Earlier this year I had the chance to visit the set of CBC’s Heartland and chat with Graham Wardle, who has been playing Ty Borden for the past 10 years. Graham’s character has quickly grown to become one of the fan favourites on the show, and many viewers (including me) were absolutely ecstatic when Ty and Amy finally tied the knot, and of course when Amy announced their upcoming “bundle of joy,” a guaranteed must-see in season 10.
1. What advice would you give the Graham of 10 years ago?
Ten years ago, what advice would I give myself … meditation, centre myself, it’s okay, things are okay. Something that I’ve really tried to focus on recently is to be patient, to simplify and be a better person to myself. When you treat yourself better, you give yourself the time to rejuvenate, to get centred and relax, so you can work hard and work well and efficiently.
Finding that balance has been something so fulfilling for me to start doing in my life right now … I feel like it was work-work-work-work-work and then shift the scale and relax … so now I’m trying now to kind of balance them both equally so I don’t burn out. Enjoy life, don’t rush through it trying to get somewhere … enjoy the process, which I’m starting to realize now.
2. How has Ty’s character evolved over the past 10 seasons?
Well quite a bit. He started as somebody that didn’t have much structure in his life, didn’t have much self-discipline, he was from a broken home … and his parents weren’t all that stable either so he was unconsciously in search for that … he found himself at Heartland, which Jack became that structure for him and gave him something to … some walls to work with. The Heartland world became a structure that allowed him to mature and develop himself, and make something of his life as opposed to going from crime to crime or troubled situation to troubled situation, which is where the character kind of came from.
Now, he’s in a place where he’s becoming a father, having a partnership at the veterinary clinic … so he’s really sort of matured in that sense and I think found balance within his own life.
3. Is there anything specific that you wear as Ty’s character that ultimately makes you Ty?
There are certain pieces that I have like my motorcycle boots or my leather jacket that I feel represent his roots. But I know, some actors – like Chris Potter, he has these cowboy boots that once he gets off the plane he puts those on and he’s Tim. I don’t have it that way in my mind … When I come into this character I think about his life experience; his past, the motorcycle jacket, his boots, or even the motorcycle help me connect with that. But I don’t necessarily go, okay, now that I have this on, I’m this character. That’s not how I operate.
4. What was your favourite episode to film in season 9?
What happened in season 9? I know Amy got pregnant at the end … how did it start? Oh, we got married in season 8, so season 9 was all about being married. That’s a hard one. I have favourite episodes that pop up in my mind for the whole series but in the last season … oh, the last one, did we have the eagle? That’s my favourite one. That was really cool. Working with that eagle … I can’t remember which episode.
5. What was the most difficult episode or scene to film in the past few years?
I think – this is a more general comment, because there aren’t specific scenes that were really difficult, but I think what I’ve learned is the most difficult scenes that I have, that I’ve found the most challenging is when it’s a bright sunny day, it’s Friday, it’s the last couple of scenes of the day, everybody’s in a good mood, and your character is having a really tough time, they’re really struggling with something. You have to fight to protect your character’s reality, what you’re trying to create and express in the story, while everyone else around you is having such a good time – they’re making jokes and having such a good time … so if you’re not focused, your energy can kind of go into that because it’s nice, who doesn’t want to feel good and be happy that it’s Friday.
I’ll tell you a story, one scene, I think it was two years ago, Ty goes to see Wade – his step-dad – and he finds out that his mom’s been drinking again and he’s really upset. He’s in the truck with Amy … it was a similar type of dynamic where everyone was in a good mood. I was having a really hard time getting myself to that place mentally, where the character would be, really upset, having his past brought up into his life again and kind of thrown everything up in the air. I found it really hard to get into that state.
So I stepped away from the set and they were kind of lighting and setting up the cameras, and I just walked in a circle or in a figure eight and then the first AD would look at me and wave when they were rolling and I’d take off my headphones and put them in my pocket and then walk and sit in the truck. What I did was I got in the truck and unbeknownst to the other people around me I screamed a swear word as loud as I could, with as much intensity as I could, to express – this is what it feels like inside my body. What that did for me was create the scenario of what this would feel like in this moment. Amber, she was obviously startled, and then everyone else was like quiet. It sucked the energy of that space, and then we did the scene … that’s how I dealt with it. It was challenging for me because no one ever told me you could do that or that’s how you deal with this scenario.
