Actors Doug E. Doug, Leon recall shooting Jamaican bobsled team movie Cool Runnings in Calgary

it is one of those behind-the-scenes stories that sounds too good to be true.

But actor and comedian Doug E. Doug insists his favourite feel-good memory of filming the 1993 Disney film Cool Runnings in Calgary just happens to coincide with the movie’s feel-good climax.

It involved that scene where the underdog fish-out-of-water Jamaican bobsled team takes a spill and has to finish the run on foot with the sled hoisted over their heads. Apparently it was just as touching to shoot as it was to watch on the screen.

“There were so many extras and they were all clapping for us and projecting good feelings and good vibes,” says Doug, in a phone interview from his home in Los Angeles. “It was such a good experience. It was an example of the way you would wish life would be all the time. It was people pulling for one another and concerned for one another. It was great.”

In short, it was everything the climax of a Disney feel-good sports movie, loosely based on the real-life Calgary adventures in 1988 should be. It has been 20 years since Doug joined the late John Candy, Leon, Rawle D. Lewis and Malik Yoba in Calgary to tell Disney’s $12-million tale about the Jamaican bobsled team’s outing at the 1988 Olympics. For the past 20 years, discussing the film has become a “sideline occupation” for the actor, who played the dreadlocks-sporting Sanka Coffie in the comedy. While Doug, who was 23 at the time, had a number of roles under his belt, including in two Spike Lee films, he remembers feeling a bit like a fish-out-of-water himself when he arrived in Calgary 20 years ago.

“I remember just the shock of being in Calgary,” he says with a laugh. “I had never imagined it as a destination. I found myself there and trying to explore it and was pleasantly surprised mostly by the people. I remember the people were just really warm and really nice. Canadians have a reputation of being nicer than Americans and I think it’s well earned.”

Cool Runnings would go on to earn nearly $155-million, making it one of the more lucrative Calgary-shot films. It’s also been a reliable favourite for many families throughout the world, which is why organizers of Calgary’s Reel Fun Film Festival chose to screen it on its 20th anniversary as a fundraiser. Doug, Leon and real-life Jamaican bobsledder Devon Harris will all be on hand for both the $100 gala and screening on Saturday evening at Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and the public screening at the Plaza on Sunday.

Doug says the producers were keen to boost the camaraderies that the film required from the actors playing the bobsled team. They ate together, arrived on set together, stayed at the same hotel and generally hung out as much as possible.

Filmed at Canada Olympic Park and the Olympic Oval, the Calgary Tower and Ranchman’s, among other places, the shoot was relatively stress free, even if some ill-timed warmth occasionally threatened to derail the production.

“I remember it being unseasonably warm,” says Leon, who played lead Derice Bannock in the film. “The track for the bobsledding was a little watery because it wasn’t cold enough.”

Of course, unseasonably warm in Calgary is still pretty damn cold for actors not used to the winter climes.

At the time Leon, who was born Leon Robinson in New York, was probably best known for playing Saint Martin de Porres in Madonna’s steamy and controversial Like A Prayer video. Also a reggae singer, he was spending three months a year in Jamaica at the time of the shoot. Meanwhile, Doug’s father was from Jamaica. So both actors thought they had a pretty good handle on offering an authentic accent.

Disney, however, was not impressed.

“They were very adamant when we first started shooting,” says Leon. “They were looking at the dailies and we would get these phone calls about the way we were speaking. It was too much like a Jamaican accent, especially for me. They even went as far to say they wanted me to be like a ‘Jamaican Aladdin.’ I said ‘Aladdin is not Jamaican!’”

Nevertheless both Doug and Leon came up with a compromised accent, something that ensured Disney wouldn’t have to use subtitles and that the dialogue could be memorized and expertly imitated by kids throughout the world.

It worked. The comedy became a fan favourite for kids. Doug would go on to star in numerous Disney films, including Operation Dumbo Drop and That Darn Cat. Watching the film was actually part of the elementary-school curriculum for Leon’s 13-year-old daughter in New York, the actor said.

While a box office and critical success, the film also went down in history as being among the last for Candy, who died of a heart attack one year after shooting in Calgary.

“He was the nicest man that I ever met in show business, frankly,” Doug says. “He spent a lot of time telling us he loved us. He was so warm, just a great guy.”

As for the film’s continued success, both Doug and Leon attribute it to the universal feel-good, underdog story.

“I always enjoy watching it with audiences,” Doug says. “It’s fascinating how they all laugh at the same places, cheer at the same places. It’s an incredible experience. Over years and year it never fails to impact people.”

The 20th Anniversary Screening of Cool Runnings will include a gala presentation Saturday night starting at 7 p.m. at the Canada Sports Hall of Fame at Canada Olympic Park. Tickets are $100 at the door and $85 if bought online at and include a meet-and-greet with actors and athletes. The public screening is Sunday 1:30 p.m. at the Plaza

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