Alumni Interviews: Dylan Playfair Shines on CraveTV’s Letterkenny

Alumni Interviews: Dylan Playfair Shines on CraveTV’s Letterkenny

Vancouver Acting School’s Acting for Film & Television alum Dylan Playfair stars in Bell Media/CraveTV’s new hit series, Letterkenny.

“When you get on set, they don’t want an actor who’s still on a huge learning curve. They want you to walk in with an answer to their problems. That was drilled into our heads at Vancouver Acting School.” – Dylan Playfair

You’ve had an interesting few weeks!

It’s been crazy. I was supposed to go to Vietnam, so we booked our tickets and were told we could get our visa at the border. But when we got there, the guard didn’t like Canadians I guess, and he wouldn’t let us in.

Really? I thought everybody loves Canadians.

I thought so, too! So we had to stay in Thailand for an extra month. Which was not a bad place to be. I mean, we did a yoga retreat and some elephant riding and I ending up having a really great trip. And now I’m back auditioning in Vancouver, so life is good.

You’re in a new show that’s getting some serious buzz, Letterkenny, premiering February 7 on Bell Media’s CraveTV.

We’ve been incredibly fortunate with Letterkenny. Bell Media had a different show lined up as the first original commissioned program for its digital streaming platform, CraveTV. But an unfortunate turn of events caused that show not to move forward and so they were looking for something to replace it. And there we were, in the right place at the right time. CraveTV liked the concept a lot and decided to put all the production and marketing resources they’d had lined up for that other show into ours. And now they’re doing a big push this weekend during Superbowl Sunday, with the release of all episodes right after the game. Letterkenny is their flagship show, their first original comedy, so they’re really excited about it.

I’ve seen it. I haven’t laughed like that since Trailer Park Boys.

We’re pretty proud of it.

You play a hockey player. Is that something you can relate to personally?

Letterkenny is a real “full circle” experience for me. When I was 19, I was playing hockey in Merritt, BC. I love hockey, my dad was a pro coach, my uncle played in the NHL. I had the chance to go pro, had some scholarship opportunities. Hockey treated me really well, I had some great coaches. But I always loved acting, loved the idea of performing. I was watching Friday Night Lights one evening and saw Taylor Kitsch, who coincidentally had played in the hockey same league as me in Langley, BC. So I did some research and found out he’d wrecked his knee and then moved to New York to get into acting. When I learned he had applied the skills and disciplines he’d learned in hockey to acting, I realized I could do it, too.

Have you found that, too? That the things you learned in hockey have helped you as an actor?

Athletes and actors have some important things in common. For instance, both know that the chances of making it big feel like they’re one in a million. A lot of people want to get into sports or acting, but the deciding factor is what you do when people aren’t watching. My dad always told me, you can be skilled as hell but if you don’t work hard, you’re never going to make it. And I wasn’t that skilled as a hockey player but I worked really, really hard, and I got pretty far in hockey. And I knew that if, like Taylor Kitsch, I applied that same discipline to my acting, I had a good chance of being successful.

What pushed you to take a serious shot at acting?

I had a couple of concussions at 19 that affected me pretty hard. Concussions don’t show up for a while and they can affect you in ways that are spooky. I would play games and then go home and forget who we’d played or even how I got home. I stopped having fun, stopped loving hockey, stopped going to the rink. And I talked to my dad and he said, “If you don’t love it, get out of the game or eventually you’ll resent it.”

A couple of fairly traumatic personal events also happen around that time. One of my best friends went to jail and another committed suicide, both within a short period. It really shook me up, made me look at my life and realize how important it was to be true to myself and do something I really loved. So I packed up my car, moved to Vancouver, got a job as production assistant on film sets, and took acting classes at night.

So you’ve taken that first important step. Now you’re in Vancouver, on set as a PA, hoping to catch a break as an aspiring actor. What happened next?

It’s funny, when you go all in and really commit yourself to something, good stuff begin to happen! I joined a beer league and the captain of the team, who’d also played junior hockey before moving to Vancouver to become an actor, introduced me to his agent, Carrie Wheeler. Eventually I signed with her and shared that I was tired of dabbling with acting and wanted to make it my life. Like Will Smith said, “put your eggs in one basket, but then really watch that basket”! I wanted to put the same energy into acting that I put into hockey, starting with find a five-day-a-week school that could teach me what I needed to know. She said that Vancouver Acting School was the best school she knew of, one that would let students continue to audition for roles while taking their full-time, six-month Acting program.

