In keeping with my commitment to recognize all talent in films with especial attention to actors who have worked with Hallmark, it was an blissfully unexpected matter to happen upon the skill of one John Emmet Tracy. Even more surprising was the fact that I had probably first seen him in Cedar Cove, followed closely by Sugarbabies alongside my friend Giles Panton. Recently, John agreed to answer a few questions concerning his experience within the business as well as upcoming works, future aspirations, and even how he manages to keep everything in perspective in a frenzied profession such as acting.
RH: Why did you choose to become an actor? What kind of training have you received?
JET: I started acting when I was very young – even before I knew it was a job. I actually can’t remember any time in my life when I didn’t think of myself as a performer. There was never a great big transition moment where I announced to my family that I was going to do this professionally or anything like that. They would have probably laughed if I had announced it to them since it must have been pretty obvious to anyone around. Maybe the constant costumes and fake moustaches gave it away!
As a little kid, I performed short plays and magic routines for my class. My fifth grade teacher even gave me a regular time slot on Friday afternoons to perform plays that I would write and rehearse throughout the week. I remember having to bribe my friends with candy to make them appear with me in the plays since it meant missing recess for rehearsal! As an adolescent and teen, I read every book I could find about acting and theatre. I was auditioning for both professional things and community theatre while doing drama classes and plays in school. I did the first couple years of my bachelor’s degree in Theatre at the University of Wisconsin and later completed it in England at a wonderful drama school called Rose Bruford College. I did shorter training programs at many other drama schools, including RADA and The National Shakespeare Conservatory and have always continued training with great master teachers in various parts of the world.
What was your first professional job? Tell us a little bit about it.
I can’t specifically identify which job would be considered my first professional gig. In the early days, I did mostly non-paying jobs, of course, but they were mixed with occasional jobs that paid next to nothing or just a little bit. I would have to say though that theatre was the place where professional gigs first started coming somewhat regularly.
In the most important ways, they are the same. Living as a character doesn’t change based on the kind of project. The environments and building processes are what separates the experiences from one another.
Theatre has always been at the center of what I do. I think of it like a hometown or maybe like my own neighborhood or something. I love to travel and to see and do other things, but I always come back home. Working on a play feels like that. Like so many actors will say, it means something very particular and significant to share a story in person, in three dimensions and to have living communication with everyone in the building – in the audience, backstage, front-of-house or onstage. We’re doing the whole thing together!
That said, I have grown to love working on set and creating a story one little piece at a time. Film and TV sets are very special places in that you get to work side by side with extraordinary talents in so many disciplines – the technicians and artists who create the images. If you ever have an opportunity to watch a cinematographer at work, jump at the chance! The art department, stunts, lighting, costumes, hair, make-up…working with people at the top of their game and watching how they approach and execute their work is one part of filmmaking that I really love.
In terms of my own work, as I said before, I now enjoy creating a performance bit by bit. I probably didn’t always feel that way. Having come from theatre, I found the stop/start nature of filming and out-of-sequence performing strange and…I don’t know, tricky to make work. That said, I love being challenged and as soon as I started taking on the challenge of embodying a character in a new structure, I then began to love doing it. The playing of the role feels the same in any medium, but the structure surrounding the work changes.
You have been in some very well-known shows. Please tell us about a couple of your favorites and why they are your favorites.
As you might guess, I loved them all for different reasons. Every role is challenging, and collaborating with a new group of people is always enjoyable. Hard to name just one or two shows, but if I am thinking strictly in terms of the roles I have played, I would say that playing Mercury on Supernatural and Pallas on Olympus would both be very near the top of the list. Both were complex characters with many layers to work with. Both were created by excellent writers (Andrew Dabb, Daniel Loflin and David Reed for Supernatural and Nick Willing for Olympus), and both offered a mix of challenge and reward as a performer. Again, there are others – and many others on stage and film – but as for TV shows, these are two of my absolute favorite experiences.
In my experience, most aspects of making films are very similar to making television. The one big difference has to do with the schedule and the pace of the work. TV filming moves at a much faster pace. We usually shoot more script pages per day – sometimes twice as many – on a typical TV shoot day than on a film. Film tends to have a higher budget and therefore has more time to get the shots. This isn’t always the case, of course, but on a film like If I Stay, we would shoot between, say one and four script pages per day, whereas a TV show can shoot eight or more pages in a day. So for the actor, TV means getting fewer takes of your performance. Sometimes only one or two takes before the director has to move on to the next shot.
How did you first get involved working for Hallmark? What do you like about working for the network?
Cedar Cove was my first opportunity to work with Hallmark. It was a small role in one scene, so I wasn’t on set for very long, but I do remember that my scene was shot on my birthday. Somebody at the Hallmark production office must have noticed my birthdate and let somebody on set know. As soon as Corey Sevier (truly one of the nicest actors you will ever meet!) and I finished our scene, the director, Neill Fearnley and the First A.D. David Markowitz surprised me by leading the crew in singing Happy Birthday to me! That was a great introduction to what it is like working with Hallmark!
