Josh Duhamel, Elisha Cuthbert on the ‘fascinating’ true story of Canada’s Flying Bandit
For actors Josh Duhamel and Elisha Cuthbert, the true story of Gilbert Galvan Jr., a.k.a. Robert Whiteman — who still holds the record for the most consecutive robberies in Canadian history — is nothing but fascinating.
The duo star in Canadian director Allan Ungar’s feature film “Bandit,” which follows Galvan Jr. in the 1980s after he escapes a Michigan prison and assumes a new identity in Canada. He then goes on to rob a record 59 banks and jewelry stores while being hunted by a police task force. The media sensationalized his crimes and dubbed him the Flying Bandit.
Calgary-born Cuthbert, who stars as Galvan’s love interest, Andrea Hudson, was not aware of the story at the time. The actor, who is married to former NHL player Dion Phaneuf, found the story wild and exciting as she prepped for the role.
“Going back to watch ‘The Fifth Estate’ and the piece they did on him was fascinating to me,” she said. “To see him taking up residence in the Glebe in Ottawa, where I lived while Dion played for the Ottawa Senators, was just amazing. To actually know and feel like I’d been to all these places and that he was doing this was just so crazy.”
For Duhamel, who takes on the title role, playing the character with all his disguises proved to be the most fun. “I’ve never felt as playful as I have in this character because of these disguises. I’d be sitting in there with hair and makeup. And suddenly, after about an hour of the new nose and the moustache and the wig, you just start to become somebody else,” he said in a joint video interview with Cuthbert.
The 49-year-old actor met Galvan while they were shooting in Georgia and it was not what he expected. “In my first conversation, I went in there like, OK, I’m an actor learning how to get inside of his head. ‘Where were you emotionally? What were you going through when you first did it? Was it an adrenalin rush?’ And, he said, ‘Yes, yes, yes.’
“But he was more interested in talking about how he was able to cut his turtlenecks off in the back and he cut the sleeves off, because it’s easier to pull off when you leave. It’s all about getting in and out as quickly as possible,” Duhamel said, laughing. “He really wanted to talk to me because he wanted me to talk to the producers about when he was gonna get paid.”
Duhamel described Galvan as a “very friendly and affable guy. You can understand why he was able to charm his way into a lot of these situations. I mean, the first time we saw him he had a black eye.”
Cuthbert, 39, added, “Obviously he tells stories very well. But I was like, ‘I don’t know if we can believe anything.’ He’s robbed 59 times.”
They laughed as they recalled Galvan telling them he saved a little old lady from a burning building. Duhamel found it fascinating that Galvan eventually figured out how to get out of the desperate lifestyle he lived for so long. “He fell in love with (Hudson) and wanted to create a life and family, and his only option in his mind was to start robbing banks.”
“I think when you look back at the interviews of Gilbert, you can see there’s a smile on his face like he was proud of it and that he got away with it,” added Cuthbert, 39. “So it was a lot of fun for you to kind of play with that.”
The film, which also stars Mel Gibson and Néstor Carbonell, showcases a 1980s setting in Ottawa, Vancouver, Toronto, Winnipeg and Edmonton. While the film was initially scheduled to be shot in Canada, the pandemic affected those plans and shooting was moved to Georgia.
Cuthbert said filming in Georgia in the heat while making it look like Ottawa in winter was wild. “It was June, 110 degrees in Southern Georgia. And here we are trying to make it look like Ottawa in the dead of winter. As you know, Ottawa in the winter is like an intense, intense winter. Allan made it happen somehow.”
North Dakota-born Duhamel said he loves Canada, and it seemed like an ideal and relaxed place for Galvan Jr. to move to. “This was in the ’80s and I think, in general, Canada is more relaxed than we are about a lot of things. It was a good time to live there. I think that’s part of the reason why he went is because he knew he could live a much better, easier, less stressful life in Canada.”
In “Bandit,” the robberies feel less like heists and more like civil transactions. According to the actors, it was perhaps a bit of Canadian politeness and Galvan’s charm.
“He didn’t have to be mean about it,” Duhamel said. “A part of his charm was that he knew it didn’t have to be like an aggressive type thing. If they knew that he had a gun in his pocket, he could be as nice and cordial and affable with them as he needed to be. He never pulled a gun in any of these 59 heists and he was proud of that. He was able to sort of do it in a friendly manner.
“The guy just fascinates me. The reckless sort of abandon and devil may care attitude that he had. I was like, ‘Wow, dude’s got some cojones!’”
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Credit: Josh Duhamel, Elisha Cuthbert on the ‘fascinating’ true story of Canada’s Flying Bandit