Kamloops actor plays hockey great Gordie Howie

'I'd crawl over broken glass' to play him

Jason Hewlett / Kamloops Daily News
April 24, 2013 01:00 AM

Michael Shanks as Gordie Howe

Like most Canadian males, Michael Shanks was raised on hockey. He watched it, he played it and he enjoyed it.

So when rumours circulated that a TV biopic was in the works about hockey legend Gordie Howe, the Kamloops-raised Shanks had to be a part of it.

He knows the film's director, Andy Mikita - the two used to play hockey together on the set of Stargate: SG1 - and the writer, Malcolm MacRury, penned scripts for Shanks' current hit show, Saving Hope.

With a break looming from the CTV series, and a powerful desire to star in a hockey movie, he asked his agent to see if there was a part he could play in Mr. Hockey: The Gordie Howe Story.

He was initially told there was none, but two weeks later Mikita emailed him and asked Shanks if he'd like to play Gordie Howe.

"I'd crawl over broken glass to do this," he told Mikita.

"It dropped into my lap. I was so happy for it."

Set in the 1970s, Mr. Hockey, centres on Howe's return to the ice at the age of 45 in hope of playing pro hockey alongside sons, Mark and Marty.

In reality, the trio did, playing for the Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association from 1973 to 1977.

Kathleen Robertson plays Howe's late wife, Colleen. Dylan Playfair and Andy Herr portray Marty and Mark respectively.

Mr. Hockey filmed last August and September. Shanks had five weeks to get into shape, hitting the ice as often as possible and playing games of pickup three times a week.

"Every spare moment I could, I was finding some ice or strapping on my rollerblades and going to this tennis court with a (hockey) stick and a ball to get the legs back into that motion," he said.

He focused on stick handling and taught himself to shoot with both hands. Shanks also spent a lot of time studying Howe's mannerisms and speech patterns.

"Any time I saw something on YouTube or the Internet where he was speaking, I kept hitting it and working on the persona," said Shanks.

Howe had his four front teeth knocked out at a young age and wore dentures, which caused him to talk with a lisp out of the side of his mouth. So Shanks had a set of teeth made that helped him mimic Howe's speech pattern.

Shanks became so focused on playing Howe that he never felt any pressure taking on a real, larger-than-life character. His only goal was to do Howe justice.

"I was so happy to be playing this character and doing a hockey movie," he said.

Shanks hasn't met Howe, but would like to. He joked that he'd prefer to wait until after Howe gives his performance a thumbs-up before introducing himself.

"I wouldn't want to get elbowed in the chops," Shanks said, and laughed.

Mr. Hockey: The Gordie Howe Story airs on the CBC (channel 13) Sunday at 8 p.m.

© Copyright 2015 Kamloops Daily News

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