You might recognize Dan Jeannotte as James Stuart, Earl of Moray on CW’s Reign or as Brandon Russell on The Good Witch. But it is his recent role as Ryan Decker (Pinstripe Guy) on Freeform’s newest drama, The Bold Type, that is likely to be his biggest role yet. I got the pleasure to talk to Dan about how he got his start in acting, what attracted him to The Bold Type, his thoughts on comic books, and a lot more. Keep reading to see his answers.
How did you get involved in acting? Was there any specific experience you would credit as the moment when you knew acting was what you wanted to do for a profession?
That’s a great question. Well when I was in college I became friends with a guy, Matt Goldberg, who told me that he was, I hadn’t done any acting, but he was bringing together a comedy troupe and that I should try out for it. So I did, I auditioned for him in the basement of his parents house. I had never done improv before, but in that audition scenario I thought, “Well this is exciting, this is fun.” And I got into this improv troupe that he was putting together, and the first time we performed in front of any audience [we had] several hundred people watching, and I got up there and made stuff up, as you do in improv comedy, flying by the seat of your pants, and it was just exhilarating, absolutely exhilarating. And I thought, “This is pretty cool.” And around the same time, that same friend, Matt, was in a play and told me that I should come see it. I went to see it and it was a bunch of kids my age doing Pippin, which is a musical theatre show, and it just kind of blew my mind. These kids were doing this great seemingly high class production. People at my school got to be doing this as a part of their credits, which was amazing to me. So it was a combination of starting to do improv and watching this piece of theatre. [I decided] that’s what I wanted do, so I switched programs and found that I loved it and I wasn’t horrible at it [laughs].
What did you originally go to school for since you said you didn’t start out as wanting to be an actor?
I was in liberal arts, so I was studying philosophy and history and religion and English lit[erature]. At the time I thought I wanted to be a writer but I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to do that. I thought I might be an author or a novelist. At that point I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. That program felt like these were things I was interested in but it was still very academic. And then finding theatre and acting, it just kind of clicked. It was like, “I could do this.” And my parents were like, “Uh, I don’t know” [laughs]. After years of poverty [laughs], I’ve shown them you can make a living out of it.
What’s some of the best advice about the industry you’ve ever received and why?
I can think of two things. A few people told me this when I was younger, but I didn’t quite know what they meant. They said, “this is a really tough business. If you’re not sure that this is what you want to do, then quit now.” Which to me, at the time, felt very negative and pessimistic but I understand that advice. You have to be fully committed to this kind of work, or really, I think it goes for lots of different creative kinds of careers. You have to be committed to it because you’re going to go up against so much opposition, so many obstacles. There’s going to be so many times when you want to quit or when you feel like the world is telling you that you should quit. You have to know in your heart that this is the only thing that you want to do and that you could do because, let’s put it another way: if you have a fallback plan, you’re probably going to fallback on it because [the acting industry] is just so tough.
Another great piece of advice, too, is that you have to create your own opportunities. As actors, we are kind of at the mercy of a lot of external factors, a lot of people: waiting on agents to get us auditions, waiting on casting directors to hire us, waiting for producers and directors to take a liking to us. That can be a little tough to stomach. But if you create some of your own work, then you can be creative and you can be fulfilling the desire that we have to create; you can do that for yourself without it being contingent on anyone else. So a lot of actors will either write screenplays or maybe they are musicians too. In my case, I’ve been working with a comedy troupe, the same one that I auditioned for back in college. I’ve been working with the same guys for more than 15 years now. We do improv shows, we write sketch comedy and that kind of stuff, and although it doesn’t bring me any money, it is satisfying to do, it’s fun to do, and it keeps me busy in periods when work isn’t coming along.
If you had to give advice to an aspiring actor, would that be the same advice you would give them?
I mean, yeah. What I was just talking about wasn’t inspirational advice, more like a warning [laughs]. Yeah, if I was supporting someone, if someone was looking for that kind of inspiration, I would say everybody has their own unique them-ness, everyone has something that no one else has because we’re all unique individuals. That specific thing is what sets you apart. So if you’re trying to make it as an actor, it doesn’t matter what your body type is, it doesn’t matter what your background is. What matters is that you are a unique person and that comes across in the work that you do and people will respect you for being yourself and people will want to watch you being yourself as a unique person.
