Interview With Actor Jay Brazeau

By Ruth on July 3, 2016 in Interview, movie, television
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Are you a fan of the Garage Sale Mystery film series on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries? I have been almost from the beginning, and of course, I’m that person who endeavors to make note of every character in the series, especially when they are a recurring character. And that is how I happened upon the actor Jay Brazeau. Little did I know that I had seen him in so many things that I have lost count (Cedar Cove, First Wave,etc.), but he is one character actor that has intrigued me in every role he’s been given. In fact, I missed his character, Tramell (the coroner), in the most recent film of the series (Garage Sale Mystery: The Novel Murders), but you can see his character featured in most of the rest of this amazing series. Recently, I had the honor of speaking with this talented, humble actor, and as you will see, we talked about a little bit of everything from the beginnings of his career to his thoughts on women in film to his various career roles and oh so much more!
jb4RH: It’s so nice to get to finally talk to you, Jay.

JB: Nice to talk to you, too. I do love your articles.

Thank you. I do try to notice all the characters, including the more minor characters, as sometimes they get overlooked.

I was noticing in IMDB, I’m not even listed as being in the Garage Sale Mystery films.

Exactly! I noticed that, too! I think that was where I first noticed you. And then you did a couple episodes of Cedar Cove first season, I think?

Oh, yeah, I had a small part there–the mayor.

That sounds about right. And then I noticed you at Christmastime, Once Upon a Holiday.

Oh, yes, that was a nice little show.

And then as I started going through your credits, I realized I’ve seen you here and there and didn’t realize it. You have so many credits listed.

Oh, just little stuff, and as I get older, more appears there, too. When I first started, it was all about my career, and I’d count my lines. And now as I’m older, I get to decide what roles I want to take. And I’m perfectly happy if I only have to go in and film for two days. (laughs) It’s a whole different thing now. It’s been really great working with Hallmark. I find that each time I work with them, it’s always a very happy ship, you know? Lots of times I get to work with people I know, and you don’t have to worry about car crashes or people getting shot or stuff like that. It seems to go pretty smoothly. It’s almost like doing a play. It’s lots of fun.

And that’s what I hear from every Hallmark person I interview. 

(For a time, we did discuss our mutual friend, Sebastian Spence, and Jay had nothing but kind words to say about Sebastian and how he didn’t really help him get the role on First Wave. Jay said he knew Sebastian was going to get the role because he was just that good.)

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first waveKWIK KWOTE

Sebastian Spence, Friend/Actor

“He was the actor I went to for coaching for my screen test for First Wave. He was highly recommended by my manager and the acting community as a whole–what a lovely man. Without Jay’s coaching, I’m not sure I would have managed to have the confidence in myself to get the role. I have never forgotten the advice and wise words he shared with me that I still use to this day when auditioning for roles. He taught me that it’s okay to have a bad day on set or a bad scene in a episode of a TV show, as we do in life. The audience remembers the whole show…not just that one bad day or scene. I am forever indebted to Jay for the advice and kind words he shared with me and always love to run into him when we cross paths in the acting world….a true gem of a man with a huge heart of gold.”

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What was it that inspired you to become an actor?

I don’t know. I came from the poor part of town. My father was older than the other fathers around. My mother was twenty-one, and my dad was fifty-eight.

Wow!

Isn’t that an incredible story? He used to take me to films. I was always very interested in stuff like that, but because of the part of town I was from, a career in acting wasn’t even an option. I remember talking to my mother one day and said, “I think I want to become an actor.” And she said, “You can’t become an actor. You don’t look like Paul Newman.” (laughs) I thank God every day that I don’t look like Paul Newman. The good thing about being a character actor is that there’s always some spectacled, balding guy somewhere needed for a show, and the characters are always interesting. And you don’t have anybody going through your garbage at night. (laughs) I’m always meeting people who think they know me, right? “I know you from somewhere.” And I start to say, “Well, I’m from this show–” And they say, “No, no, no, not that!” (laughs) It’s funny and it’s great when that happens. You know your work is getting out there to the people. So I just started doing it–I never really had any training or anything. Because I’ve always looked older, they could hire me and not have to hire the young guys and put shoe polish in their hair or anything. So I started with plays. And then the first film I did–I came to Vancouver–it was called Brotherly Love. I was playing a string of doctors, as  I looked like a doctor. Nothing but doctors. It was a lot easier back then because mostly the camera was on the other person and you were doing all the exposition. It’s been a fun career so far. I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. If I want to stay here or direct things or theater or cartoons. It’s nice that I’m not pinned down for one thing. jb6In fact, I just got done touring with The Wizard of Oz.  I had a chance to play the Wizard. I toured all across the States with that. It was a lovely. It was a fantastic experience. I had never seen some of these places before. I had never been to Florida.  We went to Minneapolis, Phoenix, Dallas. It was a lovely experience.

