You’ve certainly done a lot of SF roles in your career…
I feel very lucky to have done a bunch of different projects in this genre.
Is it something you’ve always loved, or just the way that the cards have fallen?
A little bit of both. I was a big science fiction fan, fantasy, all of that sort of thing. You can’t control the route your career is going to take; part of that is luck to a big extent, what people offer you, and what opportunities are presented to you. But I definitely was a big fan of genre stuff. It wasn’t a big stretch for me to jump into these things.
How did you get the gig for Killjoys?
As per usual: I got a breakdown for the show, and I went out for an audition. The first audition was the very first scene of the pilot and I remember thinking, “Wow, this is such an interesting premise,” and the way these two characters were introduced in the very first scene, it really had me hooked.
Then it was the audition process, and testing – reading with a bunch of different actors to find a chemistry or a team that works well together. It was quite an involved process, but from the very beginning I was very intrigued by the project.
Yes – that being said, if I met her, it was very brief. I didn’t spend a lot of time with her, get to know her very well on Lost Girl, because I was only there for a few episodes.
But after I had been cast in Killjoys, she said to me that there was a picture on the wall in the production office of me when they were prepping – there was something she’d seen me do, maybe seen on Lost Girl, that triggered something: “this is the kind of character, the kind of actor that we want to play Johnny” That was kind of flattering but I didn’t know that at the time.
I was nervous to get the part, I had to work really hard, but I guess in retrospect, maybe I had a bit of a shoe-in.
And it’s nice to know that advantage was there even if it wasn’t obvious to you at that point…
It would have been a lot of pressure had I known! That never brings out the best performance, so I’m glad I didn’t know. It’s fun to know after the time.
It’s also flattering that they were looking for an “Aaron Ashmore” type!
Yes, that’s kind of cool. I don’t know how widespread that is – I don’t think casting directors the world over are going, “We need an Aaron Ashmore type!” but in some circles, with all the genre work I’ve done, definitely some people know who I am.
What did they tell you about John when you were prepping for the audition process?
Just very basic stuff: it’s all in the script. We talked a little bit about his personality types and traits and this was even on the breakdown for the script: he’s caring, sense of humour, sarcastic, can handle himself when he gets in trouble but he would prefer to talk his way of situations rather than get violent.
There was a lot of conversation around these sorts of things: I wouldn’t call him a pacifist but he definitely would rather use his words or his mind to outsmart or work around a problem, rather than go right through it. He’s different in that way than D’avin – it differentiated him from the other characters.
Throughout the first season, he, D’avin and Dutch are all rubbing off on each other in terms of how they react. Were you expecting that sort of progression or were you not given much idea of how things would go?
No, writers don’t want to share too much because things change along the way. There are a lot of people that are involved in the process – the network and the studio give their notes – so they don’t want to tell you too much up front because things change and actors go, “But I was playing this based on the fact you told me this was going to happen.” It can cause headaches.
Also if you’re not told too much, you’re living in the moment. You’re where the characters are, discovering information, and finding out what’s happening as you go, rather than knowing ahead of time and planning.
We’re told the broad strokes over a season or what’s going to happen to a character, but the details of that really come week to week as we get the scripts, which is kind of exciting.
Have you had any moments where you’ve thought, “If I knew that was coming up, I’d’ve played that a bit different”?
Not hugely, and not because of lack of information or anything like that. I think that just in general when you watch something back you think, “maybe I didn’t make the right decision there”, but nothing that was so out of left field that I’ve thought, “Oh I made the wrong choices earlier in the season”.
One of the strengths of the show, I think, is that it has all those things. If you just have a heavy drama and none of the fun element, then it falls a bit flat and those dark moments don’t seem as relevant or heavy or have as much weight if it’s all dark and serious.
That’s what I think they did a fantastic job of: setting up this fun, interesting trio and then, once we like these people, once we’ve got to know them, diving into the darker elements of it.
