Bruce Greenwood loves new role as gay, ballet director Ben Stevenson

 

"Understanding what they go through made it exciting for me to go to ballet," he says. "Thrilling, actually."

bruce greenwood image
Bruce Greenwood and Chi Cao took turns being teacher and student in Mao's Last Dancer (Aaron Lynett)
 

By Madeleine Marr

Bruce Greenwood is more than ready to branch out. The Canadian actor, 54, has been inhabiting stuffed shirts for way too long.

You've probably seen him play the president in National Treasure: Book of Secrets and JFK in Thirteen Days, or a security advisor in Rules of Engagement. This summer, Greenwood again put on the suit and tie in Dinner for Schmucks, playing a soulless corporate raider.

‘‘That's the kind of stuff that washes up at my door," the actor says from Mexico City, where he is filming the epic Cristiada, chronicling the Cristeros War. "They were all reasonable projects, but you have to be a little careful. There's a certain amount of overkill constantly playing the master of industry."

But, hey, sometimes you take what you can get: "There is a mortgage to pay," he says, chuckling.

So you may not recognize him in Mao's Last Dancer, directed by Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, Tender Mercies), out Friday.

In this fact-based drama about Chinese ballet dancer Li Cunxin, Greenwood plays Ben Stevenson, the artistic director of the Houston Ballet and Li's mentor. He loved the challenge of playing a gay former dancer, but some preparation was necessary.

"It was all about my cadence and pitch," Greenwood said about trying to imitate the actual man's voice. And as someone who had never done a plié, Greenwood had some physical homework.

‘‘I was pretty ignorant on the finer points," he admits. "But after watching the dancers, my respect for the discipline grew and grew. I learned on a fundamental level how difficult it is to even do the simplest of movements. It requires a fair amount of focus."

Another plus: Greenwood's wife is happy that she doesn't have to drag him to see, say, Swan Lake any more.

"Understanding what they go through made it exciting for me to go to ballet," he says. "Thrilling, actually."

And yes, it was nice not to be typecast.

"It felt real good getting out of pinstripes for a while," Greenwood adds. "I hopes this goes a little distance for stretching it out for me."

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