How was your experience in Vancouver Acting School’s Acting program?

I have a lot of respect for Vancouver Acting School. The one-on-one coaching and support I received from my teachers was incredible. And the fact that they were actively booking roles while they were teaching us was hugely motivating. They’d come back, and I’d ask, “What did you audition for, what’s out there?” They weren’t dreaming about acting or content with stuff they’d done years before; they were doing it.

Something else that was hugely valuable was sitting in class and breaking down scripts from the actor’s, writer’s, and director’s point of view. From every angle – the auditioning side, the viewer’s perspective. Every day on set now, I see the value of the training I received then. Understanding the business side of the industry – how it works, what producers think about – has also been enormously helpful. Because I’m not just interested in acting, I’m also thinking as a writer, as someone who wants to create and sell content.

And then there’s voice acting, getting comfortable with ADR work, working in the booth. You’ve got to know that stuff.

What’s the most important thing you learned?

When you get on set, they don’t want an actor who’s still on a huge learning curve, they want you ready to go. They want you to walk in with an answer to their problems. I’ve stayed up all night with scene partners and the next day we’ve nailed shots that directors thought would take all day. And they love that. Successful actor don’t just perform, they solve problems. That was drilled into our heads over and over again by the teachers at Vancouver Acting School.

I took that seriously, took advantage of every opportunity to learn and grow; and because of that, I started booking roles while I was still in the program.

You’ve had some significant successes in a short time. Starring roles in Some Assembly Required, Mr. Hockey: The Gordie Howe Story and now Letterkenny.

My teachers at Vancouver Acting School helped me build a career map and it’s amazing how much of that has come true. Children’s sitcom, comedy pilot, U.S. television pilot. Next on my list is U.S. feature film. On Mr. Hockey, I got to meet Gordie Howe himself, got to win the Stanley Cup. How cool is that? I’ve had more hockey success as an actor than I did as a player!

But future success isn’t guaranteed. What keeps you going as an actor when you don’t get the audition, don’t book that role, when you hit a dry spell?

Well, to begin with, I love acting. That’s the bottom line, you have to love what you do. And I love to entertain people, make them laugh, make them think. That’s the coolest feeling in the world.

But it goes deeper than that. A long time ago, I chose to be a survivor rather than a victim. When I lost two of my best friends at 19, one to prison and one to suicide, I decided to make the most of my life. I don’t let things get me down, not for very long anyway. If I have a bad experience, I let myself feel what I need to feel, then I move on and get back to business. Life’s too short to get hung up on stuff you can’t control.

And when you experience failure?

Failure is important. Failures are necessary to have success. I just shot a pilot for ABC called Gorgeous Morons that I recently found out isn’t going to air. I could choose to get upset about that or be grateful for the amazing people I met, the experiences I had, the exciting doors that were opened to other work. You win some, you lose some, that’s life. Something else will come. You’re just going to jam yourself up if you dwell on what didn’t materialize. In hockey, if you get knocked down, you get back up. You don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself, and what’s the point anyway? The game is still on! Even when you experience success, it isn’t over. If you win the Cup, there’s still next season.

What advice would you give to those passionate about pursuing an acting career?

As Bruce Lee said, Be like water. Water runs along the surface of a rock and doesn’t seem to make much difference; but if it persists, it eventually cuts a channel through the toughest of obstacles. You can think yourself into or out of anything. So stay positive. Keep moving forward. Keep learning. Persist. If you fall, get up.

If they won’t let you into Vietnam, don’t get upset. Enjoy the yoga and elephants in Thailand.

Exactly. And be your own biggest fan because there’s not exactly a line up of people waiting to be that. Practically speaking, get training. Learn how to go onto set and solve the director’s problems. And don’t just Career-wise, start in Vancouver. Compared to L.A., London, New York, places like that, it truly is the easiest place to get started and to build a resume. Providing you’re prepared to be like water!

Editor’s Note: In March 2016, CraveTV renewed Letterkenny for a second season. Congratulations to Dylan and the entire cast and crew!

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