The Last Word with Eric Peterson
Q: Which three pieces of music would you take to that desert island?
A: I would take no music with me to a desert island. I would go sans music, to avoid coming to hate what once I loved. I would whistle original but highly derivative tunes quietly to myself.
Eric Peterson’s successful career as a stage, film and television actor spans an impressive 50 years. His television work includes such well known series as Street Legal, This is Wonderland and of course, Corner Gas. He is renowned for his award-winning performance as WWI flying ace Billy Bishop – and more than a dozen other characters – in the Canadian theatre classic Billy Bishop Goes to War, which he co-created with award-winning writer/composer John Gray, whom he met at UBC while taking Theatre classes.
The play toured internationally for several years to unanimous acclaim and is recognized as one of the most famous and widely produced plays in Canadian theatre. Peterson has appeared in hundreds of plays and has performed in most major theatres in Canada as well as Broadway, London’s West End, the Edinburgh Festival and the Melbourne International Theatre Festival.
He continues to divide his time between theatre and television, recently returning to UBC’s stage to star in Seeds – a docudrama about a Saskatchewan farmer’s years-long battle with agricultural biotech corporation Monsanto. And, Corner Gas fans who loved Peterson as the cantankerous Oscar Leroy will be delighted to learn that he’s reprising his role in Corner Gas: The Movie, currently filming in his home province of Saskatchewan.
In recognition of his artistic contributions, Peterson has received five Gemini awards, the Earle Grey Award, an ACTRA Award of Excellence, and has been named a member of the Order of Canada. In 2013, he received the Governor General’s Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement in Theatre.
What is your most prized possession?
A rock I found years ago in a dried out streambed. It’s a flattish stone about the size of a pot and the weight of a five-pin bowling ball. There is a hole through it, in which another stone is firmly mounted. The effect is of intelligent intent, yet it was made by chance and by chance I found it.
Who was your childhood hero?
I could go on about my older brother who inspired me with the idea of a life in the arts, but I also thought that Ghost Rider, a comic book cowboy mounted on a ghostly horse, with ghostly cape billowing behind and ghostly guns blazing away at evil in the name of ghostly good, was pretty neat too.
Describe the place you most like to spend time.
It’s soft and warm with a little reading light and a little shelf to set a snack or a nice cup of coffee on. My lovely bed…
What was the last thing you read?
A Death in the Family, My Struggle: Book Volume 1, by Karl Ove Knausgaard
What or who makes you laugh out loud?
Really bad corny jokes always make me laugh out loud, even more boisterously than really clever ones, but I’m an out-loud laugher. For example my once father-in-law would, when shaking my hand, always say, “Here’s the five I owe you.” Got me every time.
What’s the most important lesson you ever learned?
That there are many important lessons in life to learn which I will inevitably forget and that’s OK; innocence is like a weed, it grows over and over again. As well, it’s important to put the seat down after using the toilet.
What’s your idea of the perfect day?
A hot sultry day with nothing to accomplish or worry about and I would be as happy as a crocodile sunning on a rock, completely motionless except for the blinking of my eye…
What was your nickname at school?
Squeak. I was called Squeak by everyone in town, not only by my peers but the grown-ups as well.
What would be the title of your biography?
They Called Him Squeak – Man, Mouse or Rusty Hinge?
If a genie granted you one wish, what would it be?
A deep, sexy voice.
Whom do you most admire (living or dead) and why?
I really admire my wife, Annie. She has a gift for being happy.
What would you like your epitaph to say?
“Here lies a smart man who admired his wife and said so.”
If you could invent something, what would it be?
I would like to invent the universal joke -- a joke so funny that it would make everyone who heard it laugh, no matter what age, sex, race or belief.
What are you afraid of?
I’m afraid of almost everything; I’m a terrible worrier and full of self-doubt.
Name the skill or talent you would most like to have.
Perhaps if I was a wonderful tap dancer…
Which three pieces of music would you take to that desert island?
I would take no music with me to a desert island. I would go sans music, to avoid coming to hate what once I loved. I would whistle original but highly derivative tunes quietly to myself.
Which famous person (living or dead) do you think (or have you been told) you most resemble?
It has been remarked that I look very much like Alastair Sims, who played Scrooge in the old English movie of A Christmas Carol.
What is your pet peeve?
The totally overblown boasts of the new technology! What’s so miraculous spending time in malfunction and frustration: computers that ‘crash’, cell phones that are dead or can’t be found; a wireless world full of wires for charger and connections that are never right; pass words and pins and user names and hackers and identity theft and security breaches, or being constantly shilled at and one’s privacy in tatters? What happens to our civilization when someone kicks out the plug?
What are some of your UBC highlights?
There is only one highlight for me -- meeting John Gray. My artistic life would not have been as rich as it has been, or as fun, if it weren’t for the friendship and collaboration with that man. I’m proud of many of the projects I’ve been involved with, but I’m most proud and thankful for Billy Bishop Goes to War a play and performance that would never have been, if not for John Gray. Thank you, John. Thank you, UBC.