Connor Jessup is the exception, the rarest of actors that we would need to speak with a second time for a key project in a matter of weeks. Our first interview was a long conversation over the phone prior to the premiere of Locke & Key and the luminous Jessup enlightened Brief Take in many ways about the importance of this series and his character Tyler Locke.
Our follow-up chat (this one in person) took place in a cozy sitting room and we were once again provided with a healthy dose of time to participate in a deep dive about standout moments in the hit show, Jessup’s career, and a wide range of sundry topics.
The following is a condensed and edited version of a spliced together duo of meaningful chats with the multi-talented Connor Jessup from Locke & Key.
Brief Take: Why was this the right role at this time for you?
Connor Jessup: I’ve never done anything like this. I mean every role, every time is different. And in a way, even if you’re playing the same character, for example, if we come back for a second season, I’m sure that it will be a very different experience. So in a sense, everything is new. I spent five years on a show that was kind of a science-fiction post-apocalyptic thing (Falling Skies), so I had some experience with special effects and action and some of the things this show touches into as well, but it was so different. I mean this show had a different tone, it had a different feeling, it’s much more in a way, even though it’s something that we talked about a lot when we were shooting, even though it is a genre show and it’s quite high concept and there’s magic and there’s adventure, so much of what we do on the show is very grounded. It’s about siblings and it’s about growing up and it’s about grief and it felt a lot more, in a way, at least for us as actors, most days it felt like we were making a drama. [chuckles]
I’m always drawn, for one reason or another, to characters that are [long pause] I guess, in pain. I’ve played a lot of teenagers over the years [chuckles] and angst and trauma and loss and confusion are kind of teenage hallmarks. I find that I most intuitively understand characters that deal with whatever they’re feeling internally and don’t have the right words, the right tools, to cope with them externally. As much fun as it is to watch characters that are really emotionally articulate, like the characters in Xavier Dolan’s movies that can say exactly what they’re thinking.
BT: How was the Locke & Key premiere?
CJ: Really fun! Really fun. I mean, for a lot of us, it was a reunion. Because the cast live all over the place and we finished shooting in July or so, it had been like six months since I hadn’t seen almost anyone, so it was really like a fun party. It was really so nice and Netflix did a really good job rolling it out. There were a lot of people there and they played the pilot and everyone was really into it. It’s nice for everyone after a year or two years, or for some people, ten years of work to have a night in which you can celebrate.
BT: In the pictures, you’re in with the family, but you happened to be standing next to Ted Sarandos.
CJ: Yes! Yes, the real patriarch of the Locke family. [laughs]
BT: You and the other members of the Locke family really feel authentically like a family on screen and off. How did you, Emilia, Jackson and Darby connect?
CJ: To be honest, it’s one of these things that’s hard to answer, because if you meet anyone in life, if you meet someone in your new job, if you meet someone in a new country, if you meet someone in a restaurant, you either like them and you talk well and you get along easily and you have a connection, or you don’t. And you don’t really know why, you can guess, but ultimately, it’s hard to say. And we got really lucky that we all felt that way. When I met Emilia, I fell in love with her immediately. She’s so kind and intelligent and full of life and sensitivity and it baffles me today that she’s as young as she is. She’s so mature and so good at her job. And Jackson is exactly the same, and Darby, I mean, my God, Darby is…I won’t say like a mother to me [laughs] because she feels too useful, but she’s a good, good friend. I’m so lucky that I got to go through this with people that I actually like.
BT: What’s your favourite memory from the set?
CJ: I have so many. One of the most fun parts about being an actor is that you come into something knowing…and in this case, I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t know any of our crew, I didn’t know any of our cast, I’d never worked with anyone before and very, very quickly, you form really meaningful relationships. It’s hard to compare it to anything else. It’s like summer camp, like it’s the suspension of real life and you go from zero to caring about people really fast.
We went twice to Nova Scotia. We went at the beginning, because that’s where we shot a lot of our exteriors, the cliffs and the town, so we went in March for the winter stuff and then we went again in June for the summer stuff. And when we were there in June the last time, it was toward the end of our shoot. We’d shoot for five months, we were all really close. A huge group of us went there. And I remember the first time that we were there, we all went to Salt Shaker Deli in Lunenberg and we had the whole restaurant and we had a big table and there was so much screaming and laughing and crying and people talking over each other and there must be more pictures from that one dinner than any single event in human history. It really is being part of a big family, and so when I remember the show, those are the memories that come to mind first, and then the actual work.
