When Jann Arden met Charlie Kerr at a dinner party in Vancouver last year, she immediately wanted him to play Nate, the younger boyfriend of her fictional self, on the third season of CTV’s Jann. However, the pair almost didn’t cross paths that night.
Arden was staying at a cottage owned by Kerr’s father on Bowen Island, B.C., and Kerr—who fronts alt-rock band Hotel Mira and has appeared on TV shows such as iZombie, The Magicians and Supernatural—says he was worried the iconic singer-songwriter would think he was just “another actor-musician … with ulterior motives to collaborate with her” if he turned up at a dinner they had both been invited to. So he initially declined to go. In the end, a friend convinced him to attend the gathering, but he “purposely wore ratty clothing” so it wouldn’t look like he was trying to impress anybody.
Little did Kerr know, Arden was already impressed with him.
“I sat down and [Jann] already knew who I was and started talking about music,” Kerr says. “I had a song that was doing well on the radio at the time and we were kind of relating to each other on that. And then the subject of her TV show came up, and she started talking about this character Nate, and I think she even said [he was] ‘kind of somebody a bit like you,’ and I was like, ‘Well, I’m an actor; I’d love to audition.’”
Soon after their encounter, Arden began championing Kerr to play Nate. In response, the Vancouver native started an intense workout regimen to change his appearance because, as he explains, the character is “a star in an action TV show, and I have the body of a 13-year old girl.”
Following a lengthy audition and network approval process, Kerr finally landed the part. “Between going to that dinner and filming, I think it was like seven months,” he says.
Last week, Nate made his debut on the show. Matched with Jann through a celebrity dating app, the TV star—who plays a fantasy action hero called Dark Cupid—at first, appears to have little in common with her. For one thing, he’s a younger man—to the horror of Nora (Deborah Grover), who protests both his age and gender. For another, he’s grounded and isn’t into relationship drama, which makes him wary of Jann’s over-the-top antics when they run into Cynthia (Sharon Taylor) on their first date. But despite this rough start, the episode ends with Nate making pancakes in Jann’s kitchen after spending the night, indicating there might be hope for this odd couple after all.
We spoke to Kerr, who is currently recording new music with Hotel Mira, about what viewers can expect from Nate in coming episodes.
You have a lot going on creatively. You’re the lead singer-songwriter for Hotel Mira, a band that’s having a lot of success, you’re a screenwriter, and now you’ve also got an important new role on Jann. Can you tell me a bit about how you got into acting and how you juggle it with your other creative endeavours?
Charlie Kerr: I’ve always kind of just loved all of it, and kind of spent my whole life in my dad’s basement writing songs or writing sketches or performing however I could. There was a really long time where I wasn’t any good at any of it, but I was still very passionate. I don’t see too much difference in all of it, it’s all just storytelling, and I’ve been lucky that they really haven’t gotten in the way of each other very many times. I’ve been acting professionally for most of my life, and at the first concert I ever played, I was 10 years old. So my main job and focus have always been wanting to be creative and express and perform. I think it’s just how I feel the most comfortable. It’s kind of like that cliché of belonging on a stage and not feeling like I belong in too many other places.
When I read that Jann would be dating an action star that she meets on a celebrity dating app, I thought the character would be somewhat silly or over-the-top. But Nate is serious and no-nonsense. How did you approach playing him?
CK: I know quite a lot of people kind of like him, who have been on and off sets and want to be treated like they’re normal and kind of want a break from all the glitz and glamour and stuff. That was the main thing that I was thinking about, that Nate is so well known for this part that is nothing like him, and he just wants people to love him for him and show that he’s not just one thing, and I think a lot of people can relate to that. I think that’s a pretty human quality. One of my other favourite things about Nate is he means really well, and sometimes he’s being insulting and doesn’t know it. Being a movie star, being pampered on set, whatever it is, leads to kind of a lack of awareness. Those are the main things about Nate that I wanted to portray: He means well, he’s very loving, but he has a very strange life that’s led to a bit of lack of awareness.
