An Interview with Teach Grant, Preston Riley on Damnation

Teach Grant, who plays Preston Riley on Damnation, was kind enough to answer some questions about his new show, Damnation.  Here’s what he had to say.

What made you want to start acting?

I suppose beyond childhood plays and a little voice over work for a children’s network, it would have been in high school drama class -once I’d figured out a bit more about what acting was, or could be. For me, coming from an athletic background in a tough love family environment, things were more about results and less about process, and emotions weren’t always accepted. When I learned that I could have personal emotional experiences from behind the safety of a “character” I was hooked. My high school theatre teacher Mr. Phillip Stanbury was an influential part of the process. He helped set the table and was very encouraging for me to find ‘the experience’ I was searching for. Ultimately when I told him I wanted to pursue acting professionally, he told me to become a carpenter, so I did, and I think having that back up is the reason I’m still going.

What do you like most about it?

As I eluded to it’s definitely the catharsis that keeps me addicted. I also really enjoy the people, truly unique and often pleasantly insane people that I get to work with. If I get the chance to grab somebody’s attention, perhaps change the way they feel about something or help them to understand something that they are dealing with, then that is a great bonus, but truly, for me it is a selfish endeavor. It makes me feel clean, like I’ve pushed out the toxins. With that said, sometimes the business works in the very opposite way, so it’s not all roses all the time, which is a good thing, because when it’s good, it’s like a drug.

What keeps you going?

I haven’t peaked yet. There’s more in the well and I am looking to tap it. One of the coolest parts about the game is, I’m 44, I can play 44 and in a few years I’ll know better how to play 50. I think my best casting is yet to come and I plan to be ready.

What was the first acting job you landed?

My first audition…responded to an ad out of The Georgia Straight for an indie called LIMP with Michael Hutchence from INXS. I went to the cattle call and there were hundreds of people in line. The call was for a 25 year old brooding rock star and I was a fresh faces 23 year old stuck somewhere in teen-hood. I was pretty intimidated and was standing at the back of the line thinking about getting out of there when the producers came out to get me. They said that I wasn’t right for the lead they were looking for but that it was an ensemble and  they were also looking for another lead, “SULLY”, a baby faced 23 year old with a bit of an insecure vibe. It’s an experience I’ll never forget. There I was feeling forlorn in the back of a line up, questioning whether or not I should be there, everyone was all ‘rocked out’ and I rolled up on a skateboard. People were looking at me like “Who rides a skateboard to an audition”, but the skateboard was the first thing that the director saw out of the upstairs window and he said, bring me ‘that guy’. So past the line I went and came out with my first job.

What drew you to the new show Damnation?

Firstly it was an opportunity to work with director David McKenzie from HELL OR HIGH WATER and with writer / creator Tony Tost from LONGMIRE, a show that really liked.  Upon reading it I discovered that it was hands down the best writing that I’ve personally ever seen in T.V. Flash forward and It’s given me an opportunity to work on a show that I believe in timely and important. And that’s another way that I get paid. The world as designed by Tony is complex, gritty and textured and its characters equally so, with each one intricately woven into the story and fraught with multiple layers of conflict. The writing is just deep and it’s a pleasure to handle.

How did you hear about the part?

My agents sent me the material and I put it on tape for casting.

Can you give us any hints on what to expect from the new show?

You can expect a show that is going to feel oddly relevant to today’s era. Although the show is set in 1931, many of its themes and variations continue to play out to this day, and likely will continue to do so beyond our lifetime. The idea of the 99-1 percent wasn’t born a minute ago but has been in development since the inception of ‘rulers’ and ‘class’. If you boil it down to have’s vs have nots and place the story in a simpler time it’s easy to digest, or at least have clarity on the concept in a less complex time period. These forms of oppression have become so refined it’s difficult for us to see how it even happened to begin with. I think Damnation is going to make it clear. Banks and corporations colluded to trap people into a lifetime of slavery. It’s not a democratic issue, but of Capitalism. There was a moment in time when the common man lost his farm and his livelihood and we’ve never recovered it. There will be blood, there will be a body count and there will definitely be reasons to come back the following week. In a word, Damnation is intense. In a second, relevant.

What’s the best thing about the show?

The people on Damnation are incredible. I think because Tony Tost and co-executive Adam Kane are such a straight up, down to earth, let’s just tell the story, simple kind of guys they have attracted like-minded people. There are no divas on the show, no egos to pander to or anyone to tip toe around. It’s about the story, period. Everyone, cast and crew bought in. – And I really do believe that all of us in the cast felt lucky to be there and to have that as a set tone is an amazing thing. The final weeks on Damnation were trying as weather in Alberta provided us with many logistical hurdles, and to watch the group rally together through uncertainty and extreme conditions blew my mind. The crew on this show really are cut from a hardy jib…Then I think, it comes back to the pages, people believed in what we were trying to do and they rallied together in a come hell or come high water, Albertan kind of way.

What’s the show about?

The show is effectively about the turning point in America when we went from a heartland economy into an industrial one. There is a battle between the rich, bankers and societal elite and the common farmer. Enter our ‘preacher’ Seth Davenport, there to lead an uprising of farmers in revolt. Standing in our way Creely Turner, a strikebreaker hired by the elite to quash the resistance. It’s straight up class warfare, corporate interest vs human interest and it’s a bloody revolution where it will be very difficult to tell who the good guys and bad guys are at times. Sometimes good people have to do terrible, dark things in order to survive and serve the cause. Plan to be surprised by the odd turn. People often have their reasons or ways, and we can often be judgmental before we have the entire story. That’s all I’ll say about that.

What other shows have you worked on and do you have anything else coming up?

I have a couple releases in the mail. First to arrive will be a new character that will enter into the VanHelsing world in the final 2 or three episodes. It would be impossible for me to provide details without spoilers, so I’ll just say that I’m going to show up and ‘stir the pot’ a bit. I think my guy is a bit of a potential game changer in the VH landscape. Secondly, I have Altered Carbon hitting Netflix in February. There I play an elite member of a group of people engaged in something of an uprising. AC is going to be something else, it will feel more like super high budget feature cut up into ten episodes. I think I’m in there for 7 or so. What I like most about it is that it’s not like science fiction that I’ve ever seen before. Rather that intellectualizing the idea of humanity, it puts humanity on trial in more of a show don’t tell kind of way….It’s on a next level brand of massive scale and it’s guaranteed to be sexy.

Who would you love to work with?

Man, River Phoenix and Heath Ledger for starters. Then there is Sean Penn and Jack Nicholson…the list is REALLY long.

What would be your dream job?

Damnation season 2.

What does the future hold for you?

I’m likely going to write and direct my second feature. I’m currently gathering up the steam to get moving on it, the first one DOWN HERE took a lot out of me, but I’m slowly getting ready to go again.

Is there anything you want the fans to know?

Yes. Logan Marshal Green and Killian Scott on Damnation are the best cast number 1 and 2 I’ve ever worked with. It has been inspiring to witness their commitment and focus and their ethic and passion has been infectious on our set. Second. The women of Damnation are going to redefine the idea of strong female characters in television. Sarah Jones (Amelia), Melinda Page Hamilton (Connie) and Chasten Harmon (Bessie) all play different strands of lethally divisive and intelligent characters that ultimately serve notice for the rest of us fellas on Damnation to try and keep up with them. There are no shrinking violets on Damnation. -A woman’s place is in the revolution.

What is something about you that would surprise most people?

I cried when I saw E.T for the first time. -That flower coming back to life was just too much.

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