Actor Ryan McDonald has a major role in one of Canada’s best television dramas. He plays Reggie, the sweet-natured but troubled nephew of Montreal mafia boss Declan Gardiner (Kim Coates), in Citytv mob series Bad Blood.
McDonald’s performance is compelling and deeply sympathetic, weaving an important thread of kindness and decency into a fairly dark show. But it almost didn’t happen. After the cancellation of his last TV series, the delightfully irreverent comedy What Would Sal Do?, the British Columbia native was ready to give up acting and pursue a very different career.
“I was just fed up and feeling uninspired,” he explains.
We phoned McDonald, whose other TV credits include Rookie Blue, Saving Hope and Fringe, to find out how Bad Blood helped him get his acting groove back and get a preview of this Thursday’s Reggie-heavy new episode, “Una Vita Per Una Vita,” written by Patrick Moss and directed by Jeff Renfroe.
How did you become involved in Bad Blood?
Ryan McDonald: It’s kind of a strange story. I’d actually stopped acting at the beginning of this year. I was just fed up and feeling uninspired. I’d broken my lease in Toronto and come back home to Vancouver in anticipation that the previous show I did for New Metric Media, What Would Sal Do?, was going to get a second season. And, of course, it didn’t, so I ended up sort of stranded here. And in that time period, I kind of wanted to get away. I stopped auditioning, and my agent just put me on the shelf and respected my space. I started studying counselling here in Vancouver, and I was fairly certain I was going to go down that road.
I hadn’t spoken to my agent in about four or five months, and he called me because he just wanted to catch up. In the few days it took me to get back to him, that little tiny window, [New Metric president] Mark Montefiore contacted him about a role in Bad Blood, and it was perfect timing because I was just then open to doing something. If it had happened maybe a month before that, I don’t know that I would have been interested. My mind was in a completely different place.
I didn’t read for the role of Reggie, initially. I read for [Detective Tucker, played by Eric Hicks], and I thought that that was a cool part, and it wasn’t in as many episodes. I thought, ‘Great, I’ll just do that and then come back to Vancouver and go back to school with all my acting money.’ And then they had me read for Reggie, and I thought, ‘Oh man, this is really somebody that I want to play, and actually the kind of story I want to tell.’ I got it and it went from there. And there’s no better role to kind of get me back into the business.
What is it about Reggie that made him your perfect comeback role?
RM: It was really compelling to me the idea of playing somebody who was having to start over, who didn’t really have a place in the world, a thing that he could do, a group that he fit in with. And somebody who was an adult and had grown up hard and been in prison for so long, but was really sensitive and playful and kind of the opposite of what you’d expect somebody who’d been there to be. I think the idea that Reggie is a guy who knows darkness very intimately but chooses to smile was a really beautiful thing. I love characters in general that have either conditions like Reggie’s anxiety and depression or just feelings that they’re struggling to live with. I like people that are kind of carrying around baggage. And he’s very loyal, too. Reggie is kind of a beacon of light in this season. He’s a very pure guy in a lot of ways.
Reggie and Declan haven’t known each other long, but they’ve already developed a strong bond.
RM: Reggie sought out some sort of family while he was inside and found Declan. And he’s all he could find. And Declan is not a guy who’s ever had much family attachment. He had a pseudo-family in terms of Vito, but in terms of real, blood relations, he’s been a lone wolf as long as we’ve known him. You’ve got two guys who are really trying to connect with somebody. Declan’s trying to learn how to take care of someone and what it means to be a father figure, and Reggie is trying to find out who he actually is through the only link he has left, his family.
Speaking of their bond, at the end of the last episode, Teresa [Anna Hopkins] and Christian [Gianni Falcone] abducted Reggie to force Declan into doing business with them. Can you give us any hints about what happens to Reggie in Episode 3?
RM: I don’t think Reggie ultimately blames Declan for anything that goes on. I think in Episode 3, he has pretty unwavering trust in his uncle and a belief that this person loves him and is going to take care of him. It’s also not the first time he’s been smacked around. He’s afraid for his life, but he’s kind of been shoved from spot to spot from the moment he was born. So I think there’s a fear and a fight to survive and a desire to get back into the light, but I think Reggie’s attitude is a little bit fatalistic about the whole thing.
You worked with Kim Coates a great deal in the series. What was that like?
RM: Oh, man. I worked with him every day all summer. It was incredible. He is, besides just being a total boss and funny as hell and a legend in this country, he’s just such an actor’s actor. He’s so generous. He’s so excited to collaborate. He’s so enthusiastic about the people who came together to make this season. Right from Day 1, when I got up to Sudbury, where we started shooting, he was down to hang out and go through the script and talk about the scenes and work on things and improvise. And he wanted to improvise on that. It was just so comfortable, and it’s the way I love to work. He’s very intuitive and very relaxed.
After Bad Blood, I had a few weeks of downtime and then I went and shot the lead in a film [Canadian director Nicole Dorsey’s Black Conflux] out in Newfoundland, and it was my first time being the lead of a movie. I learned so much from him. Like how to show up to the set every day and not disappear into your own head. Stay open. Keep talking to people. Crack some jokes. Keep it light, no matter what you’re doing. And be generous; talk to the actor you’re working with. I think when I was coming up, there was always this idea that it had to be hard, like there had to be angst for it to be good. And now I’m just all about being chill and friendly, no matter what.
Bad Blood is quite a change of pace from What Would Sal Do? Do you enjoy working on dramas or comedies more?
RM: I feel a lot more at home in a story where everybody is weeping and dying, and there are moments of absurdity that you have to find funny. I find that is closer to the reality that I understand. I like drama and darkness with humour. That just seems like real life to me.
Sal was an interesting case because even though on the surface it’s a comedy and every scene is sort of built for laughs, we tried to play it like an indie film, we tried to play it as real and honest. I was disappointed in it not happening again because I thought its potential was so great. There was such an opportunity to find a different kind of energy with that show. It’s a real bummer, but it could pop up again, who knows? There’s always talk.
So far this year, you’ve done Bad Blood and shot your first lead role in a film. Does that mean you’re all in with acting, or are you still going to study counselling?
RM: I’m pretty much back into acting right now, but I love studying counselling because it really teaches you the value of how to listen and be with the person and truly see them. And I think that’s beneficial for everybody, but as an actor especially. So I would like to go back to it, but it’s going to be some time. I’m moving back to Toronto in the new year, and we’ll see what happens then.
Bad Blood airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Citytv.
Images courtesy of Rogers Media.