interview by JANA LETONJA

Actor and producer Kim Coates is the lead in the feature film ‘Double Down South’, which was released in theaters in January and will be hitting all digital platforms on 1st March. Kim has an impressive career spanning over 35 years and is best known for his role in the FX series ‘Sons of Anarchy’ and in the Citytv series ‘Bad Blood’.

Kim, you are the lead in ‘Double Down South’, a story set in the dangerous and shady world of illegal, high-stakes keno gambling in a run-down plantation house in the rural South at the turn of the 21st century. Tell us more about the story of this film and what excited you the most about it.
This movie was written and directed by Tom Shulman, who won the Oscar for Best Writing for ‘Dead Poets Society’ in 1990. So, Tommy really knows what he’s doing. When Tom was 15 years old, he would go to this decrepit, run-down mansion in Nashville, Tennessee with a couple of his older buddies who were 16 or 17. They had armed guards checking their IDs, but knowing that these kids were going to spend some money, they would be let in. Tom has said that what he saw with his own eyes and what he heard with his own ears, what was happening inside this mansion, he never forgot. It was frightening and he was deeply affected by what he witnessed there, the gambling, the women, everything that went down. He never ever forgot it, so during Covid he decided to put it down on paper. This movie is based on a true story, based on his own encounters. He wrote the character, Nick, with me in mind. I’ve been friends with Tom since 1995 and for him to offer me the role of Nick was not only like “Thank you so much,” but I knew that I would have to put my big boy’s pants on to play this guy. He’s a very dark individual. We pulled it off and it shows on the screen. It was an incredible story to tell and to be a part of. 

In the film, you portray Nick, a self-proclaimed ‘best keno player alive’. What was the most challenging thing about portraying Nick in this feature?
It’s a very deep question to try and answer. When you have parts like this and trust me, I’ve played a fair amount of bad boys and creepy individuals, it’s always about the writing for me. I have no interest in playing a one-note bad guy or even a two-note bad guy. I always try to find the humanity in every character I take on. Nick is an entrepreneur, a scary king snake of the clan, from the South in the 90s. His accent was beautiful to work on. The cowboy boots fit my persona so perfectly as Nick, we never took them off. 

We didn’t allow cell phones on set and we stayed in the mansion the entire time we were shooting the film. I had a physical impairment on my left hand, so my makeup artist, Austyn Cuccia, did an amazing job every day creating the appearance that my fingers had been chopped off at some point in the movie. But really, the hardest part was delving into his inner thoughts. There’s some very dark racism going on inside this man and those are as far away from Kim Coates as you can possibly imagine. So it was very difficult for me to encompass what Nick was thinking and feeling at certain times in this movie. But when you see the story unfold, whether you’re championing anything that Nick is doing or not, it comes full circle by the end of the two hours. I’m very proud to have been part of this film and to have played Nick in a way that people will talk about him for a long time after seeing this film. 

You’ve had an impressive carrer so far, starring also in the hit series ‘Sons of Anarchy’ and films such as ‘Resident Evil: Afterlife’ and ‘Black Hawk Down’ amongst others. Which role has been your most significant learning experience so far and why?
I’ve been fortunate to be part of many movies, TV shows and stage productions throughout my career. I don’t know if there’s one significant learning experience I’ve had so far, but there’s been many. Stage is different than television and both are different than the big screen. I enjoy and thrive working with different directors, female and male. Working with fellow actors is great too, although sometimes they can be prickly and I don’t put up with any of that. You know, some directors can be a bit controlling and they don’t let actors experience their own emotions, which in my opinion makes the film suffer. 

During ‘Black Hawk Down’, I asked Ridley Scott “How do you do this Ridley? How are you so on top of your game?”, and he said “Mate, when I hire people, I let them do their job.” Yes, Ridley had the director’s hat on during ‘Black Hawk Down’ and his nominations speak for himself,  but what he means is that he trusts his team to do their work and when you truly let an artist have that freedom, it makes for a very special experience. On our recent film ‘Double Down South’, the director and writer, Tommy Shulman, managed to strike that balance. He never stifled our creativity, allowing us to bring our own emotions and words to the big screen. I’m forever grateful to Tommy for giving us that freedom. I’m still learning as an actor and I believe that’s a crucial part of being in this business. You should never stop learning.

