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Best Thing on the Internet: Michael Ironside's Reddit AMA
"I said 'Working is like making love, if i do it by myself, it's just masturbation. I'd rather have the other cast around.' And I think the proof is in the pudding, the game has had a pretty good set of legs on it."

Toronto-born actor Michael Ironside recently did a Reddit AMA, and it might be one of the best AMAs the social news website has seen in its recent history. 

As one would expect with an actor that has had a career as long and memorable as Ironside has, the actor had a wealth of fun and interesting anecdotes to share. He told stories from his life, some of them very personal, with a kind of effortless wit and charm that .

We’ve chosen a couple of his answers to highlight, but make sure to check out the entire thing.

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Question: Hello Mr. Ironside. I have fond memories of you as the villain in Highlander 2. Do you have any good stories from its production?

Answer: There’s a scene in the movie where my character comes to earth, and literally lands by going through the city streets and through the roof of a subway car, and lands on the subway. My stunt double had never been anywhere in the world where cocaine was so cheap.

And he got absolutely hammered out of his mind for a week, and ended up running through the streets naked in Buenos Aires, and was arrested the morning of that sequence.

So I had to do the stunt, because we had nobody in that part of the world who looked anything like me.

So I had to hang on the roof of the subway car, and land on the floor, without any pads, and it was about a 12 foot drop, straight down, and in costume as the character. In the actual movie, you’ll see me slowly get up, and the character checks both his knees as he’s standing, he checks his back, his arms, and then throws his head back with a joyous scream knowing that he hadn’t broken anything.

That was not acting. That was me. Because i realized I had done it, and I didn’t have to do it again!

From that moment, we just walked forward with the scene. It’s one of my favorite sequences of that film, because it’s where real life and acting come together in such a joyous moment, and it’s captured.

Question: Total Recall is one of my favourite films, I watch it all the time. My question is what was it like working on the film (do you have any good stories), and what is Paul Verhoeven like as a director?

Answer: The film took six months to film, in Mexico City. It’s kind of like running away and joining a very private circus, and Paul Verhoeven was the chief ringleader. Very much in charge, very much the boss, an absolute pleasure to work with because he knew exactly what he wanted. I remember one day at Estudios Churubusco, it’s the oldest studio in North America, it’s where a lot of Tyrone Power’s earliest films were shot, the bullfighting and westerns and stuff, it started to snow. And it had not snowed in over sixty years. SO none of the Mexicans knew what to do. And the Latinos were standing around, not knowing what to do with the snow, and all the East Coast whitebreads starting making snowballs, and throwing them. And Mexico, as far as I know, had its first snowball fight in over 60 years. They thought it was like baseball, so they would pitch to throw it, and while they were getting set up, they were getting hit by like 8 snowballs! It was fun, it went on for about hour and a half. It was a freak storm, early in the morning.

Question: You have been murdered in many interesting ways in your films. Which murder is your favourite and why?

Answer: I’m always losing body parts!

Some very very industrious fan sent me an account of all the body parts I had lost over the years, and asked me if it was part of my contractual obligation to lose body parts in films. I thought that was very clever. The truth for me is: I’m a pacifist. I believe that there’s nothing on this planet worth killing for, but there’s a lot worth dying for.

And the characters I’ve played, I’ve played them as damaged, dysfunctional, broken people. And with that sense of being trapped, strike out.

And I’ve tried to develop with the help of producers and directors, appropriate ways for people of that ilk to die.

Does that make sense?

In most cases, it’s slow and in pieces.

Question: You seem to portray a lot of hard-ass characters. Would you say you’re more of a teddy bear or really are a tough guy like the vibe you give off?

Answer: I’m not always comfortable talking about acting. But I guess I might as well confess to it. I’m very well trained. And I have a tendency to create and drop into a character when I’m doing it. My earliest roles were heavies and when people make money off that sort of thing, in my industry, they really don’t want you to step outside those lines. I actually hit an old lady with a shovel early on in my career, and they made money off of it in the movies. If there’s a fault with our industry, what they really want you do is continue hitting people with shovels – the shovel might become gold, the old lady might be the latest, hottest on the market, but it’s a very frightened, fragile market and industry. And it’s hard to convince people that you can do other things than what they’ve made their money on.

Question: have to say that I liked your voice work as Sam Fisher in the Splinter Cell series. How do you feel about Ubisoft’s decision to not use you in the newest game? Also, any stories about your work on the games?

Answer: I think it’s a great idea for Ubisoft. They’ve gone to motion capture, and this spring I will be 65 years old. I don’t think anyone wants to pay money seeing a 65 year old Sam Fisher bounce around on set, killing and stumbling while he kills people. I wish them all the luck. I hope that franchise has a long and storied future.

I have to confess I’m not a gamer. And when they sent me the contract for the very first game, it was quite lucrative, and I said “absolutely, I will do this.” I thought it was going to be like PONG, and I would just have to introduce it.

My wife, actually, went out and bought a brand new SUV with some of the money.

When I got the script, it was very stiff, very inflexible, and very blood and violent.

And I didn’t want to do it. And told them I was going to give them back their money. They asked me what would it take to keep me on the project, and i said we would have to change the character, and give him some type of humanity. To their credit, they sat me down with the game creators, and we came up with the present Sam Fisher, who had an empathy and was not just a 2 dimensional killing machine. And we got as much humanity, I think that that format will allow.

And my wife didn’t have to give back her SUV.

ALso, what happened is, when you’re doing games, usually it’s one person in a booth doing their work, creating their character, and then the next person goes in, you usually never get to work or meet anybody. On the first 2 games, we brought the cast in, and we all did it together, so we had a sense of humanity. That was one of my stipulations.

I said “Working is like making love, if i do it by myself, it’s just masturbation. I’d rather have the other cast around.” And I think the proof is in the pudding, the game has had a pretty good set of legs on it.
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Igor Bonifacic is the managing editor of Toronto Standard. Follow him on Twitter.

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