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Hab at Heart: Kevin Durand

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

Having portrayed a wide range of characters over the years on both the small and big screens alike, actor Kevin Durand boasts a rather impressive body of work dating back to 1997. The son of French Canadian parents, Durand immediately gravitated to the sport of hockey - and the Montreal Canadiens - while growing up in Thunder Bay, ON, before eventually making his way to Hollywood to pursue his career in showbiz. Despite being 3,700 kilometers from home, Durand still represents the CH everywhere he goes. We recently caught up with the Canadian star to learn more about his remarkable passion for the bleu-blanc-rouge.

How long have you been a Habs fan?
KEVIN DURAND:
Some of my earliest memories were just sitting on the couch with my Uncle Ron and my grandfather while they were cheering for the Habs on TV. They’d be screaming and cheering so passionately. It was incredible. That was back in the days of Guy Lafleur and Larry Robinson, so that’s where it all kind of started for me. I’m a French Canadian from Thunder Bay, so hockey was pretty much everything to us. It’s kind of a way of life. The Montreal Canadiens were my team, of course. I don’t know if it’s possible, but over the last five years I’ve found that my intense fandom has been increasing by the day. (laughs) It’s just been really tremendous to follow the journey these guys have been on since I was a kid. It’s a very special group.

Did you play hockey growing up?
KD:
There’s always been a small French presence in Thunder Bay. We had our own French language school. We could all play hockey and skate like the wind. I think I was pretty good. I was always a giant kid, no matter my age. Whenever I hit the ice, I remember the parents of the kids on the other team always seemed to get very nervous. There were a lot of dirty looks and my ID was checked a couple of times. (laughs) People were saying that there was no way this kid was just five years old or just 14 years old. That happened the whole way through. They started me off as a defenseman, and then eventually I started playing left wing most of the time. I was a goal scorer. I liked to hit, too. I loved to play hockey. There was nothing I enjoyed more.

Did you model your game after a certain NHL player?
KD:
When I first started playing forward, I looked around at other giant guys in the league who were playing up front. It wasn’t a super popular thing, but there was a Montreal boy who went and played for the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was Mario Lemieux. It really broke my heart. I loved to watch him play. He kind of proved to me that you could be tall and still play forward.

Which Canadiens players had the biggest impact on you growing up?
KD:
Growing up, my grandfather used to tell me all kinds of stories about Maurice “Rocket” Richard. He just loved him. I sport the No. 9 on my Habs jersey because of it. Guy Lafleur was another player I enjoyed watching. He was unbelievable. He was the most graceful and eloquent forward out there. He made the game look so easy. When I played defense, I was always watching Larry Robinson because he was such a tree of a man. He was a pretty big influence as well. The list goes on and on. At one point, I also found out I had a connection with Claude Lemieux through my father. He was a truck driver. Back when Claude was much younger, before he was playing pro, he would hitchhike through one of my father’s routes. He’d pick him up every once in a while and they’d have these conversations. I remember thinking that it was the coolest thing ever, that there was some true connection between me and a Canadiens player. I loved watching Claude because he was always the one getting underneath the skin of other players. You really wanted him on your team. He was a grinder and he always showed so much heart. Every once in a while, he’d put one in the net and you’d cheer 10 times louder because he was giving everything he could out there.

So, is it safe to say you’re a big fan of Brendan Gallagher, too?
KD:
Ever since Gally came on board with the team, my wife, Sandra, and I have constantly been saying things like – “Man, I swear that’s my son.” (laughs) We love Brendan Gallagher. I don’t think there’s a hockey player in the league who gives everything he’s got like Brendan does. He’s just a thrill to watch.

Back home in Thunder Bay, was your room a shrine to the CH?
KD:
I always had the toques, the jerseys and an old T-shirt or two. I had a Lafleur poster, too. I also had a Claude Lemieux poster. People actually let me have it in Thunder Bay for being a Habs fan. Honestly, I still kind of do get some flak. My show The Strain shoots in Toronto. The first day I showed up at the set last year wearing Habs gear, it actually got pretty heated with some of the crew members. (laughs) We eventually had to find some sort of truce. I wasn’t going to stop wearing my Habs stuff just because I was working in Toronto. Luckily for me, the Canadiens have just been so dominant while I’ve been shooting the show that people can’t really say a whole lot. We’ve managed to find a middle ground. It’s not quite as dangerous going to work anymore. (laughs)

We don’t think it would be wise for people to pick a fight with you. After all, you’re a pretty imposing guy…
KD:
I am, but I haven’t had to use any of that because the Habs have been playing so well the last couple of years. There’s only so much other people can say or do. (laughs)

What’s your all-time favorite Canadiens memory?
KD
: I’d have to go right back to my childhood. My grandfather was one of my favorite people in the world. Watching hockey together was fun. He’d drink a Labatt 50 and I’d be cheering along with him. It’s one of those things that drove me to want to be great at something. I saw the way he revered players and put them on pedestals. I hope I can do something that might be inspiring to people someday, especially to kids. Grandpa was one of the biggest Habs fans I ever knew. Seeing him look up to these guys made me work that much harder and hope that I could achieve something of substance in the years to come.

