Doug Falconer has chased one dream after another. That’s his life story. Dream it. Live it.
There have been setbacks, but the free-spirited Falconer is a survivor, bouncing back from rejections and a massive heart attack that should have killed him in 2000. It’s been a charmed life, a Happily Ever After script that included dating a Miss Grey Cup, a Cosmopolitan cover girl and a Playboy playmate before settling into a 30-year marriage to ex-wife Louise — they’ve got two daughters, Taber and Quinn.
From a young age, Falconer wanted to be a football player. He won a Vanier Cup with the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees in 1975 and, the next year, a Grey Cup with the Ottawa Rough Riders. Later, he got into the movie industry. As a producer, his films have been nominated for eight Canadian screen awards, including Best Picture this year for Daughter of the Wolf. He’s worked with Nicolas Cage, Geoffrey Rush, Donald Sutherland, Kiefer Sutherland, Susan Sarandon, Demi Moore, Aaron Eckhart and Tommy Lee Jones among others.
“Chasing my dreams hasn’t been easy,” said Falconer. “I could have gotten into the financial business or real estate, I could have been a success doing that. But I chose a different route. I’ve always had it in my mind that the things that have happened for me would happen, I just had to keep going. I’ve always dreamed big.”
Now 68, Falconer is living in Ottawa, waiting out the COVID-19 pandemic in his Glebe home. He moved here in 2016 after living in Santa Monica for 35 years. His next film, The Fury, scheduled to begin shooting in Puerto Rico later this year, stars Ben Kingsley and Clint Eastwood’s son Scott.
Falconer was born in Calgary —his mom was Mavis, his dad Don served in World War II, then Korea. The family moved to Vancouver, back to Calgary, to Regina, then to Base Borden, an hour north of Toronto. After hitchhiking across Canada, he did his senior year of high school at Kingston’s La Salle Secondary School.
“I was kind of a prima donna,” said Falconer. “I showed up the first day (of practice for the La Salle football team) wearing white shoes. You couldn’t buy the shoes white, but Joe Namath was wearing them so I took a black pair and painted them white. I was a free spirit, a long-haired rebellious kid. I did what I’ve always done, soak up life and enjoy everything around me.”
Falconer went to St. Lawrence College, where he played basketball. Falconer’s dad died and his mom moved back to Calgary. A friend, Tommy Thompson, introduced him to Gee-Gees football coach Don Gilbert.
“I didn’t know what I was I going to do,” said Falconer. “I was working in a sporting good store and along comes the Ottawa U opportunity. It changed my life. Don Gilbert kind of took over from what my father was. He probably not only saved me, but I’m sure he saved others. It was a miracle for me.”
Said Gilbert: “He could have played several positions — he wanted to be a wide receiver, but we had Rocky DiPietro and Jeff Avery — we needed him as a defensive back.”
Falconer found success on the football field. Away from the field, with his long hair and Fu Manchu, he was a party waiting to happen.
“I was a hippie, the pot-smoking kid on the team,” said Falconer. “Don would have to come over to 656 King Edward Ave. on Mondays to see if I was still alive. I just loved it all. I was experiencing life.”
“Doug had more fun than you’re allowed,” said Gilbert. “He was a free spirit, that’s for sure, but not in a negative way. He kept people loose, he was always positive. He was a great kid, so likeable, good for team morale. He had a great attitude and he was an exceptional athlete.”
“I thought he was the coolest dude around,” said Miles Gorrell, a teammate of Falconer’s with the Gee-Gees and later the Calgary Stampeders. “He had the greatest moustache, the greatest hair. He walked with a strut. He was everything we aspired to be.”
Drafted by the Toronto Argos, Falconer was claimed on waivers by Ottawa. Falconer played in Calgary in 1977-78. He was dealt back to the Rough Riders, but was released. He wound up his career with Saskatchewan and Montreal.
“In my heart, I was done playing,” said Falconer. “I played a couple of games (in 1979), but I wasn’t the same. If my heart wasn’t in it, I wasn’t a good enough player to be effective. I needed all of me to be good.”
While sports were his meal ticket, Falconer also had huge interest in music and movies.