BT: What was your favourite scene to shoot?
CJ: There are so many great ones, but I keep coming back to that constellation of scenes with Sam over the course of the season. So much of Tyler’s struggle this season is dealing with a sense of guilt that he has about his dad’s death, because the man who killed him was a friend of his and with whom he went to school, and because the mystery of why he did it is so integral to the season, that the beginning of the show, the characters have no clue as to why Tyler would do this. The only conclusion he can reach is that it must have something to do with him, he carries this unbelievable burden, and that develops and unravels over the course of the season, from this serious scene. Then, at the end of it, there’s this moment of Zen which reenters their life and Tyler realizes that it wasn’t about him, it wasn’t his fault, and for me, that arc and that catharsis and that release was really fun to play and really important for me to understand this character, so I hope that this comes across. I hope that this works for people.
BT: As a fellow Canadian, you have to answer this question. Was it really you playing hockey in those scenes?
CJ: Oh my God, no. Well, yes and no. Having not seen it, I don’t know which percentage is me versus not me, but I’m not a hockey player. I am a blasphemous Canadian. I tried to play hockey when I was six for like two years and I gave it up, I was the worst one. I would say to my parents “Let me stop playing”. I can kind of skate, so some of the stuff when you see me on the ice and in close-up, it’s obviously me. But anything that seems more unlike me, or anything that is like: “Oh, that kid can actually play hockey”, I guarantee that’s not me. [laughs] That is a very talented and handy double. All of the skaters in the background were all OHL players so there’s no way that I could ever fit in with that group.
BT: Keyhouse Manor is such an integral part of the series. Can you talk a little bit about the setting?
CJ: Keyhouse Manor and Matheson, the town we live in, is a hybrid of Halifax, Etobicoke and Hamilton, so yes, our studios and where everything was built was Etobicoke and the exterior of Keyhouse was outside of Hamilton. It’s amazing what they did, I’ve never seen anything like it. Everything that you see the whole time, the whole property and the house itself, they built for the show. It’s not a pre-existing location, everything is for us and they did such a beautiful job. Matheson, the town, the main street of Matheson and the cliff and everything you see when we’re driving up, all of that is in Lunenberg, in Nova Scotia. We filmed there at the beginning in the winter and we went back in the end in the early summer, and that’s how you get to see the town and the cliffs and the forest change for the seasons.
BT: Your character, Tyler, is seen a lot wearing his headphones. What do you think was Tyler’s choice of music in the series?
CJ: One thing I can say: in Tyler’s bedroom, I don’t know how much you see of it in the show, but there’s posters up for different bands and those were all..they, with both Emilia and me, they asked us what we thought should be on the walls, so in my bedroom there’s a couple Magical Cloudz posters and an Animal Collective poster, so I guess that’s the music Tyler listens to.
BT: I was really into Tyler’s jacket.
CJ: I feel proud of the jacket. The jacket was like [chuckles] we started shooting the middle of winter, right? And we realized pretty quickly that for at least the first half of the season, all of these characters would be in jackets, 85 per cent of the time, because there’s a lot of exterior stuff on the show. We tried on a few things and there was a lot of stuff that just wasn’t memorable to me, and I always like shows in which you begin to identify specific pieces of wardrobe with specific characters. I like that. I find that when I’m watching shows, it gives me a point of entry and it’s a fun, emotional connection. And also our show is so colourful and vibrant and I really like that jacket. I was pushing for that jacket, so I was glad that they liked the jacket.
The hard thing about wardrobe on big tv shows is that you need to be able to have many multiples of each item, because things get ruined, there’s a version in which it gets cut, there’s a version in which it gets dirty, you can’t get unique things, you can’t just go vintage shopping and find the coolest jacket from the eighties, you have to find something that can be replicated, and that jacket was new, but it had this fun vintage vibe. Also, I think at that time, I had just watched Sex Education when we started shooting and Asa Butterfield in that wears, not at all the same jacket, but a similar jacket, he has a tri-colour jacket that he wears again through the whole series. And I was like: “That’s…[slaps his hand down] I like that jacket so much, so when I got to my costume fitting and I saw it there, I think that subconsciously, I was also like: “That Sex Education jacket, I want it!”
