Out of all the eccentrics that populate the cult Canadian comedy series Letterkenny, Stewart, leader of the Skids, may be the wildest. To himself, Stewart is a brooding Byronic hero, the leader of a group of outcasts and rebels. To everyone else, he’s a delusional tweaker who wears too much black and should probably lay off the meth. Behind this fascinating comic creation is Canadian actor Tyler Johnston, who took the time to field a few questions about his place in the Letterkenny cosmology.
How did you first come on board Letterkenny? What appealed about the character of Stewart?
Jared Keeso, the creator, and I both were in a CBC mini-series about Canadian hockey legend Don Cherry [2012’s Wrath of Grapes: The Don Cherry Story II]. I played young Don, Jared played older Don. We became instant pals, both living in Vancouver at the time. He was developing a show and mentioned he wanted me to be a part of it. An audition came through for the role of Stewart. I didn’t think I was right for the character but wanted to throw a tape down anyway. The character was insane in the best way. Jared and I have very similar senses of humour and I was curious to see where the character of Stewart would go.
How did you find the script? Was it immediately apparent that it would be funny? How much of what we find funny in the show is evident on the page, and how much is devised on set?
The first season we did six episodes. We knew right away we were doing something special, just not sure to what extent. We had a cast read through of them all and laughed the entire time. Most of what you see on screen is on paper, but we’re always coming up with stuff and rolling with it if it works. Evan Stern, who plays Roald, and I like to bring a fun option most days if we can.
What do you bring to the character of Stewart that wasn’t on the page?
Jacob Tierney, the director, and I talked during season one about how I wanted Stewart to be the villain of Letterkenny, if even only in his own mind. Through that I think we brought some of his more diabolical behaviour to the surface.
The Skids are, as a subculture, both very specific and weirdly universal. So, in your own words, what is a Skid?
Our Skids are a group of outcasts who do their best not to conform to society’s idea of “normal”. The term “Cyber Goth” gets thrown around a lot. They’re misfits who have found a home in Stewart’s basement. Well, Stewart’s mom’s basement...
And speaking of subcultures, did you ever align yourself with or consider yourself part of a subculture?
I’m not sure if I can say I’m a member of a subculture. Big hockey fan, surprise, I know. I love hip-hop and am constantly searching for new songs and interviews. So, I’d say I fit somewhere in between.
I find the interplay between the Skids crushingly funny, particularly between you and Evan Stern (Roald) and Sarah Gadon (Gae). How did your rapport develop?
Evan and I get together to rehearse most nights before we shoot. We’ve become great pals and have an incredibly fun, playful and safe work relationship. When you’re comfy with someone, it makes the job and taking ‘risks’ way easier.
Sarah is a friggin’ pro. I didn’t know her before she joined the show, but she fit in beautifully. Her first day was in the Skids’ basement and s**t can get weird. She was game for anything we threw at her. It was nice to see the evolution for Stewart, falling in love.
How do you find working with Jared and Jacob?
The Letterkenny set is a dream. No bad days on our set. Light-hearted and playful, but hardworking. You’ll notice fun ‘Easter Eggs’ placed in the background by the set decorators, or an outfit homage to a previous episode by our amazing costume department. Jared is a heck of a leader and the positive energy trickles downward from him. We were pals before, but quickly became besties. Jacob and I have a very love/hate relationship... I joke. It’s all love, but we like to pretend we don’t get along. Jacob is the glue that holds our show together. He’s a rock star and I can’t imagine anyone else doing that job! The scripts are always sharp and fully thought out, but not so sacred that we aren’t able to adjust or improvise if we find something funny to run with.
What’s the biggest challenge in making Letterkenny?
Our biggest challenge would likely be how big our days often are. Lots of dialogue, moving pieces and pages to cover. We always know to show up prepared or we risk messing things up for everyone.
Do you perceive Stewart as having an arc, and where do you think his final destination might lie?
Stewart has gone through hell and back. We joke on set that season one no one wanted to be near Stewart (except Roald) and now after his recent ‘transformation’ he can’t keep people off of him. Stewart for mayor of Letterkenny 2030!
What else have you got going on at the moment? Any projects we should keep an eye cocked for?
I did a Movie of the Week with the lovely Emily Tennant earlier this summer which should be coming out early next year. I have an episode of Two Sentence Horror Stories coming out in January on the CW, which I’m very excited about. Also, my business partner, Andrew Holmes, and I are in the early stages of developing a book into a mini-series. The book is entitled The Last Gang in Town by Aaron Chapman, and we’re excited to see where we can take it.
Letterkenny seasons 1-4 are available now on SBS On Demand. Seasons 5 and 6 will be available from Thursday 24 December.