Cody Lightning's mockumentary Hey, Viktor! chases delusional dreams with cringe-hilarious results

The locally-shot gonzo comedy premiered at Tribeca, ended up on Canada’s Top Ten list and opens at Metro with a Q&A Thursday

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From child film star to a role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Edmonton actor Cody Lightning has had an amazing ride.

Still, it’s nothing compared to the hilarious invented life he inhabits in his directorial debut, Hey, Viktor! shot in and around Edmonton and Enoch — a meta mockumentary he co-wrote and stars in as a truly pathetic, intervention-worthy version of himself.

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Think Ricky Gervais in Extras meets the Trailer Park Boys, set in the desperate, boozy world of low-budget filmmaking with a funder’s gun to his head.

[Think Ricky Gervais in Extras meets the Trailer Park Boys, set in the desperate, boozy world of low-budget filmmaking with a funder’s gun to his head.=”” source=”” /]

Funded by Telefilm, this gonzo comedy premiered at Tribeca, played TIFF and ImagiNATIVE, and ended up on the esteemed Canada’s Top Ten list.

A special Q&A screening happens Thursday at Edmonton’s Metro Cinema — where some of it was filmed — running Saturday through Wednesday before hitting VOD/Digital including Crave April 16.

Hey, Viktor!’s title comes from a rather throwaway line in Chris Eyre’s 1998 indie Indigenous classic, Smoke Signals.

In it, Lightning had the role of the 10-year-old version of Victor Joseph, played by older Adam Beach for most of the film. Smoke Signals also stars Indigenous legends Gary Farmer, Irene Bedard and the ubiquitous Tantoo Cardinal.

The film got rave reviews from such as Siskel and Ebert and distribution around the world.

“It was the only Indigenous film that’d ever done that,” says Lightning, “came from independent, to theatres everywhere.

“So for our film, Hey, Viktor!, to have done the same thing — we made it independently, got distribution, won some festivals, now it’s going to be in theatres — it’s like a cool history repeating itself,” says 37-year-old whirlwind.

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Worlds within worlds, Hey, Viktor!’s clever setup is that Lightning — after 25 years of living in the shadow of his Young Victor role — is being followed by a documentary crew as he desperately tries to pull together the cast for a sequel he stars in called Smoke Signals 2: Still Smokin’.

Doing gay porn and pro-fracking commercials in a headdress for cash, separated from the mother of his two kids, and estranged from the old Smoke Signals cast who wants nothing to do with him, Lightning faces an uphill climb to recapture his questionable former glory.

Much of the humour comes from Lightning’s on-screen hubris and outright delusional obsession with the past.

As his ex-partner’s mom puts it perfectly in the film as she’s kicking him out: “Famous actor? You’re a dink!”

Chance finds him and his creative partner Kate, a white woman who insists she’s Cherokee played with pathos by Hannah Cheesman, with $100,000 to make the movie coming from a terrifying German fan. Lightning immediately loses $20,000 of that celebrating, gambling, doing mushrooms and thrashing around naked.

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When he catches up with former co-stars Farmer and Bedard, the former (preposterously) has been a cop for decades, while she wants “a sign” to join — namely more money than the entire budget.

“It’s a fictionalized version of everyone,” Lightning laughs, “everything’s exaggerated.

“I mean, I’ve been in personal rock bottoms, but never anything like in the film. The whole point was to be wild and crazy.”

At the festivals, people have wondered what’s invented.

“When we get asked, ‘Where’s the line?’ we did a good job,” says Lightning.

Mind you, there was that international attention back in 1998, a height few pre-teens reach — Lightning was nominated for an American Young Artist Award in 1999 for his role, for example — andthe actor talks about how it all affected him.

“There was up and downs, for sure,” he says. “I love to perform and act and be creative, so that part was amazing.

“But there was a different type of attention; people treat you differently.”

Through the years he worked in video stores and skateboard shops to get by, creating a tension between real life and the projected expectations of being a Hollywood star.

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“A friend would be like, ‘Cody’s been in a movie with Johnny Depp and Marlon Brando,’ and suddenly people who ignored me were like, ‘Oh, hey!’

“There was a fakeness with others around me, and it kind of felt crappy at times.”

That said, it toughened him up.

“I’ve dealt with a lot of rejection auditioning. I see a lot of people move to the big cities to try and “make it” and give up after a year.

“Being involved in the industry at such a young age, I got used to that, so that thick skin is a good thing and now I’m able to make my own projects.”

Lightning Viktor
Cody Lightning, left, Hannah Cheesman and Simon Baker star in Hey, Viktor! premiering at Metro Cinema in Edmonton Thursday. Photo by supplied

Hey, Viktor! draws attention to Lightning’s beard with a line about “casting hairy natives.”

“I get auditions for different tribes but, you know, I don’t got that look,” he laughs, noting his former and current co-star Simon Baker would get the Indigenous roles, which is milked for tension in Hey, Viktor!

Still, as a kid, Lightning read for a part in Manic, the script calling for an eight-year-old Caucasian, encouraged by his Edmonton-born mother Georgina Lightning — also a director, writer and actor — to go for it anyway.

“When I got the breakdown I was like, ‘What the hell? I’m 13 years old with long brown hair, why would I read for this role?’”

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But he got the part, starring alongside Joseph Gordon Levitt and Don Cheadle.

“My mom was like, ‘Do you realize what they did? They liked you so much they changed the part for you.’

“And so, you know, that’s breaking down those walls and being successful. Even me,” he laughs and declares loudly, “as a hairy native!”

This includes playing the lead character’s cousin Biscuits in Marvel’s 10th TV series, Echo, alongside Alaqua Cox and Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin.

“I let the producers know I have another film that’s very wild and extreme coming out and I post rank, vulgar jokes on my social media. Am I going to get in any trouble?

“They were like, ‘Oh no, we went through your stuff, you’re good.’ And I was like, ‘Whoa.’” He’d already been vetted.

Lightning hopes to return to the world of radioactive spider bites and eyepatch renegades.

“It would be cool to get some powers and kick some … ass — can I say that?

“I always have to watch myself with these interviews because in Hey, Viktor! we dropped the f-bomb over 200 times,” he laughs.

It is, indeed, a thing to witness — whether you’ve seen Smoke Signals or not —especially for the jokes that go beyond good taste, including about Residential Schools.

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“Indigenous people, we have a wild sense of humour, some of the gnarliest jokes and craziest stories I’ve ever heard come from Elders,” says Lightning. “They’re able to shine light on the darkness.”

Distributors levelFILM is even bussing a bunch of people from Maskwacis in for the premiere.

“We’re going to bring as many people from my home reserve for opening night,” says Lightning, “and then get them home and celebrate and have some crazy, dysfunctional laughter.”

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Hey, Viktor! screening with cast and crew Q&A

When 6:30 p.m. Thursday, regular screenings Saturday through Wednesday

Where Metro Cinema, 8712 109 St.

Tickets $14

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