Interview with lead actor Sheldon Bergstrom
Author: Melinda Nagy
Sheldon Bergstrom is a very talented singer, actor, and comedian from Prince Albert, SK, who landed the role of Rob Ford in Rob Ford: the Musical in Toronto this year.
Bergstrom has acted on film, television, theatre, and overseas for the Canadian Armed Forces in Croatia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf.
According to Bergstrom`s S Files Biography, he is “a versatile performer, [who] has received acclaim for his work in the country music industry and was awarded the Most Promising Entertainer by the Saskatchewan Country Music Association in 2002. He has also had the honour of being the Master of Ceremonies for several years for Prince Albert’s Country North Show.”
You might know him as Todd the police officer from Corner Gas or the host of Telemiracle. According to his S Files Biography, Bergstrom is a man of many talents, including voiceover work, singing in an array of different genres, speaking in different dialects, stage combat, dance lifts, most sports, juggling, and baton twirling.
Graciously, Bergstrom let the Carillon interview him about his acting career and his most recent role in Toronto’s Rob Ford: the Musical.
Melinda Nagy: Do you consider yourself an established actor or is this role in Rob Ford the Musical your big break?
Sheldon Bergstrom: I have been fortunate enough to work fairly steadily as an actor for the past 20 years, so I suppose you could consider me established. But, the Rob Ford: the Musical has given me exposure on a different level, so I am hoping it will create bigger opportunities.
MN: Have you had any formal voice or acting training and where?
SB: I had a wonderful drama teacher, Russ Ramsden, in elementary and high school in Saskatoon, and he provided me with my training in my formative years. But otherwise, no, I have not had any formal training.
MN: Most professional artists find that income is a problem. Do you feel you have achieved enough success to maintain a steady income for your family? Did you family come with you to Toronto for the run of the musical?
SB: I think it is a challenge for any actor, especially one who works primarily in theatre, to maintain a steady income. It is an ongoing challenge. My wife did come out to see opening night of the production, but she could not come to Toronto for the duration of the contract as she has a full-time job in Regina.
MN: You are a very personable person, but occasionally you choose to play bad guys. Why do you do this? Was Rob Ford a challenge and why?
SB: The farther a character is from your true self, the more exciting and challenging they are to play. And playing Rob Ford was definitely a challenge, as it is always more difficult to play real life people rather than fictional characters.
MN: I know that you teasingly told friends that if Rob Ford the Musical was ever created, you wanted to play Rob Ford. Did you have any idea at that time that this dream would come true? Has your dream turned out the way you expected?
SB: I had no idea when I joked about wanting to play Rob Ford in a show that it would actually happen. And it has been an incredible experience; even better than I expected.
MN: You have been very loyal to Saskatchewan productions. I know you lived in Ontario for some time before returning home to Prince Albert. Has living in Saskatchewan opened up more opportunities for you or reduced them?
SB: I have lived in BC, Alberta, Ontario, and, of course, Saskatchewan. There are always going to be those opportunities that you miss out on because you live in the wrong city or you were away working when an audition was happening. So, I don’t think moving back to Saskatchewan has changed anything one way or the other. More and more theatre companies are accepting video auditions now, as well, so where you are based is becoming less important.
MN: Did you receive flack as Rob Ford because you were from Saskatchewan, or did the Toronto news and audience sympathize with you and the musical more because of your roots?
SB: I don’t think my being from Saskatchewan affected people’s opinions about me. However, it was helpful when the media wanted to ply me with political questions about who I would be voting for to be able to say I wasn’t eligible to vote in Toronto!
MN: Does this role typecast you or does it open up the opportunity for more prestigious roles?
SB: I don’t think it will typecast me, and I am hopeful that it will open up more opportunities.
MN: How does it feel to live in Rob Ford’s “musical” shoes for the last few weeks?
SB: I have had the time of my life. I am working with some of the most talented artists in Canada, and I consider myself to be incredibly blessed to have had this experience.”
MN: Do you feel your portrayal aided or harmed Rob Ford’s popularity with Torontonians?
SB: I don’t think my portrayal changed anyone’s mind about Rob Ford. If they liked him before, they will continue to support him, and if they were against him, they will stay that way. We pick on pretty much everyone in the show, so I don’t think we make any kind of political statement for or against Rob Ford.
MN: Did you have the opportunity to interact with the Ford family?
SB: I did try to reach out to them, and we held two seats for them every night at the show, but unfortunately they did not take us up on it, so I was never able to meet any of them.
MN: How has this role changed you?
SB: It is a project that I am incredibly proud of and has been one of the greatest experiences of my career.
MN: What’s next for you?
SB: Heading home and spending some time with my family!
MN: I noticed your blog and your biography on your website has not been updated since 2009 when you literally “Broke your leg” during a production and had to go through rehab. If you updated your notes now, what would you say?
SB: Yes, I really should update that! I’ve done some amazing shows and worked with incredible people over the past five years, and I never could have done it without the wonderful support of my family and friends.
MN: What would you say to University students studying voice, acting, or other fine arts who look up to you as a successful Saskatchewan star?
SB: It is harder than you can possibly imagine to try and have a career as an artist. And, there are many elements that are beyond your control. You will miss weddings, funerals, birthdays, and holidays. Some people will understand, and others will not. And, every other day you will question whether this is really the path you want to be on. But, if it is, then fight to make the most of it. Be proactive, be diligent, and when you get the job, be the kind of artist that people want to work with again. That is how you build a career.
As Bergstrom states in reference to Rob Ford the Musical, “The entire run of the show was completely sold out and the audiences seemed to love it. The producers are very happy with the results.”
Clearly, Rob Ford the Musical, which ended on Sept. 28, ended on a very high note.