Shaun Johnston plays Grandpa Jack, one of the most iconic characters on CBC’s Heartland, now filming its 10th season. His gruff exterior, dry wit and warm heart make him a definite fan favourite.

shaunDon’t forget to catch the season premiere of Heartland on CBC on October 2, 2016, at 7:00 p.m. (7:30 p.m. in Newfoundland).

1. Season nine saw Grandpa Jack say goodbye to Paint; in typical Grandpa Jack style, he tends to hide his emotions. What was that episode like to film?

That was very a very difficult episode to film. When I read that episode on paper I knew it was going to be a real emotional journey for sure. Normally I prepare my work going into an episode very specifically. I’ve got a very specific process, I make copious notes. On that particular episode I made no notes. I knew I was going to be so connected to that particular story, that I just shot it. It was hard on everybody.

2. What was your favourite episode to film in the past few seasons?

That one.

3. If you could give yourself of 10 years ago a piece of advice, what would that be?

Don’t worry between seasons, because you’re going to get renewed! I always worried between seasons, because I love the show so much I want it to be renewed every year; I’m always going, “I hope we get renewed, I hope we get renewed.” That would be my advice, don’t beat yourself up about it.

4. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Grandpa Jack with horse on CBC HeartlandI play hockey, I play a ton of hockey. And I play as much guitar as I can. I’m no hot guitar player, but I play well enough to make myself happy.

5. What have you learned from playing Grandpa Jack over the past 10 years?

I’ve learned that I’m going to grow old gracefully.

6. What do you think you will do when Heartland ends?

That’s a good question. I’d like to watch a lot of TV and play more hockey.

7. Do you have any upcoming projects that you’d like to share?

I played a rather mysterious character on a new sci-fi series called Wynonna Earp. I was in an episode that aired on June 10, 2016, and then I was in a subsequent episode (June 24). My character’s name is Juan Carlos. And the reason why my character’s name is Juan Carlos is because I look so Latino. Other than that I’m doing a play in January, 2017, at Shadow Theatre in Edmonton.

8. Do you end up being grey during the entire season, or does the dye get washed out on weekends?

The ink comes out of my moustache every day and the wig comes off.

9. I have recently read that at one point in time you were a runway model. And a banker. Really?!

Grandpa Jack on horse in CBC Heartland - Shaun Johnston, actor rides horseYes, that is true, when I was a young man, I might’ve been 20 years old. I had already completed a couple of years of business college – the first two years of a bachelor of commerce degree at that point. Because of my schooling in business, I thought I was going to go to Toronto and take the advertising industry by storm. I grew up in Ponoka, Alberta, and I go to Toronto and pack everything I need to take with me, which is practically everything that I owned – which wasn’t much. I threw it in the back of my 1973 Cutlass Supreme and drove across Canada from Ponoka, Alberta, to Toronto, Ontario. When I was driving down the 401 coming into Toronto, there were skyscrapers and everything, it was unbelievable to me. I settled into that town. I was pretty inexperienced, but I got a room at the YMCA, was there for the first couple of weeks, got my bearings, found a job, all that kind of stuff. And then I started to explore the world that Toronto was.

I was always interested in fashion, photography and things like that. So I thought, “I’m going to try being a model.” So I took a course at International Top Models, but this time it worked for me. Y’know, those courses, they call them self-improvement courses or modelling courses, or whatever. For me, it panned out. I was 6’3” at the time, I fit right off the rack – I could wear Hugo Boss, right off the rack. The people that were running the modelling agency saw that physical attribute that I had. I had a good step and a good gait. I started doing fashion shows. Making $60 an hour at the time, and that’s a long time ago. $60 an hour for the big shows – that was a lot of money. I was the assistant accountant at the Treasury Branches of Alberta. That was between year one and year two of my BComm.

10. It seems you’ve played a few roles for theatre as well as TV. What plays were your favourite, and what is the difference between playing for theatre and for TV?

Very good question. People believe that stage – working in the theatre – is a lot more risky than working in film or television. I disagree. Because I’ve done both, I know the difference. The myth is that in film and television you get multiple takes or multiple attempts to get a scene or a moment correct. Whereas on stage, other than rehearsal, you’re live, before a live audience. If you make a mistake before a live audience, you crash and burn. Here’s the difference – in film and television you do have the luxury of multiple takes; if it ultimately ends up being not too good it’s recorded forever. If you make a mistake on stage, which you very rarely do – because you’ve already rehearsed the heck out of it for four weeks – you don’t make mistakes when you are well rehearsed; you don’t make mistakes. I find that I make way fewer mistakes on stage then I do on film. Very often I leave a film set being dissatisfied because I don’t think I really scored the moment; I don’t think I was able, permitted time, or permitted rehearsal, to get the moment perfect in my heart. I have to live with that – forever. Whereas on stage, if you make a mistake, the audience, they forget about it the next day – and so do you. My favourite role was Eddie in Fool for Love – my favourite playwright of all time, Sam Shepard.

Grandpa Jack, Shaun Johnston working horses on Heartland

11. You recently held a concert at an Alberta ranch; what do you enjoy most about performing for a live audience?

Speaking of working in theatre, there’s an energy that the room has. If you’re playing a role on stage in front of a live audience – the audience brings their own vibe to the room and very often the audience can control how a play goes. I find it was very much the same when I did this little show at Symon’s Valley Ranch. They were really supportive and I was a little bit nervous because I had never really performed live like that before; performed music live like that before. The whole night was a little bit of storytelling, a few songs – we probably played about 10 songs during the show. The audience was so supportive before we even sat down that I felt they really wanted me to have fun more than anything. They were already having fun based on the fact that they were actually there. I got that vibe immediately from them, and I started to have fun immediately. I was pretty nervous about it when I sat down on stage – but that vanished within the first 60 seconds of the show and it was just a romp after that.


Readers are also invited to meet Michelle Morgan, CBC Heartland’s Lou Fleming and meet Graham Wardle, CBC Heartland’s Ty Borden and meet Cindy Busby, CBC Heartland’s Ashley Stanton, and meet Miranda Frigon, CBC Heartland’s Janice Wayne, and meet Alisha Newton, CBC Heartland’s Georgie.