That’s really cool! I didn’t realize that. I’m a big Andrew Lloyd Webber fan.

Oh, yeah, it’s great. A lot of fun. It’s good to keep working out on the stage. It keeps that mind working. It’s good physicality. I just love being in musicals, too. I’ve always loved being in musicals. There’s something about hearing the songs and having it strike such a chord. The Wizard of Oz is such a personal kind of thing for everybody. Just love the grandmums and grandpops coming with their nieces and nephews, and sometimes they would be there in tears. These little girls would be dressed up as Dorothy and they’d come. And I’d meet a few of them. In fact, I happened to run through the lobby, and one little girl was sitting there–she was so great–she said, “Hi, Mr. Wizard. I’m just going to sit here a minute, and I’ll go back in a second.”  (laughs) I was always afraid of the flying monkeys.

I hadn’t realized that you had been in musicals, so that’s really cool.

jbbbOh yeah, there’s just something about singing with a huge chorus, you know? I’ve been very fortunate to be in things like The ProducersThe Drowsy Chaperone, Urinetown–quite a number of stuff, I guess. It’s just great to be on stage singing with a bunch of other people.

I’ve not had the opportunity to actually be in a musical, but I was a music teacher, and I have gotten to direct musicals, and be the choreographer, and teach the music.

Oh my gosh, you’re never sleeping.  Definitely a tough gig.

Yeah, it was tough, but they needed someone, and I kind of got thrown into it. But I enjoyed it.

Well, you were doing a wonderful thing, especially for these people who haven’t found a place to be yet in school, and you find out they find their place in the arts, and it’s awesome. It’s such an important thing. They’re continually trying to cut back in schools on music and on acting and all the culture and stuff like that. It’s such a mistake. Luckily, when I was young, I picked up a guitar and started singing because it stopped me from hanging around the 7-11.

I agree with you completely. I have a daughter who just turned thirteen. She is a good kid, very bright, but she is also involved in music. I believe very strongly that music is very powerful–exactly what you were talking about. And as a music teacher, I remember finding those students who weren’t good at anything else, but they would find their niche in music, and it gave them confidence in the other areas of their lives.

Yes, you need to find that one thing where you can express yourself. I needed that. My kids–I have two boys–and I said, “There’s going to be lots of things you’re not going to want to do, but you’re going to take piano no matter what for ten years.” And I made sure they did. And now, every once in awhile, my sons will go downstairs and just play the piano. It gives them something–a relief, you know. It takes them to a different place. It’s a safe place, and I’m glad they have that in their life.

Of course, I know you’re in the Garage Sale Mystery series, even if  IMDB doesn’t think you are. I was trying to tell my mom who you were–she doesn’t know all the names, but she often remembers the roles. And she remembered you as the coroner.

I know it’s coroner, but I think I even forget my name when I do that series. I think it’s Tramell or something like that.

I don’t remember the name either, but I think you’re right. Unfortunately, your character was not featured in the most recent Garage Sale Mystery.

I did miss one of the Garage Sale Mystery films because I was in Australia. So I guess that was the one.

jb2One of the great things about acting is that you’re essentially working with history. I remember a friend of mine, Anthony Holmes, just passed away–he was in the War. At ninety-three years old, he was still doing plays. I remember bringing him over to talk to my kids because they were learning about  the War, and I thought the best thing to do was to talk to somebody who was actually there and who had been in the War. Then you’ll get the real experience. And it was really amazing. I just love that when I get the chance to work with seasoned actors and character actors like that ’cause they love talking and I just sit there with my eyes wide just listening to them.

