Interview With Little Mosque on the Prairie’s Neil Crone
Neil Crone has been leading a distinguished career as a talented actor within the Canadian entertainment industry, who has been involved in the productions of a variety of different television series, feature films as well as commercials. Neil has had particular experience in animated productions such as Erky–Perky, Pearlie and The Adventures of Bob and Doug Mackenzie. Neil has now been staring on CBC’s hit sitcom, Little Mosque on the Prairie as the intolerant yet comical radio host, Fred Tupper.
With Little Mosque on the Prairie concluding its fifth season and Neil being kind enough to participate in a interview with us, we decided to take the chance to discuss the challenges of playing Fred, Neil’s favourite moments from the current, fifth season, the actor’s perspective on how the series has influenced Canadian culture , Neil’s hopes for his post Little Mosque career and much more!
1.Lets discuss your initial appointment to the role of Fred Tupper. Were you contacted or did you first audition for the role? Could you please walk us through the initial process?
The role of Fred came to me actually through one of those weird, karmic, out of the box, methods. I write a weekly humor column for a number of newspapers. I also have an electronic mailing list for people who want to read the column but don’t or can’t get the papers it’s in. My brother, who is on the electronic list, had been forwarding a lot of my columns to friends, one of whom was married to Susan Alexander, one of the original producers of this new pilot called ‘Little Mosque on the Prairie’. She loved the tone of my writing and got in touch with me to ask if I would like to audition for the role of Fred. It happened totally outside of the normal channels of casting. I’m not sure if my agent had even become aware of the show before I mentioned this audition to him.
The other weird thing is that after my first audition, which I thought went very well, for some odd reason the tape was inadvertently erased. I had to come back for a second audition. That made me a little nervous, as I really felt I’d hit it out of the park on my first go round. Actors tend to be a superstitious bunch and I didn’t want to go back in there and mess it up this time around. But, I guess things worked out. I got the role.
2.What has been the most challenging aspect of playing Fred and how have you coped with this challenge?
Fred is actually very easy to play. I kind of like him. Yes, he’s a loud-mouthed boob, but he’s kind of a sweet boob underneath all of that. The only real risk with someone like Fred is crossing the line into ‘mean’ territory. But between great writers and my own spidey-senses, we never really have to worry about that. The only other challenge, and I hesitate to even call it a challenge, is finding Fred’s sweetness and playing that. I was blown away, and actually felt kind of honored when the writers gave me a remarkably touching speech to deliver in a scene immediately following Rayann’s failed wedding. I loved that they let the normally boorish Fred, have that moment. That they entrusted that to me.
There’s a little of Fred in all of us I think. People who are afraid of change or anything different fro what they’re accustomed to. So I understand that part of him. But deep down, he’s just like anyone else too, in that he really wants to be loved and accepted.
4. You have done both voice work on series/ film productions such as Care Bears and Rolie Polie Olie as well as stage work on productions such as Little Mosque. Which type of acting do you prefer and what benefits are associated with your selection?
Voice work is wonderful because in many cases the actor really is it. There’s no lighting, no camerawork, no editor to speak of so it’s all about the ‘voice’. And the actors are generally afforded a real respect, that is not always present in other media…unless you’re a huge A-list star. Having said that, one of the reasons I so much enjoy my work on Little Mosque, is that we (the actors) are extremely well-respected and our input very much welcome. The other nice thing about voice work is that there’s no worries about wardrobe or make-up. No hot lights to work beneath, just a nice air conditioned studio. I grew up addicted to cartoons, so whenever I get the chance to voice one, I’m over the moon.
5. How do you think the character of Fred has developed over the course of the series and what aspirations do you have for him as the series approaches its sixth and final season?
One of the storylines that was started and kind of got lost was a simmering love attraction between Fred and Fatima. I loved that…and I think Arlene (Duncan) did as well. I would love to rekindle that and see where it goes. After all, what is more interesting than a man who is supposedly a bigot, falling for a woman of color? And a Muslim to boot?
6.Could you please share some of our favorite moments for the character of Fred from Little Mosque’s current fifth season?
