The Goon sequel’s director, co-writer and co-star stickhandles through traffic

Jay Baruchel directing Goon

Filmby Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Goon: Last of the Enforcers
Opens March 17

2011’s Goon was a surprise hit. The film withstood hockey fan scrutiny while staying engaging for general audiences. The team behind the film knew their the subject — plenty of real-life events were worked into the script — and had solid source material (Douglas Smith’s career as a minor league enforcer).

Since Goon was a success in Canada and a cult hit in the U.S., a sequel became likely. Less expected was that it would take six years to be put together. Then, six months before principal photography started, director Michael Dowse hadn’t returned, so co-star and co-writer Jay Baruchel stepped up for his first major foray into direction (he’d also helmed a short, as well as an episode of Trailer Park Boys).

Goon: Last of the Enforcers finds Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) married to Eva (Alison Pill) and about to become a father. He has also been named captain of his team, the Halifax Highlanders. Then, in his first outing with the “C” on his jersey, Doug is beaten to a pulp by Anders Cain (Wyatt Russell, son of Kurt and Goldie Hawn). Cain is a new type of minor-league player: tough, skilled and in it for himself.

Injured and torn between his family and his passion, the not-too-bright but loyal-to-a-fault Doug goes on a personal journey that leads him, once again, to Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber), enforcer extraordinaire.

Under Creed’s… I mean Rhea’s tutelage, Glatt finds what he needs to give hockey (and fighting) a final go.

Last of the Enforcers pits home life against career, and the film comes alive whenever the Highlanders hit the ice. It benefits from well-defined characters like Glatt, Eva, rival-turned-friend LaFlamme (Marc-André Grondin) and a terrific Kim Coates as quintessential hockey coach Ronnie Hortense.

Wyatt Russell as the villain brings an all-too-recognizable menace to the locker room. He’s the guy too intense to be allowed to dress for a game.

I met with Jay Baruchel in Toronto. The self-aware actor confesses he had to cut down his role as Pat (Doug’s best friend), both because of his directing responsibilities and the mixed response to the Minnesota-inspired character. “Half of the fans call him the Jar-Jar Binks of Goon” says Baruchel.

And before we get started: Baruchel is a passionate Habs fan whose favorite enforcer is Chris “Knuckles” Nilan. He has strong feelings towards Tie Domi. Not good ones.

What do you believe the first Goon did right to make this sequel possible?

It was emotionally truthful. When people saw it, it passed the bullshit test. You can tell it was made by people with a great deal of love for this world and these characters. We felt we had just scratched the surface.

At what stage of the process did you find out you were taking over as a director?

Fairly late, but having written the movie with Jesse Chabot and lived with it for almost five years, I knew every millimetre of it. We wrote it for Michael Dowse to direct. When circumstances dictated he couldn’t return, I didn’t suggest myself, but didn’t need to. Our star, Seann William Scott, Marc-André Grondin and our producer, all asked. So instead of signing a free agent, we brought someone up from the farm team.

Your character, Pat, has a smaller part this time around.

Two reasons: I was directing the bloody thing and I can’t stand watching myself sometimes. Also, Pat garnered a very specific reaction the first time. He’s a real 50/50 character and I’m not so fucking arrogant that I need to cram myself down people’s throats.

While you know your way around the rink, I imagine there are logistical challenges that come with shooting a hockey game.

Buddy, there are many. When the main subject is constantly moving, the axis of action becomes a floating thing. Ten times a day my script supervisor and my operator would be having bitter arguments about it. Then, you are inside a bright, white, reflective surface surrounded by glass. Necessity is the mother of invention and our prop master created reflection-proof visors for the helmets. Sometimes our camera ops would be wearing the opposite team’s jerseys, so if you catch something, it would just be a sweater going by.

In the film, many retired enforcers end up at a “Bruised and Battered” event (just one rule: no hockey). Is there a real-life inspiration for this?

Sadly, yes. The real one was called “Black and Blue”. The competition itself was lame and sad, but the documentary about the making of it was interesting. Every city council voted it down, except Prince George, BC. I get why hockey fighters showed up at that competition, but I don’t understand why people went to see it. When we saw it was a real thing, it was obvious this is where Ross Rhea would have ended up.

[Out of the blue, Seann William Scott enters the room, gives Jay a bear hug, apologizes profusely for the interruption, and leaves.]

I don’t talk to any of my ex-girlfriends. You brought your ex-fiancée (Alison Pill) back for the sequel. How difficult was that?

Here is the thing: when we knew there was going to be a sequel, we knew Doug and Eva would still be together. What was I going to do, recast? It was difficult for personal reasons, but what kind of artist would I be if I let it get in the way of something awesome? Alison felt the same way. Imagine the second day of shooting: I was directing a woman I was engaged to give birth. There wasn’t even a 30-second pause.

We’ve both been in this business since we were children. A gig is a gig and, if it’s worth doing, you find a way. ❧