And that’s what I love, too. I’ve only been interviewing since January and–

Oh, really? You’re doing great!

Usually, with my interviews, they end up going longer, and we just carry on a conversation, not really a formal interview. 

I think that’s great. I don’t know how these people do it when they go to these things and do thirty or forty interviews in a row. It’s always the personal ones that are nice when you walk away and learned something about them as an artist.  And you also learn something about them that’s personal, and those are the best kind of interviews, I think.

For me, I have a desire to not just learn about the role the person is playing but the person behind the role.

Exactly. There’s this barrage of interviews that come out when a film comes out, and then you start to read them, and it’s the same interview over and over again. You move to the next room and it’s the same questions over and over again.

I was trying to look at what your most recent works were, and there was something listed for Lifetime that was out not too long ago. I’m trying to remember the name, but they keep changing names. (Note: A Mother’s Suspicion is what the film was called.)

Oh, I know, I keep putting films on my resume, and then I find out the name has changed. It seems like they go through trends like A Dream is a Wish a Heart Breaks, that kind of thing, and then it becomes My Mother’s Killer.  (laughs) It’s the strangest thing any more. You’re going, “Is that the same movie?”

So sometimes it’s a challenge to find an actor’s recent works. But I do remember seeing one of the most recent things listed as an episode of Bates Motel.

Yes, that was a big thing. I didn’t even know it was on. People were telling me they just saw me in that, and I said, “Really? I didn’t even know it was on.” (laughs) It was a lot of fun, and I tell ya that is one of the weirdest, most screwed-up families in television, right? But on the set, Vera {Farmiga}, and Freddy {Highmore}, and everybody else–they were so nice and so friendly and so lovely. A lot of laughs and a great sense of humor. It was really lots of fun doing that. I was playing the guy in a funeral parlor, and it was just great. The director {Tucker Gates} –I had worked with him about thirty years before that. He’s a nice guy and all. Great to work with him again. I think it was during the 21 Jump Street days. It was where all of us had to start when we were doing films, and we had to learn to be American even though we weren’t.

Honestly, I have not seen Bates Motel. I might have to look it up at some point.

It’s a kind of a cult thing. Some people like it, some people don’t. I remember doing Stargate and going to one of these Comic Con things, and people kept asking me things they thought I should know, and I kept saying, “I don’t know. I don’t watch that show.” But I had to keep an idea of the past to do some of this stuff. And I had to bingewatch some of it, you know. There’s just so many things out there now. It’s incredible.

jb5The more actors I connect with, the more things I realize I should be watching. I mean, I guess I could sit down and watch everything I should be watching if I didn’t have to sleep.

Exactly! It’s a different kind of life after watching all these shows, right? The days we used to wait for when our show was on. And if you missed one show, you were all right because you could still pick it up later. I think that’s the great thing about Law & Order–you could come into that show, even halfway through it, and watch it and not feel like you’d missed anything. But now because they have these different arcs and everything you miss a couple of shows, and you’re lost. It was like that with Mad Men. I missed a couple of shows, and I watched the next one and didn’t know what the heck was goin’ on. I think people are enjoying the Garage Sale Mystery and stuff like this because they are still stories within a bigger story. It’s like going back to shows like Murder, She Wrote and all these other shows that were your weekly thing that you would watch.

jb7Yes, and the nice thing about Hallmark is you can sit and watch it with your family. Even the mysteries are not overly violent. Not that there’s not a place for those other shows.

A lot of shows have overdone the violence and it’s just too much. With Hallmark, it’s like returning to forty years ago with Casablanca and all those movies like that. It was all dependent upon the story. Like when comics didn’t have to swear to get the laughs. People are longing to go back to those things. If you look at the news, they are pushing paranoia and fear. There’s always thousands of stories talking about how bad the police are. They never show the other side of that–you know what I mean? Everything is from a negative point of view, and you can only take so much of that. So it’s great that there’s a place for all these films, books, and music, you know?


