When he’s not responding to 911 calls as part of Toronto’s Emergency Task Force Unit, Calum de Hartog is adapting his high-octane experiences for the small screen. His new CBC-TV show, Cracked, explores the complicated convergence between crime and mental health. We met with the multi-talented Ottawa native to discuss TV cops, loose cannons, and his Leonardo DiCaprio connection.
In the pilot episode of Cracked, the main character, Aidan Black, holds a gun to his own head to connect with a suicidal schizophrenic. Would a real cop do this?
I get that question a lot.
Probably because it seems like a pretty crazy thing to do.
There is a certain amount of creative licence being used to make the show compelling. Initially, I wasn’t sure about that particular scene, but then I saw the director’s vision and it makes for a powerful moment. It works.
In another scene, Aidan clucks like a chicken, seemingly burning off some post-traumatic stress. Was that taken from a real experience?
No, that was something the writer came up with. It was another one of those ideas where I was like, “Really?’”
Overall, Aidan comes off as a bit of a loose cannon. Do you think a show like Cracked might make viewers worry about the stability of the people protecting us?
You’re tying to create a character for television, so you need to have hurdles. I don’t think you want to watch someone who’s perfect. It’s not a documentary.
Right. And it’s based on an invented police unit?
The unit in the show [Psych Crimes] is fictitious, but it’s inspired by what are called crisis intervention teams, which we’ve had here in Toronto for many years. The idea is that you [pair a cop] with a psychiatric professional to respond to crimes that involve people with emotional distress.
You’ve mentioned that you’re already working on a film project inspired by the Danzig Street shootings last summer, where you were one of the early responders.
That experience inspired an idea for a story that I’m still working out in my head. It was obviously very powerful.
Do you worry people might find it a little unseemly to mine a tragedy for entertainment? Especially so soon?
Absolutely. I wouldn’t do anything without having some form of consultation. Any time you’re working on something that is specific to a community, obviously you reach out to them and work with them. You have to. With my idea, the Danzig Street shooting is more of a backdrop. I’m still working it out.
Do you see any level of conflict of interest between your work as a cop and your showbiz aspirations?
I am very conscious of not crossing that barrier. My [police] work provides inspiration, but I never get specific in terms of the various situations that I encounter. It’s not like I’m [at a crime scene] taking notes.
And if you had to give up one job or the other, say, tomorrow, which would it be?
I’d be scared to death to make that choice.
Okay, but you have to answer. Pretend I have a gun to your head.
I guess I’d have to talk you down. Listen, the film stuff has always been a hobby. I’ve been doing it since I was a kid in Ottawa. To be where I am now is still really new and I’m just going with the flow. As things play out, I’m sure future steps will become obvious. Who knows, though.
I guess your show could get cancelled in six weeks.
Right. And I will continue writing and telling stories and doing what I love to do.
You’re also working on developing Dennis Lehane’s short story Running Out of Dog. How do you have time?
Oh, you know—you have a day off here and there and you work on it.
When I have a day off, I lie on the couch and watch Golden Girls.
Ha! Well, remember that some of these projects have been in the works for a long time. With the Lehane thing, I’ve been chipping away at that for four or five years.
So you just read his story and thought you should be the one to make it into a movie?
I fell in love with the story. I tracked down his agent and told him I thought it could be a cool script. It took a couple of years, but eventually they got [Lehane] on board.
He’s a pretty hot commodity in the entertainment world these days. And your treatment was bought by Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company?
Well, I optioned the book and now I’m developing it with them. We have the script done, so now we’re sending it out to talent.
Have you met Leo?
Not yet. When I was down there [in L.A.], he was shooting The Wolf of Wall Street in New York.
Sounds like you may have to decide between your two vocations sooner than later.
We’ll worry about that when it happens. There are a million steps between here and there, but it’s been a really cool journey.
Best 2012 X-mas gift?
Japanese tea cups.
Favourite T.O. hood?
Favourite ice cream?
Most overused word?
Cracked airs Tuesday nights on CBC-TV.