The son of NHL player and coach Jim Playfair, Dylan Playfair looked set for a career on the ice himself before the acting bug sank its teeth in and he headed for the screen. That background came in handy when he was cast by Letterkenny creator and star Jared Keeso as deadpan dimwit Reilly who, along with best friend Jonesy (Andrew Herr), represents the hockey contingent who live, play and fight in the titular rural town. If it sounds like it was a role the 28-year-old was destined to play, you’re not far wrong…
How did you first come on board Letterkenny?
The way Letterkenny came into my life was through Jared Keeso - Jared Keeso was a good buddy of mine right from the get-go, and I joined his beer league hockey team. It was on the team that I met most of the cast of Letterkenny - Andrew Herr (Jonesy), Tyler Johnston (Stewart) and Nate Dales (Daryl) were also on the team. We were actors in Vancouver for several years before Letterkenny got picked up, and I was asked by Jared to come out and film the first YouTube episode with the hockey players for Letterkenny. Andrew and I had just finished playing brothers in Mr. Hockey: The Gordie Howe Story, so we were all close before the series got picked up. Jared had mentioned from the get-go that Andrew and I would be the hockey players moving forward. So, there was no audition process per se, it was more of an evolution from Jared meeting Andrew and I and then us getting close on the team and hanging out together, becoming good pals.
How much of what we find funny in the show is evident on the page, and how much is devised on set?
Jared Keeso and Jacob Tierney [who also directs] write most of the episodes, Trevor Risk has written a couple episodes and Jonathan Torrens as well. We’ve gotten a bigger cast of writers but originally for the first six or seven seasons it was only Jacob and Jared, so the scripts have always been really, really tight and 99 per cent of the jokes that you see on the screen are written in the script - it’s not ad lib dialogue. The jokes that you do see are usually done at the end of the scene when there’s an opportunity to put a button on because of the way we shoot Letterkenny. It’s so tight, it’s really hard to change the dialogue in the heat of the moment because so many jokes rely on the pace and the rhythm.
You’ll be shocked to learn that ice hockey doesn’t have a massive following here in Australia, mainly due to the lack of ice. Can you give us some insight into Canadian hockey culture? What’s the appeal? What are we missing out on?
And you’ll be shocked to learn that I was, at one point in time, an Australian ice hockey league hopeful. There is a league in Australia, and I believe a bunch of guys from Canada go over there for our summer, which is your winter, to play ice hockey. The ice hockey culture is very much that of what I would assume Aussie Rules Football is like - it’s very tough, brotherhood-orientated, and lots and lots of fun. There is a language that exists in a hockey dressing room that exists nowhere else, there’s a camaraderie that’s very strong and there is a sense of national identity for people who play hockey. When you think of Canada you think of ice hockey, when you think of Canadians you think of hockey players - so I think it’s a bit of a national pride thing. But Canadians, like Australians, have I believe some of the best senses of humour in the world and that’s why we love each other’s’ comedy exports so much.
Your dad was an NHL coach and player, right? And you yourself were on track to go pro before you committed to acting. How does that inform your performance as Reilly?
It absolutely 100 per cent helps me play Reilly, not just growing up around the game but living away from home and being in a small town were the only thing really to do is go watch the junior hockey team. Having the ability to see so many different kinds of hockey players, I know for a fact I wouldn’t play Reilly the way I play Reilly if I hadn’t played hockey as long as I had and been exposed to so much of the hockey culture in the hockey world. Everything happens for a reason I believe and every hockey dressing room and teammate that I ever had was leading me towards the role of Reilly.
The chemistry between you and Andrew Herr is off the charts. What’s your working relationship like? How did you arrive at this naturalistic level of interplay?
Andrew Herr and I have been friends for quite some time. We met at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He was a student and I was masquerading as a college student. I was living with some of his friends from first year and we ended up becoming roommates during his second year at University. I think the chemistry you see is in part because of the fact that we’re actually close friends in real life and the other part of it is how much preparation Andrew and I do before we get on set. We both pride ourselves on our professionalism and when you’re playing characters with that much dialogue, with that fast pace of speaking and that many words, you have to really come to set prepared. You don’t have a ton of time to miss lines or moments, so the work is done at home when we’re rehearsing.
How do you find working with Jared and Jacob? What’s the tone like on the set?
Jared and Jacob are an absolute dream to work with. The writing is already so funny that we really don’t have to do much to look good on set; they do, however, give us a chance to add lines and be creative and make different choices. I would say Letterkenny is probably one of, if not the most, collaborative sets I’ve ever been on.
What’s the biggest challenge in making Letterkenny? What was the steepest learning curve for you?
Simply performing to the standards that we held ourselves to, especially given the fact that Jared is such a close friend of ours who went out on a limb in the sense of having us written into the show without any audition process. So the challenge for me has always been just coming to set as prepared as possible... and not laughing during takes. That’s a very hard part.
How would you say Reilly has developed over the course of the series? How is he different now from the first time we met him by the produce stand?
Reilly has been, and I hope always will be, unintentionally hilarious. I think he’s grown in his understanding of his place in the world, but I pray he never fully figures it out - that’s what makes him so fun to play.
What else have you got going on at the moment? Any projects we should keep an eye cocked for?
You bet, I’m currently filming The Mighty Ducks for Disney+, which should be coming out in the new year as long as production carries on as scheduled. I’ve also got two new movies out in the last two months - Summerland and Odd Man Rush, both of which can be found on Amazon and Apple TV. I think that’s where they are in Australia, but I’m not sure - Google will help answer that question better than I can!
Letterkenny seasons 1-4 are available now on SBS On Demand. Seasons 5 and 6 will be available from Thursday 24 December.