With Garage Sale Mystery, I know you probably weren’t on set much since your part was small–

Oh Geez, I’m just usually there for one day. She comes in after someone has died, and here’s Jay, you know?

But at least you usually got to work with Lori Loughlin.

Oh yes, she’s such a wonderful person. Oh, she’s so great, you know? I look at her and think, “My gosh.” It’s not the easiest thing to come in and shoot these things in twelve to fourteen days or however long it is. And if you’re the lead, you do nothing but talk. Lines upon lines–it’s not an easy kind of thing. But she does a wonderful job carrying the lead part like she does.

I always liked your scenes, even though they’re short. I liked how you two would interact. Someone has died, you’re the coroner, but you’re the comedian. 

Exactly. They started me and I was like, “How can you do the same old show with all the dull, dry blah blah blah about how the person died?” And that was the hardest stuff to memorize. The science stuff. Even science fiction movies explaining about why the Martians are attacking earth. Just get to the part about the Martians attacking the earth! But the guy would do the exposition. With Garage Sale Mystery, they always have a nice way of looking at it. The characters have a kind of rapport with each other. And it’s always nice to see those guys come back, right? In all these mysteries. The cops, and there is the coroner.

jbbSo do you have anything else coming up that you can mention?

I have something I’m doing with the BBC up here–can’t say much right now. I’m not supposed to say anything, of course. But it will be out soon. I audition here and there. Little things–I just never know what’s going to happen. I’ll be sure to pop up somewhere.

What my wife and I are now learning is that as we get older, we have to get a tune-up for all these little things that come up. My wife has had some minor physical things, and I will probably be next. We’ve sold our house, and we have a whole different outlook on life now. We’re paring down. I’ve been going through all my old video tapes and all these things I’ve done–my gosh I don’t even remember all of them.

I think I became a better actor when I became a father because it wasn’t all about me all the time. No matter how great an actor you are and no matter how many Oscars you have, if your kid comes up in the middle of the night and they’ve got a tummy ache or they’re hungry, you’re their daddy, right? And that’s what it becomes about. You forget about that sometimes. Having a child like that or having to be able to give of yourself in other ways like that is a great way to look at life, you know? To have to find that balance. Like an actor is what I do for a living but it’s not who I am. It’s part of who I am. As you become an older actor, it becomes a different kind of thing. It’s just nice to have a place to go. You might complain about having to put on a suit or something like that, but it’s just nice to get out there and work every once in a while.

There are certainly less parts when you get older, especially for a woman. I so enjoyed the article you shared on Facebook about female directors. It has been so unfair to women in film for years. I was just running a play, and a guy said, “Could you just cut the women’s parts out? The guys could do the women’s parts.” And I was thinking, “My gosh no! There are no parts for women as there are.” The big thing in theater now is for the man to suddenly play the women’s part. It’s not right. There’s not enough roles as there is. I have a friend named Moira Walley, and she’s one of the producers of Breaking Bad. And I’m sure part of the reason that show was so successful is because the female characters were just as important and just as strong if not stronger than the male characters. And their voice was present because of the female directors and the female writers. It’s great to see a lot of women writers. It’s been like that in the business for years as in real life. I remember this woman complained to me. She found out that she had been working at this place, and this guy had just come on and only been working six months, and he was getting more money than her. And I don’t know what that is or where it comes from. It must be males trying to control. When films first started out, all of the major stars were women. Lillian Gish, Mary Pickford, Bette Davis, and now it’s very strange. I’m glad that things are being rectified. Some companies are just starting by doing a woman season or all the leads will be female or there will be female writers. And I think that’s a wonderful idea. How happy am I to see strong women and women in their fifties and sixties leading film.

It’s very hard for me to keep going to these comic book films. I mean, how many times can I see the Seattle dome blow up? Or that Statue of Liberty? It’s the same movie over and over again.I want to be able to go to films where I can relate to the story and the people.  Sometimes in a play, they think they have to spend tons of money on the set. No, just give me two chairs and a table, two actors, and sometimes the most exciting things can happen. And you see that in films too. It’s great watching these small, independent films with unknown people that come out of nowhere. So you discover stars. I remember seeing Winter’s Bone. That’s with the lead from Hunger Games (Jennifer Lawrence).  Just a small little film, but somehow it was great, and it was a heartfelt story. That’s what you look for sometimes.