I think there’s a similar thing in the second season. It’s not just all heavy; there’s a real sense of humour and action. I think in some ways we go lighter in the second season than we did in the first, but then we also delve into some really dark stuff. The second season is similar to the first: we do have a lot of fun but then when things go bad, they go bad, and there are real consequences. We’re juggling it all, and I think it’s one of the real strengths of the show – the writing team and what they’ve been able to execute.
Did you have any chat with Michelle or the writers between seasons in terms of what you’d like to see John do, or characters you’d like him to spend time with?
I’ve never worked on a show where the writers are like, “Come on in, tell us what you want to do.” They have to plan a much bigger world. Particularly in a show like this where you’re completely creating a world, and religions and government and all that sort of stuff, they really have to create that bigger picture and work in the schemes they want to.
So no, we don’t really go in and have a conversation. In my mind, of course I have things that I think it would be cool for the character to do and play and interact with. But as an actor, the things that you find interesting about the character and the aspect of them you want to come out, you can put those into any situation. You’re always making those decisions, leaning on those parts of the character that you think are interesting.
But no, there’s no “Come on in, we’ll write the stories together”. It’s a very separate part of the process.
What’s been the most challenging aspect of playing him?
There are lots of challenges – it’s a very challenging show! As I was saying, in an episode, we go from having to do crazy action sequences to one-liner comedy and then flip over to really dramatic, emotional things. As far as an actor goes, it’s exactly what you want because it’s allowing you to play all those sort of separate and different aspects of the character and make the character really three-dimensional, but that’s also difficult to deal with, to access those things, to play all those things.
Much as I’m a very compassionate and caring person, John is very, very much that, so his empathy and how open he is emotionally, to me is sometimes difficult to play, because he totally wears his heart on his sleeve. Sometimes that’s tough for me to get through. Not to say that I’m at all cut off emotionally, but that’s a tough place in a cynical world to get to.
An even more cynical world than we live in, probably yeah.
One of the series does well is take modern situations and push them that one step further, to look at our world through that prism…
I think if you’re not making some sort of commentary on what’s happening in our world right now, then you’re not doing sci-fi right, because that’s the beautiful thing that it gets to do: challenge our ideas, or make us think about things through a slightly different lens. We’re not in our world, we’re reflecting all of those things that are happening in our world and we’re getting to say something about them. I think that’s what really good sci-fi does.
What moment for you sums up Johnny for you – an archetypal moment?
That’s an interesting question. I’m trying to think what that might be…
I think in the first season some of the moments that really reflect who John is are both in episode eight [Come the Rain] where John is stuck in the bar with Pawter and Pree and Alvis. Things are going incredibly bad, and when he is pushed to the limit, he ends up taking out three people very violently and very quickly. It’s like a different side of Johnny than we’d ever seen – he’s usually talking his way out of things.
I think the contrast between that scene – how efficiently and almost cold-bloodedly he kills these three people – and a scene a couple of moments later where he’s lying on the bed reading a comic book to his best friend, and just being a great friend, and being sweet to me are what really encompasses what John is. Most of the time we see the caring type guy. But I really like this idea that maybe at any point there’s this unpredictable element to him where he could snap and kill somebody, that he’s capable of that.
I think that encompasses what this guy is: he is incredibly caring but he can be incredibly dangerous.
I thought, “Finally!” Everybody gets to kick all this ass, and John’s constantly trying to smooth things over. I was reading the script and going, “Something’s got to give here, something’s got to give, he’s being constantly put into this scenario, he’s constantly being put on by all these people… oh, hang on, there’s his moment!” He snaps, and does what he has to do, and I was like, “Finally!”
I felt very excited for John in that moment, very vindicated for all the times he’s had to talk his way out of things. Now’s his chance to get some action!
Killjoys Season 2 begins on Syfy UK on Tuesday August 2 at 8 pm; it continues on Fridays on Syfy US at 9/8c
Thanks to Cecile Quinney for her help in arranging this interview