CJ: Exactly. Yeah, hey, if we can steal some of the Sex Education energy, I’m happy for it. As much fun as that is to watch, I feel like I am less capable of doing that. Tyler is very different than other characters that I played, but he has that in common. But the nice thing is that I feel like shooting a show that is over such a long period of time, there’s sixty people sitting around, you go home, you have coffee with your Mom, your best friend, or you tend to your garden, I find it very easy to separate. I’m not a very angsty person. I’m pretty light and I’m happy most of the time. I have a lot of love and friends and joy in my life. It’s a nice kind of diversion to go and be a moody teenager.
BT: And a dog.
CJ: And a dog, [corrects it] two dogs. Well, they’re my boyfriend’s dogs, but I’m like the stepdad.
BT: What was it like to narrate a story of Joe Hill’s in his collection Full Throttle along with your co-star Laysla De Oliveira?
CJ: That was fun. I had never narrated an audio book before. I hope that I didn’t butcher Joe’s beautiful story too badly. [laughs] The cast for that audiobook, not just Laysla, but also Neil Gaiman and Stephan Lang, it’s an amazing list of people, so it’s an honour, obviously, to be included. And it’s so beautiful. The story that I got to read was so scary and moving and inventive and they all are, and that’s just Joe. We also did that right after we finished shooting, so it meant a lot to me that Joe thought of me and asked me to do it, so I was very moved.
BT: What was your family’s reaction to this series?
CJ: I mean between my Mom, my Dad, my brother, my boyfriend, my cousins, my aunt, I’ve gotten most of the people who have told me what they think of the show are my family [laughs], which has been really nice. And people seem to be really liking it. My Mom was giving me the most minute live updates as she was watching it: “this scene, that scene, I really liked this, I felt so bad for Sam here…” And I feel like that’s almost my way of watching the show, [laughs] because that’s my way of being like: “Oh, this beat worked”.
BT: How have you enjoyed the overall response to the show?
CJ: I’ve had a lot of people comment and message and tell me how much they’re enjoying the show, new people telling me that they’ve discovered the show and they’re excited by it. It’s been happening all day, from minute one until now, people seem to still be finding it and watching it by themselves or with their families. It’s weird to be working on something for so long and having to be so intimate and private and contained, and then suddenly at the stroke of midnight have everyone in the world know the twists and the scenes and the moments and sending you clips from this and that, it’s just immediate. With movies, I’m used to things that roll out over years. Maybe it plays at one festival and then another and then it comes out in this country or on that street and it’s a real process, and most tv is that way, too, it’s a process, whereas this was just like [claps hands], over 200 countries, 200 languages and it’s been wild.
BT: You were at the top of my algorithm.
CJ: It’s amazing how many people who I’ve talked to in the last week have said “Ooh! What’s the show?” and I say: “Locke & Key” and they’re like: “Oh yeah! It’s all over my homepage. I haven’t seen it yet, but I see it every time I open Netflix”. It’s even funny from before I worked on the show, that when you’re doing little movies or other tv shows, the one question you get always is: “What’s the show that you’re on?” and you’re like: “Oh, it’s this”. Like: “Is it on Netflix?” [laughs loudly]. Or you make a movie and they’re like: “When will I be able to watch it on Netflix?” That is the hub that people have now. So to be on something that actually is on Netflix is a new experience. [laughs]
BT: What do you like to watch on Netflix?
CJ: Right now I’m about halfway through the second season of Sex Education, which is so good. I love the show, it’s so much fun. Netflix has such a great lineup of movies this year. I love Marriage Story, I love Atlantics, I love I Lost My Body. They also have Happy as Lazzaro, which is one of my favourite movies of last year. There are so many great films from all over the world on their platform. Whether they were bought by or produced by Netflix, it’s so nice that these little movies can be seen by so many people around the world.
BT: What did you enjoy about doing 30/30 Vision: 3 Decades of Strand Releasing?
CJ: [laughs] That was so much fun, that was such a fun project to do. It also came at a really wonderful and meaningful time for me because I started shooting it basically after we finished shooting the show in summer and it was about as different an exercise as you could possibly set in. When you’re working on something for six months, when you finish, you’re a little bit tired and you want another part of your brain to be exercised, and this was so perfectly placed in my life, like I really got to have fun with it. The group of people, it had nothing to do with me, obviously, but the group of people that Strand were able to collect and put together to make these films was amazing.
