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The Haven

The Secrets of Method Acting as Revealed by Patrick’s Dad from the Norwich Union Commercial

“It’s Patrick. He took out life insurance.”

Photo by Marc Noorman at Unsplash

Hi. My name is Gourd Sebastian. You probably recognize me from my iconic television roles, such as the guy who asks for directions in a Canadian Tire store, or the man answering the phone in the Norwich Union Commercial, for which I won a 1990 Gemini Award for Most Notable Performance by a Male Vocalist in a Canadian Commercial.

As an actor, I take my craft seriously. I employ The Method. For example, when I was cast for that Norwich Union commercial, I had to play a married man with a son named Patrick. This was a problem, because at the time, I wasn’t married, and I didn’t have any kids. Straight away, I went on the internet looking for a single woman with a son named Patrick. Once I found that woman, I married her. That should tell you how committed I am to my Art. Would Gordon Pinsent have done that? I’m betting ‘no’. There was a rumor they’d offered my role to Gordon Pinsent first, but apparently, he had “other commitments”. Gordon Pinsent didn’t win a Gemini Award in 1990, but I did. Just thought I’d mention that.

There was another rumor that their second pick for my part was that guy who plays Oscar in Corner Gas — that’s the TV show that’s like The Beachcombers without the boats. He couldn’t commit either. But I could.

Right after my marriage was finalized, I took my son, Patrick, aside. “Son,” I said to Patrick. “You’re to call me ‘dad’ now.”

“I’m not calling you ‘dad’,” said Patrick. “I’m 45, and I just met you.”

We had to work on our relationship some. And I won’t deny that beer helped the process along.

And because I wanted to make my scene in that commercial as realistic as possible, I asked if Patrick could be in the commercial too, on the other end of the phone. Well, the director, Larry Suttercup, was against it, but I brought out the charm and also some beer, and eventually I got my way.

Then there was another hitch.

“Patrick,” I said. “You’ve got to buy life insurance from Norwich Union.”

Well, Patrick didn’t want to do that. He already had life insurance and he didn’t want to buy any more.

I ended up having to buy it for him. That compromised my Method some. When I say my line, “It’s Patrick. He took out life insurance,” I come in a hair too early, and the conviction in my voice just isn’t quite there. It’s only noticeable to a trained ear, though.

Unfortunately, because they didn’t like Patrick’s Danish accent, they dubbed over him afterwards with a voice actor. The viewing audience wasn’t ready for a Canadian man with a Danish son, and I can’t blame them for that. To be honest, I wasn’t ready for a Danish son either.

I know the producers of that commercial did the best they could, but that voice actor’s name wasn’t even Patrick. That haunts me to this day.

When it was all over, I asked them if I could reprise my role in a future Norwich Union commercial. They said ‘no’, so I filed for divorce.

I watched those other Norwich Union commercials though, and I have some thoughts.

That one lady — I thought she came in too quickly with her line: “And they didn’t ask us any health questions.”

But the director (Larry Suttercup) had a different vision. He shot every scene in one take.

“No do-overs!” he’d say.

He was like that. A perfectionist.

And then there was that scene with the little girl sitting on her grandmother’s knee. I don’t know who discovered her or whether she was coached or if she was just gifted like that, but her performance was legendary. The expression on her face reminded me of that time Gus Butterworthy and I were in the equatorial jungle shooting a commercial for Tim Hortons. That commercial never aired, but Gus and I smoked three pipes of opium. That little girl had the same expression on her face as Gus did after that third opium pipe.

Looking back, I can say that I took part in a production that had a significant impact on the Canadian culture. That’s my legacy, and darned if I’m not proud of it.

And, no they didn’t give any of us a medical, and they didn’t ask us any health questions. Those Norwich Union folks — they were straight shooters.



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Sarah Totton

Sarah Totton

Sarah Totton writes comedy and snorgles small mammals. She once gave a reading on a flatbed truck at a garden center to an audience of three ferns.