Border star Chernick on geekdom and growing up

By Brian Gorman
The Lindsay Post, The Sault Ste. Marie Star & Others — October 27, 2009

Any regular viewer of The Border will tell you that there usually seems to be just one person having fun.

And that's Jonas Chernick's character Heironymous Slade, the computer nerd. Surrounded by sober, gun-toting public servants; slimy careerist agents from Ottawa; and sinister American imperialists, he's the only one who seems to really like his job.

Back for a third season Thursdays on CBC Television, the show deals with a fictitious Canadian Border Services agency that patrols our country's frontiers for everything from terrorists to drug smugglers and gunrunners.

"We do have a lot of fun," says the Winnipeg-born actor. "It rarely feels like work. But, there's no question that it is a serious show in that it's dealing with fairly weighty issues and intense dramatic situations.

"And I think I'm fortunate in that I get to stretch my comedic muscles. I'm the irreverent, more energetic character, and I get to have a lot of fun with that."

Chernick co-stars with James McGowan, Graham Abbey, Catherine Disher, Mark Wilson, Jim Codrington, Grace Park and Sofia Milos.

As Chernick says, it's a cast of "talented actors we've been seeing around for years but who hadn't been given the venue to really show their strokes."

While they're soberly patrolling the airports, borders and ports, he's back in the office with his array of computer screens, thoroughly enjoying his role as government-sanctioned hacker.

And this isn't so very far removed from the way Chernick feels about his place in the cast of the show, he says.

"I'd be happy if this show went on for the rest of my life, I love it so much. First and foremost, I love the stories. I feel like we're telling really compelling and exciting stories.

"And the people that I work with are exceptional. It's kind of gross how much we all love working with each other. All the way up to the producers and the writers, everybody's really lovely."

This season, Athena Karkanis (Agent Perez in Saw IV and V) has arrived as Khalida Massi, a language expert - an event that forces Slade into something of a crisis.

"Slade instantly falls head over heels, gut-wrenchingly in love with her," Chernick says, "and spends most of the season trying to woo her.

"Of course, he meets mixed success with that. He does a lot of growing up."

Chernick got his start in acting at the University of Manitoba's Black Hole Theatre Company. He left Winnipeg in the early 2000's. Though he divided his time between Torono and Los Angeles, he says he tries to go home to Winnipeg regularly to work in movies and theatre.

"I try to do theatre there once a year," he says. "I keep getting drawn back in. I haven't lived there in 10 years."

Chernick is one of the busiest actors in the country and seems to have appeared in half the successful series produced here in the past five years or so.

He was a regular on The Eleventh Hour, had a recurring role on Little Mosque on the Prairie, and has guested on such shows as This is Wonderland, Being Erica and At the Hotel.

"I'm pretty lucky that I have been able to work on some great shows," he says. "And with a lot of the best directors in Canada. I got to do a show with Ken Finkleman (Hotel), which was one of my favorite experiences.

"But persistence is a crucial part of being an actor. Work comes in peaks and valleys, and you have to be able to stick in through the slow periods. I've been really lucky lately."

Chernick has had two film screenplays produced, including the 2005 feature Lucid, and he expects a third to go to camera in 2010.

That's as far into filmmaking as he intends to go, though, he says.

"I've never aspired to direct," he says. "I think if I were to direct, I'd spend the whole time being jealous of the actors."

Since The Border, he says he has been finding less and less reason to head south to Los Angeles every year.

Chernick and his wife, a jewelry designer, are expecting their first child - further reason, he points out, for staying in Toronto.

Unlike a lot of Canadian actors, however, he says he misses California.

"When I was a kid growing up in Winnipeg, we had a lot of family in Los Angeles. So my association with the city is that, when I was a kid, we would escape the Winnipeg winters and go for our Christmas holiday down to L.A. for a week or two, every year.

"I always held on to that image of L.A., so it remains this magical, beautiful place for me, with the added element that it's also a city of dreams for an actor."

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