Given your busy schedule, how often do you get to watch Canadiens games?
KD:
I don’t miss a game! I have NHL GameCenter LIVE. Even on set, everybody knows that if they’re looking for the score in a particular game, all they have to do is come find me in my chair between takes. If I’m doing a really intense scene, I have to try to step away a little bit. But, I’m usually paying attention to the score the whole way. We get every game. It’s like the greatest app I’ve ever had.

You love wearing Habs apparel during your workouts, don’t you? It seems like you’ve got quite the impressive collection.
KD:
My wife is from Los Angeles. She never grew up with hockey. Believe it or not, the T-shrits are all her! She’s one of the biggest Habs fans I know. She knows how happy they make me. She goes online, and she’s always buying the newest stuff that she thinks would look good on me. I’m wearing something to support the team every day. My favorite one features a picture of “Rocket” Richard on it. It’s blue. It just reminds me of my grandfather. I’ve worn a lot of them down over the years, though. (laughs) I have a couple of tank tops. I’ve got one of the red jerseys that I just use when I go out and play, and then I’ve got a white jersey that I had made in Timmins, ON when my grandfather passed away. It has Richard’s No. 9 on the back of it. I’m almost scared to wear them because I don’t want to get them dirty. (laughs) I’ve just got to keep up and get all the stuff I can get because I wear it constantly.

So, Sandra loves the Canadiens, too?
KD:
I swear to God, I think she knows more about the Habs than any of my male friends do. She kind of caught on to that passion. It’s interesting, though. There was a point in time when I found it hard to watch hockey for a while because I really wanted to be a hockey player. I wasn’t as deeply embedded in everything that was going on at the time because of it. But, I’m still a Habs fan. Like I said, things really ramped up over the last five years when my brain and my body came to terms with the fact that I was never going to play for the Canadiens. I was actually thinking maybe I could come in and be a goon someday, but that really doesn’t happen anymore. (laughs)

Are you inclined to wear Canadiens apparel at work all the time?
KD:
These days, I don’t even think about it. I just wear it. It’s a daily thing. Sometimes, I’m reminded about it on set, but not necessarily in a good way. One time, this lady came into my trailer and just said some really offensive things about my T-shirt. My anger level just spiked. I turned to her and said – “Leafs fan, eh?” She answered right back – “Until the day I die.” I had to hold my tongue. I think I just walked away and said something under my breath like “Well, good luck with that.” I still can’t believe she said that to me.

Do you make it a point to try and convert your co-workers into Canadiens fans on set?
KD
: Oh my God! So, David Bradley is one of the greatest actors I’ve ever worked with. He’s in all of the Harry Potter movies. He was in Game of Thrones. He’s also a Royal Shakespeare Company veteran. He’s become one of my best friends. He’d never watched hockey before, and here you have this 73-year-old vet of stage and film. I pulled him in and I put a Canadiens jersey on him. He’s right on top of me if I miss a game. He asks me what’s going on. He takes that place next to me along with my wife and my dogs on the couch watching a lot of those games. I also put a jersey on Robert Maillet. We did a movie together a couple of years ago. He’s one of the only men in the world who makes me feel small.

Is it safe to say playing the role of Adam “Tree” Lane in the 1999 comedy-drama film Mystery Alaska was a perfect fit for you?
KD:
At that point in my life, I knew hockey way better than I did acting for film. (laughs) I was doing theatre in Toronto, just kind of struggling along. Then, this audition came up and they needed a relatively big man for the part. The character had three lines in the script, but I didn’t care. I was going to get to play hockey and essentially marry both of my passions in life. It was my first audition for a film. The fourth audition was on the ice. Being a Thunder Bay boy, I knew how to skate long before I knew how to run. It really was the perfect transition to film for me. We’re all still friends today, too. That doesn’t often happen in our industry. We were a team, and even though Russell Crowe had never played hockey himself, he knew what being a team was all about.

I actually made “Tree” a French Canadian character with the accent and everything. I said – “Look, if you want him to be a really good defenseman, he’d be better off coming from Saguenay or Trois-Rivieres.” They had no idea what I was talking about, but then we did the dialogue. It was so much funnier with my original French Canadian accent.

Tell us about the hockey-related project you’re currently working on.
KD:
I’m actually writing a hockey movie about a guy who’s hitting 40 and his years of playing hockey are kind of coming to an end because he’s a very physical guy. It’s just such an important thing for me because I really want to give people an inside look into the real journey hockey players go through. I’ve been writing it for a long time and I’m trying to get it right. I’m pushing through it as if I could have become a hockey player myself. It’s kind of the guy I may have become because I was more of a physical player. I think I’m going to produce it. As far as directing goes, I think I’m going to put it in the hands of someone super capable that I can see eye to eye with. I’m hoping to finish it this summer.

Have you taken in a game at the Bell Centre?
KD:
I shot a movie there about two years ago. One of the big thrills in my life was to watch the Canadiens play against Mr. Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. I didn’t like the result that night, though. Ovi was really on fire. He was just a monster. I think that’s what really got my wife hooked, too, being there and watching the boys do their thing.

Do you tend to get even more fired up come playoff time?
KD:
I feel that same passion all season long. I really do. But, it intensifies as we move closer to the dream. Growing up as Canadian boys playing hockey, we all dream about the day where we might be able to lift the Stanley Cup and embrace it. I want that so badly for our guys. It would mean everything.

Interview conducted by Matt Cudzinowski.

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