When Vancouver-based actor Ben Ayres describes the filming of CBC’s new miniseries Diamonds in Churchill, Manitoba, it sounds like he was in outer space.
“You have to dress like you’re on the moon or something; you move so slow. It’s so cold, black, and desolate,” Ayres says over coffee in Kitsilano, about the remote Canadian city, which effectively stood in for an Arctic setting. “I felt like we were filming on another planet”.
Ayres is part of an ensemble cast starring in the two-part Diamonds, which airs on CBC on April 5 and 12. Developed and produced by Sienna Films for the Canadian network, ABC has also acquired the four-hour drama to be broadcast in the U.S. The miniseries explores the lucrative, and often greed-ridden, world of the seductive gem.
Inspired by a book of the same name by Matthew Hart, Diamonds was written by David Vainola and directed by Andy Wilson. The miniseries follows five storylines that are seemingly worlds apart but are weaved together to reveal the complicated ties that exist in the diamond industry. Viewers are taken on an international journey that includes the posh city of London, the war-torn slums of Sierra Leone, the lush lands of Johannesburg, and the icy tundra in the Canadian Arctic.
The ensemble cast features Emmy Award–winning actress Judy Davis (The Starter Wife), who plays a U.S. senator determined to find out who is responsible for the death of her daughter, a geologist in the Congo. The Canada-U.K.-South Africa coproduction also boasts several Canadian actors including Joanne Kelly, Stephen McHattie (300), Kris Holden-Ried (The Tudors), and the Kamloops-born Ayres.
In Diamonds, Ayres plays Steve Dyson, a helicopter pilot searching for diamonds in the Canadian arctic with a crew of men and one female geologist. Dyson, the quintessential tough guy, doesn’t care much for niceties and still employs the school-boy mentality of, “I like you so I’m going to punch you”, says Ayres. “He’s that aggressive alpha-male, who’s a bit of an asshole”¦I mean he clearly likes her [the geologist], but just doesn’t know how to act around her.”
The character provides an underlying comedic tone to an otherwise dark and heavy subject matter. Accordingly it was a role that Ayres says was a lot of fun to improvise and have fun with.
Getting the opportunity to work on a project that he respected and believed in was key for Ayres, even though the experience was challenging.
With an average of three and a half hours of daylight each day and warnings of potential polar-bear attacks, the cast and crew found themselves spending a lot of time together. “This has been one of the tightest crews of any of the films I’ve worked on,” Ayres says. “We spent so much time just hanging out, talking about music and books, and really getting to know each other”.
The ethical issues surrounding the diamond industry are something that Ayres was quite aware of before auditioning for the film. He’s bewildered though that people are still buying them without registering where they come from.
“It just amazes me that it is supported and you see commercials that glamourize it and I wonder how can people buy into that still?” Ayres said.
Ayres, 32, has worked hard at establishing himself as a stage actor doing theatre work, while expanding his resume with films and TV, including recurring roles in the locally shot Smallville and jPod.
While Ayres is very passionate about performing, he has expanded his efforts beyond acting to other creative outlets within the industry. He recently completed production on “Scott’s Land”, a short film he wrote, directed, and starred in.
“I like being in control, which is why the idea of producing or creating a film is so appealing”¦it’s so empowering when you’re really using everything you have creatively and pouring it all into a project”. Ayres even tried his hands at editing. “I love to edit, especially when it’s something that I’ve shot because it’s my story that I’m shaping.”
At times it seems that Vancouver’s long list of aspiring actors grows with each passing day, but it doesn’t take much to recognize that the dedication Ayres has for his craft sets him apart from the rest.
His willingness to endure almost anything for his art is particularly evident when he speaks of working on a theatre production. The long hours, endless run-times, and months of rehearsals that go into a play can be daunting to most people, but for Ayres they are some of his favourite aspects about working in theatre. “It’s much more collaborative [doing theatre]”¦the rehearsal process is the best part of the play for me, you’re getting to go through all of your own demons and really getting an opportunity to play all a character has to offer,” he says.
The young actor has his sights set high with aspirations of one day owning his own production company. “I would love to write and produce more...there are so many good people coming into our world and it’s really a very exciting time,” he says with a smile.
With plans to shoot a pilot in Toronto for a new comedy and “Scott’s Land” circulating at film festivals, it’s clear that in an increasingly competitive industry, Ayres continues to move forward.