October 1970: An ‘on-the-set’ education

By Fanny La Croix on November 4, 2010

As we pass the 40th anniversary of the October Crisis, my thoughts turn not to the lessons learned, if any, from this not-so-quiet revolution, or to questions surrounding the state of Quebec’s ongoing war between the two solitudes. 

No, my thoughts turn to that spring day when I, a young, eager Canadian actress was cast as FLQ terrorist Louise Lanctôt in a big-budget (by Canadian standards) CBC series recounting the events. A particularly vivid memory of the panic-attack that ensued comes to mind: How would I be credible in a role that would have me violently fight for the break-up of this beautiful country?

How could I ‘become’ Louise, a core member of the terrorist cell that abducted James Cross, and believe with all my heart that violence, if necessary, was justified in furthering the cause? And, more importantly, how could I possibly be expected to perform on camera without make-up, as the producers had hinted? Surely there was such a thing as a sexy terrorist.

The next month was spent getting acquainted with those October events and convincing myself that I could be credible in this role. The read-through did nothing to calm my nerves. Given that I had been raised as an Anglophone in British Columbia during my formative years, I felt it was more difficult than expected to related to the struggle of the Québécois – much to ‘mon-oncle’ Robert’s chagrin. And so, at said read-through, I looked around and realized that all of my fellow cast-members were ‘real’ Quebecois. It made me feel like an impostor; I worried my performance would reek of fraud.

The actual shoot got off to a rough start; it was scheduled to have been a ‘double-shoot,’ meaning the series would be filmed in both French and English in its entirety, to then be presented on both the CBC and Radio-Canada. At the last hour, Radio-Canada pulled its funding; I hoped it was simply a question of budgeting, with no political motivation behind the decision. 

Weeks later, Radio-Canada announced it would co-produce a lavish, big-budget political series after-all, but this one would be entitled ‘René Lévesque.’ It seemed that from beyond the grave, these two political animals were still fighting it out.

On day one of production, after all my research – reading the Manifesto, reading Louise Lanctôt’s bizarre autobiography (only one paragraph is dedicated to the October events and the book includes drawings made by her infant children) and, of course, viewing Falardeau’s iconic film, ‘Octobre’ – I felt ready.

The shoot went well; I felt like I was doing the best work I had ever done, stretching my acting muscles in ways I never had, not being the cute ingénue, but rather a strong, opinionated woman in a high-voltage situation. The first episode aired and the reviews were unanimously positive. 

John Doyle of The Globe and Mail, was particularly supportive, calling the series “remarkable and brave.” I thought, ‘this is it; my big Canadian break!’ Surely, this would open doors to bigger, better things: ‘Men with Brooms III, here I come!’

The problem is, when the network decides to put your series in a timeslot against the most popular Canadian sitcom ever created, it makes very little difference that your plentiful family members and friends are all gathered around their televisions watching a critically-acclaimed and important recounting of the October Crisis. The rest of the country is sitting down with a beer watching a bumbling Brent Butt run his brightly-painted gas station, in the middle of nowhere. Yes, ‘Corner Gas’: the single-best example of a successful Canadian sitcom- we were up against that and we didn’t stand a chance.

Heading into the filming of October 1970, I never expected to be changed in any profound way; my energy was focussed solely on getting ‘Louise’ just right, to give the best performance I could. What did happen though, through being exposed to this history for the first time, is that it brought me closer to understanding my cousins, my fellow cast-mates, my fellow Québecois who believe with all of their hearts that Quebec needs and deserves to be its own nation. 

I now see that there was an imbalance in Quebec at that time; that French-speaking Québecois felt ostracized, demeaned by a growing English population that had the means to pursue their education, who then arrived in the Quebec workforce armed with impressive degrees and were, perhaps, more readily hired by English companies. Was this fair? I don’t believe it was, and that’s why I can look back and feel their frustration, even commend them for standing up and speaking out.

What I cannot understand, and never will, is how the passion for what many at that time considered to be a noble cause led to violence, death; to the body of a husband and father curled up in the trunk of a car. That hate inside of Louise is not something I was able to relate to and it will never make sense to me.


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