How 'a twisted sort of love story' made it to the screen

March 14, 2014

Maxwell McCabe-Lokos could take the ultimate selfie right now. All the actor would have to do is snap a photo of himself standing in front of one of the giant images of his haunted face on one of the many billboards in Toronto selling his new movie, The Husband.

It would be a moment of well-earned triumph. But it would also be too obnoxious for the 36-year-old from Toronto, who's got too much experience under his belt to do anything but laugh good-naturedly at the thought. "Imagine [if] somebody I knew saw me doing that," he says. He still hasn't even seen one of the billboards in person, only pictures of them.

Of course, that's not to say he isn't enjoying this moment. A former member of the indie rock band the Deadly Snakes, McCabe-Lokos's résumé includes small parts in The Incredible Hulk, Lars and the Real Girl and Land of the Dead. But it's in this breakout role in The Husband, which he also co-wrote, that McCabe-Lokos gets to show just how talented, and a little bit twisted, he really is.

His character, Henry, is struggling to deal with life after his wife goes to jail for sleeping with one of her 14-year-old students at the private school where she teaches. Henry should be focusing on caring for his infant son and his day job, but instead he's stalking the boy who slept with his wife and thinking about seducing his babysitter, in a misguided attempt to regain a shred of his masculinity.

The dark material didn't instantly win people over in pitch meetings. "It's kind of a miracle that we made The Husband," he says.

Add to that miracle a bit of a riddle: How is it that a guy with enough cocksure swagger to go with the stage name "Age of Danger" in his rock days comes to create such a painfully emasculated character?

McCabe-Lokos isn't sure, but offers this: "Maybe what's behind a cocksure stage name is a lot of vulnerability."

His powerful performance – one that sways between seething, impotent rage and frailty – is painfully uncomfortable to watch, but also benefits from a few moments of comedy.

Bruce McDonald, who directed the movie – his first feature since 2010's sequel to Hard Core Logo – says finding the right balance of humour was essential to the movie's tone. "You want it dark, but you don't want it too dark," he says.

McCabe-Lokos saw two purposes to adding a bit of humour to the story. "You don't want it to feel sanctimonious, and comedy is good for that," he says, but also adds: "I want everything in my head to come out the way [German-born satirist] George Grosz's watercolours come out. Not just satire, but like a vicious portrayal of something, warts and all. But it's [also] totally funny. Any story that's valuable can't just be one note. There has to be some humour in it."

Which makes The Husband a difficult film to classify. "I'm still trying to figure out what you call this movie," McDonald says. "I like to think of it as a love story – a twisted sort of love story."

"I'm pretty interested in the idea of a sort of unmatured person, an adult who has arrived at adulthood without earning it," said McCabe-Lokos, who co-wrote the script with Kelly Harms.

And although he said he is not interested in gender politics "at all," many of the themes explored in The Husband frequently crop up in his writing, McCabe-Lokos said.

"A lot of it has to do with masculinity – and this is in air quotes – what it means to be a man," he said.

Thankfully, McDonald and his star don't attempt a blanket answer to that question. Instead, they offer an excruciating study in impotent rage. It's not simply that Henry's wife cheated on him. He's been cuckolded in a way that is, at least to Henry, truly incomprehensible. And even though he knows that on some level, he still thrashes around for an answer.

The film doesn't offer any easy answers, and Henry's chance at redemption won't come easily either.

That's the type of character McCabe-Lokos said he is most drawn to: "People doing bad things and still being kind of the hero."

In terms of where his career goes from here, McCabe-Lokos says he'd like to be like Don McKellar, a busy actor-writer-director who is usually working on his own projects but available to act in other people's films.

"I want to make movies. I don't just want to be in movies," McCabe-Lokos says.

He's already got another screenplay done. It's about a comedian, who is younger than McCabe-Lokos (who says he won't play the role), but in a similar situation.

But the darkness has seemed to have lifted, at least a bit.

"The new script is like a romcom compared to The Husband," McCabe-Lokos says.

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