To date, which role that you’ve played do you think has had the biggest impact on your life and has maybe changed you as a person and why?
What I love about this business is you get to work on different projects and you get to move around from project to project fairly often. You find projects are interesting and inspiring and satisfying in different ways. I could say a role that I worked on that meant a lot to me was I did a production of the play Equis, which is a really beautiful and kind of heartbreaking and mind-blowing play about a young man with severe mental and spiritual issues. And doing this play years ago in Montreal, it was a life-changing for me because the director, who didn’t know me, was taking a chance on me to play a very challenging role, and getting that kind of confidence placed on me by such an amazing artist was validating and really helped me. And the role was so hard, I would be exhausted and spent after every performance, but it was real. It was like going through acting boot camp.
So there’s that kind of role and then there is the kind of thing where a couple of years ago, I got cast in a show called The Good Witch on the Hallmark channel. It was not long after I had uprooted my life from Montreal and moved to Toronto, and I got this role and then my wife got pregnant. So The Good Witch changed my life because we had the means to support a baby, and I got paid well to be on this TV show. So that’s what I mean. There are different kinds of roles, and they’re important in different ways. I just feel so lucky every time I get to work on something. I worked on a show called Reign for a year and a half, and that was amazing because I got to live in sixteenth-century Scotland for a year and half and wear amazing costumes, sword fight, ride horses, and work with amazing actors from Australia and New Zealand and Canada, and I got to go to Ireland to shoot the show, so that was such an exciting and wonderful gig to have.
Moving on to talk about The Bold Type, what did you think when you first read the script? What attracted you to the show?
When I first auditioned for the show, I didn’t have a whole script to read. What I had was a couple of scenes between Jane and Ryan, or “Pinstripe guy” as he’s referred to in the script; I don’t think I knew his name was Ryan yet [laughs]. What drew me to it right away was the banter that Jane and I have. It felt very classic, like kind of old-school comedy banter where the two people on the surface don’t like each other, but you can obviously tell that they are into each other. It felt like a classic setup. But at the same time it was very modern, very now, very current. I thought it was very funny and I thought it was sexy and I thought this would be a very fun role to play. And then I got to read a little bit more of the script a little bit later, and then I was reading everyone else’s story, not just Ryan and Jane’s story. And I was like, “Oh man, this show is awesome. It’s so smart, it’s so sweet, it’s got positivity and heart to it, and yet it takes on these issues but never feels like a lecture or anything.” It felt very of the moment, and I thought that this was a show that could really work, could really take off. And then once I got the part and got on to set and met the people who were doing it I was like, “Oh yeah. This show is going to be awesome.” The lead actresses are all so charming, so good at what they do. The directors and producers were all about kind of having a supportive work environment and collaborating together. It felt like a no-brainer to me.
What was your audition process for the show like?
It was a bit more drawn out than some of the roles I’ve had before. I first sent in a taped audition. Then from that found out quite awhile later, maybe a month or so, that they wanted bring me in to do a chemistry read, which you do sometimes when you’re in contention for a role. They wanted to see how Katie [Stevens] and I might work together. So I flew to Montreal to do this chemistry read, and that’s when I met Katie for the first time. We did a couple of scenes together in front of the producers and director. It’s always strange because–an audition is always strange to begin with because you’re really putting yourself out there and are like, “Here’s me. Do you like me?” And then with a chemistry read, it’s just hoping we get along well. And I thought we did. I thought she was great, I felt very comfortable with her and that our scenes were pretty solid. And then I went back to the place they were putting me up and hung around for a bit, and just when I thought I wasn’t going to hear from them that night, they called me and told me they wanted me back for another chemistry reading the next day. I was like, “Oh my gosh. What? Why? You haven’t made up your minds, really?” So the next morning we were back in the same room, reading the same script again. I think at that point they were trying to define the character, and there was, in the beginning, this idea that he was kind of cool, detached, super confident guy, which is not who I am personally. I’m not super cool [laughs]. So they wanted to see if you could be a bit more aloof, a bit more not exactly a jerk, but a bit of a jerk I suppose. But the next day, I found out I had the part and two days, I think, later I was shooting.