“I’d go to movies, I lived in the theatre,” he said. “Every base we went to, my father would moonlight as the theatre projectionist. So I got into movies for free. You can go to all the film schools you want, but I couldn’t have gotten a better education in movies. As a kid, my dream to end up (being involved in movies) that was as big as my dream was to become a professional football player.”
In 1981, he packed up and headed to California.
“I think everyone knew I was headed to Hollywood,” said Falconer. “I’m a huge fan of John Lennon. My posts always say, ‘Lots of love, peace and Imagine, too.’ So I’m watching Monday Night Football (Dec. 8, 1980). Howard Cosell comes on and makes the announcement that John Lennon has been killed. There and then, I said, ‘Life’s too short.’ Within a month, I was on a bus to Buffalo so I could get a plane to L.A. I had maybe $1,000. I know nobody, not a soul there.”
When he ran out of money, he found a job in a “boiler room,” getting up at 5 each morning using high-pressure sales tactics to sell ink toner, using a fake name — Ben McBride. The job lasted eight or nine months, long enough for him to buy a used MG to get around town. He was also going to acting classes and modelling and made money as a photographer.
On the verge of a breakthrough as an actor, he thought he had the lead in an HBO series, The Hitchhiker. But the decision-makers instead went with Page Fletcher. He thought he had a big part in Nightmare on Elm Street 3, that also fell through. The misses started to add up.
“It was devastating,” said Falconer. “I was thinking, ‘This f—ing business sucks.’ I’d get to the final five, it’d be me, Richard Gere, Tom Berenger, I was at that level. I was one of the last guys for Miami Vice — the role went to Don Johnson. It was one after another, that’s what the industry is, it’s rejection. My wife was pregnant, I had to work.”
Selling cars became his money-maker. He got a job at Walker-Buerge Ford, working there for a year, then set his sights higher. He walked into W.I. Simonson Mercedez-Benz and emptied a gym bag full of Best Salesman plaques on the manager’s desk and landed a job that would pay him $200,000 a year from 1989-94.
“It was like selling a house every day,” said Falconer. “My clients were people like Shaquille O’Neal, Cher, Mel Gibson, movie mogul guys … anybody who was anybody in L.A. at the time.”
But it wasn’t his end game. He worked for a multimedia company which produced large corporate events. He then got back into the movie business on the “money side” — production. For his first film, Trail of a Serial Killer, he raised money and got the title of executive producer. He told his wife that he wanted to chase this as a full-time career. Falconer Pictures was born in 1998.
“He always worked very hard with what he had and it carried over to his business opportunities — he worked his ass off and he could talk,” said Gorrell. “It’s kind of cool that’s he a Hollywood producer. He still hangs out with the same guys, the same bunch of us from Ottawa U and he’s not above us. It’s nice that some people don’t forget where they’re from.”
“There are so many parallels to being a producer and being in sports,” said Falconer. “The producer is the GM. You take a project from its script, raise development money, hire a casting director, start casting, bring in the crew — you oversee the entire thing. You have to bring them in on time and on budget. You’re the guy.”
In August of 2000, he was playing roller hockey at the beach. He felt intense pain in his chest, like nothing he’d experienced. He drove himself six blocks to the hospital.
“I was 48, I had captained a world championship (inline hockey team) in 1998, I was celebrating the fact I had just outlived my father,” said Falconer. “There was a heavy pain. I thought, ‘What the f–k was that?’ I sat down by the wall, I wasn’t feeling well. As soon as I tried to get back into the game, I didn’t feel right, I knew something was wrong.”
The surgeon later told him it was called The Widowmaker, a massive blockage of the main artery.
“If I hadn’t gotten to the hospital when I did, I was absolutely done,” said Falconer. “You have the event, then you go through this mortality thing. I became sort of the Lance Armstrong of UCLA, speaking to older people that life wasn’t over when this happens. When I came out of that hospital, the sky was never bluer. I felt like the luckiest guy in the world. I called up my twin brother Don, ‘Donnie, you need to go see a cardiologist.’ He blew it off. Months later, the same thing happened to him and he died.”
