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EMBRACING WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO BE HATED…ON SCREEN

Canadian actor PJ Johal is an affable and charming person. It’s disturbing to watch him as Farid Singh in “The Guard.” It’s almost like seeing someone’s evil twin. Statements like this during an interview cause Johal to smile, which is disconcerting in its own way due to his portrayal of Singh. The duplicitous character in this Canadian drama series is someone whom most viewers would find despicable, which again makes the actor smile. Being so pleasant in his personal life and so menacing on screen means that he is doing his job properly.  An actor must believe that the evil intentions of their character are based in as much truth and reality as the inclination in helping or saving someone. The difference is that one is insane but the character only judges logical actions/reasoning within the given circumstances of the character’s life and environment. “The Guard” is a Canadian television production about the heroic men and women of the Canadian Coast Guard…and heroes need a villain. Farid was one of the most hated characters to appear on the show, and therefore a favorite among other cast members, writers, and the production team. This celebrated TV show has been on the air for nearly a decade and has won numerous recognitions including Leo and Gemini awards. The success and notoriety of this program also meant acclaim for PJ in his portrayal, which is yet another reason you’ll find this actor smiling a lot.



The character of Farid was woven throughout the season of the show as he was at the heart of one of main character’s self-torture. Singh is a man hungry with greed and his own vested interests. He designs a plan and murders his whole family (including his infant daughter and toddler son) in a staged accident in order to collect the insurance money. The lead protagonist is haunted by this gruesome event, blaming himself for being unable to rescue the children. Recurring nightmares torture him for a year until Farid’s sister-in-law provides information that suggests and eventually proves the tragedy wasn’t an accident but rather murders committed by Singh. Confronted, Farid attempts to take his own life but is saved him and brought to legal justice.

On the surface it is hard to think of a character more abhorrent to most people; a man who takes the life of his own family for personal gain. The challenge of an actor is to bring life and depth to the character. If someone like Farid was portrayed constantly as the worst parts of himself, body language and facial expressions included, the story would be flat and predictable. For a character whose moral ground is as repugnant as this, Johal had to do a lot of work searching for a reason that the patriarch of this doomed family would commit such actions. PJ confirms the requirement of an actor in this role is to find a way to be on the side of the villain. The character’s life story, his ambitions, his goals, all are necessary to create a fully realized and believable human…who is despicable. The actor relates, “To a certain extent you have to abandon your own moral and ethical compass for this type of character, otherwise you find yourself in a constant battle which has no place in playing such a character. You don’t live it or carry it beyond the work because you’re a professional, not crazy. Ha. Farid was interesting to say the least. His arc was disturbing, covert, malicious and truly evil…exacerbated by the fact that he positioned himself as a victim. Playing him was like being a double agent and then doubling that. Farid was seeking control but never by honorable means. His entire life was constructed around his perceived needs and desires of his parents/family. He was actually a coward. He would never have a face to face confrontation in an honest manner. He needed to be in the shadows and inflict his terror, which he did from an early age orchestrating the death of his baby sister’s drowning in a tub. He felt no responsibility for anyone’s life but his own, only then could someone like this murder their wife and infant son by driving his car into a lake.”

Beyond the experience of playing such a dark character, his appearances in “The Guard” afforded Johal the chance to do something he had not done extensively prior to this production…action/stunt work. The actor confirms that his respect for both actual members of the Coast Guard and stunt actors increased greatly as a result of this. The paramount plot point for Farid was the “accident” scene in which his family drowns. The comfort of the hot tub (provided by the producers of the show to avoid his freezing) was a much appreciated accoutrement to the filming of this scene due to the freezing water on location. A crash sequence in one scene resulted in debris whirling all around the actor, and of course the suicide scene in which he is eventually saved by the Coast Guard themselves was equally precarious. Even in these controlled environments, keeping one’s focus in these surroundings is challenging.

Everyone wants to be the hero, except for PJ Johal. Those who know him will tell you that he is incredibly positive and naturally funny. “Becoming” Farid Singh was almost like a vacation for Johal…one to a very dark place. As an actor with decades of work to his credit which varies from major network productions to feature films to Indie films and almost everything in between, this is what an actor does. Most of us travel somewhere warm and tropical but PJ Johal finds the darkest recesses of the human mind and becomes an entirely different type of person…all for your entertainment.

EMBRACING WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO BE HATED…ON SCREEN Reviewed by JaamZIN on 5:09:00 AM Rating: 5
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