By Cece M. Scott cecescott.com
You may know him best as the irascible, redneck radio host, Fred Tupper, on CBC's long-running comedy sitcom Little Mosque on the Prairie. Neil Crone, actor, comedian, columnist and author, says that he loved playing the character of Tupper because it reminded him a little of his dad, and also of himself. "I like to play characters who are close to home," says Crone. "Fred was a kind person with a really big heart, but he was a little rough around the edges."
When in an Indian curry restaurant in Toronto, Crone was approached by a young girl, whose mom was wearing a hijab. "She was shy and said, 'I really like you on your television show.' Wow, I said, you know who Fred Tupper is, and you still like him? That felt really great, like we were making a difference, bringing people together, as opposed to being divisive," says Crone. "If this girl, who couldn't have been more than eight or nine years old, could see the humanity in my goofy, rednecked character, then clearly we were doing something right – something good."
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="362"] As Fred Tupper, Little Mosque on the Prairie. Photo by Peter Stranks[/caption]
At the age of 59, Crone subscribes to the theory of radiating happiness outwards, in order to attract the same back. He's a nature buff, and is very conscientious of his impact on the planet. "I meditate quite often and am a big believer in affirmations," says Crone. "I visualize my day every morning to make sure that I am clear about what I want to have happen, and then go forward to attract that."
Crone began his career as a high school teacher, where he taught English and drama for three years at King City Secondary School. However, deep down, he knew that he really wanted to be an actor. "At that time, though," laughs Crone, "the thinking around being an actor leaned towards getting a real job."
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="650"] As Bad Santa on Derringer in the Morning Q107 for which he won a Canadian Comedy Award. Photo by Peter Stranks[/caption]
After nighttime stints at Theatresports and Big City Improv, Crone accepted a role at Toronto's famed Second City Touring Company before moving on to the prestigious Second City Mainstage. Recurring roles on The Red Green Show, Wind at my Back, Goosebumps and Power Play heightened Crone's visibility. Feature films followed, which included Nothing Too Good for a Cowboy (1998), American Psycho II: All American Girl (2002), Against the Ropes (2004), and Hollywoodland (2006).
Working alongside Burt Reynolds and James Garner are memories that will always resonate with Crone. "The minute I walked onto the set, James approached me and introduced himself. He was as big as you get, but he still had the graciousness to treat me like a peer," says Crone. "That stuck with me. I try to do my best to extend the same kind of warmth to young actors working with me now."
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="650"] THE Yes MEN (an improv comedy show) with Patrick McKenna, Neil Crone and Kevin Frank. Photo by Jonathon Van Bilsen[/caption]
For all the inherent acting ups-and-downs, Crone says it provided him with the flexibility, along with a positive environment, in which to raise his kids – Duncan, now 28, and Connor, 25. As a stay-at-home dad, Crone drew on his experiences with his boys in the creation of a number of children's books. "I had this huge well of kids' stuff to draw inspiration from."
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="357"] Crack a Smile Colorectal Cancer fundraiser. Photo by Jonathon Van Bilsen[/caption]
These imaginings resulted in the writing of four books: Who Farted – Stories in Verse for Big and Little Kids; The Farmers Secret Midnight Dance; I Am Dead at Recess and Coby Builds a House.
Crone has also published a collection of his award winning columns (as appeared in Metroland papers) titled Enter Laughing – The Early Years. A spokesperson for the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada and Colon Cancer Canada, Crone also wrote Semi-Colon: A Writer's Cheeky Journey Through Colorectal Cancer. "I had already had a scope and a resultant diagnosis," says Crone. "I went for surgery to remove the lesion but when the surgeon opened me up he found a peach-sized tumour on the outside of my colon, eating its way in. I was only 43 at the time. Nobody saw it coming. It worked for, and against, me. I was healthy enough that they could give me massive doses of radiation and chemotherapy. But it was quite scary, especially with two young boys at home. It was a definite reset button."
Crone believes that his ability to laugh, along with his positive attitude, were contributing factors in his recovery. At the time, he was living in an old Victorian home with his-then wife, Suzanne Crone, and their two sons. He says that he'd wile away the hours on their screened-in porch, and imagine all the things that he was going to do when he got better.
His perspective has changed, and he says that he has a better appreciation for what's important, and what should be prioritized. "I have relaxed my attitude on life, completely understanding the bullet that I dodged," says Crone. "I do my best to keep my body supple by riding my bike, canoeing, golfing and hiking with my fiancée, Kathryn."
Moving into his sixth decade, Crone is dealing with an arthritic knee and soft tissue damage, a direct result of his chemotherapy. "It's a challenge to maintain an active lifestyle with a body that can't keep up. Trying to find ways to carry on, and wrestle with the pain, is ongoing. But, really, I still feel very young."
[caption id="attachment_46391" align="alignnone" width="650"] Photography, Suzanne Crone[/caption]
"As my footprint – I want to leave people feeling good." – Neil Crone
Currently, Crone is working on a series called Endlings, which is now in its second season. He plays the part of Mr. Leopold, who runs a foster home. "I'm one hundred per cent behind the show's message, which is about embracing differences and loving people – even broken people," says Crone.
In 2008, Crone won the Canadian Comedy Award for his radio work as Bad Santa on Q107. He's been a finalist on numerous occasions for his humour column, and placed second and third for Humour Columnist of the Year, from the Ontario Community Newspaper Awards, in 2001, 2002 and 2012.
Crone says that he absolutely loves acting, as a job, but admits that the types of roles he's now getting are changing as the years go by. "I am auditioning for grandparent roles now. But I still feel like I'm 18 years old – that is, until I pass a mirror. But, I am content with my life now," says Crone. "When all is said and done, I don't think I will ever grow up."