I’ve been fascinated with Joel Thomas Hynes for years. I first saw him on Republic of Doyle as Taylor Gossard, a drug trafficker who Jake Doyle ran afoul of numerous times. Since then, I’ve spotted him in The Book of Negroes, Orphan Black and Mary Kills People. Hynes is the type of guy who immediately catches your eye and makes an impression.
Now, the actor, musician, director, producer—and Governor General Award-winning writer—delivers a knockout punch with Little Dog. Debuting Thursday at 9 p.m. on CBC, Little Dog boasts one hell of a hook—the tale of boxer Tommy “Little Dog” Ross (Hynes), who seeks redemption in the ring fives years after walking away from it—delivered alongside a cannonade of hilarious scenes peppered with memorable characters. The seven-episode run stars Dwain Murphy as Rico “Havoc” St. George, Ger Ryan as Tommy’s mother, Sylvia Ross; Stephen Oates as his eldest brother, Loyola “Lowly” Ross Jr; Katharine Isabelle as his sister Ginny Ross; newcomer Billy Cochrane as Ginny’s son Chesley; and Andy Jones as the wily, charming old patriarch of the family, Loyola “Lowly” Ross Sr.
I spoke to Hynes, showrunner Sherry White and executive producer Amy Cameron about the project.
Where did the idea for Little Dog come from?
Sherry White: Joel was developing this show idea and I really wanted to attach myself to it. I really love his voice and I think he’s really unique. [Producer] Perry [Zimel] set up some meetings for us to pitch it and we got it into development at the CBC. We decided to bring it to Cameron Pictures because I have a relationship with Tassie Cameron and we knew they would get the sensibility and the calibre of work we wanted it to be.
What was it about Joel’s pitch that got you so excited?
SW: The show is about this failed boxer who is trying to clean himself up and get a second chance at redemption. I liked that. It wasn’t until he showed me an unbelievable clip of a fight from 2000—I think it was Andrew Golota and Mike Tyson—where Andrew Golota walked out of the ring mid-fight. The trainers and everyone were just losing their shit on this guy and as he was leaving the audience was throwing stuff at him. It was such a visceral, emotional, dramatic kind of thing.
Joel Thomas Hynes: They called him ‘The Pole,’ as in telephone pole. A huge beast of a man.
SW: And you wonder, ‘How can this guy ever come back from this?’ What did he think when he got up the next morning? This is the starting point for this character. It’s five years later when you meet Tommy “Little Dog” Ross. He gets chance to get back into the ring and fight the guy he walked out on. He hasn’t been training and he has this very dysfunctional family who has a lot to say about whether or not he should do this and what it means to them. Because, of course, they lived in the disgrace as well. It’s really great to have a family comedy with this great boxing metaphor that you can draw on.
JTH: Boxing is beside the point after a while. It’s got a good built-in sports drama that leads to the big fight, but boxing is beside the point.
Joel, did you get the idea for Little Dog when you saw that Tyson-Golota fight? Was it immediate?
JTH: That Golota scene came up after, during research. The genesis of the show was already laid out. I used to do a little bit of krav maga and Thursday nights would be unofficial fight night. I was lined up for two weeks down the road to fight this guy who was a prick. He probably thought I was a prick. I hated him and we couldn’t wait to fight each other. I did this fight night—and I’m fighting another guy ahead of the guy two weeks down the road—and I’m not sure what happened. I got a kick or a knee in the chest and broke two ribs and my chest plate. I didn’t know it until the next morning. I went down to do burpees in the conditioning program and cracked my chest plate open. I was in the hospital, really wanting to fight this other guy in two weeks time, waiting for the doctor to come out with my x-rays. She tells me I have two cracked ribs and a split chest plate.
And I say, ‘OK, but can I fight in two weeks?’ She laughed at me and I was devastated and shamefaced knowing that this prick would think, ‘Oh yeah, broken rib.’ I got the idea for the show from that. There were a couple of other incidents that lead me to controlled fighting. I come from fighting. I come from a violent background and, for different reasons, in my early to mid-30s I had to move towards controlled fighting and martial arts for my own sanity. It’s steeped in the personal.
SW: And the tough-guy image … there was something you were interested in exploring. That image that you put forward and it not being true about who he is and what that means.
JTH: The show is also about having the courage to rise up to your full potential which, you know, takes a lot of courage.
Little Dog airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on CBC.
Images courtesy of CBC.