Good fortune comes quickly
Joel Jackshaw portrays an avenging Mormon in the hit TV series Hell on Wheels, an enforcer in the Klondike mini-series, and an Irish baddie in the feature film The Cut, which is bound for the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.
He’s also taken on an RCMP officer’s role in the Canadian-made docudrama Antigone and a good-guy gunfighter in the upcoming Western, Forsaken, starring Donald and Keifer Sutherland and Demi Moore.
What makes this all so astonishing is Jackshaw’s only been a professional actor for the past eight months.
“It’s just been ridiculous!” said the 49-year-old, who lives in Red Deer with his wife and two teenage daughters.
A late bloomer in the acting field, Jackshaw only signed with an agent last February.
“I’m just a rookie, but I’ve had some really good fortune come my way,” said the actor, who was told it usually takes years to build up the kind of film and TV roster he’s achieved in a few months.
Jackshaw — who was a salesperson and owned a car lot before deciding to pursue his long-held dream of taking classes at Calgary’s Company of Rogues Actors’ Studio — hopes his mid-life success gives people of any age encouragement to pursue their goals.
But at the same time, he doesn’t believe he can personally take too much credit for it.
One of the things he’s learned is that landing a part usually has more to do with fitting a director’s idea of what a character should be than blowing anyone’s socks off in the audition process.
“I think I’m a decent actor, and I’m working hard at being a great actor,” said Jackshaw, who still studies in Calgary whenever he’s not working.
“But an actor’s really just a cog in the wheel. ... Behind that there are so many great people that make an actor look good — makeup, costume, lighting and other production people. ...”
Although Jackshaw eventually hopes to branch out into varied roles, his stocky build and shaved head have helped him nail down a lot of tough-guy parts — including Tom, the violent Irish-American gang leader in The Cut, an anticipated film by award-winning Turkish-German director Fatih Akin about the aftermath of the Armenian holocaust.
It was filmed this summer in Drumheller — as well as Cuba, France, Turkey, Jordan and other locations.
In the AMC western Hell on Wheels, which is shot near Calgary, Jackshaw plays Aubrey, who is “muscle” for the Mormon church.
“The part I play is supposed to be the tender age of 32 ... I’m all clean shaven and they put a blond wig on me,” said Jackshaw, who doesn’t care much for the period hairstyle, so is glad his character mostly wears a hat.
One of his biggest thrills has been watching Irish actor Colm Meaney, of Star Trek: Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, make the most of his part of railroad magnate Thomas Durant on the AMC’s hit series.
“He’s a great actor. He just chews up every line.”
Jackshaw has appeared in three episodes of Hell on Wheels so far, and Aubrey may well make other appearances next season.
In Klondike, Jackshaw had been hoping to land a larger role but now understands “I wouldn’t have been right for it.”
He’s content, in retrospect, to have done the smaller part — otherwise, he wouldn’t have been free to take the Irish gangster role in The Cut, a feature film helmed by Amin, a Turkish-German director he admires.
“That really worked out in my favour, as far as I’m concerned.”
Jackshaw was born in B.C. but grew up mostly in Lacombe. While in school, he was more interested in football than acting. Even after graduating, he never got involved in community theatre.
“But I was always a real movie buff,” said Jackshaw, who first started taking acting classes at Company of Rogues some 16 years ago.
“I got an agent and started auditioning,” he recalled, “but my children were quite young then, and I found it difficult to be away during the week ... I got discouraged and quit after about a year. Now I wish I hadn’t.”
How successful Jackshaw might have been then is up in the air, but his more weathered looks are certainly going in his favour now.
“My agent tells me that most (movie) parts are written for men between 33 and 55. It’s a very male-dominated industry,” said the actor, who fits with this demographic.
His next challenge will be auditioning for Fargo, a new TV series for the FX cable network, produced by Joel and Ethan Coen. It’s based on their hit 1996 movie and stars actor Billy Bob Thornton.
Jackshaw is already working on his Minnesota accent by repeating “Right there, Bob” in a flat, nasal way.
Plenty of actors from Los Angeles, New York, Toronto and Vancouver will also be vying for a role, and “I have no idea what’s going to happen,” said Jackshaw.
But he’s confident Albertans can hold their own.
“They film a lot of period pieces up here because of the scenery for Westerns and the tax breaks. ... But I’ve heard American producers and directors say there are terrific film crews in Alberta.”