Victor Garber on starring in CTV’s Legends of Tomorrow and memories of playing guitar and washing dishes in Yorkville
Image: Getty Images/George Pimentel
The first time Victor Garber met J. J. Abrams, the future director of Star Wars, he recognized that he was in the company of brilliance.
It was on the set of the Alias pilot and Garber, who cut his teeth playing guitar in the Yorkville coffee shop scene wasn’t sure what to expect.
He’d already been part of successful productions — he played Jesus in Godspell onstage in Toronto opposite Eugene Levy, Gilda Radner and Martin Short — and his band, The Sugar Shoppe, performed on shows hosted by Johnny Carson and Ed Sullivan.
He’d even made Titanic with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, and he’d been friends with James Cameron, so he knew something about deeply driven men.
But Alias was different. It was a television series that would change the medium and give Garber a taste for sci-fi, super-fans and mega-action. There was so much talent accrued in one location, that Garber knew afterwards his life would forever be changed.
“Something that I’ve always had, and maybe this is the key to my longevity — though I don’t tend to think about it in such terms — but I tend to have an instinct when something comes to me that I take to have meaning,” says Garber, who’s 66 and earned his stripes in Midtown Toronto and has been nominated for five Emmy Awards.
“I choose things that resonate with me on a very deep level and, like anyone who’s been in the business for as long as I have, there’s been some work that I’m maybe not as proud of, but I think, looking back on the record, I’m proud of the choices I’ve made.”
Garber describes his life as being lived in three acts — a childhood theatre run that began when he was nine and helped forge his identity; the heady success years, when he ran around north of Bloor Street with his Godspell castmates in Yorkville and broke big in film and TV; and his current epoch, as a man bearing down on 70 and on the brink of starring in another big-budget science fiction TV show.
Garber with other cast members of Legends of Tomorrow. (Image: ©Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc)
The new CTV show, Legends of Tomorrow, is, like his last series, The Flash, based on a DC comic. He plays the same character in both, Dr. Martin Stein, who is now tasked with travelling through time to combat evil. It’s the kind of thing that gets ruminated about endlessly online.
“I don’t really understand the genre, and it’s the most unlikely situation that I suddenly find myself in the middle of superheroes and Comic Con, and I find it fascinating and slightly terrifying, but like my old mentor once told me: If you find yourself too comfortable, move,” says Garber, reached on the phone from Vancouver, where Legends of Tomorrow is filmed.
“I just saw Leonardo in The Revenant, and I’m not sure I’m willing to go that far, but I’ve definitely taken a step out of my zone of comfort and feel all the more validated for having made the move.”
Garber also has tried his hand at a biographical and historical motion picture in which he plays the role of a Canadian, fittingly. That Canadian, Ken Taylor, was the ambassador to Iran who played a pivotal role in helping a group of Americans escape during the hostage crisis in 1979. The film, Argo, was directed by Ben Affleck and has become one of Garber’s most recognizable roles in a feature film.
That Garber can be seen as a local success in Forest Hill village stems from his work with hometown heroes like Eugene Levy, making Exotica with Sarah Polley and Atom Egoyan and his studying theatre at University of Toronto.
He remembers dining with Gilda Radner at the Windsor Arms, back when Toronto only had one good restaurant, and he also remembers chasing Tom Cochrane around Hazelton Lane and Davenport Road.
“Back then, Yorkville seemed to have an innocence to it, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young had left, but it still had that wisp of authenticity — I’d wash dishes then take out my guitar, and afterwards, we’d pass around the hat,” Garber says.
“One has to be careful with nostalgia — they weren’t better times; Yorkville wasn’t ‘better.’ But I was younger, and there was an innocence. Life was ahead of me, as opposed to behind me, and I miss those days, that place — of course I do. I was young.”
The essential thing about Garber, however, at least if you want to see him as a role model — and one could do worse — is that, if he chooses to see his life in three acts, this current act, of them all that he’s starring in, is his favourite one.
And it’s not just because he has a big-budget, comic book TV series that premiered in January and is making his way back to the glossy world of the network’s prime time.
He’s also married his partner Rainer Andreesen and has been focusing on his internal life as much as external success.
He’s excited for Legends of Tomorrow to have its premiere. And he enjoys the show. But he says that he won’t follow its ratings or read the reviews and that he has no time for social media.
He’s not a Luddite. He just knows, after nearly six decades in entertainment, from the coffee shops of Yorkville to the stages of New York to the biggest budgeted productions ever mounted by Hollywood, that what he’s searching for can’t be determined by outside voices.
When he was nine years old, he discovered that he loved to perform. And he’s been able to spend his life doing exactly that.
And that he has laughed and learned alongside the likes of Eugene Levy and Jayne Eastwood and Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck and Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet only serves to provide fuel for his theory — that whenever you begin to feel too comfortable, it’s once again time to move.
“I feel that I’m in a better place now than I’ve ever been, and I just hope it continues, and I attribute all of that to the people I’ve known and the lessons I’ve learned,” Garber says.
“I’ve been able to follow my heart, and that makes a difference. I’ve been able to do what I love for my whole life.”