At least we know we’ll see you in some things coming up.

Oh yes, in some little stuff here and there. Sometimes when I can’t sleep and it’s two o’clock in the morning and I’m watching something and I think, “This looks familiar. Oh my gosh! It’s me! I’m in it!” Or I auditioned for it or something. (laughs)

Jay Brazeau as Harry

Jay Brazeau as Harry

That’s what I find with character actors like you is I never know where you’re going to pop up.

Well, it’s nice because traditionally you look at these old films, and you had some of the same people on there all the time. Quentin Terantino is starting to do that, and other people are starting to rediscover these actors. I remember when I was in LA and saw all these old actors that are not working–they’re just painting pictures of clowns. Why are they not working? Well, I know why–they’ve been forgotten.

Since you have been in the business for a while, do you have any advice for young people especially who might be considering the business?

Interesting question because people always ask me and say, “I have a daughter. She’s interested in acting. So what should I do?” And I always think, as I get older now, I have the same kind of advice that I give to people who are auditioning. Always have a character in mind when you go in for an audition. Have what you think they might want, but always have something else in the pocket–something completely different. Just in case what you have, everybody else is already doing. And sometimes when you audition, you can hear the same thing going on in there. For one audition, everybody was shouting when they auditioned becauase it said to do it in the script. And I went in and did the total opposite thing. And I’m pretty sure I got hired because they were so tired of hearing people yelling.

Now because of the way everything is with the market and all, it’s always good to have your dreams come true, but it’s always good to have something else on the outside, too. I remember talking with someone who was flying all over the world, playing saxophone in Macedonia and Greece and this and that. And he said, “You know, I’m twenty-two now. I want to do this for the next five years. I know I can’t do this forever, and I want to spend this time in my youth doing that, learning life and traveling, and then I’ll settle down and do the other thing.” And I thought that was a really smart kid. My son started off doing jazz piano. It spooked him a little. He liked piano, but he decided that he wanted to try to become an electrician. There’s nothing wrong with doing your job during the day and being an artist at night. If you’re worried about that–’cause that’s the biggest fear–“Will I always do that? Will I be able to do that?”  I’m very lucky because as a character actor–I’m sixty-two–I’m still working and still doing stuff out there. And I hope I get to keep doing this. That’s what I want to do. But you can’t just sit around and wait for that phone to ring.

Jay Brazeau (Tramell)

Jay Brazeau (Tramell)

Being an actor in the beginning–it’s kind of like–why do people write? They write because they can’t stop writing. You have to have that within you, right? And you have to have that thing about acting. I mean I come from a place where I knew absolutely nothing about acting. I had no experience. I didn’t go to theater school because at that time there were only two major places for that in Canada, and the people coming out of there were like talking heads. There was nothing in there. I couldn’t relate to them. I wasn’t interested in becoming a Shakespearean actor. I was interested in more the method things that were coming out of Hollywood at the time. And I quit school early.  But I’m one of the lucky few. I just managed to slip in and pull the wool over everybody’s eyes. I keep on thinking I’ll be found out some day. (laughs)

But if you have a passion, you have to follow your passion. But you have to know that the road you go down is going to be a hard road. Your true friends will stick by you. But it might only be a few of them, and some you will have to leave behind to follow that path. And you have to give it everything that you have. It may not happen overnight. It may not happen till forty years later. It may be happening like crazy when you’re young then suddenly stop. I was working with a great children’s actor, and he had all sorts of success when he was a child. And then he said, “Suddenly, things stopped.” He stopped growing. He started losing his hair. All the other people around him started maturing. And everybody wanted to see that young, little kid again, but he wasn’t any more. So he had to wait like five years and see if something would happen. So he did, and it was hard. He told me he went into a film audition one day for Sean Penn, and I think he got hired on the spot. He said he just had to sit down and start crying. He thought it was over, and finally it came back and he was nominated for an Oscar, and now he’s thankful to be getting these parts again. He graduated into being a character actor. It’s all about finding your life’s passion and what moves you. And then if you can do something for other people with that, that’s the other thing. So it isn’t always about yourself. It’s doing something for someone else. I’ve had so many people help me in life, I just want to help other people as kind of a way of giving back.

