TV role opens doors for city actor

By Brad Oswald
Winnipeg Free Press — Nov 30, 2002

What a difference an hour makes. Especially if it's the one that falls between 10 and 12 — as in The Eleventh Hour, the new CTV series that debuted last week and gave former Winnipegger Jonas Chernick his first continuing role in a TV series.

Only one episode of the promising new drama has aired, but landing a key supporting role in the series has already had a profound effect on the 29-year-old actor's career.

"It's a huge boost," Chernick said in a recent telephone interview. "There's a huge pool of actors in Toronto, and getting a recurring role in any TV series is no easy task. Once you get inside that small community of actors who are working steadily in television, it opens up a lot of doors. Even before the show premiered, it gave me a lot more credibility, which meant a lot of bigger casting directors who may have hesitated to bring me in in the past are now willing to see me. I've been getting auditions and work just because the title of the series is attached to my name."

The Eleventh Hour, which stars Sonja Smits, John Neville, Shawn Doyle, Tanya Reid, Waneta Storms and Jeff Seymour, examines the behind-the-scenes drama that unfolds daily at a functional Canadian-TV newsmagazine.

Smits and Neville play the show's powerful anchors — sort of a Barbara Walters/Mike Wallace tandem for The Eleventh Hour — and Doyle, Reid, Storms and Seymour co-star as the producers responsible for preparing the program's investigative stories for broadcast.

Chernick plays the pivotal role of Gavin Kowlachuk, the editing-room genius who is largely responsible for the shape and tone of the newsmagazine's stories.

"Gavin is the editor — he's the guy in the editing room who has to figure out how to tell the stories," said Semi Chellas, The Eleventh Hour 's co-creator and head writer. "We've always thought of this show as being about distilling this shapeless mass of truth that's out there in the world, and Gavin is the last piece of that process… He's the voice of moral truth in our stories — the one who sees it all clearly because he's in the editing room and he's the farthest removed from that outside world."

Chernick said he relishes the role of being the axis around which much of the show's conflicts revolve. "The joy of this is that he has a presence in every episode," he said. "Every story deals with the nature of editing and the moral responsibilities in doing a news program. In every episode, I get two or three scenes in my little editing suite — Gavin is highly skilled at his job, he has a good, self-deprecating sense of humor… and he's there for the other characters to bounce off of. There's a lot of conflict in the editing suite and Gavin is usually caught in the middle of it."

An added bonus of playing a supporting character with limited screen time in each episode, Chernick added, is that his Eleventh Hour gig affords him enough free time to pursue some of the other acting opportunities that have started to come his way.

In fact, Chernick was back home in Winnipeg last week, playing a supporting role in the TV movie Cowboys and Indians, based on the book by Free Press columnist Gordon Sinclair Jr. (his third home-town job this year — he also appeared in the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre production of The Chosen and the soon-to-air Enron-themed CBS movie The Crooked E ).

After Cowboys and Indians, he'll be dedicating most of his non-Eleventh hours to a role in an upcoming Disney TV movie called Eloise at the Plaza, which stars Julie Andrews, Christine Baranski and Jeffrey Tambor and is slated to air late next spring on ABC.

"It's a great story, based on the Eloise children's books," he explained. "It's a big coup for me. I get to work with Mary Poppins. How cool is that?"

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