And then the role ended up sort of changing a bit, as we went on, as we incorporated more of me into the character and a bit more of the dynamic that Katie and I naturally have, incorporated that into who they are together as characters. So it changed a little bit, but yeah, they made me sweat for it a bit.
How would you describe your character, Ryan?
Well now that we’ve shot the whole season, I would say he’s a smart and driven and straightforward guy who is trying to be a good man and trying to be upfront about what he wants. He doesn’t shy away from confrontation or shy away from challenging people. I think he actually gets a kick out of challenging people and challenging Jane. Although he’s a bit mischievous, his heart is a good place; he’s a good guy. And I think that she kind of slowly comes around to see that. She sees his headlines and she thinks she knows who she is. But she sees, and the audience sees, that there is more to him than that.
And you said that the character of Ryan changed to incorporate more of you in the character as you guys went along and shot more of the first season. With that being said, in what ways would you say Ryan is similar to the person that Dan is?
There’s definitely a playful side to both of us. I like to use humor as a weapon and I use it as a defense and I think he does that as well [laughs]. But I think what changed in the character to reflect a bit more of me was a bit more warmth. I’m basically a person who wants to get along with other people. I want other people to be happy. I think we incorporated a bit more of that kind of warmth into him and goofiness, which comes across a bit more later on in the season. I’m a big goofball sometimes. But also, in terms of how similar, we’re both people who are trying to figure out how to lead a good life, how to be better, how to be better people, and what I like about Ryan is that he’s doing that for his readers as well. I think his articles are not just about writing stuff that is salacious or attention-grabbing, but also writing an article that can help his readers become better people.
Obviously we have to talk about Ryan’s relationship with Jane. First off, I think Janestripe is the best ship name I’ve ever heard.
Oh my gosh, isn’t it? Katie came up with it.
I was going to ask who came up with it.
We were just, you know, tweeting about the first episode and she was asking people, “What should their ship name be? Jayan? Ryane?” And she said, “Well how about Janestripe?” And I was like, “Oh my gosh. It couldn’t be anything else. It’s perfect.”
Seriously, it’s the best thing ever. What’s it like working with Katie?
Oh it’s great. It’s very easy to work with her. She is a really down to earth person, she’s genuinely sweet, and she’s a real professional. When we knew that I had the role, she went out of her way a little bit to make sure we got to hang out before we started shooting. We had dinner one night to get to know each other, and I really appreciated that she went out of her way to make sure we had that time together. But its for both us. If you’re going to be doing intimate stuff together it’s just weird, and the less you know someone the weirder it is. So thankfully we got along super well. We are really just on the same page. She’s funny and she’s nice and open to collaboration, and I really couldn’t have hoped for a better scene partner. Especially because everything I do in the show is pretty much with her. So it’s like all about how do we get along, and I feel blessed. I’m glad she is who she is. It comes across in our work, in the episodes I’ve seen, that we are two people who are complicit, who are simpatico; we are on the same wave length.
So I took to Twitter for some questions and they were all pretty much about this relationship. Someone wanted to know what you thought Janestripe’s biggest strength & biggest flaw is?
Janestripe’s biggest strength as a couple and biggest flaw as a couple, it’s the same thing: they push each other. That’s an amazing thing because they’re pushing each other out of their comfort zones, they’re challenging each other’s ideas, they’re making each other look at things in a different light. But that’s also problematic because you want some of that kind of challenging and conflicting energy in a relationship, but too much of it can make things blow up. So it’s going to be interesting to see what happens with them.
This is another question I got from Twitter: how does your character stay away from being just “the love interest” over the course of the season and how do you approach that as an actor?
That’s a good question. I think that one of the things that The Bold Type does really well is that it presents relationships as an important part of a well-rounded life, but not the most important or the only part of a well-rounded life. These women in the show, the main characters, are pursuing their careers, are pursuing personal fulfillment, and also if they can find a good partner or have some good romance or have some good sex, then that’s great too. It’s never presented as the be-all-end-all. And to that end, I think the relationship between Jane and Ryan, at first at least, is sort of, they both understand that this just “a thing.” They don’t know what to call it yet but they know it’s not like, “Well now we’re getting married.” They are feeling out and seeing what happens, but they both kind of come into it with their own ideas about what kind of relationship they want to have. And those slightly different ideas is the root of some of the conflicting drama in their storyline.
