Connor Jessup opens our phone interview about the series Locke & Key by stating “It’s a ten week commitment to a show slowly going out into the world, so the relationship with spoilers is so different on Netflix”. Luckily for Jessup, and for us as well, we avoid spoilers and give everyone a chance to newly experience Locke & Key, which is one of our favourite shows in a long time. Jessup is the perfect actor to portray Tyler Locke, and a very accomplished writer and director himself to boot.
We spoke to Jessup by phone prior to the premiere of the series and he enlightened Brief Take in a number of ways about how important this project was to him.
Buckle up and enjoy our one-on-one interview with the illuminating Connor Jessup of 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, 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 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]
BT: You and the other members of the Locke family really feel authentically like a family. 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. So often you find yourself having to make it work, and this was so the opposite of having to make it work. That’s the boring answer but it’s the truth.
BT: You’re an accomplished writer and director. What does this mean to you in terms of your acting on the show and collaborating with the directors?
CJ: The thing about acting is that it’s not writing and directing. I’m able to convey acting the most when I divorce the other part of myself. Because as a writer and a director and a filmmaker, you spend so much effort and pain thinking about what you want to say and what is authentic and honest to you and every project is such a huge undertaking, taking up years of your life, so much thought. And the fun of acting is that you can come into something relatively late in the process and it’s something that’s totally new to you, it’s a new set of people, it’s a new set of ideas, it’s a story and a character and a tone that maybe you wouldn’t ever want or get a chance to do in your own work, but is so much fun of which to be a part. And for me, as an actor, this was a dream, because I got to put that other part of me on sleep mode for a bit. I got to recharge. And it’s also fun working with people you trust, to give over is another responsibility because when you’re an actor, scripts are written for you and sets are built for you and costumes are chosen for you and once you shoot it, it’s put together and edited by other people and scored by other people. You really are just serving a very limited function in the middle of a very huge, complicated process and that’s liberating, and I find that great for making the job easier.
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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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.
View this post on Instagram
I knew I was gay when I was thirteen, but I hid it for years. I folded it and slipped it under the rest of my emotional clutter. Not worth the hassle. No one will care anyway. If I can just keep making it smaller, smaller, smaller…. My shame took the form of a shrug, but it was shame. I’m a white, cis man from an upper-middle class liberal family. Acceptance was never a question. But still, suspended in all this privilege, I balked. It took me years. It’s ongoing. I’m saying this now because I have conspicuously not said it before. I’ve been out for years in my private life, but never quite publicly. I’ve played that tedious game. Most painfully, I’ve talked about the gay characters I’ve played from a neutral, almost anthropological distance, as if they were separate from me. These evasions are bizarre and embarrassing to me now, but at the time they were natural. Discretion was default, and it seemed benign. It would be presumptuous to assume anyone would care, yeah? And anyway, why should I have to say anything? What right do strangers have to the intimate details of my life? These and other background whispers––new, softer forms of the same voices from when I was thirteen, fourteen, fifteen…. Shame can come heavy and loud, but it can come quiet too; it can take cover behind comfort and convenience. But it’s always violent. For me, this discretion has become airless. I don’t want to censor––consciously or not––the ways I talk, sit, laugh, or dress, the stories I tell, the jokes I make, my points of reference and connection. I don’t want to be complicit, even peripherally, in the idea that being gay is a problem to be solved or hushed. I’m grateful to be gay. Queerness is a solution. It’s a promise against cliche and solipsism and blandness; it’s a tilted head and an open window. I value more everyday the people, movies, books, and music that open me to it. If you’re gay, bi, trans, two-spirit or questioning, if you’re confused, if you’re in pain or you feel you’re alone, if you aren’t or you don’t: You make the world more surprising and bearable. To all the queers, deviants, misfits, and lovers in my life: I love you. I love you. Happy Pride!
BT: How much of yourself do you put into a role such as this one?
CJ: I think that it’s healthy to think of it as a construct. The truth is that you shoot so slowly, it takes weeks to film one episode. It takes hours and hours to shoot one scene, you do it so many times and you look around and there’s so many people standing around and lag. The process of making anything feels, to one degree or another, artificial. I don’t find it difficult to separate what’s going on the show and what’s going on in my life. For example, so much of the first half of the season that you see, Tyler and Kinsey are not getting along at all. And I adored Emilia, she’s one of my closest friends, there was never a moment, throughout any of that, when we were not bonded at the hip. I know that there are those that like to blur the divide between what’s going on in life and what’s going on in whatever they’re doing, but I don’t find helpful, it makes it less fun.
BT: Had you known anyone prior to shooting?
CJ: Part of what was great is that even though we were shooting in Toronto, where I live, I didn’t know anyone, part of that is that I hadn’t worked in Toronto in a really long time as an actor. By coincidence, nearly all of the things that I have done in the last 10 years were in different places. The only people that I had known before were some members of our crew: the boom operator, some of our A.D.’s, but in terms of the cast and the directors, I had never worked with any of them before. [laughs] Now I’m like: “Maybe I should check IMDb before I’m saying that”, but they were all new relationships, which was really fun. The best thing that I can think to which to compare it is when you are 12, you go to summer camp for the first time and you’re a little terrified, and every face is new and everybody’s a stranger, and your daily routine is radically different than it is normally, but then in three days everyone is the closest friends that you’ve ever had in your life and you couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. It’s kind of exactly like that.
BT: There’s rumours of work on 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