Education and Early Career
In 1949, after completing his studies at the Collège de Lévis, Paul Hébert went to London, England, to study at the Old Vic Theatre on the advice of his friend, the actor Pierre Boucher. On his return in 1952, he made his stage debut with les Comédiens de Québec, a company founded by Boucher, and began a flourishing career.
Well rounded in theatre, Hébert founded the Théâtre Anjou in Montréal (1954–56); Québec’s first summer theatre, Le Chantecler, in Sainte-Adèle with Albert Millaire (1956); L’Estérel in Sainte-Marguerite (1961); L’Atelier in Montréal (1964); and the Théâtre Paul-Hébert on Île d’Orléans (1982). After heading the Conservatoire d’art dramatique in Montréal (1969) and in Québec City (1970), he became the first artistic director of the Théâtre du Trident in Québec City (1970–77).
Notable Roles in Theatre
In 1959, Hébert appeared in the premiere of Gratien Gélinas’s Bousille et les justes at the Comédie-Canadienne. He repeated performances of major roles such as Mikhail Aleksandrovitch Rakitin in Ivan Turgenev’s A Month in the Country; George in Edward Albee’s Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? (La Poudrière, 1966); Fleurimond in André Ricard’s Casino voleur (Trident, 1978), which he later adapted for TV; Don Quixote in Jean-Pierre Ronfard’s adaptation (Trident, 1984); Edgar in Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s Play Strindberg (Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, 1988); and Je ne suis pas Rappaport (La Bordée, 1997, directed by Gill Champagne). He won the Prix du public (audience choice award from the Théâtre du Trident’s subscribers) as part of the Prix d’excellence des arts et de la culture for the role of Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest (1999, Trident, directed by Robert Lepage).
He elicited praise for his vibrant portrayal of Doctor Chebutykin in Chekhov's The Three Sisters, directed by Wajdi Mouawad (first at the Théâtre du Trident in 2002, and then at the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde and the National Arts Centre in Ottawa in 2005). Many of his productions, such as Six Characters in Search of an Author (1957), Charbonneau and the Chief (1971) and Death of a Salesman (1975), were also prizewinners.
Career in Film and Television
Hébert was cast in important film roles: Théophile Lemay in La vie heureuse de Léopold Z by Gilles Carle (1965); the father in Les beaux souvenirs by Francis Mankiewicz (1981); Alex in Alain Chartrand’s Des amis pour la vie (1988); and again as the father in Yves Simoneau’s Les Fous de Bassan (1986). He narrated Frédéric Back’s animated short Le fleuve aux grandes eaux (1993) and played a priest in Robert Lepage’s Le Confessionnal (1995). He also appeared in many Radio-Canada television dramas and in several TV series, namely Race de monde, Le temps d’une paix, Cormoran, Nos étés and Tout sur moi.
In 1977, the Théâtre du Trident’s foundation established the Prix Paul-Hébert, awarded annually to a Québec actor or actress for their exceptional performance in a lead role. In 2007, Geneviève Albert directed the documentary Paul Hébert, le rêveur acharné, and in 2012, the Studio-Théâtre Paul Hébert opened in Thetford Mines, the actor’s hometown.
Honours and Awards
Prix Victor-Morin for Performing Arts, Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste (1973)
Honorary Doctorate, Université du Québec (1984)
Officer, Order of Canada (1987)
Prix de l’Institut canadien de Québec (1988)
Knight, National Order of Québec (1994)
Lifetime Artistic Achievement (Theatre), Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards (1995)
Gascon-Thomas Award, National Theatre School (1997)
Honorary Doctorate of Letters, Université Laval (2000)
Prix Hommage, Académie québécoise du théâtre (2003)
Prix Denise-Pelletier, Prix du Québec (2007)
Médaille de la Révolution tranquille, Government of Québec (2011)