At 61, Saul Rubinek is still one of the busiest actors around. His latest role in The Trotsky received rave reviews during its world première at the Toronto International Film Festival. (with video)
In it, the Genie Award winner plays David Bronstein, whose teenage son, Leon (Jay Baruchel), believes he’s the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky and stands up for workers’ rights by staging a hunger strike at his father’s Montreal clothing factory.
Rubinek travelled to Montreal to work on the film with fellow Canadian actor and director Jacob Tierney.
“We’ve known each other a long time. When Jacob was a young actor, I did a movie called Obsessed and he played my son, and I worked with him again in Rainbows in 1991,” Rubinek said in a phone interview from Las Vegas, en route from Los Angeles to New York, where he’s moving.
“The Trotsky is Jacob’s film – he wrote and directed it. It was a delightful script, and I really wanted to see what it would be like to work with Jay Baruchel who’s a fine young actor.”
Born in a refugee camp in Germany to Holocaust survivors in 1948, Rubinek began acting after his family moved from Montreal to Ottawa when he was six.
“My English wasn’t that great, but I spoke a lot of Yiddish and French, and I was very shy. Because my father had been in Yiddish theatre in Europe, one of the first things he did was send me to the ‘Ottawa Little Theatre’ that had a school for children,” Rubinek said.
At the school, he was surrounded by other children who made up stories and found ways to tell them. This path appealed to him, and he went on to work with many celebrated actors.
Recently Rubinek starred opposite Jewish actress Lainie Kazan in the comedy Oy Vey! My Son is Gay!! about Martin and Shirley Hirsch, who try to come to grips with their son’s homosexuality after failed attempts to fix him up with a nice Jewish girl.
“It’s a delightful movie about old-fashioned Jewish parents who don’t know their son is gay. My character’s confronted with his homophobia and his worry with what the neighbours will think – things this upper middle class couple would rather pretend they’re beyond,” he said.
Although Rubinek thought the premise might be dated, he was drawn to the film, which proved to be an audience favourite with sold-out screenings at its world première at the Montreal World Film Fest in August.
“There was something charming about it, and it gave me an opportunity to work with Lainie Kazan, whom I consider to be a force of nature and a delight to work with. John Lloyd Young who plays my son is an extraordinary actor who won a Tony (award) for his role in Broadway’s Jersey Boys,” he said.
Rubinek won a Genie Award in 1982 for best actor in a supporting role for his part in Ticket to Heaven.
He’s also just back from Rome, where he was working on the film adaptation of Mordechai Richler’s Barney’s Version, in which he plays Barney’s (Paul Giamatti) father-in-law Charnofsky, an Orthodox Jew whose daughter denies she’s Jewish. Rubinek is familiar with Barney’s Version, as he played Barney Panofsky in CBC’s four-part radio show in 2003.
The versatile actor’s television performances have included roles on Star Trek The Next Generation, Stargate SG-1 and most memorably as Donny Douglas, Niles’ unrefined divorce lawyer and Daphne’s boyfriend on the sitcom Frasier.
“I was hired for three shows, and that turned into 17 episodes over two years. Frasier had one of the best casts in television history, and working with Kelsey [Grammer] and the wonderful actors was a blessing and a happenstance.”
His current television role is quirky Secret Service agent Artie Nielson on Warehouse 13, which resumes filming in Toronto next March.
Rubinek is also developing projects with his wife, producer Elinor Reid, including a play he wrote called Terrible Advice that’s being cast in London and directed by Muppeteer Frank Oz.
As our interview came to an end, Rubinek recalled the projects inspired by his survivor parents. So Many Miracles is a book he wrote based on interviews about his parents’ experiences in hiding with a Polish farmer’s family for 2-1/2 years from 1942 to 1945 and includes how Rubinek’s parents met, their lives before and after the war and how they came to Montreal.
When the farmer’s wife asked to be reunited with Rubinek’s parents in Poland in 1987, he wrote and produced the documentary Too Many Miracles, directed by Vic Sarin (A Shine of Rainbows).
“The film was something I could pass on to my children. It’s my belief that Jewish children are given way too much information about the Holocaust before they know what to do with it. Certainly I knew about it before I could handle the word genocide,” said Rubinek, who showed the film to his children’s Grade 8 classes.
“We were able to introduce the subject in the context of other world events in history and have children look into their own backgrounds to see they had great drama, tragedies and miracles in their pasts. Making this documentary made a difference to my life, to my parents and to my children’s lives. To be able to pass on the stories to children in the same classroom has been a great mitzvah.”