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Daryl Shuttleworth as Jim

Daryl Shuttleworth as Jim

KWIK KWOTE

Daryl Shuttleworth, Friend/Actor

“Jay Brazeau – along with Gabrielle Rose – is the heart of the Vancouver theatre scene. Jay is compassionate, caring, thoughtful, funny, loyal, respectful and talented. Not to mention humble. A true spirit. A great human.”

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And that’s what I like about supporting people like you. I get very passionate about those who are all about giving back. We have this perception that all these actors are big-time actors with big egos and act in that certain way, but it’s nice to find out that’s not the case. There are a lot of nice people who are actors by profession, but that’s not who they are.

Exactly. Well that’s a choice you have to make, too. Do you want to be a star, or do you want to be an actor? Those are two separate things altogether. And different politics involved with both. And being a star is often so little about acting. You do all your acting off the screen as opposed to on.

Well, you know how hard it is with the newspapers these days to try to get things out there to people. And it’s not the blockbusters–those are easy to get out to people. It’s the small, intimate things that mean something. So it’s great that you’re doing this. It’s the little kid on the corner selling lemonade where you should buy your lemonade from.

jb3

For me, Jay is a true treasure in this world, and I hope the arts community realizes what an asset he is. He is the positive spark of light that comes alongside anyone and everyone he can to speak a kind word or lend a helping hand. He is one who has chosen not to stop living in spite of advancing age, and I believe his dedication to his family, to others, and to his craft is so readily apparent in the way he lives his life. While we chased many topics and ricocheted all over the place at times, I came away from our conversation feeling inspired and filled with a renewed sense of purpose that what I am attempting to do with these simple posts is making a difference even if I can’t always see the fruits of my labor. Jay is one with whom I would just love to sit across from a table and listen to his wisdom and benevolent spirit pour forth from him for hours–and I am sincere (and I doubt I’m alone in this desire). All too often, those who approach their senior years decide to retire from life and often find themselves in an early grave. While I cannot predict the future, Jay seems like one who would probably never retire from this profession where his passion lies, and I can only hope and pray he will be doling out his sage advice and characteristic wit for years to come. Be sure to check out the links below (unfortunately, IMDB is NOT an exhaustive list), and here’s to seeing him on Hallmark and elsewhere very soon (please put Trammel back in this next time–I missed him so much in the Garage Sale Mystery: The Novel Murders!).

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About the Author

RuthView all posts by Ruth
42-year-old single mother of an active 13-year-old girl Born in Tacoma, WA; lives in Yelm, WA Entertainment Writer Available For Interviews and Reviews Substitute Teacher

8 Comments

  1. Barrie July 3, 2016 Reply

    I can’t believe the amazing interviews you get! This is another amazing one with great questions!

    • Author
      Ruth July 3, 2016 Reply

      Barrie I’m often surprised myself. Glad you liked it. He’s such a sweet guy.

  2. Nancy Burgess July 4, 2016 Reply

    Awesome interview thanks for sharing this.I love all the people you are able to interview.

    • Author
      Ruth July 4, 2016 Reply

      Nancy, I’m so glad. I truly love doing these interviews and sharing them.

  3. Linda Manns Linneman July 4, 2016 Reply

    I never realized he appeared in so many things. I do like his acting. I love Garage Sale mysteries. Great show. Thank you so much for sharing

    • Author
      Ruth July 4, 2016 Reply

      Thank you Linda–he is such a great guy–and yes I just love “Garage Sale Mystery” too!

  4. Erin K. July 5, 2016 Reply

    Great interview! He sounds like an amazing man. Thank you!

    • Author
      Ruth July 5, 2016 Reply

      Glad you enjoyed it Erin. Indeed he is.

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