Joel Labelle is known for his work on RoboCop and Pompeii as a stunt performer. He’s appeared on shows such as Defiance, Rookie Blue and Hannibal. However audiences can catch him on Freeform’s newest series Shadowhunters set to air in January of 2016. Read our interview with Joel below.
Tell us about your background. How did you get involved with acting and stunt work?
“It came to be in a really strange way. I started off as an actor, I classically trained in a conservatory program. I did a bunch of acting classes as a kid, a bunch of theater, everything. I’m from the prairies originally, from Winnipeg. Once I finished university, I moved to Toronto to pursue acting, but that really did not work out at all. I had an agent, and she wasn’t that great, so I wasn’t booking auditions. I was stressing out left, right, and center, and then I took an acting class somewhere just to keep training and to stay sharp.
My scene partner and I got to talking. I don’t know how it came up, but somehow she found out that I skydive. I skydive professionally; I do all this other stuff too like racing cars and base jumping. I gave her the laundry list of stuff that I can do. She said, “You’d be a good stunt guy.” I was like, “Well, I do have one stunt credit. I have one credit from back home, but that’s it.” She said, “I’ll put you in touch with someone.” The next day, a woman called me and asked, “Do you want to do a fight for MTV?” I was like, “Okay.” [Laughs].
I did the fight and then she’s said, “You did well. You should come over and I’ll help you out and tell you what you need to do to become a stuntman.” As of that point, I was done with acting, so I quit and then I focused on stunts. After a year of training I started getting stunt work. Somewhere along the line, an agent who had an actor who looked like me, lost him because he moved to LA. They called me on a whim. They found my profile on a casting site.
They called me and said, “We don’t usually do this. We’ve actually never done this before, but would you be willing to audition for something?” I said, “No. I’m done acting. I don’t want to do it.” They were like, “Okay.” Then they called me back the next day and asked , “Do you think you could do just this one audition” I was like, “Okay, fine,” so then I auditioned for it and it went well. They were like, “You know what? You should probably come in and sign a contract and maybe we should get you out there again.”
I’ve been with this agent ever since. They’ve been amazing. As of that point, my stunt career started to take off as well and then I started acting again. I’ve been flip-flopping back and forth between the two ever since.”
Do you have a preference?
“It’s weird because when I first started being a stunt guy, I said I’m done acting. Then, once I got this agent, she convinced me and said, “No, you can do both!” Then I started booking commercials and odd jobs.
I realized my initial love is acting. I love acting but I also love stunt work now. I can’t really answer this question. I like them both for different reasons, but I’m really enjoying having a great acting job like Shadowhunters. It’s hard to juggle them both sometimes because there’s this stigma that stunt guys can’t act and actors can’t do stunts. It’s hard; I’m trying to break that.”
You’re proving them wrong!
“Trying to! It’s more often that stunt guys can’t act, which is true sometimes. But a lot of actors say they do their own stunts when they don’t really. I like them both equally for different reasons. Right now, I’m loving this acting job (on Shadowhunters) though.”
Are you in Montreal, or Toronto?
“I’m in Toronto, but I was in Montreal.”
Working on what? Can you tell us?
“On a show called Quantico.”
Awesome! Are you playing a FBI agent?
“I was actually a gangster in episode 7. It’s just the one episode. Then I might have to go back to Montreal for another show, after that I’m going back home to Winnipeg. Then the next week, I’m going to China, so it’s a little crazy right now” [Laughs].”
What are you doing in China?
“I got invited to be part of an air sports show. The Chinese government invited thirty base jumpers from all around the world to jump off this thousand-foot bridge in front of a huge crowd of a hundred thousand people. They’re flying me down to base jump off this bridge for two days, and then they’re sending me home. It’s nuts!!
It’s super fun. I’ve actually been there before to do it, and then they invited me back. I guess I didn’t fuck up the first year.”
Like you said, you skydive; you race cars; you parachute; you base jump. What’s the craziest thing you’ve done in 2015?
“In 2015, I shot a commercial in Dubai for United Emirate Airlines and CNN. It was for Turner Productions, which is essentially an umbrella company of Warner Brothers. It was a wingsuit commercial. Basically me flying a wingsuit over the famous palm that they made in Dubai.
