Cast of 'The Grey' dined on wolf meat during production

Method motivates Liam Neeson, 'The Grey' cast to dine on wolf meat
Production of the Hollywood action flick The Grey was a shot in the arm for the northern B.C. town of Smithers this time last year, as star Liam Neeson, director Joe Carnahan and company filmed in the mountains above and around a local ski resort.

The trapper Dick McDiarrmid.

The movie, which opens next Friday, kept the town buzzing with its needs for gear, transportation, hotels, food and supplies. But the most oddball request was to longtime local trapper Dick McDiarmid for four wolf carcasses. Two were for use as props in the movie and the other two — well, let McDiarmid tell it.

“They wanted a couple more that they were going to try and eat them,” says McDiarmid over the phone from his home in rural Quick, about 40 kilometres from Smithers. “I guess they got to talking; I wonder what it tastes like?”

The movie’s story follows a group of Alaska oil workers who survive a plane crash, only to be set upon by a pack of wolves that hunts them as they flee the crash site. Just before filming started, director Carnahan wanted Neeson and the rest of the cast to sample wolf meat as a way of getting closer to the movie’s story of wilderness survival.

“I do a bit of trapping, so they came off my trap line,” says the 67-year-old McDiarmid, adding wolf skins fetch upwards of $100 each in the fur trade. He adds he’s never tried wolf meat himself.

“Well I guess if I was like in the movie, in the bush and starving. Otherwise I don’t think it would be high on my list.”

McDiarmid’s movie experience didn’t end after he pulled the wolf carcasses out of his freezers. The casting people liked the look of him, and put him in a pre-crash bar scene where he was seated next to British actor Nonso Anozie, who played one of the crash survivors.

“He’s huge,” says McDiarmid. “I asked him if he had tried the wolf. He said ‘I’m a pretty big man but it didn’t take much to fill me up.’”

The movie includes a wilderness scene where the survivors kill and eat one of the wolves. McDiarmid says they used lamb meat for the on-camera munching.

As to the fictional story of a wolf pack relentlessly hunting a group of humans, McDiarmid says it’s fiction. He’s read of isolated attack by wolves on humans but has seen nothing like that first-hand.

“Wolves have territories, which they do defend, but not generally against people,” he says. “If other wolves try to move in, then they’ll fight.”

As to his own meetings with wolves, “I think they’ve always been curious, you know: What am I doing? I never really felt threatened by them. I’ve seen them watching me from, I don’t know, 75 feet away and then as soon as you look at them they take off.”

The Grey used a mix of computer-generated imagery and elaborate puppetry for its wolf scenes.

McDiarmid will be at a special screening next Wednesday in Smithers for locals who worked on the film.

“Who doesn’t love a little bit of Hollywood coming to town,” says Gladys Atrill, who was the town’s main point person as marketing director of Tourism Smithers. The filmmakers stayed for three weeks of preparations and two weeks of filming.

The town earlier played Antarctica for scenes in the 2006 adventure flick Eight Below. “It delivers a little excitement, and it leaves some money behind when they go, so it’s welcome.”

Atrill visited The Grey’s plane crash site above the tree line near Hudson Bay Mountain Resort, where props people had to dig the strewn wreckage out from under fresh snow each morning.

“I have sympathy for the actors when they’re talking about how cold it was, but those were the conditions the director was looking for, so it worked out.”

The production also filmed at the Smithers Airport, where a hangar was set up for that northern bar scene.

“The winter time is a slower time for us, so (the films) came at a good time. Suppliers might be more active in the resource sector during the summer.”

Atrill says the town has got used to the pace of filmmaking. “A film is in for a short time, and what it needs, it needs now.”

Even if that means a couple of wolf carcasses.