Alison Garwood Jones

The nearness of you

May 16, 2011

One of the things I like best about journalism is how it shrinks the phenomenon of Six Degrees of Separation — the idea that we’re all six steps away from any other person on earth — right down to zero so that one day you find yourself standing face-to-face with Kevin Bacon and asking him all sorts of impertinent questions about his personal life and career.

I haven’t met Bacon, yet, but I have stood close enough to Robert Kennedy Jr. to study the parrots on his tie and ask him questions about growing up Kennedy. He said when he was a kid his mom would send him outside when he complained of feeling sick. “She thought the sun cured everything.”

I noticed he wore the parrot tie again in a photo shoot for New York Magazine:

(Photo: Jason Schmidt)

I’ve also sat beside the late great Dame Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop. She smelled like vanilla. I asked her tons of questions about her human rights activism as she squeezed my arm red to emphasize the changes that were needed in the world. I liked her immediately and I miss her influence.

Later, stuffed in a back room with Paris Hilton, the heiress stretched her arms up over her head half way through our interview and squealed out a yawn before telling me, “I have to pee.” Was it something I said?

When I met the lithe Liz Hurley, she scanned me from top to bottom and remarked in a plummy accent, “Good God, you’re tall. Are you Dutch?” I’m not, and we sat down for a nice lunch and a chat about Hugh Grant. He lives down the street from her in London, and is god father to her son. Frankly, I think they’ve been married in spirit since they first laid eyes on each other.

When I met my writing hero Gay Talese, he had me at hello.

(Photo: Joyce Tenneson)

Gay smiled at me, just like he’s doing in the picture above, then asked me my name. “Alison,” I replied, with a grin so wide you would have thought two coat hangers were pulling back the corners of my mouth.”And your last name?” he asked. “Wait! Don’t tell me,” he interjected. “You”ll probably change it!” — like I was about to get married, or something. I ended up talking with New York’s biggest flirt about the challenges of the writing life, being an editor at Elle and what it was like to be so tall.

Back when I was an art historian, I shared a desk at the Smithsonian with Alex Nemerov, the nephew of legendary photographer,  Diane Arbus (Nicole Kidman played her in a 2006 film). Alex kept nudging me, saying I was space hog with my books and papers and once left me a sweet note with a volume on “Manifest Destiny” to make his point. Today he’s an art history professor at Yale.

Diane Arbus, “Identical Twins,” Roselle, New Jersey, 1967

Years later, I spent an afternoon with actor Peter Keleghan that was just plain silly. I loved every minute of the interview and photo shoot with the star of The Newsroom, Made in Canada and most recently 18-to-Life. No one, except maybe Alec Baldwin, is as good as Keleghan at playing vain and fatuous characters. He even played one on Seinfeld.


“Wait, I gotta get the lint off.” (Photo: Evan Dion)

Three weeks ago, when I was in New York, I had dinner with a friend who had lunch the week before with Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google, and his wife Anne Wojcicki. My friend is a neuroscientist specializing in Parkinson’s research and Wojcicki is the founder of 23andMe, a genetic testing company funded in part by Google. Brin is looking to genomics for a cure for Parkinson’s. His mother has the disease and so may he one day.

Unlike my friend, I haven’t met Brin. Yet. But maybe, just maybe, I can write my way towards him.

That’s the beauty of journalism.


Hitting his stride

May 1, 2005

Canadian actor Peter Keleghan is grateful for the lessons he’s learned

It’s not hard to imagine actor Peter Keleghan as a rural Quebecois version of Father Ralph de Bricassart, that broad-shouldered Catholic priest from the Thorn Birds whose struggle between his calling and his carnal desires kept prime time television audi- ences glued to their sets in the early eighties.

It almost happened, says Keleghan, 45, a native of St. Bruno, Quebec. Until his early teens, Keleghan served mass every day—that is, until he found out his mother’s side of the family had reserved a spot for him in a seminary in Ireland. “I visited the parish priest and we had a talk,” he recalls. About girls. Father Nicholas’s eyes widened, a flurry of letters ensued and the church lost a recruit.

Since trading in the security of religion for the uncertainty of acting, Keleghan, a three-time Gemini Award winner best known for his starring roles in CBC’s The Newsroom and Made in Canada, has developed a healthy, almost holistic, view of the actor’s fluctuating existence. Diligence and preparation define his approach to every project. But it goes beyond memorizing lines and analyzing character motivation. It’s an overall approach to mind and body that Keleghan has cobbled together through trial and error, and it’s helped him to deliver his best as a performer while allowing him to recover more quickly when he hasn’t.

The trial and error began in his mid-twenties when Keleghan was subsisting on a steady diet of “suicide-hot” chicken wings, fries and beer. “‘Garbage in, garbage out,’ it’s so true,” he says, looking back. Keleghan’s poor diet combined with his perfectionist nature spelled trouble. “I got depressed when things didn’t happen in a way I thought was my best.” A pattern was emerging; when life wasn’t going well he found it almost impossible to pick himself up. He was a young actor chasing success, and it kept eluding him.

The first thing to go were the chicken wings. “I had my cholesterol and triglycerides checked and found my blood was 32% butterfat.” Joking aside, it scared him, so he started running five km every day. He also waved off the Dufflet cakes and cookies that greeted him on set every morning and replaced them with a big healthy breakfast at home. Lunch became dinner (often a salad and a fish dish) and dinner became a piece of fruit or fruit and yogurt. “Going to bed slightly hungry is hard,” he says, “but I always feel better the next day.”

[pullquote]An office worker can miss a day or two of work,” he explains, “but an actor generally works less than half the days of the year so being sick can shut down an entire production.[/pullquote]

For Keleghan, establishing a healthier diet and fitness routine made changing his mental patterns a lot easier. The moment he stopped chasing success, it found him. “I began to enjoy the process and to believe that no matter what happened I could handle it.”

To stay on top of his game Keleghan takes Emer’gen-C, a fizzy multivitamin drink packed with vitamins C and B. “An office worker can miss a day or two of work,” he explains, “but an actor generally works less than half the days of the year so being sick can shut down an entire production.” Like many actors he swears by Cold Fx and takes Memory Plus for a kick of guarana when he needs to be extra focused.

Spending time in the kitchen is Keleghan’s favourite way to relax. “I love cooking and my partner Leah [Pinsent] is a real foodie.” The couple always load up on fresh produce, buying organic when the supply of fruits and vegetables from his dad’s garden are running low. But the pleasure they take in feeding each other also extends to the community. Keleghan and Pinsent are regular participants in “Out of the Cold,” a program sponsored by St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. “It’s a place to meet and feed the homeless, the addicted or people just down on their luck. There are eight of us who feed about 120 people,” says Keleghan. “It’s a very satisfying and interesting experience that puts life, career and society in perspective.”

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