Kim Coates will receive an honorary Doctor of Letters next month at Spring Convocation.
Kim Coates will receive an honorary Doctor of Letters next month at Spring Convocation.

From the university scene to the stage and screen

It would make for a classic heart-warming tale to tell the story of Kim Coates as a young boy growing up in Saskatchewan dreaming of Hollywood, determined to one day be a star of stage and screen.

It just wouldn’t be true.

In fact, there is more chance than romance to his story, and how it all started right here at the University of Saskatchewan where Coates randomly picked up a drama class while studying to be a history teacher. History has shown that decision forever changed his life.

“When I started at the University of Saskatchewan in 1977-78, I had an elective and someone said you can take whatever you want,” Coates recalled. “So I just flipped through the U of S catalogue and hit ‘D’ and went through some classes, dentistry and things, and stopped on drama. And I thought, ‘An acting class?’ I had won a couple of things in public school where you speak in front of the class, so I thought, ‘Sure, I’ll take a drama class.’ And I’ve never looked back.”

Indeed. Forty years after that fateful decision, the 59-year-old Coates is now a celebrated Hollywood actor, having appeared in more than 130 movies and television productions, including Academy Award-winning films Black Hawk Down and Pearl Harbor, as well as the wildly successful FX TV series Sons of Anarchy.

Next month, Coates will return home to Saskatoon where it all began to receive an honorary Doctor of Letters from his alma mater at this year’s U of S Spring Convocation at TCU Place on June 6. Coates, who earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1981 at the U of S, will be one of six honorary degree recipients this spring, along with Hayley Wickenheiser, Herb Pinder Jr., Frederick Mulder, Earl Cook and Xiaoping Xu.

“This is something that I never could have imagined and I am excited to come home for this,” said Coates. “What the U of S did for me was enter me into a whole new world of opportunity. Tennessee Williams, Shakespeare, I had never done any of that in high school.

“I was just such a big jock, you know? And then I did 24 plays over four years in university, including summer stock (theatre), and I was hungry for more.

“And that’s what (former U of S drama professor) Tom Kerr and all of those amazing teachers instilled in me: breath and movement and creating a character and stage and memorization and all these things. I had my mind opened up in university and from there it was all about hard work and following your bliss.”

Coates began his career like many actors, chasing parts while working as a waiter, supported by his wife Diana Chappell, a 1981 U of S education graduate.

“Thankfully she could get a credit card, because I couldn’t,” he said with a chuckle.

One of his first big breaks was landing the title role as the youngest lead ever in Macbeth at the legendary Stratford Theatre and then moving on to play Stanley Kowalski in the Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire, two of the 50 plays he has appeared in.

Coates later comfortably transitioned to the big screen, working in movie roles alongside a who’s-who of Hollywood heavyweights such as Ben Affleck, Alec Baldwin, Kate Beckinsale, Halle Berry, Kevin Costner, Robert Duval, Jennifer Garner, Bruce Willis, and his life-long mates Ewan McGregor, Eric Bana and Bill Fichtner, from Black Hawk Down. He has also had success in television series like CSIEntouragePrison Break and most notably seven seasons in his celebrated role as biker Tig Trager in Sons of Anarchy.

“I always knew I would do film, but I needed more stage first,” he said. “So for me, there’s been stepping stones … and then Hollywood discovered me. Now here we are, 60 movies later and a massive hit television series.

“And when I did Sons of Anarchy, it was perfect timing, post-The Sopranos. I am so grateful that my gut said yes, do this, because Sons was a game-changer. I was always, ‘Oh, you’re that guy, you’re that guy.’ But now I am Kim Coates and people know who that is.”

Since Sons of Anarchy wrapped up in 2014, Coates has been busier than ever, appearing in seven movies, two mini-series and a sitcom stint with comedian Kevin James. Coates is in a six-part big-budget western mini-series entitled Godless coming out this fall on Netflix, as well as a Canadian mini-series entitled Bad Blood, based on the notorious Rizzuto crime family in Montreal, also slated to air this fall in Canada.

Along the way, Coates has remained committed to his charitable work off-screen, from Creative Kids Saskatoon—connecting youth to artistic and cultural experiences—to One Heart Source—providing education, homes and health programs in Africa. Coates has gone overseas to do USO tours in support of American and Canadian troops, and regularly returns home to volunteer his time to promote the provincial film industry and the U of S drama department where his story began.

“My charities mean the world to me,” said Coates, who was awarded a 2016 Actra Award of Excellence for his charitable commitments, his support of the Canadian film industry and for his remarkable body of work in acting and producing. “So now, being a bit of a celebrity, I love giving back and I have continued to fight for the arts and continued to fight for things that people in my situation should do.”

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