It’s a Thursday night, and Calgary’s most beloved hobby shop, The Sentry Box, is buzzing with activity and excitement. No, the fuss isn’t over a fantasy miniatures sale or a high-stakes Magic: The Gathering tournament. Something much more special is going on — they’re shooting a movie here.
As the steadi-cam operator descends the store’s notoriously creaky staircase, its lens zeroes in on the face of veteran actor-comedian Brian Posehn. He’s standing behind the sales counter, muttering ad libs into a telephone in his characteristic laconic drone. Any unscripted noise could spoil the take, and quite a few off-camera personnel are visibly laughing — at least until the director says “Cut!” and dozens of repressed chuckles are let out with relief.
The film is called Lloyd the Conquerer, and judging by the cast list alone, the crew must have had plenty of practise choking back belly laughs. In addition to Posehn, the cast boasts several legends of Canadian comedy, such as Harland Williams and Mike Smith, the latter best known to the world as Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys.
Since Lloyd the Conquerer is centred on the gloriously geeky pastime of Live Action Role Playing — or larping, for those in the know — these already-hilarious performers get the chance to ham it up in full role-play gear, including sackcloth robes, plate armour and foam rubber battle axes. The film even boasts what might very well be the first centaur versus unicorn battle ever to be filmed in live action. Smith — who plays the back half of the centaur — shrugs at the memory of what must have been a profoundly surreal filmmaking experience.
“I was just pretending I was in Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” he says.
The younger cast members are clearly delighted to be working with such high-powered comedy professionals. Degrassi’s Evan Williams (here, playing the heroic Lloyd) has most of his scenes opposite up-and-coming standup comics Scott Patey and Jesse Reid; it’s a recurring challenge to keep a straight face while the two clowns riff off of one another. There are physical challenges as well, and Evan ruefully points out the blood-red spot on his eyeball, an injury he sustained during one of the battle scenes when he took a badly aimed Nerf sword to the face.
Still, nothing dampens his good mood as the Toronto-based actor enjoys returning to his childhood home of Calgary to make this one-of-a-kind motion picture.
“There’s a real feeling of togetherness,” he says of the cast and crew.
This is later proved, when the other cast members gather to chat. In fact, we all get so wrapped up in cheerful conversation that a production assistant comes over to politely shush us. Reid’s running gag is to suddenly “recognize” his co-stars, and shout out their various film achievements in front of me.
“Oh my God! Weren’t you in Slap Shot 3?” he yells, galloping up to Patey like a lovestruck tween at a Justin Bieber concert.
Patey grins, and returns the favour: “Hey yeah, weren’t you the kid at the newsstand in Watchmen?”
Lovely actress Tegan Moss seems contentedly accustomed to all the manly horseplay going on around the set. She delivers the rather surprising news that her character, Cassandra, is an ex-cage fighter on probation for using unnecessary cruelty in the ring. (Whoa, really? But she seems like such a nice girl!)
“We have a lot of men in skimpy outfits in this movie, and they really appreciated the hot weather,” she says. “I thought I was going to be in the skimpy outfit, but I’ve got the most clothes of the shoot!”
Back inside the shop, the final shot of the day is going on. It’s marvelous how recognizable everything is — it has barely been changed at all. Lloyd the Conquerer, after all, is not only filmed in Calgary, but is set here, and you can’t make a movie about larping in Calgary without a visit to The Sentry Box.