There was a bunch of dialog about how I love Dubai and how it’s the place to travel to and so on and so forth. That was one of the coolest jobs I’ve had. That’s definitely a highlight of the year and my whole career so far. That happened right at the beginning of 2015. It was a fantastic start to what’s been a good year.”
You’re like how can it get better than this? Then, Shadowhunters happened!
“I know right!! I feel like next year’s going to be the shittiest year ever because this has been such a good year. I’m almost like “ it can’t get any better than this. [Laughs].”
Although Shadowhunters airs next year, so it’ll start on a good point, too.
“Right! I know. That’s a good point. That’s an amazing point! Shadowhunters is huge. Getting that as an actor is good, but getting it as a stunt actor was even better! “
What was your audition process like for Shadowhunters?
“It was a regular audition, which I believe didn’t go all that well because there were a few factors that wigged me out. I brought my wife with me, which I never do. [Laughs]. I brought her because we were running errands. I told her to just come; it’s not a big deal, so she came with me. She totally threw me off my game and then I ran into a bunch of actors that I’ve doubled for in movies. I tend to know all the other guys that look like me because I’ve been their stunt guy.
I ran into a guy who I really like, a really good actor. We started chatting and then I got into the audition room and the casting director started chatting with me as well. We’re both from Winnipeg. Once I started the audition I pretty much fumbled and completely forgot my lines. That was my first audition for Shadowhunters. [Laughs]. When I walked out of the room I thought “that was awful.” Then, I left and I went out for a drink with my wife just sulking and crying about how crappy my audition was.
Lo and behold, a week later, they wanted to see me again. I thought “ that’s interesting”. I went in for a second audition and that one went really well. I was determined not to screw that one up. Then for a few weeks after that it was the negotiation process and deciding whether or not they wanted me.
We had to send in a bunch of footage and essentially prove my worth to ABC Family. Again, it was difficult because of the abundance of stunt experience that I have, but in the end, they took me, which was great!”
You are playing a werewolf, is that all CGI?
“It is CGI. Without being able to tell you what we shot, we shot a scene where I am a werewolf and then I go back to human form. During that scene, I have to assume certain poses that are werewolf-like. We try to do as much as we can with me and then the post production stuff comes into play. Obviously, we use CGI, but a lot of the movements that we do leading up to either transformation to wolf or back to human is the actor. It’s me doing the movements.”
Have you finished filming for Shadowhunters?
“No. I was actually just talking to Isaiah (Mustafa), and we were just texting each other. I think we’re working together this week. I don’t know when, but we’ve got a few scenes to finish, and then that’s it. Then we’re done.”
Are you doing all your own stunt work then for Shadowhunters?
“Oh, yes, definitely, 100%. Yeah, absolutely!”
Because of your background, are you also helping the other actors with their stunt work?
“I ended up doing some stuff on Shadowhunters, but not any fight scenes, without giving away anything. [Laughs]. I did do a few things, but not like fight scenes. I thought I was going to, but I didn’t. I gave pointers to people, helped some people out, but for some reason or another, my character didn’t do any big fight scenes.
In your audition, did you originally try out for Alaric?
“Yeah, 100%. I had gone out for a bunch of stuff that month, other stuff, and then that’s the first thing that was offered to me for that show. That was it. Now, looking back on it and after meeting all the other actors, it’s a pretty clear choice! Especially now that I haven’t really shaved properly for three months. [Laughs]. I’m starting to legitimately look like a werewolf. It only makes sense that that’s what I went out for, Alaric.”
How are you similar to Alaric? How are you different?
“Alaric’s the second-in-command, so he’s pretty tough. Usually second-in-commands are the enforcers, and he really is that. If Luke is all bark and no bite, then Alaric is all bite, because he’s got a temper, and he’s pretty grumpy sometimes. I feel like he often has to put Luke in his place and remind him of things. He’s serious and he’s grumpy, and I am not those things. Somebody just put on Twitter, “Joel never smiles.” Did you see that?”
“I do, actually. I do smile in real life. [Laughs]. It’s pretty hard for me to be grumpy. I can have a pretty shit-ass day and still have a smile on my face, but when I’m playing Alaric, Alaric doesn’t give away smiles like candy. That’s how we differ. He’s pretty serious. That’s the thing. We’re not alike at all. It’s just funny, because everyone said, “Oh, Joel’s never happy,” but it’s actually the opposite. I’m always happy. It’s just Alaric’s always a grumpy ass!”
