When I met up with Anthony Lemke earlier this month, he had been the official ambassador of Handicap International for about 12 hours. A charitable organization originally founded in the early ’80s to provide help for refugees in Cambodia and Thailand, it has broadened its scope to various other countries since then.
“If you think about the refugee crisis right now, it’s a lot of the media showing folks ending up on the shores of Europe or ending up in refugee camps in the countries surrounding Syria,” Lemke explains. “What you don’t often think about is: What about the people that are injured and didn’t make it that far? What about the folks who were living with disabilities to start with? Those people are the most vulnerable during these conflicts, and Handicap International started about 30 years ago to deal with the crying need, to deal with people who are essentially entirely forgotten victims of conflicts and natural disasters.”
Lemke’s work within the organization is partially born out of a desire to connect with his own roots. “I was born in Canada, but my parents weren’t,” he says. “My wife’s parents are the same; they themselves had to live through fleeing war-torn regions during WWII. That was my father’s story. My mother-in-law was born in a camp. My wife’s grandparents — who I knew — they were the ones fleeing through the mountains with bombs exploding all around them. In a way, they were the fortunate ones who made it out and made it to security. A lot of them didn’t.”
His work as ambassador comes in a particularly busy year for the formerly Montreal-based actor (he and his family moved to Ontario fairly recently). He’s also one of the leads in the SyFy channel show Dark Matter on top of recurring roles in the Hallmark Channel show Good Witch and on the English version of 19-2. It’s a packed schedule for the actor, who has worked mostly in TV but might be familiar to you as the oft-mentioned, rarely seen Marcus Halbertstram in Mary Harron’s American Psycho or Captain Hutton in White House Down.
Since I very rarely get to sit down with local-ish actors with a body of filmed work as vast as Lemke, I proposed a “pilot” Made in MTL interview (based loosely on the Random Roles model popularized by the AV Club) in which we’d discuss several of Lemke’s roles throughout his career. Since his role as ambassador was indeed very new at the time, he accepted.
On the role he gets recognized for the most:
“Curiously, the one that comes up the most often is a show that I actually shot in Montreal called Blue Mountain State. I mean, talk about cult shows. It’s this absurd, college-humour show that’s all about this football team. I did one season of that show — the last season, as one of the coaches — and I get recognized almost more for that than anything else, all over America. It’s not like it’s the frequency — it’s not happening all the time — but it happens so consistently in randomly different spots throughout North America. It’s always guys, clearly. Frequently, it’s young guys, but not always. You’d be surprised how many guys are watching it with their teenage kids and I’m like “I know what that show is, man.” But it was just so much fun to shoot that show, it was a riot.”
On Dark Matter and sci-fi fans:
“I do (get recognized) for Dark Matter, but not as much. We’re not quite at the water cooler stage; with sci-fi, it’s hard to get there. This is the kind of show it is: I’m going down to San Diego Comic-Con to promote Dark Matter, and at that point in time, we’d only had three episodes air. Our fourth was airing while we were down there. I’m in Toronto, I’m going through U.S. customs and the customs guy there takes my thing and he goes “Three! You’re Three, from Dark Matter!” We were three episodes in! It’s that kind of show.”
On being the anglo love interest in Les hauts et les bas de la vie de Sophie Paquin:
“Of course, in Quebec, that’s water-cooler-level. That was a whole. Other. Thing. I mean, it was just crazy. Literally, bus drivers at stoplights would stop and go ‘Yeah! Last night, she should’ve chosen you!’ It was my first experience with that kind of thing, because Canadian actors don’t have that. (…) It’s one of the cool things about being in Quebec. I think it’s one of the healthiest film and television industries, and I know that there would be a lot of actors who might disagree with that in terms of the amount of money they make or whatever… But I think it’s really neat that most of the Quebec stars, they just live like normal people. They go and get their dry-cleaning, they shop at the shops we all shop at… People know them — people see them all the time! I think what’s so healthy about that is… we’re just frickin’ actors. We’re blessed to do what we do. It’s a really cool job telling stories to people for a living. I love it, but there’s way more important jobs out there and there’s way more important people out there than us.”
On the tennis-themed teen soap 15/Love, Good Witch and working with teenagers who may inspire adulation in other teenagers:
“On that show I was one of the coaches, so I did not inspire any adulation from preteen women. (laughs). I was only on the last season, almost exactly the same as Blue Mountain State, actually. I just come in at the end, when they want a new coach. I’m working on the show Good Witch now with this kid — she’s a kid! — named Bailee Madison. She’s such a superstar kind of kid. Not in a massive, movie star kind of way, but she’ll post a picture of herself surfing on the Internet and it’ll get 35, 000 likes on Instagram. Instantly! She posted it 22 seconds ago! It’s because she’s done so much for that market, you know. It’s a seminal time in your life. What’s really cool about it is, I remember being a kid and having certain people on television or rock stars being seminal to my existence. But we didn’t have access to them. They were amazing but they were in papers and maybe you saw them on stage or filming a movie, but that was it. Kids now have direct access. They can ask Bailee Madison a question any time they want.”
On his many roles in Movies of the Week produced by local production company Incendo Media:
“They bought me a house in St-Lambert, that’s all I can say! (laughs) They were very, very good to me. I was born in Ottawa, I lived in Toronto, and I came here to go to law school, but I also got in U of T. Stick with me, this story goes somewhere. (laughs) When we came here, it was because I’d always wanted to live in Montreal, because I thought it was the coolest city in the world and I wanted to hang out in French and get better at French. I wasn’t thinking about kids yet, but when I decided to leave the firm I was at and went back to acting, I had a choice to make: stay in Montreal, or go back to Toronto. If Incendo hadn’t been doing what they had been doing in Montreal at that time, I could not have stayed here. They fed my family. They paid my mortgage. They gave a guy with my profile good roles — number two roles, number three roles. Never the number one because that was always the L.A. starlet. You know, they’re TV movies of the week. No one’s under any impression about what those films are — women-in-peril cable features is what they are. You know, when you’ve got kids, you’ve got a family, you’ve got a mortgage… I would love to say, you know, that I choose every role that I take, but I’m a Canadian actor. A Canadian, English actor living in Montreal. These are real feed-your-family choices. Either I do the role, or I don’t feed my family. Incendo? Incredibly thankful for those guys.” ■
Dec. 3 is International Day of Persons with Disabilities. For more information, see Handicap International’s website. A second season of Dark Matter is currently in the works for broadcast in 2016 — season 1 is currently available on DVD.