There are not a lot of companies and people out there that can convince thirty plus of the most interesting, exciting, influential filmmakers from all around the world come together and make short films with no money. [laughs] All of these shorts were acts of friendship and I think that you feel that when you watch the program together, it’s very warm and full of love, even though these filmmakers are coming from radically different places, styles and languages, countries, world views. My feeling is that a unifying principle in all the movies is this love and affection and warmth, and that’s all Strand.
BT: We’ve spoken before about how you’re a big cinephile and how we both saw Parasite at TIFF. How did you feel about it winning Best Picture this year?
CJ: So happy! I thought that the Oscars were a little bit of a mess this year, but it was so redeemed! I loved that movie and it was pretty rare that one of the actual best movies of the year wins Best Picture, and especially for it to be the first film in another language to win Best Picture, all the things which everyone’s been talking about, it’s really important. I think that Netflix also tied the conversation together because Bong-Joon Ho in all of his speeches and interviews talks a lot about how he hopes that American audiences and western audiences will and are becoming more open to reading subtitles and to engaging with work from other parts of the world. And I think Netflix is playing a role in that too, because people are now watching tv shows from Denmark and Japan and Spain and Colombia and the prejudice is thinning, so hopefully that means that, because I remember discovering the joy and the feeling when I was discovering, as a teenager, that there was a whole world of movies out there if I was willing to read a little bit, and hopefully Bong winning is another kick down on that door. And it’s just a good movie. It’s a really good movie, so I was happy. I know that NEON is now releasing Memories of Murder, one of his earlier films, which is one of the best movies ever made. I hope that now people also go and see Memories of Murder in theatres because that movie kicks ass.
BT: Since you posted publicly that you’re gay, have you noticed a difference in the roles that you’ve been offered?
CJ: Honestly, no. The tangible difference in my life before is almost zero. I’m lucky because of the time that I started to work, it’s different than it was five or 10 or 20 or 30 years ago. I’ve never had an experience being treated poorly, I’ve never felt uncomfortable because of sexuality in any project that I’ve done, and afterward, exactly the same, so it doesn’t feel hugely different in that way. It hasn’t really affected how I thought about what parts I’ll play. For me, it was mostly just a personal thing. I had been out in my life and everybody who knew me and worked with me, my family, everyone who was part of my life had known for a long time. And I when I was doing the show and thinking about coming out and couldn’t think of any reason any more why I would not say something, which is maybe the best way to put it. I also get weird about this stuff, like why did anyone care? No one cares about my personal life, why would they want to hear about it?, it’s my business. And the same way that their life is their business, and I still feel that way, but I also didn’t want to go into this experience and any future experiences feeling even on a small level like I was editing in any way what I was thinking or the things that I was saying or in any way found funny, or my way or a part of who I am and how I express with the world, so I didn’t want to feel like I was having to censor that at all and I couldn’t think of a reason why I would or should, so that was really the reason why I came out.
BT: You’re Instagram official now with your boyfriend.
CJ: I guess that’s a thing now, yeah. I’ve been dating [laughs] it’s been a long time. I know it’s been a part of my life for a year and a half. I didn’t think much of it. I guess it’s part of the cliché that when you’re happy and when you’re in love you want to tell people. You want to share it with the world, so I just felt like…I’m so happy.
BT: There’s rumours of work on Locke & Key season 2 already. What would it mean to you that this show would continue?
CJ: At the end of the show, it’s very clear that it’s not wrapped up, that there’s a lot more distance that the story can travel. We would all be disappointed if we weren’t able to tell more of that, and I had so much fun making it. It was one of the best groups of people I’ve ever been able to work with. I got to work at home. I got to play with magic keys. I’ve been saying recently to friends that I’ve been acting since I was 10, and I was a kid who loved fantasy books and that was the world in which I wanted to live, and when I became an actor at that age, my dream was to play in an attic and to explore a magical world, [chuckles] and this was exactly the show that I dreamed that I would have when I was 10. [laughs] The 10-year-old Connor would be very disappointed if the show didn’t come back.
Locke & Key is now streaming on Netflix. Read our exclusive interview with Locke & Key’s Laysla De Oliveira here