Personally, for me as an actor, you have to understand the role your playing. For me, I hope, I’m playing a three-dimensional character. But I know that in the larger picture of the whole show it’s not about me. My scenes with Katie, it’s about Katie more than it’s about me, in the sense that Jane is one of the through lines for the whole show. So I don’t think of myself as just a love interest, but at the same time I understand, “oh, I’m just a love interest.” I’m happy to play that kind of role, especially in such a well-written show and especially with such a great actor in Katie, that I don’t need to do anything different in my acting. I just need to make sure I’m playing a fully-realized person. I’m not playing someone who is solely defined by his relationship with Jane; I’m playing someone with his own wants and needs.
Is there anything you can tease about the rest of season one of The Bold Type?[Pauses] Well, I think I can say that its not all smooth sailing for the Janestripe ship. It’s going to come to a point where they both have to figure out exactly what they want from each other. And [pauses] I don’t really know what I can say without giving anything away. It’ll be fun for people to see the two of us get a little bit jealous about what the other one is up to the rest of the time.
I have a few more fun questions to wrap things up. Let’s start with this: your character is a relationship/sex columnist for a men’s magazine. So if you had to pitch an article to write for Pinstripe, what would it be?
Oh man, that’s a great idea. Great question. Oh, I should have thought about that before. Some of the things I think are interesting in terms of sex and relationships from the lens of men: why don’t we, as men, talk more to each other about our relationships? The big thing, a lot of male friendships, keep quiet about everything, We don’t really talk to each other about important stuff. But for a relationship column, I would pitch: why don’t we, as guys, talk more about, “Hey, how is it going with your girlfriend?” Also, I feel like this would be the kind of article that would be in an Esquire-type of magazine, like “Demystifying Menstruation for Men,” because that’s also a thing that guys don’t know about. Not a lot of women feel comfortable talking about it with their guys, but you know.
Our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us and we love talking about what makes us excited and passionate. What do you nerd out over?
I nerd out over improv comedy because I’ve been doing it forever and so there’s certain performers, certain shows that I can really go on about. I nerd out about Game of Thrones. I read all of the books before there was a show,so when the show came out and it was so good, it was like the greatest thing ever seeing this amazing fantasy series turned into reality. So I love talking about that, specifically with people who have read the books, but now the series has overtaken the books, but yeah. I used to collect comic books when I was younger, so I’m a bit of a lapsed comic book nerd. Now though, I just feel grumpy about most of the superhero movies that come out. I feel sort of like a crotchety old man —
I was going to ask what your opinion about the recent Marvel movies and the DC television shows. How do you feel about all of that?
I think its super cool that both Marvel and DC now are creating this cinematic universes that overlap with each other. It’s really exciting that that exists. But that being said, there’s a lot of it that I don’t like. I like the idea in theory more than I like the practice, because especially with the movies, movies these days are just multi-billion dollar blowouts that are just made by committees, and everything gets watered down, and I feel like every superhero movie I watch ends with like a third act with people punching each other through buildings. That is not interesting. Maybe it was interesting once, but now it is just the same thing. I went to see a movie in theaters the other day and the previews before it, it was like four or five superhero apocalyptic movies in a row, because now they all have to be about the world. They can’t just be about interesting characters struggling for what they think is right. It all is Apocalypto or someone taking over the universe and ending mankind. Ughhh. It’s all so heavy [laughs]. I got my issues, but that being said, if anyone of them want to hire me, I am available and I would love to do it [laughs].
If you had to pick, which comic book character’s world would you want to be a part of?
When I was collecting comics I was collecting Marvel, so it’s the world I know better. I’ve enjoyed some of those movies. But then [Christopher] Nolan came around with The Dark Knight, and those movies were amazing. And DC is now trying to cast itself as the grittier, darker kind of more realistic superhero movies. So yeah, I’m not sure which world I would work better in. Probably Marvel, because Marvel tends to be quippier and sillier, and I am sillier than I am gritty.