Cover Story: Making it Work HAL EISEN and ANDREW BOTTECCHIA
By Cece M. Scott www.cecescott.com
WHEN YOU LOOK AROUND the sun-splashed condo of Hal Eisen and Andrew Bottecchia, you can’t help but be struck by Eisen’s outsized collection of eclectic art. Located in an 1873 heritage building in the west end of Toronto, the couple’s penthouse also includes a spectacular 1,200-square-foot, wrap-around terrace.
Partners in business, and in life, Eisen ( 61) and Bottecchia (54) met some 16 years ago. True to his acting roots, Eisen is gregarious and animated, while Bottecchia is the gracious parenthesis. When speaking about their relationship, Bottecchia says, “It took a while to figure things out. We had to set some boundaries.”
The couple’s personal commitment was cemented when Eisen was performing in a play in Ottawa called It’s All True, which won the Governor’s General award. “I knew Hal wasn’t in a good place, mentally,” says Bottecchia. “So, I got up on at 2 a.m. on a Saturday and drove to Ottawa. I called Hal from outside his house and said, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have breakfast together this morning?”
“Talk about a big romantic gesture,” says Eisen. “Andrew’s visit gave me the opportunity to let go, and to step away from the role for awhile. I had a whole new energy. Of course, it didn’t hurt that he was good looking, funny and charming. His goodness is what you fall in love with.”
DOWN TO BUSINESS
Bottecchia is president of Bottecchia Artistic Group Inc., and has worked on such shows as The Designer Guys, This Small Space, and on Life T.V. and The Food Network. At the height of the SARS epidemic in 2003, major film productions were being pulled out of Toronto and acting opportunities were scarce. Bottecchia, who was the art director on Love by Design, recommended Hal as the show’s host. “They wanted someone who had done interior design and was also familiar with television,” says Eisen. “I had experience in both, as I’d put myself through acting school by doing design work.”
By the end of 2009, both Bottecchia and Eisen stepped away from lifestyle T.V. and immersed themselves in their individual careers. However, the door was never really shut when it came to collaborating on design projects. “We don’t even know how we agree on stuff,” says Eisen. “We each have strong opinions and we filter things through our own aesthetic. But, ultimately, the client decides.”
Eisen has been acting for four decades in theatre, movie and television, and has appeared on Saving Hope, DeGrassi and Murdoch Mysteries. Eisen admits that the opportunities for auditions for his age group are dwindling. “It’s not like when I was in my 20s and 30s. I went out there knowing I’d get the roles – I just expected it. There’s a lot more competition now,” says Eisen. “But the good thing is, I am at a point where I can turn down a role that doesn’t speak to me. That’s why it’s wonderful to have another creative outlet.”
Bottecchia established his design company in 1994. What he’s now noticing is that he’s designing for the offspring of the families that he initially designed for. “It’s exciting, and an honour, to be working with the next generation,” says Bottecchia. “We’ve become part of their families.”
Both Eisen and Bottecchia are aware of the pros and cons of being self-employed. “When you have a relationship with someone who understands the freelance life, it certainly helps,” says Bottecchia. “Hal gets the hardships of it. He’s my rock – my mushy rock.”
“You’re fighting time – your mind says one thing and your body says another.” – Andrew Bottecchia
YIN AND YANG
The opposites attract theory holds some merit with regard to the way that they each approach life. Bottecchia sees the glass as half full, while Eisen is a self-declared worrywart. As a child, Eisen says that he was overweight, and had glasses and big teeth. “I was never the first choice, so I spent a lot of my life achieving things.”
Whereas Bottecchia says that he could be sitting in their lovely home with only a nickel in his pocket, and would consider himself rich. “I call him Pollyandy,” says Eisen. “Andrew always looks at the good side of everything. He’s incredibly loyal.”
On their off hours, Eisen likes to swim, and Bottecchia enjoys going to the gym and roller blading. When at a cottage in Haliburton, Bottecchia hikes and kayaks, and Eisen reads and sleeps. “I’m a city guy, and Andrew is the country boy,” says Eisen.
Eisen is now the same age as when his mother passed away. Aging is on his mind, as are his aches and pains. “I miss that gung-ho ability to throw myself into everything. And, I miss the realization that not everything is possible.”
“I haven’t found any aging challenges, yet,” says Bottecchia. “But when I do, I am going to deal with it like I do everything else, which is basically screw this, I’ll handle it. There’s nothing I miss about my younger years – it’s all in how you set your mind.”
Their retirement dream is to secure an eight-bedroom guesthouse in Barbados. It will be a bed and breakfast, as well as an art gallery that features Bajan and Canadian artists. Bottecchia will reside there, while Eisen will travel back and forth. “I need to be around my acting, and my city friends,” says Eisen. “I need my six months in Canada.”
“You come to an age when you either get it or you don’t,” says Bottecchia. “When we are young we aspire to material things. I’ve achieved all that, and now I am thankful for the wisdom, gratitude and understanding. I say prayers every morning. Everybody needs something that they can connect to.”
Eisen interjects and says that he connects with their dog (Boy), and the couple breaks into laughter. Both are grateful that they live in a country that is so accepting, and where seniors are not a throwaway generation. “I feel there is more that I can do,” says Eisen. “In many ways – to teach and to share.”
Photography, courtesy of Hal Eisen and Andrew Bottecchia.