Montreal’s National Theatre School graduate stars in one of Canada’s most watched television shows; now seen in 96 countries

“I knew that I wanted to be an actor and writer when I was just 9 years old – and I consider that I was fortunate to have this realization at such a young age.” Allan Hawco is the creator, lead writer, executive producer and star of CBC’s hit television show Republic of Doyle. In the lead role as Jake Doyle, a private investigator in St. John’s, Newfoundland; Allan and his colleagues on both sides of the camera have won the hearts of over one million viewers across Canada. Republic of Doyle is well into its third season and Allan is putting the final editing touches on the remaining episodes – even as he begins to formulate the scripts for the program’s next season.

It’s a long way from life in Goulds, Newfoundland; where Allan was the youngest of Mike and Mary Hawco’s four children. “My Dad worked on the ferry service and was a part time fisherman. My grandfather was the skipper of a fishing boat when he was just fifteen; and it amazes me that he had much older men – and hard men at that – follow him out to sea. Fishing is a hard life, and when things in my life get difficult; I remind myself that I could be beating the ice off the side of a boat in February.”

“I went to a Catholic school, and I can remember watching a rehearsal for the Christmas pageant. Without thinking – I went up to the nun who was directing the other kids in the play, and started whispering in her ear about some improvements she could make.

While she did give me a bit of a strange look – she realized that I was right. And without being boastful about it – I was.”

“I knew that I didn’t want to be a fisherman. I knew that I didn’t want to be a hockey player. I knew that I didn’t want to do Tae Kwon Do. I knew that I wanted to be an actor.” Allan continues; “Like a lot of actors – I didn’t really fit in. I was active – I participated; but there was always a part of me that was off to the side – watching.”

Allan continues; “I’ve always had a lot of energy – perhaps an excessive amount of it. I played hockey, did Tae Kwan Do, was in the drama club, head of the Student Council, and all the while working about forty hours per week at part time jobs.” Allan describes his first job; “For some reason, when I was twelve, I wanted to get a job without my Dad’s help – not that we had any kind of conflict, but just to have been able to do it myself.” Allan’s first job was on a farm, cleaning out stalls and driving a tractor. “I really enjoyed saving my money, and I continued to work at grocery store after school. Holidays meant that I could put in a full day.”

Allan’s older brother had two friends who each played a significant role in Allan’s life. “My brother played ball hockey with Tony Duffanias and Alan Doyle. Tony taught Grade 9 and was the drama teacher. He knew about my love of acting and asked that I come to see him when I got to Grade 9.”

Alan Doyle went on to be one of the founding partners of Great Big Sea, the musical group that tours the world and maintains their home base in St’ John’s. “Alan has been both a friend and mentor for me.” It was Doyle’s friendship with actor Russell Crowe was partly responsible for Crowe’s appearance in the third season’s premiere show of Republic of Doyle.

“I took a detour after high school and went to study business at Memorial University – it seemed like a good idea at the time.” It wasn’t. Allan drifted in and out of classes – and eventually dropped out altogether. He was acting in productions in St. John’s and director Danielle Irvine suggested that he audition for the National Theatre School in Montreal. “It was actually my girlfriend that filled in the forms and sent them in with the $25 application fee.”

Allan was one of several thousand applicants vying for one of thirteen student places available at Canada’s famous acting school. “They flew me in for an audition, and I thought it went really well. Sometimes you just know that you’ve nailed it – and I just knew that I’d be accepted. I could feel it in the room after my audition. But – then I didn’t hear from them.”  A month went by and Allan finally called; to learn that he’d been accepted and the FedEx package had been sent to his home. “In Newfoundland, we don’t use the front door a lot. Sure enough – there was the FedEx package between the doors…”

“Your entire focus for the three year program at the National Theatre School is to study to be an artist. There’s no degree – you either get kicked out or you graduate. They want you to stay away from theatre during the summers to give yourself a break – but I went home every summer and did a play. I needed the money to help pay back my student loans.” Not only did Allan graduate – he quickly earned roles in stage and film productions.

He has an impressive list of theatre credits, Hawco has worked in several established Canadian theatres, including the title role in Romeo and Juliet; (Shakespeare Works) and Richard III (RCA Theatre in St. John’s) as well as The Shape of Things (Canadian Stage Co.), The Cripple of Innishman (Centaur Theatre; Dir: Ben Barnes), Salt Water Moon (Segal Centre) Macbeth (Festival of Classics), You Are Here (Theatre Passe Muraille); La Ronde and Present Laughter (SoulPepper Theatre).

Allan and Philip Riccio formed The Company Theatre in Toronto; and from their first production (Whistle In The Dark), the company has won critical acclaim for its productions – and Allan’s acting. He starred in the 2009 production of Festen which won three Dora Wards, including Outstanding Production of a Play.

Allan’s television and film career was also building successfully. He starred in the The Movie Network eight part series; ZOS: Zone of Separation; the CBC political thriller H2O and its sequel Trojan Horse; and the WWII drama Above and Beyond – again for the CBC. Allan’s early success with CBC proved to be advantageous when he and his partners approached the network with their idea for Republic of Doyle.

At the same time – Allan was making his movie debut in 2008 as a supporting lead in Sir Richard Attenborough’s Closing the Ring with Christopher Plummer and Shirley MacLaine. His 2010 portrayal of a young genealogist/poet in Love & Savagery won an ACTRA nomination for Outstanding Male Performance.

Allan and his business partners Perry Chafe and Malcolm MacRury approached CBC with the concept of Republic of Doyle, and they haven’t looked back. The show is a runaway hit for the partners’ company Take The Shot Productions and the national television network.

Allan maintains his involvement with The Company Theatre in Toronto, and doesn’t consider that television and theatre is an either/or choice. “The live performance aspect of the stage is invigorating and challenging. You’re out there in front of the audience and there are no do-overs.”

“At the same time – I’m enjoying the success we’re having with Republic of Doyle. I appreciate my good fortune and that I’m able to do this in my hometown of St. John’s.” It was partly through Alan Doyle’s friendship with Russell Crowe that the Oscar-winning actor agreed to a role in this season’s premiere episode. “Russell was in a half a dozen scenes – this was no cameo appearance! I remember thinking; ‘Russell Crowe is on our set – how good is that?’ He agreed because we asked him.”

Allan Hawco is enjoying his success, and during the course of our interview it became evident that the actor’s feet are firmly planted on the ground. Perhaps it’s because he lives in his native St. John’s; where people admire his achievements, but where their ‘down home’ values will keep him down to earth.

Because he’s in the daily action of the show’s preparation, filming and marketing – Allan may not fully appreciate the importance of his enthusiasm and leadership in the continuing success of Republic of Doyle. Perhaps there is a parallel between the young actor/writer/producer and the fifteen year-old captain who led much older men out to sea.

“I’m lucky – I could be beating ice off the side of a boat in February.” Bravo!

Republic of Doyle airs on CBC television at 9pm on Wednesdays.