I’ve had a crush on Hollywood TV star Tom Cavanagh – the most handsome man on television – ever since I spotted him in the fab NBC-TV series Ed some years ago.
"Gosh, I’d love to see him lock lips with another guy," I thought then, never thinking I’d actually see Cavanagh play a gay role, never mind talk to him about it.
But unbelievably I did, this week, as Cavanagh called me (!) at home to discuss his fabulous new hockey movie Breakfast With Scot, a Canadian Disney-esque family film about a straight-acting gay couple, Eric (Cavanagh) and Sam (Ben Shenkman of HBO’s Angels in America), who adopt recently orphaned Scot, a swishy 11-year-old, musical-loving drama queen.
"It’s about a kid who doesn’t have a home, and every kid deserves to be loved," says Cavanagh, a married father of two.
The kid, Scot, is played by 12-year-old Montrealer Noah Bernett. And this is where things get really interesting.
One day seven years ago, not one but two friends told me that the owner of the Ripples ice cream parlour on the Main was also named "Richard Burnett."
So the next day, after my seven-year-old brother Skye and I went swimming at the neighbouring indoor Schubert Pool (back then we’d go swimming or tobogganing on Mount Royal every Saturday), we popped into Ripples.
When I introduced myself to the owner, he told me, "People have been mistaking me for you for years! You don’t know how much trouble you’ve caused me!"
When Richard told us he spelled his family name "Bernett," Skye piped up and said, "We spell our name B-u-r!"
Well, it turns out Richard Bernett’s son Noah is Scot in Breakfast With Scot. And I got to see father and son briefly two weeks ago at an advance screening of Breakfast at Montreal’s Image+Nation queer film fest.
"It’s just acting!" Noah nonchalantly told a delighted audience when asked what it was like to play gay.
Which is exactly what Cavanagh told me when I asked him the same question.
"It was just acting!" Tom said. "I had no problem whatsoever. I thought it was a well-written character, an angry guy who has a shot at transformation."
Angry because he’s a former NHL Maple Leafs player who is now a publicly closeted national sportscaster in the Queen City. And this kid Scot, well, he’s going to blow everybody’s cover in what, for my money, is the best feel-good family comedy of the year.
And, to boot, Ottawa-born, hockey-worshipping Tom gets to skate and wear a Leafs jersey in the film.
"I went to high school in southern Quebec when we were engaged in the unholy Nordiques and Canadiens war and I was firmly entrenched on the Habs’ side," Tom, 44, explains. "At the time the Maple Leafs were the sworn enemy. You’d never think of wearing their jersey ever.
"But," Tom continues, "after moving to the States, I realized the sport doesn’t carry the same weight as it does back home. So I found myself pulling for all Canadian teams. Hockey matters in Canada. So it was an honour to have the blessing of the NHL and the Maple Leafs. We [the cast and crew] just about fell off our chair. Wearing that Leafs jersey really gives the film a feel of authenticity."
Meanwhile, licensing Elton John’s song Step Into Christmas for the Breakfast soundtrack is another of those extraordinary Pink Mafia stories. "That song would have cost us $200,000 that we didn’t have," Breakfast director Laurie Lynd told me.
Elton and his Toronto-born husband David Furnish were in Toronto having dinner at actor Eric McCormack’s place (Eric is an honorary gay because he played Will in Will & Grace). A mutual friend of McCormack and Lynd explained the dilemma to McCormack.
So McCormack relayed the story to Elton and – presto! – Elton immediately agreed to let his song be used in the most gay- and family-positive movie of the year. Both Lynd and Cavanagh hope Breakfast will now find a big audience this holiday season in theatres across Canada so the film can secure a distribution deal stateside.
"That would be the greatest Christmas gift of all," Laurie sighs.
As for Tom, he recently told NBCSports.com about kissing his co-star Ben Shenkman. "Let me quote Keats here: ‘Beauty is truth, and truth is beauty.’ And when you’re as good-looking as Ben, it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman. Although I’m not sure if Ben’s wife wants to hear me say that."
I tell Tom I’ve long wanted to see him play gay, that he’s the handsomest guy on TV, and that he’ll win over gay fans worldwide for his portrayal of a gay NHL hero.
Tom is clearly delighted.
"Heh! Heh! Heh!" Tom chuckles, then adds, "The bigger the audience we get, the better! Cheers, Richard!"
Essential buttplugs Breakfast With Scot opens in theatres nationwide on Dec. 7. Also, Montreal’s famed National Theatre School of Canada presents Edward Bond’s 18th-century-England period piece Restoration, Dec. 11-15 at Monument-National (1182 St-Laurent), 8 p.m. nightly. $7.