On 21 Thunder, RJ Fetherstonhaugh plays Nolan Gallard, a gifted soccer player whose tortured past returns to haunt him. In reality, Fetherstonhaugh is an unabashed animal lover. I caught up with Fetherstonhaugh to talk about his character on CBC’s summer hit 21 Thunder, including some key backstory not shown to viewers.
Since 21 Thunder is based on the team members of an under 21 professional soccer team. Can you tell me a bit about the chemistry in the locker room?
RJ Fetherstonhaugh: Overall it is pretty relaxed and fun. Andres [Alex] wrote a bunch of those chants and stuff. And we would all just hang out, and go about the scenes the way they were written. Sometimes the boys would create, come up with their own ideas as we went along. Overall, the chemistry was really good. We had a lot of fun and it really reminded me a lot of what it was like when I played on on my own team.
How did you get the role of Nolan Gallard?
The role was cast out of Toronto and I was in Vancouver at the time, so I sent in a tape of just dialogue for the first audition. The second round they wanted to see a video of me playing soccer so I sent in a tape of me kicking the ball and juggling and dribbling and all that. Then they flew me out to Montreal and we did the audition. It was fun and pretty unique to anything I had done before, having the lead role. I did the audition in front of about 10 people and I guess they liked it and I got the job.
You mentioned these chants that the team would do for the show. Can you tell me a bit more about how they came to be?
Well, Andres actually wrote them. He would sit in his trailer, and one day he just said, ‘Hey guys, I came up with this idea,’ and he would just teach us. We would sit outside his trailer and rehearse them, and then go in the room and do them. So that was really unique. I grew up playing soccer and we never really had that, so this was a really cool experience.
Getting to shoot in Montreal; what was that like? Was this your first experience in Montreal?
I was there when I was 18 or 19, which was a crazy experience. I went there because my sister was living there, finishing up her schooling, and I stayed with her for a week during the summer. She didn’t have air conditioning in her apartment and I remember how ridiculously hot it was. This time around I didn’t get to see too much of the city but Montreal is such a fun, cultured city.
We lived at Sainte-Laurent/St. Catherines, so it was pretty loud when you have a 5 a.m. call time and partiers were still going at four in the morning, so it was annoying at times. But genuinely I love that city. I would love to go back. I cannot wait for the next time I can go back. The food is great, there are so many great spots. As much as you want to say no to the food you can’t. They know how to cook. If there is good food in a place, then you can be sure I am happy with it.
Your character, Nolan, intersects with several different storylines: the team, Emma, Declan and Kevin. Which storyline is the most challenging for you to play?
Emma [Clark Backo] I think. Working with Clark was incredible and our chemistry was good. But I think because the show was so quick; the scenes were so fast. That was the challenge overall. You also have to remember, Nolan doesn’t speak. Like, no dialogue. There is very … very … very little. People say things to him and he just sits there. I constantly asked the writers, ‘Do you want me to say something?’ and they would reply ‘No, we want you to be quiet.’ Nolan is a just a quiet, solemn kid. So not having a lot of dialogue also made it challenging. Working a scene that is just four lines back and forth and that is it. Or, someone else speaks and you just listen. That was tough.
Working with someone as experienced as Colm Feore, were you able to glean some pointers from him during your time shooting scenes with him?
Watching him and sitting with him, I think seeing how relaxed and comfortable he is on set, being able to create without worry or nerves, I think that is the lesson I will take from Colm. He made the set so fun and so comfortable. He made everyone feel like they were at home. That was a really awesome thing to see.
Finally, there is so much tension building between your character and Kevin/“Special K.” What was that like to create?
I wish we had time to go into the history of those two. I just felt like with the show, because there are so many storylines going on, there was a lot of information that we know that is not there for viewers which is a shame really. We didn’t get to dive into the fact that in the story, when my mother died, and my father was arrested, Kevin took me in. I lived with him. He took care of me. I ran drugs for him. I did things for him but he basically sheltered me and kept me out of foster homes. Then when he went to jail, that is when I was scouted for the soccer academy and I met Emma. Then I moved in moved with Emma and her family. But none of that was talked about.
My thanks to RJ for taking a few moments out of the day. Fans can look forward to seeing him playing Agent Thomas J. Church in The Predator, due out next year.
21 Thunder airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC.