Actor Derek McGrath has been leading a notable career within the Canadian entertainment industry,both as an actor as well as a singer.Some of the actor’s roles on Canadian TV series include a wide range of animated series such in roles for TV series such as Bakugan Battle Brawlers, Super Why! Wayside and Ruby Gloom.More recently, McGrath has stated in CBC’S hit sitcom,Little Mosque on the Prairie as the cheerful and open-minded character Reverend Duncan McGee,throughout the show’s initial three seasons.
With McGrath’s time on Little Mosque having drawn to a close last season and the actor being kind enough to partake in an interview with us, we took the opportunity to discuss playing the character of McGee,McGrath’s view on the decision of the producers to replace his character with Brandon Firla’s, Reverend William Thorne as well as the actor’s return to Little Mosque in the show’s previous fifth season. We also discuss McGrath’s perspective on Little Mosque’s influence on Canadian culture and as well as how working on the show enhanced both his acting career and personal perspective on the Muslim community.
The actor also takes the time to share some of the recent projects he has been working on,including a role on Vision TV’S , She’s The Mayor as well as details on his latest CD.
Derek McGrath: I was originally contacted by my agent as per usual with an audition; I received an email with time and place for the audition, a brief description of the character and the material I would be reading. If I remember correctly, I auditioned twice. I was at a nursery, buying trees when I got the call from my agent telling me that I had been offered the role of Magee. I was really excited because I believed the show would have an important impact in terms of reducing misunderstandings about Islam. I also loved the character of Magee.
AK: What was the most challenging part playing Reverend Magee and what techniques did you use to overcome this?
DM: The challenging part of playing Magee was in keeping him intelligent and witty as opposed to silly and one-dimensional. There are a lot of “over the top”characters on Mosque and I thought it was important to maintain a level of believability with Magee. I kept telling the writers “wise and witty, wise and witty…not silly”.
AK: How do you relate to the character of Reverend Magee?
DM: I’m a great believer in tolerance. I think it very important to try to see the other guys point of view. I think it’s more powerful to stand up for my own views than it is to attack someone else’s view. That’s a subtle but significant difference. That’s how I think Magee approaches conflict.
AK:How do you think Magee has developed over the course of the show and what aspirations do you have for him as the show draws to a close?
DM: I’m not sure you’re aware of it, but Magee is no longer in the show so I’m afraid I have no aspirations for him whatsoever.
AK:What was your reaction with the casting changes made upon the show’s fourth season which involved the character of Magee being replaced by Brandon Firla’s character, Reverend William Thorne? How do you think Magee’s absence from the series has impacted the overall storytelling on the show?
DM: I was very disappointed when I was told that Magee would no longer be part of the Mosque family but I was not bitter. I did not take it personally; I saw it as an artistic decision which obviously made sense to someone. In all honesty, I also believed it was a mistake. The audience reaction was very severe and I believe the decision alienated a large portion of the fan base as evidenced by the enormous number of negative emails sent to the Mosque website. As for Brandon Firla, I think he’s a wonderful actor and perfectly cast to play Thorne. Again, in all honesty, I think the character as written is too harsh for the show, very funny but not right in the context of Mosque. None of the other characters is mean-spirited. Again, this has nothing to do with Brandon; he’s doing exactly what he was hired to do. Not sure why they didn’t correct this mistake and have us both on the show; but that’s not for me to decide.
AK: What resources did you use to help you effectively portray the character, given the religious background of the character of Reverend Magee?
DM: One of the things I did to prepare myself for the show was to read the bible in it’s entirety. And then to read the Koran as well as the Tao Te Ching. I wanted an understanding of where Magee was coming form and also where Amar was coming from. The Tao Te Ching to get another slant.
AK:As an experienced Canadian actor, you have also been involved in animated productions of various TV series including, Super Why, Wayside and the 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo as well as staged productions such as Little Mosque on the Prairie. Which type of acting do you prefer to work in and what particular benefits are associated with your selection?