I recently had another opportunity to work with Hallmark on the upcoming Autumn in the Vineyard, which stars Rachael Leigh Cook and Brendan Penny. Once again, the on-set atmosphere and working relationships were as fun and positive as you would expect. We were lucky enough to film parts of it in Osoyoos, a beautiful town in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. My family came with me and spent the days swimming and exploring while I was on set. Between the production team – particularly the art department and camera department – and the natural Osoyoos scenery, I can guarantee Autumn in the Vineyard is going to be a beautiful film!
I notice you were in The BFG. Please tell us about how you got that job and what your experience was like filming, working with the cast/crew etc.
I did two auditions for The BFG. In both cases, I was given script pages made up specifically for the auditions. So in other words, these weren’t pages from the actual script, but approximated script pages so the production could keep the actual storyline and dialogue secretive. There was quite a bit of secrecy around the entire project and in fact, even after I was cast, I still didn’t know exactly what role I was playing. I didn’t even find out until I went to the wardrobe fitting! Although the role was a small one, I spent over a week working on the film and getting the opportunity to work with Steven Spielberg, Mark Rylance and the extraordinary writer Melissa Mathison. Her work with Spielberg on E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was, of course, extremely influential on me, so to have the chance to work with the two of them – and also simply to witness their working relationship over many days on set – was an honor and a once in a lifetime experience. Sadly, The BFG would be Melissa’s last project before her death in 2015.
Yes, there are a few things that I’ve worked on that have yet to come out and a couple of things I’m about to start. I recently had a lot of fun working on a western called Stagecoach: The Texas Jack Story, which stars Trace Adkins, Judd Nelson and Kim Coates and comes out in November. I will also appear in an episode of a cool new show called Beyond, which airs next year on Freeform. I spent some time this summer working with a fantastic crew and cast on an independent feature film called Bella Ciao! The Violence of Nice. There are two very exciting high-profile projects – one feature film and one on TV – that unfortunately, I can’t talk about but am really looking forward to. I will be getting back onstage early in the new year and of course, I’m excited about Autumn in the Vineyard which will air Saturday, October 8th on Hallmark.
Any plans to write and/or direct eventually?
You know, I have been writing for years, but have never pursued doing anything professional with it. Just something I enjoy – although I don’t have much time to write these days. As for directing, I have actually directed quite a bit: mostly for theatre productions at colleges and acting conservatories. I guess I have directed close to thirty productions. Although acting is my first love, I do enjoy directing – especially working with actors!
How do you effectively balance your career and your family life?
This can be very tricky. An acting life can feel unstable, and major schedule and work changes can come at the very last minute. Actors are always prepared to adapt to these changes, but it can be stressful for both the actor and the actor’s family. It requires mindfulness, time management, lots of communication and prioritizing the things that are truly important. My children are – quite rightfully – unconcerned if an audition is for a Steven Spielberg film; they want to play Lego with Dad! And they are right. Effective time management allows me to both prepare my audition and still play Lego. That said, they are still very understanding when Dad has work time. They even like to run my lines with me! And I am very blessed to be married to the world’s most amazing woman! For nearly twenty years, she has been not only supportive, she has been very proactive in so many aspects of my career and treats acting as the family business. On top of this, she still manages to run her own business in the art world and be a Super Mom at the same time! I couldn’t do what I do without my family and I guess the final answer to your question is that I manage to balance career and family life, not only by working hard at both sides of life but also by getting extraordinarily lucky – both in my career and my family!
After reviewing John’s magnificent and insightful responses, I believe I can begin to see why he has been so successful in his chosen profession. At the core of everything, he has his priorities intact. While there is no repudiating that his giftedness is diverse and comprehensive, he is well aware of who he is and that there is never a moment to rest on his laurels, so to speak. For him, it is attention to the craft and incessant improvement throughout his career. And at the center of it all is his loving and supportive family who remind him of what is truly important in life. It’s not about fame, fortune, and fleeting pleasures that last but a moment. Instead, it is about family and building memories and relationships that will last a lifetime and carry you through the negativity and irritations which will no doubt arrive within the span of a lifetime, no matter who you are or what you do for a living. Tonight (October 8), as I turn the dial on my TV to the Hallmark Channel and watch Autumn in the Vineyard, I will highly anticipate this beautifully-shot film that is certain to be an enchanting storyline filled with superlative performances. I will be on the lookout for John to pop up and demonstrate his aptitude as an actor, and I would invite everyone to tune in tonight as well. Furthermore, do yourself a favor and check out his various links below as it sounds like there are some outstanding and celebrated projects headed to our screens soon in which we will behold the incomparable acting abilities of this accomplished performer.
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