Who or what inspired you to become an actor?
I think it was just fate. My father was an amazing harmonica player and poet. He loved to write and he would sing all the time, so there was some artist going on inside of my pop. Not so much my mom, but definitely my dad. As a kid and even through high school, I wasn’t artistic either. I was such a jock and more into muscle cars. That was my life. When I got to university, I had plans to become a teacher, but then I decided to take an acting class just for fun. That was the first stroke of fate for me and that decision turned out to be a pivotal moment for me. I mean, I knew I’d meet girls in that class, but little did I know it would lead to something much bigger. 

After that acting class, I ended up being involved in 25 plays, which is pretty unheard of, including ‘Summerstock’. Tom Kerr, my mentor, and Susan Wright, an actress whose work and compassion blew my mind, both inspired me to continue on this path of becoming a professional actor. Both of them have passed away now, but their influence has stayed with me. And that’s why I’m talking to you guys today. It’s all worked out and I think a big part of that is because I’ve never been afraid to fail. Maybe that’s why I’ve never really failed.

What kind of roles present the biggest creative challenge and excitement to you, and why?
Well, it’s definitely comedy. I’ve always loved comedy, although I’m not sure for most people in the business and even my fans, comedy is the first thing that comes to mind when they think of Kim Coates. I’ve done so many dramatic, tough guy and heroic roles, but there’s something about comedy, especially dark comedy, and I’m right at home. I thrive on challenges. I love working on different accents and transforming my appearance,  getting fat or skinny for a role. I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot in this business, but I’m not ready to slow down anytime soon. 

In 2018, I did ‘Jerusalem’, one of the biggest plays on the planet, written by Jez Butterworth, with my daughter Brenna and an incredible cast in Toronto. We won every Canadian Tony that we could win on that play. It was a pretty intense experience, with the demanding accent and performing on stage for over three hours. That was pretty big, but that’s the kind of challenge I love. I love it all and I consider myself incredibly lucky to still be doing a job that I seem to thrive at and love doing.

With being in the industry for over 35 years, you’ve gotten to witness many changes. In your opinion, which recent changes are the most important ones that need to happen?
There have been a lot of changes in the industry over the past 40 years since I first started. From the mistakes and mishaps of the late 80s and early 90s to the safety measures in place now, although sadly, tragic accidents still occur on set, which should never happen. But I do think that the safety measures, especially in the stunt world, are better now than when I first began. Inclusivity is also incredibly important. People are now recognizing the diverse styles and talents of actors from all over the world and I think we’re doing a better job of being more inclusive. I think that excites me. 

On the other hand, these self-tape auditions that these incredible, young actors have to do regularly are quite challenging. It’s tough not to have the opportunity to meet the director or producer in person, not shaking their hands, which is something I was fortunate enough to do with Francis Ford Coppola, Joel Schumacher and Ridley Scott back in the day. Now it’s all about self-tapes and I’m not sure if it’s as good as the old way. There’s just so much happening now with social media and technology that didn’t exist back in the day. I guess it’s progress, but I really hope we don’t lose the root of being an actor and the core of what makes us all artists in this incredible world that relies on art. Hopefully wie’ll never be without art because that’s what makes human beings tick. 

In 2018, you returned to the theater after a 30-year break from the stage. How has it been stapping back onto the stage? What do you love the most about theater?
In 2018, I stepped back onto the stage. I performed Rooster Johnny Byron in the play ‘Jerusalem’, written by Jez Butterworth and directed by Mitchell Cushman, alongside Philip Riccio, my daughter Brenna and a bunch of other stellar, talented people in Toronto, Canada. Mark Rylance did the play in 2010, 2011 and 2012 in London and New York, and won numerous Tonys and the Lawrence Olivier Awards for his brilliant performance. I was lucky enough to experience it myself last summer in London when he returned to to the stage. He was amazing, brilliant. I found ‘Jerusalem’ to be one of the toughest experiences in my acting career. It’s over three hours long and the accent, the extensive dialogue, the style, the swearing and emotional depth is like nothing I’d ever done. In fact, I turned down the role for months until my daughter convinced me to read it and give it a chance. And I’m glad I did. 

