Richard Ouzounian interviews Stratford veteran Graham Abbey (click to get personal and see the timeline):
"Relax, fellow Canadians.
"You can sleep securely as long as Graham Abbey is standing on guard for thee, which he will continue to do as agent Gray Jackson in the popular CBC TV series The Border, which starts its second season Monday at 9 p.m.
"Four years ago at Stratford, I described him as 'boyishly handsome.' Abbey is 37 now and he has a leaner, meaner edge to his appearance. Underneath, he remains the nice guy he's always been.
"It's early on a misty morning and Abbey has been working since 6:30 a.m. at the former Rochester Ferry Terminal, home base for The Border's production.
"'What have I learned about myself on this show?' he asks rhetorically on a break. 'That I can get up at 4:30 a.m. and still function.'
"The scene being shot today is a low-key, largely informational affair, but during the dozen takes, Abbey keeps tightly focused, snapping out his lines with just the right measure of casual tension, then relaxing as lights are reset and cameras adjusted.
"'For me, there's one basic thing that took getting used to,' says the veteran of nine seasons playing leading roles at the Stratford Festival.
"'It's that when you're performing in the theatre, it's dark and everyone disappears. Here on TV, when you're ready to go, suddenly 40 people with booms appear.'
"Throughout his career, Abbey has had a knack for learning where to seek the best counsel. In this case he turned to Colm Feore, who can play Coriolanus at Stratford or appear on the upcoming season of 24 with equal skill.
"'Colm gave me great advice,' recalls Abbey. 'He told me to remember that the actual size of the Festival stage is so intimate that you don't have to change your performance style that much from stage to screen.'
"Watching Abbey breaking hearts and taking prisoners as the complicated Gray Jackson in The Border, it's obvious he's learned his lessons well.
"The series is on one level an exciting drama about the people guarding the Canada-U.S. border, but it also manages to work a fair bit of social and political commentary into its scripts. Abbey enjoys that a lot.
"'This show presents a great forum for Canadians to debate and think about what that border means. Usually we hear the voices from the south, so it's nice to give voice to our point of view as well.'
"During the first season, Abbey mainly dealt with what he calls 'the action stuff,' which gave him enough to worry about.
"'I joked with the guys on the show that I spent 10 years learning how to fight with a sword, and now I have to learn how to carry a gun.'
"Having done a convincing job of that, Abbey has been rewarded by having the scripts delve more deeply into his personal life.
"'Nick Campbell has been brought on to play my dad, which is great. On stage, I learned from Bill Hutt. Here on TV, I'm learning from Nick. You don't get luckier than that.'
"This year he also gets a relationship with Grace Park (Battlestar Galactica).
"Abbey jokes, 'Hey, you even get to see my apartment. You look at the set they've designed for the first time, and you say, Oh, that's what my character is supposed to be like!'
"Besides dealing with the pressures of filming the second season of his first TV series, Abbey has had to deal with some major joys and sorrows in the past few months.
"The joys came in August, when he married his former Stratford colleague Michelle Giroux. 'We were very dear friends who finally fell in love and decided to get married,' says Abbey of the woman he's known for over a decade. 'I don't know what suddenly shifted in my mind, I can't explain it. All I'm sure of is that it was the right thing to do.'
"The story of their proposal is classic Abbey, combining romantic bravado with adolescent insecurity.
"'I thought Ireland would be a nice place to propose and I knew we were planning a trip there. So I bought the ring and carried it with me.
"'We climbed up this high mountain and looked down on this beautiful vista – it's where they shot Braveheart, actually – and all the way up I kept thinking, It's going to be a long walk down if she says no.'
"Fortunately, she didn't, and they tied the knot in August.
"Only a few weeks later, Abbey faced the loss of one of the main influences in his life. Richard Monette, who had been artistic director at Stratford during Abbey's time there, died on Sept. 9 at the age of 64.
"'So many of us have him to thank for our careers,' begins Abbey, his emotions held in check. 'I wouldn't be an actor if it wasn't for him. He brought me up there, he fought for me, he kept me there...'
"Despite his best intentions, his voice thickens and the tears start flooding his eyes. 'Damn it, I thought I'd be better at this,' he says. 'I always meant to thank him, really thank him, but those moments go by in a flash and before you know it, they're gone.'
"A small smile breaks through. 'He used to watch The Border and told me he was proud of me doing it. So I'd like to think this season is for him.'"