Jason Priestley became an entertainment icon playing resident good guy Brandon Walsh on Beverly Hills, 90210. Since then he has become a family man, directed and starred in critically acclaimed projects such as the Canadian TV series Call Me Fitz, and suffered a near fatal race-car crash – and still, the zip-code mania continues. The Globe met the Vancouver-born 44-year-old at the Toronto offices of HarperCollins to discuss his new book, Jason Priestley: A Memoir and put his 90210 knowledge to the test (which he promptly flunked – someone alert Mrs. Teasley!).
You’re still a relatively young guy – isn’t a memoir something you write when it’s time to head out to pasture?
It’s true. I am very much in the middle of my life and the middle of my career. I came up with the idea for this book in August of 2012. As a lot of people know, I had a major car accident in August of 2002 and 10 years later I was about to start the third season of Call Me Fitz, having just won the Golden Nymph at the Monte Carlo Television Festival for my work on that show, I was married to my beautiful wife with two beautiful children, and I realized that I had accomplished all of those very lofty goals that I set for myself when I was lying in my hospital bed in the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana 10 years before. It just felt like the end of a chapter and the right time to look back.
In terms of the title, you kept it pretty simple – Jason Priestley: A Memoir. Did you consider other options?
I lobbed 100 titles at my publisher. I can’t think of many of them right now. I had Telling Tales Out of School, which I thought was pretty good. They didn’t like that one.
There aren’t a lot of actors who are so inextricably linked to a single role. Is that a blessing or a curse?
It’s both. I used to refer to working on that show as “the fur-lined handcuffs.” That said, I wouldn’t change it for anything. It was a wonderful experience and one that not a lot of actors get.
How did you decide what to include in the memoir and what to leave out? For example, you dished on Shannen Doherty’s bad behaviour.
I didn’t really dish.
You dished a bit.
I merely reported on things that I saw. I’ve got nothing but love for Shannen and, to be honest, the tabloids of the time very much sensationalized her bad-girl behaviour. We were all young back then. We all made mistakes.
The world of celebrity has changed so much since. Can you imagine what it would have been like if there had been YouTube and TMZ during the 90210 heyday?
We probably wouldn’t have fared nearly as well as we did. It’s a scary time to be young and famous now, with everyone carrying a video camera in their pocket. We had a lot more freedom. We were able to get away with a lot more.
Who would have popped up the most on the gossip blogs? And let’s say other than Shannen, because that’s obvious.
Ha! That would probably be me. I’ll just own it.
Did playing a squeaky-clean guy on TV push you in the opposite direction off-set?
Well, yeah, but back in the early nineties everyone wanted to be a bad boy. That was kind of the thing. Everyone was skulking around Hollywood in their ripped jeans and their combat boots. I was playing a 16-year-old guy, so I wanted the people in the media to know that I wasn’t 16, I was 22. I was probably a bit obsessed with fighting that. I don’t think I needed to work so hard.
Okay, back to the things that aren’t in the book. You say there were intercast hook-ups, but you don’t name names. Come on!
Some of that stuff is better left unsaid [flashes giant Cheshire-cat grin]. When you start getting letters from lawyers – that gets very expensive.
You have said recently that you now have “the perfect amount of fame.”
Right. I’m able to move pretty freely throughout the world, do what I need to get done, but I can call up the French Laundry [restaurant] and get a table whenever I want one. All my fans are adults now – the ones from 90210 and Call Me Fitz. Having adult fans is amazing.
Call Me Fitz is sort of the opposite of 90210 – critically acclaimed, smaller audience. Is that preferable?
The work that I’ve been doing on Call Me Fitz has been some of the most satisfying work I’ve ever done. It’s the most talented group of actors, phenomenal writing. The critical acclaim that’s gone along with that has been incredibly satisfying and the fact that it has a relatively smaller audience is not a problem at all. The television industry has changed so much. Everyone has a smaller audience. Audiences are so fractured now.
So you don’t miss the days where your appearance at a shopping mall would set off a teenage riot?
I don’t miss those days at all.
There is actually a 90210 trivia night happening tonight in Toronto.
I did hear something about that.
How do you think you would fare?
I would beat everybody in there. No, I wouldn’t.
It just so happens that I have prepared a mini-quiz. Don’t worry – it’s pretty easy. I didn’t want to make you look bad.
Okay, let’s hear it.
What does it say on Dylan’s answering machine?
Ummmmmm. “I’m not here. You know what to do.”
The correct answer is, “This is Dylan. You know the drill.”
Ahhhhhh. Right. I was close.
What is the secret code phrase used to get into Emily Valentine’s underground nightclub?
I know it’s in the U4ea episode. Ugh. I don’t know.
It’s “I’d like to exchange an egg.”
You are doing terribly. Last question. What band does Donna sneak out to see when she discovers her mother having an affair?
‘N Sync. No, 98 Degrees!
No, Color Me Badd. They even performed at the Peach Pit after. Speaking of which, I was surprised to find no mention of Joe E. Tata (a.k.a. Nat) in the memoir. You two seemed so tight.
I haven’t seen Joey in a few years, which is sad. I really like him, we just fell out of touch. I don’t know what’s going on with him.
He’s probably still at the Peach Pit.
Right. Flipping burgers with Willie.
This interview has been condensed and edited.