Though he may remain so in our hearts, Jason Priestley isn’t Brandon Walsh anymore. And we are just fine with that. Of course, we all grew up with Priestley on the hit series Beverly Hills 90210 and his poster wallpapered countless bedrooms and lockers of times past… some of us even had a doll of him (yeah, we did). Aside from his teen heartthrob status, he also became an inspiration to countless young Canadian actors when he put young Canadian talent on the American primetime television map with 90210. Returning to his northern roots, Priestley currently stars in the HBO Canada series Call Me Fitz and recently made his feature film directorial debut with the quick film festival staple Cas and Dylan, which opened in select theatres across the country on Friday.
Starring veteran American actor Richard Dreyfuss (you may know him best as Matt Hooper in Jaws) and coveted Canadian “it girl” Tatiana Maslany (who plays lead Sarah Manning on Orphan Black), the film documents the beautifully scenic journey of the rough-around-the-edges, 22-year-old, free-spirited Dylan and the rigid, terminally ill doctor Cas as they unexpectedly find themselves on an event-filled road trip from Winnipeg to Vancouver. Shot in just 21 days in various locations across the country, the award-winning film was written by Jessie Gabe and produced by Mark Montefiore.
We caught up with the now 44-year-old Priestley on Friday night at Toronto’s Varsity Theatre before the Toronto opening night show of Cas and Dylan. Here is why the seasoned, homegrown star is so much more than Brandon Walsh and why you really need to see the film.
He’s still an all-Canadian boy at heart (despite his American citizenship).
When we asked whether he had a favourite location during filming, Priestley couldn’t decide on just one that left the greatest impact. “There were a lot of places that stand out in my mind from filming,” said Priestley. “I think the Prairies are stunningly beautiful and I love the majesty and the scope of them. But the mountains are also beautiful, as is the West Coast of Vancouver Island. Ucluelet and Tofino especially – those places are spectacular. I have a big connection to Ucluelet, where I own a small resort, so I’ve spent a lot of time there. I also ski in the Rocky Mountains. These are places I knew really intimately and places that I wanted to really showcase through the creation of the movie.”
As for doing a road trip across a stretch of the country, he has done that as well. “I drove from Winnipeg to Vancouver once when I was a little kid, about 10 years old, with my father. So, I had a great visual sense of what I wanted the film to look like, because, as much as the typography changes as you make your way from the Prairies to the mountains and then down into the coast, the colour palette of those places totally changes too,” he tells us. “I worked very hard with Gerald Packer, my DP, to make sure that the colour palette of the movie changes when audiences are watching so that they really feel that they have been on that journey with the characters as well. It may happen subconsciously and you may not notice it full-on, but in the end it is a realization you’ve been on this epic journey yourself and that makes the audience more intimately connected to the characters.” After seeing the film, we can safely say Priestley accomplished this mission of showcasing the beauty of the country – and made us dream about running off on our own road trip. As for viewers who have done the drive, the recognizable landmarks along the way will make you a tad nostalgic, not to mention proudly patriotic.
He knows what he is doing, thank you.
When we asked Priestley whether anything surprised him in the directing of the film as opposed to television (as you may recall, he began by directing many of the later episodes of 90210), he gives us a confident, “No, nothing really surprised me.” He is, after all, experienced. “I have been directing TV for 20 years, so I drew on that experience. Everything went according to plan for the most part, but that’s because we had been planning for months, had ample prep time, and had figured out the nuances and logistics of all locations,” he tells us. “I was flying around and prepping everything as much as I could in advance, so it wasn’t like we were flying by the seat of our pants. Because I had been directing other things for so long, I knew the pitfalls that could happen and I did my best to foresee every problem and to have it fixed before we got there. I was pretty successful in doing that.” In a post-show Q&A, however, Priestley later admitted that the maneuvering of the car on and off a trailer across the provinces was not exactly as simple as he had imagined.
He doesn’t sell out for Hollywood and defends the Canadian TV and film scene.
When we asked Priestley about any misconceptions that Americans have when it comes to Canada and the Canadian TV and film industry, he paused for a second. Priestley actually became an American citizen in 2007. “For you to say that Americans may have misconceptions about Canadians, that would indicate that Americans think about Canadians, which they don’t,” he says. “I don’t necessarily think that Americans think of the world outside of the American borders. They have always been a very isolationist country and that’s just the way they roll.” Even so, he assures us that this is an exciting time for the Canadian entertainment industry. “I think that the film and television industry here in Canada continues to grow and mature and get better and better and better in the product that we see coming out of the country. It is now head and shoulders above anything that was coming out 10 years ago. As television is having its golden age in America, I think it is having a golden age here in Canada as well. I think there is a lot of people who are like me, who have left and went to the States and worked a lot on American productions. But they also like to come back here and work here in Canada because the system here – the filmmaking process is the filmmaking process across the board – but I think there is great opportunity to make things that are a little less mainstream but still successful.”
His feature film directorial debut Cas and Dylan is one of the best films you will see in a long time.
As for Cas and Dylan, we have not been that emotionally affected by a film in a long time. Thanks to the rich casting choices and unwavering chemistry between Dreyfuss and Maslany, it is the type of film that has the theatre laughing out loud with one scene and choking back tears the next. Cas and Dylan is layered with a deep exploration of everything from cancer and suicide to class, unlikely bonds and plans versus chaos (but that makes it sound depressing, which it isn’t). It makes a great choice for date night, but is also a good option for a night out with the parents, given the cross-generational nature of the film. You will also like it because it showcases some of Canada’s most breathtaking scenery and you will even take a silent pleasure in the refreshing recognition of things distinctively Canadian – from the currency to visibility of things like a bottle of President’s Choice water and Canadian real estate signs. In what Priestley admits was a huge fleet to create a movie of that budget and scope in that amount of time, the result is a high quality, big screen production unlike anything the country has seen in a very long time.
He hasn’t let success go to his head.
In no way does Priestley take all the credit for Cas and Dylan. In a post-screening Q&A, Priestley discussed his initial doubt and apprehension about his ability to secure a screen veteran like Dreyfuss and how, in a three-hour phone conversation, he had to convince him that he knew how to make a movie. He also credits the success of the film to producer Mark Montefiore, writer Jessie Gabe, the cinematography team and, of course, the actors themselves. “This was the product of amazing casting and the film really lived and breathed on their chemistry,” he says. Finally, if he has met you before – like he had us during last year’s Theatre Ball – he remembers you (or at least pretends to). There is no Hollywood attitude or pretention with Priestley, and he happily mingled and posed for pictures with filmgoers at the after party at Panorama hosted by New Metric Media, staying later than we did.
He still has it.
Finally, at 44 years old, the star is just as easy on the eyes as he was back in the day and looks better in a crisp, perfectly tailored suit than he did in anything Brandon Walsh ever wore. Sorry, ladies, he has officially been off the market since May 2005, and has a beautiful wife and family (which kind of makes us like him even more).
Check out Cas and Dylan for yourself, now playing at The Varsity Theatre in Toronto, International Cinema in Vancouver and Globe Theatre in Winnipeg.
#LYNL | (Live Your Notable Life)
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