Read our Q&A with Lawrence here.
When Vancouver’s transit system was in need of a celebrity announcer in 2018, they got Hollywood comedian Seth Rogen. But Calgary’s system got Terry Cahill, one of the headbangers from the mockumentary FUBAR, whether they needed him or not.
Dressed in his iconic plaid shirt and crop top t-shirt, Cahill marched into a recording studio and started blurting outlines that would be familiar to Calgarians.
“Welcome to Calgary Transit where we’ll whip you around the city if yer loaded or not,” Cahill announced. “Next stop Saddletown. If yer hoping for the Dome you fucked up bad.”
The result was then posted to YouTube, where it’s so far garnered more than 70,000 views.
David Lawrence, the actor and comedian who plays Terry, says, “It was mostly for fun; it wasn’t for any good reason. There was no money, no one was being paid.”
But it’s just one example of how Lawrence has managed to continue to have career success, despite playing the same character for the past 18 years and mostly staying in Calgary, the city he earned his acting chops in.
That process of learning how to act began at 15 when he took drama in junior high. Shortly after that, Lawrence, who is now 43, found his way to the Loose Moose Theater, a Calgary-based improv theatre that has been running since 1977.
“I was taking drama classes in junior high, and [I was at] the Calgary Drama Festival that they usually have. Some performers from Loose Moose came down and I sort of thought that was something I might be able to do,” Lawrence explains.
While he did try more traditional acting roles, Lawrence found his skills were best used in improv. “Improvisation is my favourite thing to do, so I try to stick to that.”
Lawrence states he’s never had a moment where he decided to pursue acting as his profession.
“It wasn’t like suddenly I was doing it full-time. I worked in Japan for a few years doing, like ‘roving style’ entertainment, like where you ‘rove’ around at events. I’ve done the children’s festivals and folk fest. I tried to avoid a real job and then I realized I avoided a real job for a long time. It wasn’t like a conscious thing like, ‘I’m going to go do this.’ It just sort of went that way.”
Lawrence would occasionally audition for American productions that were being filmed in Calgary, with one example being Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show. He states these auditions didn’t lead to greater opportunities, due to the very small roles being offered. However, while continuing to perform regularly at the Loose Moose, Lawrence began developing the character that he would become most associated with.
There are many ways to describe Terry, with terms like “metalhead” or “hoser” being a few. He is an embodiment of a certain type of Canadian culture that harkens back to the days of Bob & Doug McKenzie.
Terry would begin appearing at the live shows held at Loose Moose. Lawrence based the character off people from his youth.
“My older brother had the hockey hair — caused a little trouble. The cops were at our house a few times looking for him, so he inspired me. And when I was in high school, there were a few remaining old school ‘bangers,’ with the leather jacket and the denim vest and patches. I also worked on the pipelines right after high school for a year up in Fort St. John. So that’s where there was quite a bit of blue-collar culture that I was keeping my eye on,” Lawrence recalls.
Dennis Cahill, the artistic director at the Loose Moose, was able to see Lawrence create the character first hand.
“Terry Cahill’s last name is the same as my last name oddly. We would introduce him as my nephew visiting from out east and that I was being forced to let him on stage as a family thing.”
Cahill also believes the character highlights Lawrence’s strength as an actor. “He’s committed. Once he’s Terry, he’s Terry.”
With help from his childhood friend Paul Spence, the character of Terry began to flesh out even more.
“I’ve known Paul since I was a little kid,” says Lawrence. “He grew up down the street from me. Paul would improvise sometimes at the Loose Moose. He was a little more into his band and rock and roll. But I thought Paul would be perfect to play Terry’s buddy.”
The two starred in a Loose Moose show, where Spence created the character Dean. After working together on a film shoot in Calgary, Lawrence brought the then-just-starting-out director Michael Dowse onto their new project, which became known as FUBAR.
“It was sort of just like, ‘Well ‘I’m never going to get a big part in Calgary.’ So we decided to shoot our own mock-doc.”
It follows the comedic happenings of Terry and Dean and the challenges they go through. Shot in Calgary in the early 2000s, the film had a shoestring budget.
“We had some technical issues. We ran around in the rain with our camera, so the camera got wrecked,” Lawrence explains.
“Post-production was not that simple, because we shot on a MiniDV camera and back then film festivals, like Sundance, you couldn’t actually get into the festival unless you delivered on 35mm. So, we had to blow up footage from MiniDV to 35. I think we were the last film, probably anywhere, to do that.”
The film was submitted to the Sundance Film Festival in 2002, and was chosen to be shown at the “Midnight Screening” — the same slot where The Blair Witch Project had its premiere. Lawrence remembers exactly what happened at Sundance.
“A lot of the people at that screening were buyers. The room was 25 per cent full of buyers. The rest were fans or people interested in seeing new movies,” Lawrence recalls.
“The film started and, five minutes in a bunch of people in the back started leaving and I thought this was tanking. Later I learned they were just specific distributors who just knew it wasn’t for their company. Ten minutes after that the crowd loved it and I was like, ‘Okay, we’ve got a good film.’”
The film was distributed by Odeon Films (which then became Alliance Films and is now known as eOne Entertainment). Originally not attracting much attention in Canada, the Sundance showing made people take notice.
“Once we got into Sundance, the Canadian press went a little wild for it. It’s cliché but it took the Americans to say ‘It’s good,’ and then the Canadians were like, ‘Yeah it’s ours.’”
Lawrence realized that the film had entered “cult” status very quickly.
“It was released on May 24, 2002. It didn’t make a ton of money. But in certain parts of the country it stayed in theatres for a long time even though it was an independent film,” he explains.
Despite the success, a sequel would not come for a long time. Lawrence, Spence and Dowse would move to Montreal to work on other projects.
“I don’t think it was really on our radar, to be like ‘Hey, let’s turn this into a brand.’”
By 2005, the idea of a sequel to FUBAR began to interest Lawrence and Spence.
“By the time you decide to make something, in film and TV, it doesn’t go quick. You have to get the funds. These projects take time. In 2005, Paul and I started writing an outline. By the time we got serious about it, it was around 2008. Then we shot in 2009,” says Lawrence.
With the backing of Alliance Films, FUBAR 2, which was released in 2010, had a much larger budget, making it a different shoot compared to the first film.
“With Alliance, we had proven that we could get people into the theatres,” says Lawrence.
“Mike Dowse was very interested in getting that budget up so that he could have more to work with as a director. So it was shot much more like a traditional film. We still improvised everything. But we had the resources that we needed for like wrecking a house or building a fake pipeline.”
“To me, part two feels more like a movie, where the first one feels like an actual documentary.”
Lawrence found the sequel got a lot of attention. “There was a lot of hype and excitement for the film. I know the first couple of weeks in the theatres, people were smoking joints and drinking Pilsner and it was like a rowdy environment.”
After FUBAR 2, Lawrence moved back to Calgary with Spence remaining in Montreal. North Darling, a long-time friend of Lawrence, presented him with the idea of making a FUBAR series. It was perfect timing as they were already in talks to work with VICE.
“Him and I and Immanuela, my wife, we started working on something [set] in my basement where Terry goes online. From there, Vice was starting up a network in Canada and initially they wanted to make a cartoon with us. But then they shifted gears and wanted live-action. And it just so happens that we had this little show we were working on,” Lawrence recalls.
However, the series — FUBAR: Age of Computer — proved difficult to produce.
“TV is very structured,” says Lawrence, “So it was quite different. It was a difficult shoot because we had some factors that made it quite challenging. We were in a situation where both Paul and Mike were in Montreal so they wanted to shoot out there. We shot in Montreal even though it was supposed to take place in Alberta.”
Following Age of Computer, Lawrence would find a new home for Terry on YouTube. With the help of his wife and Darling, they created the “Terry4Transit” video.
“That [video is] where we went after it. Paul’s out in Quebec, and I was still hoping to make some stuff with Terry.”
Lawrence adds, “It came with us just wanting to have some fun with the character, and it turned into some actual opportunities for the character.”
The video, which was uploaded in August 2018, has earned over 78,000 views. Lawrence now regularly uploads Terry videos, with his wife and Darling continuing to help produce them. The initial video also led to an opportunity with the Calgary Flames.
“[The Flames] saw the transit video and thought maybe there was a place for Terry. Initially, they wanted Terry to maybe do the safety video that they play at the beginning of games but, after a bit of discussion, they were like, ‘Maybe we could do something else,’” Lawrence explains.
“It took a little bit of convincing that the character was suitable for the Saddledome. Once they thought that made sense, then we wrote this idea [for a video] that Seth Rogen sends a ticket to Terry.”
After the video’s release, Lawrence started to become a fixture at Flames games with Terry’s trademark “awooo” now being heard after every Flames goal.
