Coffee With …

Tom Braidwood developed a career behind the camera, but today makes his living as an actor on The Lone Gunmen.

Tom Braidwood pulls up to The Outlook office in a new Honda Accord on Thursday morning.

The type of vehicle you’d expect for a practical family man whose marriage has lasted three decades and produced two daughters.

But then he admits he plans to have flames painted down the sides of the car this summer. His last vehicle, a white Ford Taurus, had flames.

“I guess it just goes back to my teenage days,” Braidwood reflects as we sit over coffee on the Lonsdale Starbucks patio. “I built a lot of hot rods and stuff.”

His favourite cars were a ’57 Chevy convertible and ’55 Bel Air.

The revelation only makes him seem more human than Melvin Frohike, the cartoonish computer geek character we’ve come to know him as on the X-Files and Lone Gunmen TV series.

Dressed in a black cotton shirt, a dark nylon X-Files jacket, and glasses, Braidwood is, judging by the reaction of other latte sippers, recognizable but not an overwhelming presence. Nor does he appear to think he should be.

The 52-year-old explains that he believes part of the reason for the success of The Lone Gunmen is that the majority of viewers can relate to the characters.

“We’re not the best looking guys on TV. They identify with that.

“We just look like regular guys.”

The comments are not some veil thrown up to hide an underlying ego or counterbalance a pretentious nature. They are startlingly genuine.

He doesn’t pretend to be somebody he’s not in order to sell himself or his character. Unlike Frohike, Braidwood is not a UFO chaser.

“I think gas prices are a conspiracy.”

Braidwood says he was raised to be practical. And while some claim he took a shortcut to fame, landing the role of Frohike while working as first assistant director on the X-Files, Braidwood has been around long enough to know that ego is the poison that destroys many promising film careers.

After studying theatre at UBC and putting on plays with Tamahnous theatre group, Braidwood switched his focus in the 1970s to behind the camera. He started as a production assistant and worked his way into directing roles.

“There wasn’t a lot of production in Vancouver at the time but I didn’t know that.”

On the one hand, the small TV and film industry meant there were limited choices for work; on the other, progressing through the ranks to director was quicker and easier because there were far fewer people in the industry back then.

Braidwood was an assistant director on shows like 21 Jump Street, Nightmare Café and Hat Squad.

“I came up during the formative years of TV. There weren’t that many jobs. I’m always cautious about where the next job is going to come from.”

To many in the industry. the comments might seem rather unusual. Braidwood is highly regarded in local film circles. More recently he has worked on the short-lived sci-fi drama Mercy Point. He’s also directed an episode of DaVinci’s Inquest.

But he doesn’t take anything for granted. “I suppose I don’t have to worry, but you just never know.”

He said he never expected X-Files would provide five years of steady directing work, nor did he think the opportunity to play Frohike would last more than one episode. Braidwood appeared in three episodes in the hit show’s second season, four in the third season, and eight this season.

As well, The Lone Gunmen have debuted in their own spinoff show on the Fox network as a mid-season replacement. A pilot and 12 episodes were shot at Lions Gate Studios in North Van.

“It was all a surprise. Over the years we joked about it but nobody ever realistically thought it would happen.”

Braidwood says it’s cool that his career has come full circle.

“The nice thing about it is I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve been focussing on nothing but acting day-in and day-out for six months.”

He is keeping his fingers crossed that The Lone Gunmen will be picked up for another season.

Of course, not all viewers are throwing bouquets. “Some guy wrote that he hated the show. Anyhow, I sent him a picture.”

Braidwood refuses to take anything for granted. As he lights a cigarette with his yellow-stained fingers, he says he plans to quit smoking. And if he ends up with more unexpected free time on his hands, he is likely to do some traveling, get an old BSA motorcycle to ride around, and maybe build the perfect hot rod.

Of course, being practical, Braidwood will put flames on it.

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