The last Canadian television show I saw Tyler Johnston in was the excellent, poignant Less Than Kind. There he played Danny, nutty best friend to Jesse Camacho’s Sheldon in the City-HBO Canada series. Now Johnston is back, portraying an equally crazy dude in Letterkenny, Jared Keeso’s creation about the hicks, hockey players and skids living in a town of 5,000.
As Stewart, head of the skids, Johnston’s real hair is hidden under a stringy black wig, his body obscured under layers of black clothing and dark makeup smudged around his eyes. He’s almost unrecognizable, especially when Stewart launches into frantic, falsetto speeches or juddering around to thumping dance music on building stoops, surrounded by his fellow skids.
We spoke to Johnston about his character, the show, working in Canada and the short film, Conception, that sent him to Brooklyn.
Talk to me about this character.
There is this group of skids and Stewart has coined himself the leader. It’s very evident by the way that he treats his fellow skids that that is the case. Jared called me when I first booked it and said, ‘Hey buddy, here’s the deal. You’re coming to Sudbury and we’re going to put a long, black wig on you.’ I was pumped about it. I look like a vampire. I’ve had to introduce myself to crew members four or five times.
The skids are another group of people growing up in Letterkenny. It’s like a family. Some people in families don’t get along with each other, but they still love each other. I can pick on my sister all I want, but the second you pick on my little sister we’re going to have an issue. The hockey boys probably bullied my guys growing up, so there is some resentment between those two factions. The skids are also the drug dealers in town, so they get themselves into issues that they probably shouldn’t. We’re comic book nerds and talk about video games … a group of loners who found each other and formed this group.
How many skids are in the group?
There are five of us. I don’t want to give too much away, but in the finale the groups sort of meet, and we were very outnumbered. We weren’t prepared.
How did you land the role for Stewart? Did you audition, or did Jared call you and say he had something in mind?
Jared and I have been friends for a few years. We did Wrath of Grapes: The Don Cherry Story together, and he’s a Vancouver boy. I knew about the project and I was so excited for him as an outsider that it got to happen. We had always talked about working together again. I did have to throw something together on tape and tried my best. I was actually in L.A. at the time and threw something on tape and then went to play kickball with a group of people I play with every Sunday. What I put on tape didn’t feel right, so I went home after kickball and re-did it. I knew they were going to watch it and I didn’t want to give Jared and the crew a sub-par tape.
I sent it off and didn’t hear anything for about a month, so I assumed that they went with someone else. Because he and I are friends, I didn’t want to text Jared and ask anything. I didn’t want to be that guy. Meanwhile, I’m wanting to chirp him because I’m a Vancouver Canucks fan and he’s a Calgary Flames fan, but I decided to hold off on that until the decision was made.
You mentioned being in L.A. Is that because you’re looking for the next step?
Yeah, it’s sort of the next step. I’ve been fortunate to have a nice career in Canada and it’s the natural next step. I’ve got my working visa, I’ve got management there. It’s unfortunate that I feel compelled to go there. I love working in Canada, the crews and the talent and the writers.
Is the next natural stepping stone for you creating your own characters, writing and producing your own stuff?
I haven’t dove into writing so much, but my friends and I do a lot of shorts back home. I contribute thoughts and ideas but I haven’t necessarily sat down with a pen and a pad and written a storyline or a skeleton of an idea. I’m not against the idea, but it just hasn’t happened yet. We do the 24 Hour Film Race every year, and last year we were fortunate enough to get into the Top 24 in the world. So, myself and some buddies flew to Brooklyn to represent the film. In Vancouver we have a lot of movies of the week going on, which pays the bills and are awesome. We’ve thrown some webisode ideas around, so I don’t see that being too far off in the future.
Season 1 of Letterkenny is currently streaming on CraveTV.
Check out Conception