The team and Lawrence even came up with a Terry-Flames t-shirt, which has a portion of proceeds going to the Mustard Seed.
Terry continues to keep Lawrence busy, as Jan. 8 saw the release of FUBAR: Just Give’r, a mobile game developed by Victoria-based Kano Apps.
Kano Apps CEO and co-founder Tim Teh says, “This a co-development project with Eastside Games out of Vancouver, who are great friends of ours. They had tremendous success with the Trailer Park Boys IP and approached us about a collaboration to create a FUBAR game, which was tough to refuse.”
“Funnily enough though, our lead artist on the project is from Calgary and was part of that same crowd that David frequented on the improv side.”
Lawrence says they “reached out and said, ‘Would you be interested in doing a FUBAR game?’ Then they started writing and developing it.”
“The premise of the game is around Dean and Terry hearing about the record for the world’s longest party, and the boys taking that as a challenge they want to beat,” says Teh. “In the game, you help Terry and Dean with their money-making schemes to keep their party streak going.”
Teh also mentions that Lawrence and his wife were involved in the storytelling and character design to “ensure the game was true to FUBAR.”
Lawrence believes opportunities such as this happened for a single reason.
“I think just because we’ve been cranking out content. If you look at what we’ve done in the past year or so, there’s quite a bit of content. Once you’re up on the jumbotron at the Saddledome semi-regularly, it kind of just creeps in,” he says. Another reason is the fact that the characters of FUBAR have become cultural symbols of Calgary and Canada for lots of people.
“Terry’s been around Calgary for a long time going back to the origins of the character,” Lawrence explains. Back in the late 90s, there’s a base that remembers Terry from back then. Then they got to see FUBAR and FUBAR 2 and other stuff. So it’s kind of like pooling the Calgary base who are like, ‘Oh yeah, we know this guy.’”
David Lawrence, through it all, just wanted to give Calgary their own 'Canadian Hoser'. “I’m not the first one to invent [it] ... Bob & Doug, Wayne’s World, Trailer Park Boys. So, it’s not that hard to be like, ‘This is Calgary’s own version of that.’” Photo by: Jackson Reed
Cahill thinks the character's Canadian behaviour draws people in, even with people outside of Canada.
“I suppose [it’s popular] because it does resonate with some people. A lot of people know these characters, they’ve met these guys. They’ve run into them. They’ve worked with them,” he says.
“I think we all know people who are like these characters. To some degree, they’re distinctly Canadian. The FUBAR characters have a bit of cult status as well in other parts of the world. I met some guys in Scotland years ago and they all knew FUBAR.”
That even helps when marketing a video game.
According to Teh, the characters “are just so Canadian. Everyone has known a Terry or Dean growing up, and you just want to root for them to succeed. In FUBAR: Just Give’r, you can actually help them to.”
What Lawrence has achieved as a Canadian actor is impressive due to the challenges many face in this profession.
But those challenges have also helped in a way.
“We’re next to the Americans, and most of our media comes from the US. People like to have something that’s kind of our own. I’m not the first one to invent the Canadian ‘hoser:’ Bob & Doug, Wayne’s World, Trailer Park Boys. So, it’s not that hard to be like, ‘This is Calgary’s own version of that,’” he says.
Lawrence states that many Canadian actors find themselves moving to cities like Los Angeles to find work, which is something that has never really crossed his mind.
“If the right opportunity came then for sure. But I’ve kind of gotten used to making my own opportunities. Being here in Calgary makes it a lot easier, just because I can get people to help me.”
Cahill adds, “I don’t think Dave has ever been interested in doing the commercial route. He wanted to do things his way. There’s a certain amount of integrity with that, it might be a tougher road to go down. But he wanted to work with people he wanted to work with, he didn’t want to become an actor for hire. If he had moved to Toronto to be an actor, the chances of becoming famous are really slim. You’re going to end up doing a lot of work that you don’t particularly want to do, but you have to do it because you need the money.
“Dave is doing what he wants to do, as opposed to doing what other people want him to do.”
Lawrence believes starting small is the key for any actors in Calgary who want to get their start.
“I always recommend the Loose Moose. It’s free, they give really good training. Most companies like that charge. These days it’s not that hard to get a camera and some sound equipment. Go try and make something. Don’t even worry if it’s good or bad, just do it, make it, see how it feels, you never know what you’re going to get.”
- By Jackson Reed