Falconer splits time between his Ottawa home and whatever set location he flies off to. He’s also heavily involved in the University of Ottawa’s 1881 Football Alumni Association, a program (chaired by Neil Lumsden) he helped launch three years ago — there are 130 governors, representing six decades of Gee-Gees.
“I don’t think any of us are surprised he ended up doing something like this for a living,” said Lumsden. “We see a little bit of the flair once in awhile, he enjoys life, but he was a really good football player … we shouldn’t forget that.”
Said Falconer: “Somebody talked to me recently and said, ‘Let me get this straight … you played on a Vanier Cup champion, you’re a Grey Cup champion, you’re in two Hall of Fames, you played on a world championship roller hockey team and you’ve been nominated for eight Canadian screen awards.’ When I think about it, to check off all the boxes I have, I’m so grateful and thankful.’ I’ve had a lot of fun. I’m a free spirit, always have been. That’s just who I am.”
LEANING ON LENNON: Lyrics from a John Lennon song, Imagine, are ringing pretty true for Doug Falconer these days.
A Vanier Cup champion (with the 1975 Ottawa Gee-Gees) and Grey Cup champion (with the 1976 Ottawa Rough Riders) and now a successful movie producer, Falconer lived in Santa Monica for 35 years, chasing his Hollywood dreams. He’s also a music freak, going back to the late 1950s and the genesis of the folk era, with its great harmonies. He grooved to bands like the Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers, Poco, The Eagles, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Buffalo Springfield. One of his good buddies is Art Podell of the New Christy Minstrels.
Talking about the COVID-19 pandemic, Falconer leaned on some words from Lennon, the former Beatle, to sum up his thoughts: “We as an entire world are more dependent on each other now than we have ever been. This virus is faceless, raceless, sexless, nondenominational and bipartisan, so let’s take care of each other and stay at home. This will pass hopefully sooner than later.
“As one of my heroes wrote a half a century ago ‘Imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do. Imagine all the people living life in peace, it’s easy if you try.’ What he wrote was serious business, folks. Now is also the time to tell those most close to us that you love them. I read recently that Mother Nature has sent us all to our rooms to think about what we’ve done. Maybe a good time to reflect. Life is precious.”
THE BIG PICTURE
Here are some of the movies Doug Falconer has been involved with (and project that’s coming up):
My Bollywood Bride (2009, starring Jason Lewis): “It was one of the first Bollywood/Hollywood co-ventures. It tells the story of a copy writer who meets and romances an Indian beauty who’s vacationing in California.”
The Warrior’s Way (2011, starring Geoffrey Rush and Kate Bosworth): “A warrior-assassin is forced to hide in a small town in the American Badlands after refusing a mission.”
Forsaken (2015, starring Kiefer Sutherland, Donald Sutherland, Demi Moore and Brian Cox and nominated for five Canadian screen awards): “It’s like High Noon or Shane. In 1872, an embittered gunslinger tries to make amends with his estranged father while their community is besieged by ruthless land-grabbers.”
Ace the Case (2016, starring Oscar winner Susan Sarandon): “It’s a light family film. A 10-year-old girl, home with her older brother, witnesses her neighbour’s kidnapping. No one believes her so she takes matters into her own hands.”
Humanity Bureau (2017, starring Oscar winner Nicolas Cage): “It’s a suspense/action thriller. Set in the year 2030, the world is in a permanent state of economic recession and facing serious environmental problems as a result of global warming. The world is coming to an end and Nicolas Cage is there to save it.”
Daughter of the Wolf (2019, starring Oscar winner Richard Dreyfuss and Gina Carano): “A military veteran hunts the men who kidnapped her son.”
Wander (2020, starring Aaron Eckhart, Oscar winner Tommy Lee Jones, Katheryn Winnick and Heather Graham): “Hired to probe a suspicious death in the small town of Wander, a mentally unstable private investigator is convinced the case is linked to the same cover up that caused the death of his daughter.”
Why Should White Guys Have all the Fun (scheduled to be made in 2021, with Jamie Foxx signed to star): “It’s the story of Reginald Lewis. Every kid should know who he is – the first African American billionaire in the United States. He came from the mean streets of Baltimore and figured out how to get to Harvard, then had the first black law office on Wall Street and was involved in a takeover of Beatrice Foods.”