Photos: Angus Rowe MacPherson/The Grid
A Toronto garage-rock veteran whose frenetic performances earned him the nickname “Age of Danger,” Maxwell McCabe-Lokos isn’t typical leading-man material. So rather than wait around for a casting director to recognize his particular brand of onscreen magic, he wrote himself a starring role—as a cuckolded husband on the verge of a breakdown. Meet the guy who might be Toronto’s answer to Dustin Hoffman.
Some people are born actors. Maxwell McCabe-Lokos isn’t one of them. In fact, he didn’t even consider doing it until a decade ago, when he was 25. He was strictly a “band guy” in those days, having formed the beloved local garage-rock combo Deadly Snakes with some high-school pals in the mid-’90s.
Back then, McCabe-Lokos liked to go by the handle “Age of Danger,” which gives you a pretty good idea of the kind of cocksure band guy he was. Indeed, with all his high-octane bravado, he already felt and behaved like he was a movie character, which is why acting didn’t seem like a big stretch. “I was pretty arrogant about it at first,” he says over coffee in a Little Italy café. “I thought, ‘I’ll just do some auditions—it’s easy money.’ I felt like I didn’t need lessons or drama school or to practice my English accent while walking around my dorm in flip-flops.”
Swagger is not something the dude lacked. But in the years that followed, as his list of screen credits grew, that band-guy attitude was tempered by a more serious approach to his craft. He gave memorable turns as Ryan Gosling’s dirty-minded co-worker in Lars and the Real Girl, a skateboarding survivor in George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead, and a scuzzy drug dealer in the splintered teen flick The Tracey Fragments, but McCabe-Lokos credits the 2005 drama Mouth to Mouth, which featured an early leading role for Ellen Page, as the one that convinced him his new line of work was worth taking seriously. “It’s still among the five things that I’ve done that I’m proud for people to see,” he says.
In The Husband, the new movie by his Tracey Fragments director Bruce McDonald, McCabe-Lokos delivers one of the most hilariously wracked performances you’ll see at TIFF this year. He plays Henry, an ad copywriter and new father who enters a tailspin when his schoolteacher wife is jailed for having sex with an adolescent student. It’s a bold and thoroughly tragicomic portrait of a man at the end of his tether. Nevertheless, McCabe-Lokos has no delusions of grandeur about his future prospects.
“Even after this, I’m not going to get lead parts,” he says. “They don’t hire guys like me to be leads in Canada—they don’t hire guys like me to be leads anywhere.” He cracks up. “Not that I’m such a rare flower, but look at who’s in movies.”
Anyone who saw McCabe-Lokos in action back when he was the Deadly Snakes ringleader (the band split in 2006, although his Snakes foil Andre Ethier composed The Husband’s score with fellow Torontonian Sandro Perri) knows the wiry charisma he can convey. Casting people, however, tend to have a different idea of who we’re supposed to see onscreen. “All the guys have the same spiky parted hair—it’s the same faces and the same types,” says McCabe-Lokos. “I wouldn’t put myself in the same category as Dustin Hoffman, but he’s someone who didn’t get hired for his looks, and it would be amazing to have that happen again.”
Hoffman’s a fitting reference point. As the humiliated Henry, McCabe-Lokos has some of the compact, coiled intensity that was the actor’s forte in his younger days. It’s also not hard to see The Husband’s kinship to a breed of American movie that was more prevalent in Hoffman’s ’70s heyday, one in which a character faced grave challenges to ideas about his manhood. For an extreme example, just think of what happens to the guys in Deliverance.
Terse, funny, and frequently painful, The Husband can make for discomfiting viewing, even if it doesn’t include any horny hillbillies. TIFF programmer Steve Gravestock describes it as “a kind of horror comedy about impotent male rage,” a line that McCabe-Lokos loves. “I sent that link to my brother and he said, ‘Great…now you’re forever associated with impotent male rage.’ But I love that subject—it’s so much more interesting than potent male rage!”
The anguish McCabe-Lokos conveys onscreen is matched by the determination he displayed in getting The Husband made: He’s the co-writer and co-producer of the film as well as its star, and spent five years developing the script with collaborator Kelly Harms. After another few years and some heroic efforts to secure the necessary funding, it finally started shooting last winter in locations like the AGO and Honest Ed’s.
Having worked with McDonald on The Tracey Fragments, McCabe-Lokos knew that the director was the “chief” that he and his project required. “Personally, I’m at once overly confident and totally aware of my lack of confidence and experience. Sometimes, I just want someone to tell me what’s good. I don’t want to go in there and be like, ‘I have to do it like this!’”
While McCabe-Lokos understands that some of that old Age of Danger bravado can come in handy, knowing when to let someone else take the wheel might be what separates the men from the band guys. Besides, even born actors have to learn about discipline.
The Husband plays Sept. 9 at 7:30 p.m. at Scotiabank 1, Sept. 11 at 9 p.m. at Ryerson Theatre, and Sept. 14 at 6 p.m. at TIFF Bell Lightbox 3.