I have to ask, were you familiar with the book material or the movie prior to trying out?
“Absolutely. That’s probably the only question that I saw coming, there’s no way they’re not going to ask me that. I saw the movie. The movie was actually filmed in Toronto. I knew a few people who were in it. I’m definitely familiar with the movie, and familiar with the books, but I didn’t read them. I thought about reading them, but then when I heard that they were taking a different spin on it, I opted out of reading them.
It’s a mixed bag of nuts with that topic because some of the actors have read the books and have gone through the books at a feverish pace. Other actors have decided not to read them. I’m one of the ones who decided not to read them because if we’re going to take a new spin on it, I want to try and put a new spin on the character. I know who played Alaric in the feature, but I don’t want to see how he did it because if we’re going to try a something new, let’s start fresh.”
Who from the cast did you meet first?
“I don’t even know. Oh, wait, no. That’s an obvious answer, Isaiah who plays Luke because the girth of my scenes in the beginning are with him. I met him on my first day.”
What’s the relationship like with the cast off set?
“Really good. I’ve worked with enough people now that I’ve seen a lot of attitude problems on set. You’re on a set and people come from different cities and everyone is trying to impress each other, but this is the opposite. It’s probably one of the most grounded casts I’ve ever seen . It’s weird because it’s a young cast, so naturally people would think that with a young cast, there would be egos, but all of the actors that I’ve met are just super chilled out, super nice and super grounded.
It’s really nice and refreshing because it’s Russian roulette when you get on a show. You don’t know how every one’s going to be, but the rapport on and off is really good. Every one’s super easy to get along with, which makes it that much easier when you’re actually working.”
What’s the biggest prank you pulled on the Shadowhunters set? Who’s the biggest prankster?
“I am a big believer in revenge and I know all too well what will happen If I tell everyone about my pranks. I’ll get it twice as bad from the actors. [Laughs].”
Do you have a scene or episode that you’re really excited for fans to see? Have you seen any of the finished product?
“No. Well, I just did some ADR for it a week ago, and I saw some of episode one. I was pretty excited. It looked great. I was actually really impressed with the cinematography. The way that they shot it, and the lighting; it’s really good. I haven’t seen much but what I’ve seen looks amazing.
Obviously, you guys film in Toronto. The leads aren’t Canadian, but pretty much all the supporting cast is.
“I think so. I didn’t notice that until two weeks ago. Most of the supporting cast is Canadian and it’s all supporting cast who’ve all previously had fairly big jobs on other shows. There’s quite a few people from Heartland or Reign and stuff like that. It’s all people who’ve had at least six episodes or more on other shows.”
Do you think that that’s the benefit of filming in Toronto versus L.A.? That Canadian actors are actually getting these opportunities and these roles?
“Absolutely. Obviously, L.A.’s always going to be L.A. Definitely right now, we’re in a weird situation because there’s more of a migration from south to north than north to south. There’s more American actors coming up versus Canadian actors going down. I understand, with the dollar getting weaker and everything, it’s only going to get more busy, which is great. I definitely think that Canadian actors are getting more of a shot as they should”
“There’s a lot of talented people, especially in Toronto. It’s easier to look at local people because they’re there and they’re readily available. I assumed that the lead players (on Shadowhunters) would be from LA, but I didn’t expect to have most of the supporting actors to be Canadian. It’s great!”
What is your favorite Canadian TV show?
“Oh, that’s a loaded question. I don’t even know. I know Game of Thrones isn’t Canadian, right? I know The Following isn’t Canadian and I know that True Detective isn’t Canadian. Do you know what? Damn you for putting me on the spot; damn you! [Laughs]. Let me think.
Honestly, which show have I actually watched? I try not to. I’m going to be honest with you. I try not to watch them because I’m in them half the time and I hate watching myself. It drives me bananas. I have trouble watching myself. For most actors and stunt guys, it’s hard to watch yourself on a screen and be completely objective because the reality is you’re going to completely tear yourself apart. The only show that I’ve actually watched a little bit is Rookie Blue.”
Were you surprised by the fandom?
“Oh, yes, 100%. No one told me anything. I got the job. Typically people will get a role for a smaller network like CTV or CBC and then hopefully that allows them to get a job for a bigger network like ABC.
