Central Alberta actor Jacob Blair knows his way around a horse, but wasn’t too proud to take riding lessons for a starring role in the new Western TV series The Pinkertons.
Although he’d done some trail riding as a teenager, and even had a horse on his parent’s Ponoka-area hog farm before moving to Red Deer at age six, Blair admitted “I didn’t have any full-on equestrian training.”
He decided riding lessons would make him more comfortable in the saddle — which is needed when portraying detective William Pinkerton on the new syndicated series that’s airing Sundays on some U.S. cable stations.
The Pinkertons, filmed just outside Winnipeg, tells the tale of the real-life legendary detective agency that operated as an arm of the law in post-Civil War America. The series is set in frontier Kansas City, Mo., in the 1860s and will feature Pinkertons’ then ground-breaking crime-busting techniques, including going undercover for investigations.
Playing the son of the agency’s founder, Allan Pinkerton (who is portrayed by Scottish-born actor Angus Macfadyen of Mel Gibson’s Oscar-winning Braveheart), is Blair’s biggest role to date.
William is one of two pivotal characters on the show. And Blair, who previously appeared in The L Word, Battlestar Galactica, Bionic Woman and Aliens in America (as popular quarterback Dan Archer), is thrilled to land a major part.
“It’s pretty fantastic. After all those auditions and casting calls … it’s great to move up to the next level.”
So far, it’s been a whirlwind experience for the Albertan, who had to move to Winnipeg with his wife just days before the first episode was shot. But Blair said he’s enjoying the quick turnaround time between learning the script and filming.
“It’s crazy fast, but that suits me because I don’t like to sit still anyway. I like to roll with the punches.”
He plays a young hothead who solves crimes with the help of his meticulous partner, Kate Warne (played by Martha MacIsaac), who’s the first female detective in the U.S. It’s an odd-couple pairing with hints of chemistry, in the vein of Maddie and David on the 1980s TV series Moonlighting.
Blair admitted this Will and Kate appear headed towards romance, but with a commitment of 22 episodes for this first season, there’s a lot more plot to come.
Most scripts are based on actual Pinkerton cases, which means characters like Jesse James and the brother of actor/ Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth have made appearances.
Blair not only had to learn to ride well for the role of Will, the 30-year-old actor also had to establish a bond with a couple of four-legged co-stars. Tango is William Pinkerton’s main ride and sidekick. Blair admitted this intelligent black horse generally knows his blocking after only a couple of run-thoughs.
“He’s the biggest horse on the set, but he doesn’t like gunshots, so we use a double during the gunfight scenes. We call the double Dango.”
Although braver than Tango, Dango’s not as quick at learning his moves, hence the need for dual casting, said Blair, with a chuckle.
Someone else who might have a reoccurring role in the series is Blair’s real-life wife, actor Trisha Blair, of Prince George, B.C., who played a receptionist in the county clerk’s office in Kansas City in one episode so far.
“It was pretty fun for us to get to interact on set,” said Blair, who took commerce at Red Deer College before moving to Vancouver to study acting.
Other than feeling comfortable in denim and knowing something about horses, the actor admitted there’s not a lot else from his contemporary Central Alberta upbringing he can bring to this role.
The real-life William Pinkerton held anti-slavery views, and did such amazing things as fly in a hot-air balloon to spy on Confederate Army movements during the U.S. Civil War.
“It’s so fantastic, it almost sounds like it’s made up,” said Blair, who hopes the syndicated series that’s garnered solid ratings for its first two episodes and is set to air in Canada in January, will be picked up and renewed for another season.
At the very least, he believes The Pinkertons will afford him more acting experience and exposure in the TV industry. “And I welcome that with open arms.”