When we spoke to co-creators Jennica Harper and Leah Gauthier, they mentioned that they had to age you because Nate is supposed to be 38 and you’re several years younger than that. What did that involve?
CK: I think my body transforming was a big part of it. I also grew out a beard, and my hair’s super long. I look pretty different than I usually look. And trying to have that maturity wherever I could as well in the performance. One thing I’ve noticed about people growing up and getting to a certain age, is they don’t sweat the small stuff as much. If you’re playing someone younger, everything’s the end of the world. You’re incredibly dramatic at every single moment of conflict, and I think a way to kind of play maturity is to understand that some things aren’t that important and roll with the punches a bit, so I tried to do that as well.
It’s common to see relationships between older men and younger women in movies and on TV shows, but it’s still rare to see the reverse. Did it excite you to be a part of an onscreen pairing that bucks that trend?
CK: It’s one of my absolute favourite things about it because it’s an age gap that no one would blink an eye at if the genders were reversed. If Larry David had a girlfriend on his show that was a similar age gap, it wouldn’t even be a plot point, and to be a part of something going the other direction and making people think and pointing out the hypocrisy of that was really appealing. It’s really exciting to me to be a part of anything that makes people think or challenges something.
When Nate goes on his first date with Jann, he sees some red flags that initially make him think he doesn’t want to see her again, but then he stays the night. What made him change his mind?
CK: [Jann’s] honesty, authenticity. He mentions how sick of anything vapid he is at this point. So when Jann gets real with him about what she’s going through, I think that’s what really hooks him, and I can relate to that. I think we’ve all fallen in love with or become more interested in somebody once they’re vulnerable with us.
What was it like to work with Jann Arden?
CK: I think the entire thing was just a dream come true. I never thought I’d get to be a part of an ensemble comedy, especially one this strong. Jann championed me from the beginning. I owe her a lot. But the entire cast and crew is just remarkably fun to work with. I couldn’t believe my job was going to work to make people laugh. That’s so absurdly cool. And she’s so talented and she’s such an awesome leader, and she has kind of hand-picked and curated who she works with in a way where you always feel safe, you always feel taken care of, and honestly, I just loved being a fly on the wall on that set because everyone was so goddamn funny.
Speaking of funny, Nate stars in a fantasy TV series called Dark Cupid, and there were several campy scenes from the show included in last week’s episode. Were those as fun to film as they were to watch?
CK: That was an absolute joy, and it was something I was pretty nervous about because I had the whole body language and voice kind of picked out, and I didn’t know if other people would find it as funny as I did. And the first thing we did was a big table read on Zoom and my first lines are as Dark Cupid, so I started doing the voice and the breathing and stuff and everybody was cracking up, and it was the first time I was able to breathe and be like, ‘OK, I’m probably not gonna get fired.’ So doing that and people digging it, it was such a joy. It was kind of like getting to be in a Marvel thing or a superhero thing.
From talking to Jennica and Leah, I know that Nate plays a major role in the rest of the season. What can you preview about his journey in upcoming episodes?
CK: He really integrates with the rest of the cast, and I think we get to see just more and more of how human he is and how he enjoys the simple things. I got to work with Patrick [Gilmore] for an entire episode and that dynamic’s really, really fun. I think just as time goes on, you get to see how much of a goofball he is, you get to see the best parts of Jann that appeal to him, why they’re an unlikely match.
Do you have a favourite episode coming up?
CK: This week’s episode, 305, is a lot of fun. It has a lot of rad, funny moments. And the finale is really cool. Getting to be a part of something with Tegan and Sara was—I never got to meet them—but being involved with them whatsoever was incredibly exciting because The Con was one of my favourite records growing up, so that was a bit of a starstruck moment for me, and an honour.
Jann airs Mondays at 7 p.m. ET/PT on CTV, CTV.ca and CTV app.
Images courtesy of Bell Media.