I somehow bypassed and went to ABC right away. That in itself is phenomenal. I don’t know who told me. My wife may have been the first person to tell me. She’s like, “There’s a big following.” I said, “There’s no way.”
It was almost instant. For example, I posted two pictures on Instagram. Two pictures alone got me almost 800 followers in a week, and then getting private messages on Instagram. It is crazy. It’s strange for me because I’ve never had this before, but it’s pretty amazing.”
Once the show airs will you live-tweet on Twitter?
“I’m like a dinosaur. I’ve been forced into the social media world kicking and screaming like a baby. If I had my way, I would have an old school Motorola Razor, so that I can’t check my Facebook all the time. [Laughs].
Naturally, I don’t want social media, but we live in a day and age where it’s necessary. It’s here; it’s not going anywhere. Because of the business that I’m working in, it’s a necessary thing to have. I have Facebook, which I don’t check that often. Then, I have Instagram and Twitter which I opened a while ago. I started using it more lately. I’m not good at it, but I’m getting better, so bear with me. But, I’m still definitely going to avoid watching myself. [Laughs].
I just feel so narcissistic when I share stuff, you know? It feels like, “Oh, look at me. Look at me.” I don’t like that. It feels egotistical, almost. At least, that’s how I feel. You know what I mean? I don’t feel the need to show everyone what sandwich I can make or what I’m currently eating.”
Well what did you eat today? Let’s just tell the Talk Nerdy readers.
“You know what? I haven’t eaten anything today. I’ve had a coffee, and I’ve been putting butter in my coffee. Have you done that? It’s called the Bulletproof Coffee. It has to be grass-fed butter. You take the butter, grass-fed, and then you put it in the blender. Blend it up, put a bit of coconut oil. Then you drink it.
It’s like a meal. It’s fantastic. You don’t get the whole jittery coffee buzz because the butter breaks down the caffeine, and the caffeine slowly makes its way into your system.
I learned about it from Joe Rogan. I’ve got a big man crush on Joe. A big man crush indeed. Pretty much whatever Joe Rogan does, I try to do as well. Joe Rogan swears by this, so I started doing it, and I was like, “This is fantastic.” [Laughs].”
[Laughs]. So, has your wife read the books?
“You know what? I’m surprised that she hasn’t because she read Harry Potter. She loves stuff like that. I have no idea why she hasn’t. That’s a good question. She hasn’t read them, but she should because she is like a teenager in a woman’s body. She loves that stuff. I’m going to come home tomorrow and the books are going to be open on the couch, aren’t they? She’s going to be like, “I already read one. I’m on book number two.” I’ll be like, “What?” [Laughs].
What is your favorite quote? In general?
“Let me think. There’s so many. You have to give me a second. I have so many memes and quotes just screen shotted on my iPhone, it’s ridiculous. You know what? The one on my Instagram is probably my favorite. “The dream is free; the hustle is sold separately,” that’s one of my favorite quotes for sure. Everyone can have a dream but there’s always a price to pay and that’s hard work.”
Besides Shadowhunters, what else are you currently working on or can people see you coming up in?
“I just finished a feature called Rupture. This was one of the craziest things I’ve done in a while. I was doing it more or less at the same time that I was doing Shadowhunters in the beginning. I just finished it. It’s a sci-fi style movie. It’s very interesting. It’s with Steven Shainburg. He’s probably one of the best directors I’ve ever worked with. He’s just a chill guy; he’s like me.
He’s non-professional, easy to talk to, likes to swear, so we got along like peanut butter and jelly! [Laughs]. I worked with Noomi Rapace, the girl from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and Peter Stormare. Without giving too much away, it’s a sci-fi thriller. I actually just got a call for Rupture, because I have to go do ADR for them.
What else did I shoot? Oh, I shot X-Men: Apocalypse. That’s the third one. X-Men was crazy, because I went in as a stuntman and then when I showed up, I ended up doing both acting and stunts. The director was Bryan Singer. It was great. It was a massive movie set! It was wild, because there’s a lot of funding for a show like that. It’s just so interesting to see it all come together.
Now, I’m finishing Shadowhunters, and obviously, I’m still doing stunt work.”
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Shadowhunters premieres January 12 at 9/8c pm on ABC Family/Freeform.