The man behind Captain Canuck’s mask


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What credentials does an actor need to play a Canadian superhero? Based on the choice of Toronto’s Kris Holden-Ried, as the new Captain Canuck, the requirements are a resonant, commanding voice, a chameleon-like ability to juggle multiple identities and lots of Canuck cred.

In a career full of Cancon (Lost Girl and The Tudors are just a few of the actor’s best-known credits), this may just be Holden-Ried’s most Canadian role yet: he’s voicing the homegrown hero in a new animated web series.

But who is Captain Canuck? Quite simply, he’s our country’s socially conscious answer to Superman, Batman and all those other tights-clad American heroes who dominate the comic book universe. (Yes, like his U.S. counterparts, Captain Canuck does his crime-fighting in tights. But unlike them, he refuses to use lethal violence.)

You’re forgiven if you haven’t heard of the Captain, though, because, although he was conceived in 1975, he’s only just now back in the headlines thanks to a reboot by a small Toronto-based creative team. Starting with a series of webisodes that launched on Canada Day, Holden-Ried and Co. are hoping to make Captain Canuck the idol of a whole new generation of Canadians and eventually put him on television.

Understandably, Holden-Ried is psyched about his new role as a masked crime-fighter.

“It was a really nice fit,” he says of the gig. “Every kid’s fantasy is being a superhero, and many times I’ve fantasized about being one, too.”

As an only child growing up on a farm outside Toronto, Holden-Ried spent lots of time playing in the woods, “fighting goblins or whatever” in a fantasy world inspired by the sci-fi books that were his go-to reading. (The Lord of the Rings, Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World and David Eddings’ work, for those who are curious.)

His penchant for fantasy fits well with his uncanny ability to live out several identities simultaneously (just like Captain Canuck! See above.) His high school drama experience made him want to pursue acting, but the aspiring thespian was being groomed by his father to be a successful businessman. “For him, business was the be-all and end-all,” Holden-Ried says. “When I said I wanted to be an actor, my father said, ‘No way. You’re going to  business school.’ ”

Holden-Ried conceded to his father’s wishes and enrolled in Concordia’s international commerce program. With acting forgotten, Holden-Ried the business student cultivated yet another alter ego: competitive pentathlete. (Modern pentathlon is a five-event sport consisting of shooting, swimming, fencing, riding and cross-country running. Count on Holden-Ried to excel at a sport with an identity crisis.) His childhood swimming and horseback riding had led to his winning junior nationals at age 18, and Holden-Ried’s ulterior motive for choosing Concordia was to train with the national fencing team in Montreal.

“When I said I wanted to be an actor, my father said, ‘No way.’ ”

It was, strangely, his devotion to his sport that landed Holden-Ried back in the acting world. High-level sports entail expense, and three years on the national pentathlon team were no exception. Due to inadequate funding in Canada, Holden-Ried bankrolled his athletics himself and consequently wound up in debt.

“Pentathlon was a European sport mostly, so I was travelling to Europe once a month for World Cups,” he explains.

“And I was just totally broke. I was already working a bartending job, training six hours a day and doing university.”

Needing cash, Holden-Ried decided to answer the kind of dubious newspaper ad one would only answer in desperation. A small talent agency was seeking talent, if the talent was willing to pay to get head shots taken.

“It was kind of one of those, sort of … ill repute–type ones,” says Holden-Ried, grasping for words. Regardless, he took the plunge, and somehow the first audition that came up was more or less tailor-made for him, despite one small sticking point: his complete lack of professional acting experience.

It was a starring role — Ivanhoe in the TV movie Young Ivanhoe — and called for a lead who could horseback ride and fence — but also who could act.

“After five callbacks and a nerve-racking two weeks of screen testing with the director saying, ‘No, you don’t have it. I can’t cast you,’ he finally gave the part to me,” recalls Holden-Ried. “And it was the beginning of all this.”  

After his whirlwind initiation into the business, or “trial by fire,” as he calls it, Holden-Ried had little trouble landing roles, popping up in numerous TV movies and series (including Degrassi: The Next Generation: how’s that for Canadian cred?).

Yet three years into his burgeoning career (with his father’s dream of a son’s business degree permanently shelved and the pentathlon sidelined), Holden-Ried quit acting.

He didn’t miss the pentathlon, but he missed its clear-cut rules, and the objectivity of sport.

“I was really in a weird place mentally,” he explains, “because I come from a very structured, sports-driven world, where, you know, you train this hard, you’ll drop your time by half a second. All of a sudden, I was in the acting world, and I had nothing to gauge my success by.” His insecurity about his own abilities got the better of him. 

Like any good athlete, though, he got back on the horse. And since he’s a pro, before he got back on the horse, he hired a coach. With the encouragement of actor Michael Ironside, Holden-Ried began training with accomplished performer and teacher Janine Manatis, whom he credits with giving him his skill base.

“She basically taught me how to be authentic and then how to put that into the context of work and creating character,” he says.

His work since is a testament to what he learned. As fans of the show will already know, Holden-Ried is currently at work on the fourth season of Lost Girl, in which he plays a werewolf named Dyson.

The show is based in Toronto, so in his downtime, Holden-Ried is busy at his Toronto home in yet another incarnation: father to his five-year-old son.

When they’re not shopping at Rowe Farms or the St. Lawrence Market, Holden-Ried and his son might be found watching the Captain Canuck webisode yet again. The show has found a fan in the younger Holden-Ried. After all, he’s only just figuring out that his dad is a man with at least one alternate identity.

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