This is weird, because it was a little thing, but in Episode 503 titled ‘Kept Imam’, there was a scene where Fred, the Mayor, Manoj and Rev. Thorne were playing bridge at the Manse. It’s a very funny scene and we had an absolute hoot shooting it. Debra McGrath is one of the funniest people I know, and when she and I get together on set, we can’t stop laughing. Also, that scene had one of the funniest lines I think the writers ever came up with. Sarah comes running into the Manse and sees all of us playing in a card game she has been cut out of . She accuses the Rev of betraying her and Thorne comes back with the line: “I’m sorry Sarah, but in my defence, I didn’t think you’d find out.” Loved that, and Brandon delivered it perfectly.
7. The character of Fred is one who has previously exhibited signs of affection towards Fatema. What are your thoughts on Fred’s attraction towards Fatema? Could you please share your thoughts on yon the possibility of Fred pursuing a romantic relationship with her and what challenges do you think Fred would have to encounter should he ever decide to pursue this relationship?
Funny, that this question is here, after me bringing it up earlier. Like I said, I love the whole idea. In fact, I would love to push for an on-screen kiss between the two…I know this is supposed to be the 21st century…but that would definitely ruffle a few feathers. But it would be so much fun to see Fred bending and reshaping himself all in the name of love.
8. 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 viewers have resonated with the series so well?
I think initially viewers were just plain curious. Muslims? A comedy about Muslims? Muslims being funny??? After all, the only Muslims most people on TV had been watching up to that point were firing AK-47’s into the air. So I think there was a definite curiosity factor at first. But people grew to love the show and the characters. One of the things that the show has been accused of from time to time, is that it is too sweet. Personally it’s the sweetness that I love most…and I think that resonates most with viewers. People get enough edgy and realistic elsewhere on the dial. I think most people love to see humans working it all out. I’m not at all ashamed of happy endings.
9.How has being a cast member on this series impacted your career and how has it influenced your personal perspective on the Muslim community?
No question the show has raised my profile, certainly here in Canada. It never hurts to be part of a hit. And even though I’ve done a ton of television and film, I’ve never been a part of a show that received the kind of buzz Little Mosque did. On a personal note, I love to tell this story:
One night my wife and I and some friends were eating in an Indian Restaurant in downtown Toronto. We were having a wonderful time, gabbing away, enjoying the food, when I noticed someone standing beside our table. I looked, and there was a little girl, about 7 or 8 maybe. She was standing with her Dad behind her, holding her shoulders for support and she was shyly trying to bury herself in his pant legs. He gently turned her towards me and said ‘Go ahead sweetheart, tell him what you wanted to say’. The little girl turned and said, very quietly ‘I really like you and your show’.
I was dumbfounded and delighted. The family were obviously Muslim, as I noticed the Mom, not far away, wearing the Hijab. So, she had watched our show…seen the kind of goof I play, and still wanted to tell me she loved me and the show. That’s when I knew we were doing something right.
10. With Little Mosque on the Prairie approaching its final season, what plans or aspirations do you have for the future of your career?
My son once came home from school when he was little and asked me if we were rich. I said, why do you ask that? He said that the kids at school said that because I was a television actor we must be rich. I told my son, that Daddy is a Canadian television actor. Canadian television actors aren’t rich!
I will continue to do as I’ve always done, keep auditioning, with many irons in many fires. I do a lot of public, motivational speaking and I also write, I have a syndicated newspaper column that keeps me busy as well, and there are always new projects. I love the diversity of being an artist. There’s always something new and interesting coming down the pike.
11.Are there any other acting projects, which you have recently been working on which you would like to share with viewers?
Yes, definitely. I just finished the first season of a very funny program for the Family Channel called Really Me. It’s a great little show that will be premiering on April 23rd. Tune in.
12. What message would you like to convey to fans of the series?
Just, essentially what I think the main thrust of the show is…underneath it all, we are all the same. So live your life and treat others as you would wish to be treated…with love and respect.
13.What activities do you enjoy during your spare time?
I love to read and to write. I have two dogs that I adore and who make me laugh constantly. I love to canoe, fish, play golf and ride my bike. I love going to the theatre and watching movies. I love being a father to my two wonderful boys.