There’s an innate challenge in any effort to make a biopic film. It’s especially problematic when the subject matter is a 20th century topic.

People feel like they’ve been there. Like they’ve done that. This isn’t a bio of Aristotle or Henry VIII. Those people we’ve read about. We’ve seen artist’s conceptions of what they looked like.

Deep down, though, we don’t feel like we know them.

It’s different with modern-day heroes, though. That was the daunting task put in front of those involved in the film Goalie: The Terry Sawchuk Story. They wanted to tell a compelling story about a sensational netminder who was also a troubled and tortured soul. At the core of it all though was their utmost desire to stay true to the man.

“Honestly, I don’t want to have made a film that kind of tarnishes or colors people’s impressions of him,” director Adriana Maggs said. “He’s a huge Canadian hero, so it is a lot of pressure.”

Putting Mark Into Terry

Mark O’Brien portrayed the lead character in the film. He also felt that distinct juxtaposition as both thespian and hockey fan.

“For me, it’s not as difficult as an actor,” O’Brien said. “It’s more difficult as a person who follows hockey and cares about hockey. Because as an actor I’m not Terry Sawchuk. I can draw parallels between our lives, just as like most people can draw parallels between any two lives. You can always find some sort of connecting tissue. I can put what I have in myself that has a relationship to Terry into the character, because it has to be real. It has to be honest.

“I think I found a connection to him in a way that relates to me and I felt really comfortable with that. I felt like I understood him, like I knew who he was to that degree.

“But then there’s that other side, where I’m myself as Mark, who’s a huge hockey fan. Where you think people are going to watch this and they’re going to think – I don’t know what they’re going to think about it. I have to just go back to the actor in me and perform it in the way that I thought made the most sense.”

Real Life Husband And Wife

O’Brien’s real-life wife Georgina Reilly portrays Sawchuk’s spouse Pat. She was able to speak with Pat Sawchuk. Reilly learned of her experiences. She was able to delve into the mind of the person who knew Terry the best.

“She’s such a bright light,” Reilly said of Pat Sawchuk.

The couple drew upon their own sometimes stress-addled existence as struggling actors. Through this, they connected to the pressures the Sawchuks would have felt. In the NHL’s six-team era of the 1950s, there was one netminder per team. A bad stretch could result in a career coming to an end.

“Reading about the family life they had, the pressures from our careers definitely helped,” Reilly said. “There’s a line in the movie where she’s like as long as you promise to sometimes take your mind off hockey. Mark is an avid hockey fan, so that was funny.

“But when you’re self-employed, your workday never ends. Sometimes you have to figure out how to shut that off and enjoy being with your family, so it doesn’t come into the family home as much.

“I think that’s something with Terry. It obviously came home with him, which was hard on everybody.”

In the end, they combined to produce a epic portrayal of that epoch in both hockey and Sawchuk’s existence.

Telling Terry’s Traumatic Tale

“The story is very true to life,” O’Brien said. “It’s not glorifying anything. There’s some really harsh moments in the film, in his life and his actions.

“It’s difficult not knowing how people will take it. I want people to understand the story and to do justice to his life. I want the people who knew him to say yeah, that’s an accurate depiction of his life.

“Whether I look like him or sound like him, I can only do so much while keeping it still real.”