Nobody smoked a cigarette like Jayne Eastwood. That is presented in the past tense, not because she is no longer with us – she absolutely and gloriously is – but because she no longer smokes. And maybe that is one of the reasons that the 72-year-old character actor is still around.
“Oh, God, I loved smoking,” Eastwood says, her Rothmans-cured voice crackling with laughter over the phone line. “To be able to smoke on camera was such a huge treat. But it caught up to me. I had to quit, which I did seven years ago.”
Eastwood wasn’t seriously ill. Just occasional shortness of breath, or “seasonal asthma” as she told herself. “It was good that I quit,” she says with a sigh. “But I do miss it.”
On Feb. 23, the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) Toronto presented its 2019 Award of Excellence to Eastwood, an actor with 50 years’ experience and a walking, talking piece of coffee-and-cigarette Canadiana. Looking over her filmography, one notices the hard-boiled Everywoman roles she played quintessentially: Girl in a Bar, in 1978’s Tomorrow Never Comes, with Oliver Reed and Susan George; Bag Lady, in 1987′s Night Friend, surely the only film with a cast that included both the great comedian Art Carney and the great playwright Daniel MacIvor; Judy the Waitress, in the 1994 Tim Allen vehicle The Santa Clause; and Dolores Koontz, in the 1999 horror-thriller Resurrection. I mean, is there anyone more Dolores Koontz-y than Jayne Eastwood?
“My favourite roles were the ones I was playing myself,” Eastwood says, mentioning her recent portrayal of a fast-talking coroner on the television series Haven as an example. “That show was so well-written. It was very satisfying to do.”
So, we identify Eastwood with her characters. When she pops on screen, the viewer quickly grasps her type. She’s an embodiment of the nicotined, no-nonsense woman.
Mind you, when film fans first came cross the Toronto-born actor on screen, they wouldn’t have known Jayne Eastwood from Clint Eastwood. Of course, she played Betty, the wife left behind in Donald Shebib’s 1970 Canadian classic Goin’ Down the Road.
“I have a lot to thank Donald Shebib for,” Eastwood says. “I don’t think my entrance into the film world would have been so easy without having that role under my belt.”
To Eastwood’s mind, Goin’ Down the Road, about two Maritime ne’er-do-wells who take on Toronto, was the beginning of something bigger than herself. “That film started the film business in Canada, quite frankly,” she says. “There was something about that that made people in our business say, ‘Yes, we can do this. We can create great Canadian films and tell our Canadian stories and people will respond to it.’”
(Others would argue that Goin’ Down the Road actually was the end of something: the last great gasp of the distinctly humble Canadian film style once described by film critic Stephen Cole as “NFB downer naturalism.”)
Off-screen, Eastwood keeps busy with her side-hustle as a member of Women Fully Clothed, a touring sketch-comedy troupe with Robin Duke, Kathy Greenwood and Teresa Pavlinek. The quartet is currently working out the kinks of a new show, Women Fully Clothed: Too Soon?
“I’m not much of a writer, so the other women take care of that,” Eastwood says. “But I’m pretty good at punch lines.” A national tour is forthcoming, even if Eastwood wasn’t sure she had it in her at this point in her life. “The other girls said they’d stick me in a wheelchair and push me into the van,” the perfectly ambulatory actor jokes. “But I’m looking forward to it."
Eastwood, then: Goin’ down the road.