Priestley returns to first love with ‘Race’
TORONTO – Before he basked in the sun and teen fun as humble heart-throb Brandon Walsh on the ’90s TV series “Beverly Hills, 90210,” Jason Priestley was tackling some serious stage material in his home city of Vancouver.
“Theatre was the first thing I fell in love with,” the 43-year-old actor said in a recent interview, noting he performed onstage throughout high school and in a full-time theatre school.
“I was very big in theatre back then. Obviously musical theatre is not my thing but dramatic theatre is much more up my alley.”
“I’m definitely not a song-and-dance guy, and if you’ve ever heard me sing you would understand that, ‘No, maybe that’s not your thing,'” he added with a laugh.
Priestley is revisiting his first love with a Canadian Stage production of David Mamet’s provocative play “Race” at Toronto’s Bluma Appel Theatre. It begins performances Sunday and runs through May 5.
Acclaimed director Daniel Brooks directs the racially charged legal drama that premiered on Broadway in 2009.
The story centres on the case of rich and white businessman Charles Strickland (Matthew Edison), who is accused of raping a young black woman at the turn of the last decade.
Priestley plays the leading role of shrewd lawyer Jack Lawson, who has to defend Charles alongside his black colleague (Nigel Shawn Williams). Cara Ricketts plays another lawyer at the firm.
“It’s gritty, sometimes difficult subject matter,” said Priestley, sitting in the theatre during a break from rehearsals.
“Doing dramatic theatre, I think you need to perform material that challenges people, and I think that this play will definitely challenge people.”
“Race” marks Priestley’s first live theatre role since 2000, when he starred alongside Edie Falco in the Warren Leight play “Side Man” on London’s West End.
The Los Angeles-based star said it took so long to return to the stage because it’s been difficult to fit a theatre project into his TV career, which in recent years has included a starring role on the dark comedy series “Call Me Fitz.”
In his 13-year absence from the stage he’s also had two children, five-year-old Ava and three-year-old Dashiell, whom Priestley said will be in Toronto with his wife for the play’s run.
Priestley said he took on “Race” because he finally had a hole in his schedule and was compelled by the material.
He was also excited to work with Brooks, “who’s so attentive and so attune” to the play’s intricacies.
“It’s really been wonderful for me, and it’s a great reminder to go back to the theatre and remind yourself of what it is that we’re really supposed to be doing all the time,” added the two-time Golden Globe nominee.
“Any time you get to do a David Mamet play it’s a great opportunity. His writing is such that I think it’s a big challenge but when you get it right, it’s a great opportunity to play every night, really.”
Priestley recently finished shooting the fourth season of “Call Me Fitz,” which he said will air in September. Playing lewd car salesman Fitz is “really fun,” he enthused.
“It’s like going back to my 20s, are you kidding me? It’s awesome!” added Priestley, who also gets to direct on the show.
Does that mean his 20s resembled the wild life of Fitz?
“Ish, yeah. There were moments,” he said playfully.
Priestley also got nostalgic while making his feature directorial debut on “Cas & Dylan,” which he hopes to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
The Canadian-shot story stars Richard Dreyfuss as a dying man who inadvertently winds up on the lam with a 22-year-old, played by Canadian up-and-comer Tatiana Maslany.
The two go on a road trip from Winnipeg to Tofino, B.C., a trip Priestley has also taken.
“That trip I did with my father when I was about 10,” he recalled. “My poor dad had to drive the whole way. I wasn’t even able to help him.”
Priestley was also recently featured on a Canadian-themed episode of the sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.”
In the instalment, he claims to have created a dessert called “The Priestley” — a Tim Hortons Timbit stuffed into a strawberry-vanilla doughnut.
The episode inspired a Tim Hortons staff member to create the fictional doughnut for fun, and the company posted a photo of it online.
Priestley himself never got to try it, though.
“I’ve got to go down to a Timmy Ho’s and try to get one,” he chuckled.
Last summer, Priestley reunited with some of his “Beverly Hills, 90210” pals for an Old Navy campaign.
Does that mean there might be a bigger reunion project in the works?
“Never,” Priestley said, howling. “How is that going to work? How would that possibly work?
“I think (creator) Aaron (Spelling) always had it in his head somewhere that he would like to see some sort of reunion or movie but I think that dream died with Aaron, unfortunately.”
Priestley noted he is still close with series co-stars Luke Perry, Jennie Garth, Ian Ziering, Brian Austin Green, Tiffany Thiessen and Gabrielle Carteris.
“But a few of them have fallen by the wayside,” he said.
“But hey, you know, that’s cool, that’s cool. We were just a bunch of people who worked together. The Peach Pit wasn’t a real place. We all didn’t really hang out there,” he added with a laugh.
© 2013 The Canadian Press