Don Cherry says new CBC biopic doesn’t pull any punches: ‘I was selfish’

TORONTO – In his usual role as the outspoken star of CBC’s “Coach’s Corner,” Don Cherry is hardly shy about going after players for lousy sportsmanship or half-hearted play.

So when CBC-TV decided to shoot a biopic of Cherry’s life, he didn’t want the film to pull any punches. “A couple producers said: ‘Jeez, (you) don’t look too good in this,”‘ Cherry told The Canadian Press on Tuesday as the CBC unveiled its winter television schedule at the network’s Toronto headquarters.

“There’s no lying about it. I guess I was a selfish guy. … I only thought of myself, I never thought of the family a lot – that’s the way it comes out (in the film). It’s tough to see yourself like that, but that’s the way it was.”

“Keep Your Head Up Kid: The Don Cherry Story” will debut March 28 and 29.

Written by Cherry’s son, Timothy, the film follows the man nicknamed Grapes from his youth as an aspiring hockey pro through the 16 seasons he spent toiling in the minors, uprooting his family again and again, before he found success as a coach and, eventually, a TV personality.

Jared Keeso (“I Love You, Beth Cooper”) plays Cherry in the film. The 25-year-old native of Listowel, Ont., says he grew up playing junior hockey and staying up on Saturday nights to watch “Coach’s Corner.”

While he calls Cherry an “icon,” Keeso also praises the flamboyantly clad commentator for his honest lack of vanity with the more unflattering material.

“The good thing about Don that really speaks to his character is that he just wanted the truth told,” he said. “He didn’t want anything sugar-coated. He wanted it exactly like it was.”

To try to attain that realism, Keeso studied tape and trained with vocal coaches in the hopes of nailing Cherry’s inimitable delivery.

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“It was a ton of work to prepare for,” Keeso said. “It’s the biggest role of my life to date and I’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger one.”

He didn’t, however, receive any advice from Cherry himself.

Cherry says the movie was shot while he was away covering the playoffs, and he only made it to the set for two weeks near the end.

“I think they were happy I wasn’t (there), that way I didn’t bother them,” the genial Cherry said with a laugh.

Cherry has only seen bits and pieces of the production, but praised everyone involved, saying that producers did a “terrific job.”

But the 75-year-old really raved about Sarah Manninen’s portrayal of his late wife Rose, who died of cancer in 1997.

“She looks just like her,” Cherry said. “(She) even had the little accent that (Rose) had from Pennsylvania. It was quite emotional, I’ll tell ya.

“I haven’t seen the movie, but I would imagine it will be really something that the girl, Sarah, looks so much like Rose. It’s going to be tough.”

Brief clips previewed by CBC on Tuesday indicated that the production would indeed extend beyond Cherry’s life on the ice and behind the bench to his life at home.

“It is actually a tribute to Rose, it’s not a tribute to me,” Cherry said.

But he’ll hold off on seeing the finished product. Cherry says he’s not going to take in a preview copy of the film on DVD because he’d prefer to catch it with the rest of Canada.

“I’m going to wait and see it at the same time as everybody else,” he said.

“I’m going to be in the basement by myself, and I’ll cry and laugh – I guess at the same time.”