Over the course of a year, I made five trips to London to meet with Mark Rylance and visited Pusey, Oxforshire with my friend Jerry Kunkler to immerse myself in the character. Jerry, who is from Pusey, and his pals were unbelievable. They invited me into their homes, worked on my accent and sat around the pub sharing stories of the real Rooster Byron. The hard work paid off when we won every Canadian Tony we were nominated for. There were nine and we won them all. While awards aren’t everything, it’s truly gratifying when your peers recognize the effort you and your team put into a production. Then you know you’re on the right track for success. I’ll never ever forget playing Rooster in ‘Jerusalem’. It feels like a fitting way to return to the stage. After tackling such a demanding role, I’m not sure if I’ll need to return to the stage again.

You are also passionate about supporting nonprofit organizations and participating in philanthropic activities. Which organizations and activities are the ones dearest to you and why?
As my public profile has grown over the past 20 or 30 years, I’ve come to realize that what really warms my heart is giving back. Whether it’s being recognized in public, shaking hands or taking selfies, I’m always happy to do those things. But what really brings me joy is being able to give back to various charities and causes. I’ve been fortunate to support numerous organizations over the years, from Creative Kids in Saskatchewan to Big Brothers Big Sisters in BC and Ontario, to my daughter Kyla’s One Heart Source in Tanzania, Africa. 

Actually, over a three year span, my ‘Sons of Anarchy’ co-stars and I raised around $400,000 for One Heart Source. I’ve also been involved in fundraising $3 million with Vaughn Wyant for Stars Ambulance in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and BC, among others. One cause that’s particularly close to my heart is the effort to provide an MRI machine for children in Saskatchewan and I’m proud to have been a part of raising funds for that initiative, along with the Synergy 8 guys. Additionally, I’ve been involved in supporting the Boot Campaign, which assists soldiers who work tirelessly to keep us safe. I’m truly grateful for the opportunity to contribute and I’m committed to continuing to help wherever and whenever I can. I believe that giving back is something we all should do, regardless of our status, and it shouldn’t even be a question of how much or when. Whether it’s supporting causes related to animals or any other worthy endeavor, there are so many things out there that need our help and I’m glad to be able to do my part.

What are your biggest passions in life outside of acting?
I absolutely love kicking back and watching the Masters golf tournament all by myself in a quiet motel or hotel room, with a bottle of red wine and some popcorn. No interruptions and phones turned off. That really gets me going. I’m also big on working out and enjoying the great outdoors, especially the mountains. Some people are ocean people, but I’m definitely a mountain man. I love traveling and spending time in my motor home. 

My family and friends mean everything to me. I try and live by the motto “I can’t tell you how to succeed, but I can tell you how to fail. By trying to please everyone.” It’s really hard to please everyone and I have so many good friends, I just hope they aren’t too pissed at me that I don’t see them as much as I should. I’m a people person through and through. I love hanging with my friends.  I’m also a big fan of sports, reading and being kind to others. We all should be more kind and loving towards one another and I’m committed to doing good things for Mother Nature. I’ve had a good life and it’s far from over. I’m deeply passionate about this world and continuing to make a positive impact.

What can you share with our readers about your upcoming projects?
Sometime towards the end of 2024, there’s a massive mini-series coming out on Netflix that I’ll be starring in. I can’t wait for the world to see it. It’s based on a true story from the mid 1800s and that’s all I can say about it. Besides that, I’ve also got a couple of projects lined up in Europe. 

‘Double Down South’ is a massively successful indie film that just opened in January 2024 in LA and across America. You’ll be able to catch it streaming on VOD on March 1st. We are still waiting for the international release date, so make sure to follow my socials to keep updated on that. I’m proud of the film and it’s the reason I’m here talking to all of you. 

all photography by BEN COPE