By now, we are used to young actors from Vancouver making it big in American TV and movies and leaving town for agent-filled shores. Joshua Jackson was ahead of that curve. After making preteen appearances in B.C.–shot productions such as Crooked Hearts and the Mighty Ducks movies (his mother, it can be told, is Irish-born casting director Fiona Jackson), he went to L.A. in the late 1990s, shooting dark-hued movies like Apt Pupil and Cruel Intentions before landing his breakthrough role on Dawson’s Creek.
These days, Jackson—who turned 30 last summer—lives in New York City and has a regular slot on the paranormal crime drama Fringe, which is set to move its filming location to Vancouver. But his long-simmering urge to return to Vancouver previously manifested itself, literally, in the Canadian-made One Week, which found him pacing himself on a motorcycle from Toronto to the Left Coast.
Written and directed by Saint Ralph’s Michael McGowan, the movie (opening here on Friday, March 6) features our former child star as a mild-mannered teacher named Ben whose complacent existence is shaken by the discovery of late-stage cancer. This sudden news sends his character on a cross-country trek, and the geographical nature of that led to something Jackson has never before encountered in almost two decades of work: a movie made mostly in the sequence of its script.
“The journey kind of told its own story,” the actor asserts, calling from a hotel room in Toronto. “I basically experienced the road trip as we were filming it. By and large, this film was shot in the order that it appears on-screen. That’s the only time I’ve done that, and, man, is that a luxury. Makes the character arc much, much easier to keep in your head.”
Still, the organic quality of this approach created its own challenges.
“The solitude of being on the road was real. The hardest part, in fact, was not letting the joy of being on a road trip across Canada read too much on-screen. Because me, Josh, experiencing this trip, was in a very different place from Ben, and what he was going through.” Of course, the tale is about embracing whatever life we are given.
“Once he becomes the hero of his own story, he begins to take joy from the moment. If you took the crisis—the cancer—out of this story, I think it still works. Because the crisis in Ben’s life is not just that he’s dying. That’s true for all of us. It’s more that he is a bit player in his story; it’s all shadows and forms rather than the thing itself—a life reduced to kabuki.
“He’s getting married because it’s the right thing to do, and he’s tottering along at a job he hates, but none of these things does he in any way feel passionate about. He’s essentially dead already at the beginning of the movie. Along the way, he learns to live.”
In the film, Jackson is supported, at various intervals, by Last Chance Harvey’s Liane Balaban, who plays the fiancée baffled by Ben’s sudden change of heart on just about everything. It’s perhaps not unfair to say that the end of One Week leaves it opens as to what happens next. The star feels, however, that this central relationship will likely survive the coming tests.
“Well, I don’t think they break up. Maybe I’m just in a very romantic phase right now, because I happen to be in love. But in my experience, when I’ve done stupid things in the past two-and-a-half years of my in-love life, that the strength of a real relationship is such that you are able to do stupid things, talk about it, and move forward. When you have that level of commitment, you see some core in them, and they see some core of you; if you continue to grow, those two cores can stay together. But maybe I just want to believe that.”
Indeed, this is a theory constantly tested by many working actors with what you could call journey partners—in his case, with German dancer-turned-model-turned-actor Diane Kruger.
“When you’re in this situation, and travelling all the time for work, you are forced to look quite seriously at what you are giving up and what you are getting in a relationship. But these characters had not done that. They had surface communication, perhaps, but I can just about guarantee you that Ben had not been honest with himself about what he wanted for a long, long time. And that makes it impossible to have any real conversation with his loved ones.”
The movie, then, at least in Jackson’s view, is less about the melodrama of disease and its consequences than about what it takes to genuinely connect with yourself and with other human beings. He also thinks you really need to go home every once in a while.