Whatever Happened To Jason Priestley? Just Ask Him
At the end of the 20th century, Jason Priestley, then just turning 21, was one of the hottest, highest profile stars on television, playing Brandon Walsh on the original Beverly Hills, 90210.
On Wednesday in Miami Beach, at a hotel down the street from the NATPE conference, Priestley was promoting his role in the Canadian-produced series Call Me Fitz (on which he is also a producer and, at times, the director), that is seen in the U.S. only on DirecTV -- or as Priestley admits, not seen very much at all.
"I still have this incredibly active and very successful career that is virtually unseen in Hollywood,” said Priestley, now 43. “I work on projects all around the world and win awards, and I’m pretty much invisible in Hollywood.”
Priestley doesn’t feel sorry for himself or sad about his fade from the blinding spotlight of fame. If anything, he seems relieved and quite happy about the way his life and career are going.
“I don’t want to ride the coattails of what I did,” Priestley told The Hollywood Reporter. “That to me would be sad. I feel like what I did in the past, that’s so far in the rear view mirror, that to try and ride the coattails would be pathetic."
Instead, he revels in what he has become, in the many TV series, movies and stage plays he has done and the opportunities he has had to hone his craft. “I feel,” added Priestley, “like there’s no comparison, ability wise, knowledge wise, career wise to anything I did in the past.”
Priestley started acting at age five in his native Vancouver, Canada, doing local productions and commercials. He says all that did was get him beat up. “Being a kid actor in Canada meant I got beat up more than normal kids,” he recalled. “The older kids just beat me up a lot more. 'Hey, I saw you on TV in a commercial kid.' Boom!”
His career took off as a teen when he moved to Los Angeles and got the iconic role in what became a breakout hit on Fox.
Many of the young actors he came up with have not fared as well. How did Priestley stay on course?
“When you’re young like that, you feel like a hamster on a wheel. All you’re doing is spinning that wheel and your world,” said Priestley. "You have a bunch of people telling you how great you are, so it’s really easy to just start believing it after a while.”
“It’s a tough road to stay on” added Priestley. “It’s not easy. You really have to have a strong sense of self. You really have to believe in yourself. I think a lot stuff that starts with the drugs, the booze, comes from self-doubt. It starts to creep in. ‘Oh I’m a fluke.’ You start to silence that with the booze and the drugs.”
So how did he avoid the worst of the pitfalls? “You have to have a strong conviction and a strong belief in yourself,” answered Priestley. “You have to see that they are making lots of money off you so they just want to keep them going.”
“You have to take a step back once in a while and see what is going on,” he added. “You have to really look at the people telling you all those wonderful things and consider the source.”
Looking back, Priestley said he had to do it pretty much by himself. While his mother, who was a dancer and singer helped him start his early career, he says his family wasn’t there to help him later on, nor were his agents at UTA -- who he was with from the earliest days until about seven years ago when he switched to APA as his agent.
“I was stunningly left pretty much on my own by my family and my management,” said Priestley. “Looking back on it, I’m horrified that everyone left me out there completely on my own… Nobody was there for me. I did it all on my own.”
“My family didn’t make any money off me so I’m not surprised they weren’t around,” added Priestley, “but my team, all my agents, they weren’t there. They didn’t drop me but I didn’t hear from them for a while.”
Now with APA and Thruline Entertainment management, Priestley said he was able to find “people not quite so full of themselves and full of bullshit." "I think those people served me much better in the second phase of my career," he said.
He said even when 90210 was still hot, he knew he would have to make a transition so he began studying the production and directed some episodes. Now he develops projects through his own company but only for himself to ensure he has interesting work to do.
Last summer, Priestley directed a low budget ($2.5 million) independent movie called Cas & Dylan, which stars Richard Dreyfuss as an ill man who takes off with a young woman to find a better life.
Priestley expects to finish the edit later this year and hopes it will find life in festivals and then hook up with the right specialty distributor in the U.S. Produced by Montefiore Films, it is already set for distribution in Canada through Pacific Northwest Pictures.
Priestley’s advice for other young actors is to “never rest on your laurels” and to “always be looking to challenge yourself.”
“Look for that next role that’s going to challenge you and put you in a position that makes you uncomfortable,” added Priestley, “That is how you grow as an artist. The thing that makes you stall in your career is when you become complacent.”