay when it comes to film.”
“As an actor, I feel that theatre training can only help when it comes to film. You need a lot of endurance to be a theatre actor, and in film that endurance helps with the long days that come with shooting on location. And there are some movies that have a ton of dialog, like something that Aaron Sorkin might produce. Theatre acting gives you the endurance chops that translates to film, I think. If you can carry a three hour version of King Lear or Macbeth then I’d say you’re going to be okay when it comes to film.” – Bryan Demore
Disco Pigs is a play written by Enda Walsh in 1996, and revolves around the intense relationship of two teenage protagonists, Darren and Sinéad, nicknamed “Pig” and “Runt”. Pig and Runt were born at the same hospital at nearly the same time and grow up right next door to each other. This brings about a very close relationship between the two that borders on telepathic. They live in their own world and barely communicate with the world around them. However, up until their seventeenth year, their relationship remains one of friendship, albeit a very unhealthy one. It was a fascinating, intense production, performed on stage at Oz Studios in Toronto, and starred Demore as Pig opposite Claire Burns’ Runt.
“It was a play I was originally going to produce in Vancouver,” Demore says. “I was looking for a project that was going to be feasible financially, and with this project I knew it was going to be a two-person show – just me and another actress. So that appealed to me. The script itself is almost twenty years old. I’ve read quite a few plays, and there aren’t many plays out there that create this type of world. It’s not really naturalism, and it’s not your traditional, well-made play. The dialect is based on a thick, Cork accent, because the play is set in Ireland.”
For anyone who knows anything about Disco Pigs, there were other significant challenges as well.
“Edna Walsh talks about wanting to create scripts that are nearly impossible for stage actors to do. There’s an incredible athleticism built into this play. It’s just unbelievably demanding from a physical standpoint. With this play you have to bring it every night, you can’t take time off and jump back in. Some plays allow you to settle into a rhythm, and by opening night there’s a certain degree of smooth sailing. But not this show. Every night you’re a bit fearful because you’re not quite sure how it’s going to work out. My partner and I have it down and we work well together, but there’s always this possibility that something could go wrong because of the physical demands placed on us.”
The danger aside, what were the other aspects of this play that attracted Demore?
“It was written in the mid-nineties in Ireland, when there was a lot of disillusionment on the part of young people in terms of having limited opportunities. And I think that’s transferable. I think we’re lucky up here in Canada, there is poverty in certain pockets, but for the most part we have an established economy. But I think this play is relatable in some places – marginalized areas of Toronto come to mind – where kids are maligned and have nothing to do, and where they have to create an insular world where they can develop their own fantasy. And that’s what this show is about. The characters develop a fantasy world that is better than their reality.”
Reviews for the play were overwhelmingly positive, and everyone I’ve spoken with raves about Demore’s performance – no surprise there, given the intensity that this Canadian up-and-comer brings to the stage on a nightly basis. The consistent theme? The edgy, desperately violent nature of Demore’s onstage Pig persona.
“There are a lot of fight scenes,” Demore says. “Again, it’s a two-person play, so I’m fighting someone that’s not there. The decision was made to go super-physical, and to be as realistic as possible. So in prepping for the scene I actually staged a fight with a fake person, and I walked through it step-by-step. It was very choreographed; I would hit my pretend opponent in the jaw, and then grab him by the hair, and so on. The key was capturing the specifics of the fight and then wrapping the rhythm around it so that it could come across believable. It was quite a challenge.”
So, what’s next for Bryan Demore?
“I’ve just signed on with a really good agency out of Vancouver, so I’m looking to work out of Vancouver for a bit. This spring we’ll be shopping Just Living to festivals, and I’m really looking forward to that. And me and my partner are about to start work on another short film, which is another step toward the goal of getting feature funding for a film – you need to have several short films under your belt as a sort of business card in that respect, if you will.”
Clearly, Bryan Demore is an emerging artist with plenty on his radar – and now, deservedly so, Demore is officially on your radar as well.
It’s only a matter of time before he’s on everyone else’s, too.