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VIFF: Vancouver actor’s unlikely journey from mines to MMA to movies

TIFF entry Hello Destroyer to screen at Vancouver International Film Festival
Former MMA fighter Jared Abrahamson plays a junior hockey player whose life is shattered after an incident of on-ice violence in Hello Destroyer.

Jared Abrahamson didn’t know what to expect when the director of his latest film, Hello Destroyer, suggested he apply for the Toronto International Film Festival’s Rising Star program.

“I thought it might just be Hollywood kind of fluff… but a good way to promote the film.”

After he was selected (along with fellow honourees Grace Glowicki, Mylene Mackay and Sophie Nelisse) and made the pre-presser rounds, however, the Vancouver resident said he realized that “it’s an artist program, made by artists. It’s got soul to it.”

The TIFF Rising Star “pregame stuff” included a shopping spree (“I don’t even own a suit, I’m as blue collar as it gets!”), and a sit-down for some industry advice from super-agent Michael Levine. The main event taking place during the festival consists of seminars with casting directors, media training and one-on-one meetings with directors: valuable networking in a tough business.

So far the experience has been amazing, says Abrahamson. “It just solidified this path that I’m on.”

That path began in Flin Flon, Manitoba, a mining town of 5,500. Abrahamson was working in the mine, had spent two years in the ground. A friend headed to Vancouver first to pursue acting and told Abrahamson he should try it. “I love working in the mine, I got nothing against it,” says Abrahamson, “but I just had to do something.”

Flin Flon is the home of hockey Hall of Famer and former Philadelphia Flyer Bobby Clarke. That history weaves nicely into Abrahamson’s role in Hello Destroyer, written and directed by Kevan Funk. Abrahamson stars as Tyson Burr, a junior hockey player whose life is shattered after an incident of on-ice violence. The coaches who hollered for results, his teammates and his host family all kick him to the curb amid the media scrutiny, leaving Tyson alone and with dwindling options. The film will have its world premiere at TIFF and will also screen at the Vancouver International Film Festival, which runs Sept. 29 to Oct. 14.

Abrahamson’s own hockey career was brief. “All’s I wanted to do was fight.” So his dad took him out of hockey and put him in taekwondo. Abrahamson did a little bit of wrestling in school, he says, and some boxing in the backyard with his buddies. But it was all leading to Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Abrahamson had three amateur fights and two professional bouts under the name Wolfblood; it’s a career he stuck with even while he was attending Vancouver Film School and after he started booking regular acting gigs (the actor says he never had injuries to the face, luckily). “The plan was to keep fighting, do a movie, a show, fight… cycle it,” he says.

As his acting career took off he found he had to choose. Friend and mentor Sal Ram, who runs an MMA program out of Port Coquitlam and who “molded me as a man,” pointed out that Abrahamson could do more for himself and for his family by pursuing acting. “He just said, ‘Look, you got this opportunity. Yoou could be a fighter, it’s an honourable life but it’s not a glamourous life’… there’s no longevity.”

What would Abrahamson say to kids who want to play hockey, football or MMA, with the risks of serious injuries?

“I say go for it, 100 per cent… you can’t double up if you don’t roll the dice.”

Contact sports are hard on the body but great for the character, he says, pointing out that it prepared him well for the cutthroat world of acting. “How could I be nervous going into an audition if I could go into a cage in my 20s and fight men in their 30s?”

Roles in TV movies and shorts, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Fear the Walking Dead followed. In addition to Hello Destroyer Abrahamson has theNetflix series Travelers, plus feature films Gun, Hollow in the Land, Detour and Never Steady, Never Still coming out.

His dream opportunity? Working with Martin Scorsese.

“Eventually I gotta get in with Marty,” Abrahamson says, “even if it’s a longshot, I’ll keep calling… maybe eventually he’ll hear me.”

Now Abrahamson calls Vancouver home. When he’s in town he likes to head to Lynn Canyon, his favourite spot in the city.

“Where else are you able to step right outside the city and get lost in the woods?” Back when he was training for fights he’d jog nine kilometres from the Seabus terminal up to Grouse Mountain and then tackle the punishing Grouse Grind.

But the actor is grounded. He still has one foot back home and talks to his friends back in Flin Flon every day.

“All the guys working in the mine, they love this,” says Abrahamson. “It’s rare, it doesn’t happen to us… they’re just laughing all the way.”