When Mary and Paul travel cross-country for a funeral, they’re forced to leave their young son Henry with his estranged grandfather, Jacob. Isolated on a barren, snow-covered farm, Henry and his gruff, no-nonsense grandfather are well and truly stuck with each other. Fortunately, Henry quickly learns the value of hard work and bonds with his grandpa over the art of baseball.

But, when Jacob suddenly dies in the night, Henry is left by himself, with no way to call for help. The only person within miles is unsettling next-door neighbor Dixon. Left with no options, Henry soon enters into a situation more dangerous than he knows.

ScreenPicks spoke to Michael Ironside about what it was like portraying fearsome patriarch Jacob in director Michael Peterson’s new film Knuckleball.

ScreenPicks: What drew you to this project?

Ironside: What drew me to it was the script. I get a lot of scripts unsolicited, and this film was sent to me from a mutual friend of Michael Peterson and I. I got to look at it and read it, and Michael was going to be in town … so we met at a restaurant, and we immediately realized that we were both on the same page on what the story was about and how we wanted it to go. He was open to some of my suggestions, and I was open to his. We started there and … the film came together very quickly.

ScreenPicks: How was it working with the cast — just as collaborative?

Ironside: Oh, absolutely. When we were looking for the Dixon character, I suggested Munro Chambers. Munro and I had done Turbo Kid together. And when they [Peterson and Chambers] met, they clicked also.

Munro was always talking about how people don’t see him other than being the love interest character, the kid from Degrassi, the young fool. And I said, “You should read for the [part].” And he came fully on board — and it shows. He got prosthetic teeth made. Very subtle prosthetic make up changes. He changed his hairline. And we got Dixon out of it. Dixon is a very full, complete character.

Luca [Villacis], the boy who plays Henry, my grandson, I think this may be his first or his largest part. Mike found him through the audition process. And then we had Krista Bridges, who came on playing Connie the cop, and Kathleen Munroe, who played my daughter.

This is a crew and a cast that came together in support of this project, and it was a very cohesive, very warm, very loving group of people making a film about noncohesive, non— [Laughs] You know what I mean? The cast and crew are very tight and loving and supportive. Nothing like what was going on in the film.

I’ve got to tell you, you can only do a film about miscommunication and isolation … If everyone is on the same page and it’s cohesive.

ScreenPicks: How was it working with Luca, in particular, being such young talent?

Ironside: Well, he’s very open. Almost everything he did was either with Munro or myself or with Kathleen, and we were all very very aware of this being his first time acting and we were going to protect him. And he trusted us. Everyone was very trusting in this film.

ScreenPicks: Your character, Jacob, and Luca’s character, Henry, bond over baseball — hence the name of the film. Do you have something like that you bond over with family?

Ironside: Oh, there’s a lot of things. I come from strong familial bonds. I have 97 first cousins. I’m the oldest of five. My mom had 18 brothers and sisters. My dad had one brother who died during the second World War who I’m named after. There’s such a loving bond in my family, and when it’s not there, I’m so aware of it.

If you walk into a situation where that bond, that sensitivity isn’t there .. that’s what I wanted to get across [in the film] — the isolation that can happen within a family or relationship. We all wanted to bring across that absolute desperate need for affection and how so often it’s not there. Everyone gets hurt or damaged and how hard it is to come back from that and how hard it is to trust. … We have a tendency I think as human beings to be hurt or disappointed early in life or early in a relationship and we step back. We go into isolation.

ScreenPicks: The film is also about a lack of communication. Can you expand on that?

Ironside: Everything was this idea that you’re so physically connected through familial ties and blood, and yet, no communication is going on anywhere.

When Mike and I first met in the restaurant, we said, “We have an opportunity here to make a statement about the idea that … we have cell phones, the Internet, Twitter, and all these different things, so many ways to communicate and talk … but what is being said is often being turned, misconstrued, used as a weapon against each other.”

Right from the time the camera drops into that barren land landscape and you’re inside the car, and you have a father who’s busy talking, a wife who is taking medication for anxiety, and a kid who’s playing a game on his cell phone and trying to tell them they’re missing the turn off and they almost crash the car and miss the turn off — no communication whatsoever. And it just continues all the way through the film right up to the very end.

ScreenPicks: It’s very effective. Hopefully audiences feel that too.

Ironside: You know, it’s interesting, I’ve done lots of film festivals and stuff and half the audience usually leaves, but with this film, nobody left! And they’ve all said the same thing: “I didn’t expect it to be like that.” And they all ask questions and that is so cool for them to be participating and get it on that level, you know?

I’ve been saying to people when you see a film, I usually call them “two- or three-block films,” because within three blocks, you’re thinking about a pizza and a beer, and you forget about it. This is not a three-block film. This is not a six-block film. The film will carry you, some of the images will carry you, and I think it’s because it’s honest and Michael Peterson did such a wonderful, wonderful job.

Also, I want to give a big shout out to Jon Thomas who was our cinematographer. He and Michael Peterson created this visual landscape in conjunction with the storyline that [conveys] that isolation, that coldness, that separation …

ScreenPicks: You often play villains. Jacob is obviously involved in something dark, but he shows real tenderness towards Henry. Did you like playing a more dynamic ‘bad guy,’ so to speak?

Ironside: I played my relationship with Henry very specifically. I played him as a grandfather. I played that as organically as possible. But the character we see through Dixon’s eyes is not the same character. They’re two completely different people. Jacob may wear the same clothes but … they’re two completely different people. And the one that’s there with his daughter in the driveway is a completely different person.

ScreenPicks: Any final takeaways?

Ironside: I’ve done over 300 movies and a couple thousand hours worth of television … I don’t go out and push movies. I did this because I feel that people, a couple days after, it’ll have an effect on their relationships and on themselves and it’ll make them consider things are little bit differently.

Knuckleball hits theaters Friday, October 5th.