Fortunate One — The Border's Jonas Chernick makes his way back to the 'Peg — and the stage — as part of MametFest
By John Kendle
Uptown Magazine — January 10, 2008
Jonas Chernick sounds so damn earnest when he talks about being on a network TV series that you can just tell he's not simply reciting a PR line.
In fact, the 34-year-old former Winnipegger practically gushes as he talks about what it's like to play the character of computer expert Heironymous Slade on the new CBC TV series The Border.
"My No. 1 passion and priority is acting and the opportunity to play a character like Slade on a show as good and as dignified as The Border is really a dream come true. I know what that sounds like, but it really is. I really mean that.
"I would be happy doing it forever."
The new series debuted Jan. 7 on the full CBC TV network. Modeled after moody procedural shows such as BBC's Spooks (known as MI-5 here), or, perhaps, 24, The Border tells the tale of an elite team of Canadian customs and immigration officers, led by James McGowan (playing Major Mike Kessler), operating in a paranoid, threatening post-9/11 world.
As Slade, Chernick is the team's computer wonk - a jeans and T-shirt, caffeine-and-snack-food junkie who can access any computer, anywhere. In the structure of the series, it is Slade's abilities that drive the action stories forward.
Chernick's been involved with The Border since he auditioned for the role of Slade in 2006. The pilot was shot that year and the series was greenlit by CBC in early 2007. So far, there's one 13-episode season in the can but it's expected The Border will not only be renewed, but also sold to other broadcasters.
"One thing that The Border does that raises it above your average procedural drama is that each character gets his or her own multi-episode arc so things do happen to these characters and there are repercussions," Chernick says. "This show carries a commitment to character through the series so you're hooked in to see what happens to the characters."
Future episodes will see Slade hook up with a "cute geekette" and Chernick hopes that Slade's background as a trained JTF2 soldier will one day come to light.
"I'm waiting for the episode where Slade, the last guy you'd imagine, comes up with some kind of martial arts move and takes down his opponent," Chernick says.
While he has played tough in some of his previous film and TV roles, Chernick acknowledges that he usually plays softer, more sensitive characters.
"I've done enough work now that if I was going to be typecast it would have happened already, but I do play nerds a lot," he says. "I'm never gonna be the cool, slick sexy guy - that's just not where I feel comfortable."
Fans of local movies will recognize Chernick from Sean Garrity's two features, Inertia (2001) and Lucid (2005), as well as Gary Yates' heist flick, Seven Times Lucky (2004). The Grant Park High School grad is also a screenwriter with at least two feature-film projects in development - one of which he says he is a year away from shooting.
Chernick says he caught the acting bug early, as a seven-year-old kid attending classes at Actors' Showcase (now Manitoba Theatre for Young People).
"Acting was always something I did for fun, as an escape and a hobby. I wasn't into sports as a kid," he says. "Then, when I was 18, I played a long-haired, pothead literary wannabe/burnout in a play called Life Under Water at the U of M's Black Hole Theatre.
"That gave me a taste of the performance world that stayed with me. It was the first time I took acting seriously."
Although he initially developed his craft here in Winnipeg, Chernick made the move to Toronto several years ago and now owns a home in the Big Smoke. As easily as he imparts his enthusiasm for The Border, he also admits he's been fortunate.
"If you're lucky enough to be embraced by the film and TV industry in Toronto you just kind of go with it." he says. "By a series of small miracles since I got here, it just kind of happened for me. I managed to string a few (jobs) together and I'm lucky enough to be in the door now.
"The only downside to that is that I don't get many opportunities to do theatre. Theatre, while being creatively rewarding, is not necessarily financially rewarding and so, being an actor and trying to make a living, I haven't done a lot of it."
In fact, the last time Chernick trod the boards was five years ago, in Winnipeg Jewish Theatre's production of "The Chosen".
So it's fitting that the first stage job he's taken is back home at his old stomping ground, playing the role of budding Hollywood film producer Charlie Fox in WJT's MametFest production of Speed-The-Plow, which opens Jan. 30 at the Berney Theatre.
"I've worked with WJT more than any other company, I think. I like coming back and working with them," he says. "In fact, a couple of years before I moved to Toronto, I founded an after-school drama class and taught kids there.
"So I'm excited to be coming and I'm excited to be doing Mamet. This is the show that Madonna was in on Broadway. It's a very contemporary play, very edgy and I think it will attract a new, young audience for WJT," Chernick says.
"I feel like I'm coming back to the stage as an entirely different kind of actor now."
"I've done a pretty extensive amount of film and TV work and studied with some pretty amazing people in Toronto and feel like I'm coming back to Winnipeg with a completely renewed and much more sophisticated, advanced perspective on the whole craft."