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March 10, 2001
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SJP


Swayze crazy about 'Peg
Cool place to work and live in, Hollywood hunk says
By RANDALL KING


WINNIPEG -- Speaking to the media yesterday at Winnipeg City Hall, Patrick Swayze's wife Lisa Niemi mentioned she had discovered a Winnipeg park that would substitute nicely for a park in New York City, where their film Without a Word is set.

"Is it all right if we cut down this one blue spruce?" Niemi innocently asked Mayor Glen Murray, who joined the Swayzes at the press conference table in a committee room across from the Murray's office.

Fortunately, Niemi was kidding, making a mischievous reference to the Exchange District tree controversy that derailed plans to shoot a sequence from the Brad Pitt film Legends of the Fall here in 1993.

Contrary to that disastrous precedent, it was all peace, love and joy as Swayze -- producer and star -- and Niemi -- director, scriptwriter and star -- enthusiastically praised Winnipeg as a film production centre. Murray, referring to himself as an "unabashed Patrick Swayze fan," responded by making Swayze, 48, and Niemi, 44, honourary Winnipeg citizens.

The Swayzes have been in town since late January in pre-production on their personal project, which Niemi says is budgeted at "under $5 million." They've nurtured it since Without a Word was first produced for the stage in Los Angeles in 1985. The seven-week shoot is scheduled to begin Monday at the Walker Theatre.

"There is no way we could have done this without the people of this town," Swayze said.

"It's not like Hollywood with people phoning it in and waiting for a paycheque" he said. "People here really really care about their craft. People have just opened their hearts and their doors and their talent and their skill for us on a level that we could never have imagined," he said. "And I thank you for that."

Swayze affirmed, that, yes, there are parts of Winnipeg that would easily pass for New York's SoHo district.

Niemi rhapsodized about driving home in the city at night and "the best East Indian food I've had since we left India."

Both praised the local dance community and its support of their film set in the New York's dance scene.

"The (Royal Winnipeg Ballet) have been incredibly supportive on many levels" he said.

"They couldn't give us a lot of dancers because they keep taking them out on tour but in every other way, in terms of space and allowing our dogs to hang out with us during rehearsals ... There's a different quality here."

Niemi said she first came to town a year ago to audition dancers and was surprised to discover the depth of talent here.

"I thought we were going to get maybe 10 people," she said. "And 175 or 200 showed up.

"We went to Toronto, too, and I thought the attitude and the spirit of the dancers here was far more exciting than it was in Toronto," she said.

"So there, Mel," interjected Murray, taking a shot at Hogtown's Mel Lastman.

If there was a downside to the project, it would be that the couple have taken on a gruelling performance regimen at a stage of life when most dancers have abandoned performance altogether.

"It would have been nicer to have got this done when I was a little rubber person 12 years ago," Swayze said, adding that his personal regimen includes: "Lots and lots of dancing, lots of anti-inflammatories ... some voodoo worship, a lot of prayer. And Tiger Balm."

Swayze admitted the cold weather aggravates the titanium rod in his femur, the result of a 1997 horse-riding accident on the set of a movie that left him with two broken legs. He shrugged it off with the machismo expected in the star of such films as Dirty Dancing, Ghost and Road House.

"Pain is my friend," he said.

"We've invested in the Advil company," he added.

Swayze reserved his highest praise for his wife of 25 years.

"She's a huge inspiration," he said. "She's never lost the vision, and I did. I got beat down by the business and the world and ... does anybody really care about doing a film that could really make a difference and really touch people's lives?

"And she's like a pitbull and never quits."


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