6. What do you do in the off-season/when you have time off?
I like to read. I like to research things, I like to learn as much as I can. I basically put Graham’s growth on full speed ahead. Acting and building those realities for people to experience and those stories, is a passion of mine and I love it, but I’m also recognizing the energy that it takes to do that. So when I’m not doing that, I realize my whole life, in some ways is just put in a low gear, it’s slowed down, if not sometimes just put on hold. So when I’m on my off time, I speed that up and I try to grow as much as I can, and learn about myself and take time with myself because in my perspective the more I learn about myself and about life and about other people, I feel that helps me, at least from my perspective, tell stories that feel more authentic, or more real. I think that’s something that’s really important in storytelling, is that you connect and you grow personally so that you have more to give and you’re not just recycling the same thing over and over again. So reading, travelling and learning and meeting people, just challenging myself in my own ways, to get outside of my comfort zone so that when I come back to work, I have more insights and I would hope more depth, so that when I tell those stories, people will be like, “Oh, he’s grown … it’s not just different scenarios with different names kind of thing.”
7. Do you have a favourite horse to ride? (And no, it can’t be Sugarfoot.)
But he’s Ty’s horse, so I’d say … who’s Graham’s favourite horse? There was a horse that I rode a few seasons ago, I can’t remember his name. I remember him being so fast, and so like an athlete. I could tell, as soon as I got on the horse … this guy is like a Lamborghini, compared to these other horses. I would just barely touch him and he would just go. You know, it was like when you drive a nice car, you’re like I get why this is a nice car, why it’s expensive because it’s tuned so well. I wish I could remember his name … They put me on this really, really nice horse … y’know, I’m not a huge horseback rider, but I have ridden a bit and that was something I was like yeah, I get it. I get why horses are really expensive and it takes a lot of time to train them and stuff. There’s definitely a difference.
8. Tell us about a day in the (shooting) life of Graham Wardle.
Today’s a really good day. I went to bed last night, prepared my scenes for today and then I get a text message at 5:20 saying everything’s changed, bye. So they put me on a will notify, which means they’re going to contact me at any time to let me know when they’re coming to get me. So I’m kind of like on eggshells, just kind of like waiting, don’t know what’s going to happen. So I’m just waiting, not knowing if we’re going to do the scenes we had planned, if we’re going to change the scenes … so I went back into a light sleep and kept my phone on really loud by my head. And then I get another text message saying you’re getting picked up in 20 minutes, this is the scene that you have to memorize, that we’re going to do when you get here. Today was a rescheduling and a moving around of everything because of unforeseen events. So then we had to do that scene, so … it’s not a typical day, but it’s a day, and it’s part of the challenge of being an actor is memorizing a lot of stuff really quickly, and telling those stories out of sequence and to the best of your ability, so that when they’re all put together they make sense.
9. What do you enjoy most about working with horses?
It’s hard to put into words, but I’d say they’re these giant animals that have a presence and if you really pay attention, you can see what they’re thinking, what’s going on in their world. I never paid that much attention to animals before working on Heartland. Working with horses has now made me realize how much actually is going on inside other beings and other horses. I like their presence, I like to be around them. They’re very majestic and very peaceful animals. It has an effect on your own psychology, watching these animals. It’s really hard to put into words, actually.
10. How often do people confuse you with your character? (Has anyone ever asked for veterinarian advice?)
They haven’t asked for advice because I’m not playing that good of a vet. People will often call me by my character’s name, because maybe they don’t know my real name, maybe because they confuse me or because they see me so much as my character. So it happens a lot. Most times people ask about my truck, my motorcycle, I had some fans that were traveling through Canada from the United States who congratulated me on being a father … and I had to remind them that I wasn’t really a father, and I said my character thanks you.
Readers interested in the cast of Heartland, can meet Shaun Johnston, CBC Heartland’s Grandpa Jack, and meet Michelle Morgan, CBC Heartland’s Lou Fleming and meet Miranda Frigon, CBC Heartland’s Janice Wayne, and meet Cindy Busby, CBC Heartland’s Ashley Stanton and Meet Madison Cheeatow, CBC Heartland’s Jade Virani, and meet Alisha Newton, CBC Heartland’s Georgie.