DM: Personally, I love being in front of a movie camera although there’s a lot to be said for the kind of regular work that a TV series provides. You get your own trailer and all the food you can eat…fabulous!!!
AK: Last season, you returned to the role of Magee after an absence of nearly two years. How did it feel to return to the Little Mosque production and what challenges were involved in readjusting to the role?
DM: Mostly, I just had to remember how I had played the role originally and try to be true to what I had already created.
AK: Reflecting on your recent appearances towards the end of the fifth season, what were some of your favourite moments for the character of Magee, in terms of his interactions with the various members of Mercy?
DM: My favourite moments on Mosque were the times I got to work with Neil Crone and Deb McGrath and Sheila McCarthy because they were always so professional and so prepared. No B.S. with them.They show up on time ready to give their absolute best. And their best IS the best.
AK: What is your reaction to Little Mosque ending this season and how do you hope that both the show and Magee, in particular is remembered?
DM: I’m sorry to see the show ending because I think Canada, in fact the world needs shows like Little Mosque which features people of decidedly different cultures learning to live peacefully alongside each other. As major centers become more and more multi-cultural, tolerance and acceptance will be absolutely necessary if we’re going to have any harmony in our day-to-day lives. I hope the show will be remembered as a genuinely funny and gentle reminder that people are people are people and I hope Magee will be remembered as the warm-hearted embodiment of that principal.
AK:Little Mosque on the Prairie has achieved international success , airing in over 68 countries as well as in Canada, with the series premiere, earning a CBC record breaking viewership of 2. 1 million. What impact do you think Little Mosque on the Prairie has had on Canadian culture and why do you think the show has resonated with viewers so well? How do you think it represents Canada, given that the show is the first of its kind?
DM: I think the show resonates with Canadians firstly because it’s genuinely funny and secondly because it enlightens us about an unfamiliar culture without ever getting preachy. I think they embraced the characters because they are endearingly human with faults and qualities that we can all recognize in ourselves and in our friends and neighbours. As for the Anglo Saxons in the audience, I think the show was a comfort because it revealed Muslims as less frightening than they may have believed them to be and I think our Muslim audience was delighted to see their sisters and brothers portrayed as regular “joes” with the same hopes and fears as their Anglo Saxon neighbours.I think a lot of Canadians were surprised to see that Muslims have a sense of humour. The rest of course is just the mystery of show business.
AK: How has being a cast member on this series impacted your career and how has it influenced your personal perspective on the Muslim community?
DM: Since the time that I was a very young boy, I have always insisted on being inclusive so that has not changed much. But, I think I’m much more educated on the subject of Islam. As I mentioned earlier, I read the Koran as a result of being cast in Mosque and of course I worked closely with genuine Muslims for the first time in my life and I could always for instance go to Zaib or Zarqua if I had any questions. Before this show, I was never certain whether or not a Muslim audience might embrace my sense of humour. In fact they did most warm-heartedly. People are people are people and humor is humor is humor.
AK:What other acting projects have your recently been working on, which you would like to share with viewers?
DM: Last summer I shot a series called SHE’S THE MAYOR for VISION TV. I play a corrupt politician named FRANK CRUMB. I think the show is very funny and it seems to be a hit on VISION. I believe the season is complete for this year but I’m certain there will be re-runs on VISION so do please watch for it. A lot of people don’t realize that I’m also a musician; I’m a singer/songwriter and I had the opportunity to work with some of the finest musicians in the world when I recorded my C.D. STRANGER. I warmly invite everyone to give it a listen at derekmcgrathmusic.com.
AK: What message do you have for fans of the show, as Little Mosque draws to a close?
DM: I would never presume to preach but I will freely offer my opinion.There are only two basic emotions in the world, LOVE and FEAR. Fear makes you small and miserable; love makes you open and joyful. Fear kills; love creates. Choose love!