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Speedman's Life Going Swimmingly

(The Saskatoon Star Phoenix: 02.28.03)

CENTURY CITY, Calif. -- Scott Speedman says it's funny the way things turn out.

He's just completed four years on the television series Felicity -- in the role of Ben Covington, the hunk who captures the heart of Keri Russell's Felicity Porter.

He has just opened in movie houses in Dark Blue, playing an idealistic young Los Angeles cop caught up in a morass of corruption. He has another high-profile movie coming up with the sophisticated horror thriller, Underworld, in which he costars with Kate Beckinsale. He's excited as well about the Vancouver-filmed My Life Without Me, in which he and Sarah Polley play a young couple faced with unexpected tragedy.

The 27-year-old Canadian's acting star is in the ascendant. He's starting to cope with being recognized on the street, which he describes as a "terrifying life experience." But he also says this isn't how it was supposed to be -- or so he thought a decade ago back in Toronto when his only ambition was to be a championship swimmer.

Speedman was born in London and moved to Toronto at the age of three when Britain's huge Marks and Spencer department store chain expanded overseas and his Scottish father was placed in charge of the company's Canadian operation. He grew up in a household immersed in athletics -- his mother, Mary Campbell, was a world record holder in indoor running, his father was also a keen sprinter, and young Scott quickly revealed a talent for swimming.

At 12, he was part of a relay swim team that held the 400-metre national record. At 16, as a member of the Canadian Junior National Swim Team, he participated in the Olympic trials -- and performed well. But then a neck injury ended his Olympic aspirations.

"It was just overtraining," he says now. Speedman was devastated at the time, but such was his nature that he was driven to seek a new and demanding career goal. He found one when he went on a local TV show on a dare. He discovered he enjoyed acting.

"The opportunity came up to put my energies in this direction -- acting -- and I just kind of ran with it, and it was only over an amount of time that I became obsessed with it and started to love it."

He won a role in a short feature film, Can I Get A Witness, which was developed at Toronto's Norman Jewison Film Centre. This led to the lead in a Canadian feature, The Kitchen Party. Determined to hone his acting craft further, Speedman began studying at New York's Neighbourhood Playhouse, and finally -- with great trepidation -- tried out for the role of Robin in Batman And Robin. Chris O'Donnell got the part, but Speedman's audition landed him an agent and led to a starring role in Felicity. The young actor says he owes everything to that series.

"Without Felicity, there would be no Dark Blue. There would be no Underworld. All these things stem from Felicity. It was great for me. I loved every minute I was on that show."

What he really loved were the cast and crew members -- at one point he was romantically linked with costar Keri Russell -- but he was less enamoured with the overall TV experience because it offended the discipline instilled in him during his years as a champion swimmer. In fact, he wasn't even a TV fan growing up and still isn't today.

"I don't watch a lot of television. I never did as a kid growing up. I always went to movies with my family -- I loved going to movies." He no longer wants a television-based career. "I don't want to do television just to work. I want to get better at what I do . . . I think you can learn a lot of bad habits on television."

He reiterates that he's not trashing Felicity specifically. "I wasn't sick of that show. I miss those people and doing that show tremendously." But he still insists that a TV series can cocoon an actor too much and make him lazy.

During his 2000 summer hiatus from Felicity, he returned to Toronto to go on stage for the first time, playing an emotionally troubled young man in a revival of Edward Albee's The Zoo Story.

"I'd done a full year on television, and I'd never been on stage and I basically decided to terrify myself. So I went to do a play. That was a great experience -- so I want to do more of that."

Dark Blue offered another kind of opportunity. Speedman was still doing Felicity when he read the script for the United Artists film and decided to go after the role of a rookie cop whose belief in the honour and integrity of the force is shattered by his association with a tough, unscrupulous veteran played by Kurt Russell.

"I auditioned a bunch of times and got it," says Speedman, who stresses that winning the role was no piece of cake. "It's not like I had offers or anything like that. The good stuff -- you're going to have to fight for it."

An accelerating movie career hasn't changed Speedman's lifestyle. He still drives a Honda Civic and refuses to buy a more expensive car. He doesn't own a lot of clothes. He's not a party animal, shuns the trendy Hollywood clubs, and won't discuss current romantic attachments.

"I don't play into that stuff."

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