Interview: Daniel Gillies on storytelling and Saving Hope


By Adam Langton for TV, eh?

This morning I had the pleasure of chatting with Daniel Gillies, star of both Saving Hope on CTV as well as the upcoming spin-off of The Vampire Diaries, The Originals on The CW. Gillies also wrote and directed his first feature film Broken Kingdom which debuted in 2012, starringGillies and his wife, Rachael Leigh Cook. I asked Gillies about his career, his film, and Saving Hope’s Dr. Joel Goran.

Well if I’m not mistaken, I have it written here that you were born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, you moved to New Zealand at a very early age, from there you went to Australia to work, then to Los Angeles, now you’re back in Canada for Saving Hope … could you tell us a bit about that journey and becoming an actor in so many different places in your career?

You missed one important step in there: between Australia and the United States I actually went to Vancouver and worked there for a year, which is sort of what got me started in North America. That was in 2001. To be honest, it’s fascinating to me to think about how many places I’ve been to in order to have this career. I’m a very lucky guy. But to talk about the last twenty years is a little difficult in a paragraph.

(Laughs.) Absolutely. I was mostly wondering where you were and when it was that you realized acting is what you wanted to do.

You know, I didn’t really have the quote/unquote momentous insight, or the epiphany of any kind. To be honest with you man, it’s a little less romantic than that. I was never really particularly good at anything else. I ended up training at 18 or 19 in a very sort of pedestrian, common way. I ended up joining theatre groups and eventually making the jump to television; this was back in New Zealand. Eventually, before I knew it, I had been doing it for five, and then ten years. It sort of just blossomed. I always had the intention of doing what I’m doing and I think I always knew that I would write my own material as well, which I did with Broken Kingdom.

It’s funny–I wish I could answer that more succinctly so I’m not boring the people who have to read this. But also, if I could say something a lot more sensational. I think I need to start fabricating during interviews. Or at least before the interviews, a meditative strike. I’ll come in and say something about visitations from angels or something like that. But truthfully I knew I was altogether too idle to do anything blue-collar or too arduous. And I was way too drawn to storytelling to not be drawn into a creative life. I didn’t really have a moment, I was just sort of always doing this. Even as a kid, I was doing this.

So, with working on your own material, with Broken Kingdom, does that feel like a culmination of this journey?

That’s an interesting question. I think that it unifies a lot of those skills. Do I think that my movie is perfect? No, I don’t. I’m very proud of it, I think that for a first film it’s pretty damn exceptional, but do I look at it now and see flaws in it? Absolutely. I do think that [Broken Kingdom] is sort of an amalgamation of the aspects of myself that have grown over the years, creatively. It is wonderful to kind… have control, to be perfectly honest. There’s something really exciting and really intimidating about having control. When you’re able to say on a platform, through art, what you would like to say back to the universe. It’s really wonderful, there’s a great liberty in that.

And there’s so much working against you. I’m not just talking about raising the money and all of that business, which is just soul-destroying. I’m talking about the art itself. When you have the true liberty to be able to create anything, you know, whether it’s a film or whether it’s a novel or whether it’s a giant mosaic of tile, there’s so much working against you, whatever your creation is.

Ira Glass has a great take on this. There’s a thing on YouTube called “Storytelling.”

It’s a four-part thing. It’s really, really inspiring, man. He talks about being a journalist and he talks about NPR and he discusses what it is to be an artist. So when you start out there’s this ravine between who you are as an artist and who you aspire to be–the kind of art that you aspire to create. So the ravine seems sort of gigantic but over the years it sort of slowly, slowly closes. When you begin as an artist, you have a haste, you know? And you aspire to great things but when it comes to doing them it’s pretty daunting, actually.

I can’t remember where I was going with this, I’ve just gone on a complete rant, tangentially throwing you left and right, all over the place. But if you get the opportunity to watch [Storytelling] it’s really cool; I love what he says about being a storyteller and how the art is sort of devastating. Even when I look at Broken Kingdom now, I’ll still see it and think to myself “okay, those things were important to me then, and I’ve discussed them and I’ve asked a lot of questions” but I definitely know I wouldn’t do it the same way again. I feel like I’ve learned and improved so much from making Broken Kingdom. The next time around, I think, is going to be interesting. And I look forward to making thousands more mistakes in order to inch closer to saying those handful of things that you say in your life that might be significant, important.

It seems like even the most celebrated filmmakers are constantly making mistakes, so maybe it’s just part of the entire process.

I think that’s the thing, man. And the artists I admire the most are the ones who have embraced that. I’m really enjoying being in Canada now, because it’s a lot more akin to the sensibility of my New Zealand people, with regard to something like success. We look at success in the United States — I think there’s a sort of disease where success is quote/unquote “getting it right” rather than the journey being the point of it all. And I think that you sort of need to hurl yourself into the fire over and over again; those are the people that are great. Even Einstein said “it’s not that I am so smart, I have a greater threshold for going back into that fire” and I’m paraphrasing him terribly, but basically it’s that it isn’t that he is so smart but that he has a great deal of patience.

Anyway, I’m taking us all over the place, now. I can ramble.

Now I’ve got a couple of questions about [your character on Saving Hope] Dr. Joel Goran, if that’s alright.

Oh, of course.

Tell us about Joel in your own words. Let’s say you were going to set him up with a friend of yours, how would you describe him?

Oh my god, I don’t think I would set Joel Goran up with a friend of mine! I mean, it’s weird. It’s almost like, the more you discover about him, the more enigmatic he becomes. It wouldn’t be possible to try to set him up with a friend of mine because I’d know immediately from talking with him that his heart is set on Alex Reid, played by the wonderful Erica Durance. And I think that he has two loves, really: there’s Alex Reid, which he buries beneath this mountain of work, which is his other love. That’s his other great passion pursuit. He’s an interesting figure because he’s made a decision to be this kind of solitary figure. That alone is one of his enigmas. Any relationship he has is one that he gets through his work. I think that he’s deeply ambitious and he has never stayed in one place terribly long. At the moment I think he’s probably been at Hope Zion, the hospital, for so long it’s testing his threshold, as it were. He’s seeing how long he can deal with the administrative qualities of his new position and the bureaucracies therein.

My follow-up question was about those new responsibilities that we see him taking on at the end of last season. Do you think he’s ready? What can we expect going forward?

Which proffers the other question, to what extent is Joel sticking around because Alex is there? I wish I could answer that. (Laughs.) I think I kinda can, but that’s really for the audience to discern as we move forward.

The second season of ‘Saving Hope’ premieres Tuesday, June 25 on CTV. The companion piece Last Call is airing online, comprised of shorts featuring the characters off-hours, giving fans a glimpse of their lives outside of Hope Zion. You can watch the first episode featuring series stars Michael Shanks and Kristopher Turner here.