Jonathan Scarfe Talks Ties That Bind, Hell on Wheels, and Hallmark Movies [Exclusive Interview]
Y’all know I called dibs on Jonathan Scarfe way back there, so I’m thrilled to see him on my TV every week inÂ UP Television’s excellent new family drama Ties That Bind, and this past weekend on Hallmark Channel in Love on the Air. I caught up with him Friday for an exclusive chat about both projects, working on Hell on Wheels, and what’s next.
Ties That Bind rolled around last spring while Scarfe was home in Vancouver shooting Love on the Air, and he jumped at the chance to shoot a show in his hometown. He was also excited to finally play a dad–something he hadn’t yet done in a 20-year career.
“I’d worked every day, and hadn’t been available to talk to the [Ties That Bind producers]. At the very last minute, they called me and asked if we could sit down and have a chat on Sunday evening,” he recalls.Â “[They asked me to read] a couple of scripts, and they were lovely, and we all sat down and it came together very quickly.”
“I’ve played a ton of roles over the years, but had never played a father and I am a father. I have a 13-year old and an 11-year old. That was the main thing–being able to bring your own life experience [to the part]. I have a great marriage. I’ve been married for 17 years [to actress Suki Kaiser]. I’ve never had an opportunity to bring any of that to my work, and I thought this was a great opportunity to do that.”
One of the things Ties That Bind does really well is balance the family drama with insight into a long, happy marriage. Scarfe says that was one of the main draws for him, and those scenes opposite Kelli Williams have been some of his favorites. “That was sort of the key element for me, and the most attractive thing to me, that their relationship wasn’t just black and white or fell into this saccharine zone. You saw them having to figure things out together as a team, as a couple,” he explains. “There was no easy answer to a lot of the things they were being faced with and they had to struggle through all that.”
“Sometimes it was really smooth and sometimes it was a little bumpy, but the reality of that was really appealing to me. There are a couple of scenes [between Allison and Matt in the master bedroom] that are very sweet, and there are a couple of scenes where we get in pretty big arguments about the right path to take. I love all of those scenes.”
The first season is a fairly short 10 episodes, and Scarfe would enjoy having a few more episodes to build out the arcs if they return next year. “I’d love to have a longer arc. A lot of these streaming shows do this because they have a beginning, middle, and end,” he explains. “Since this is a more traditional [series], it would be great to have a longer arc to play out longer stories. It would be great to have another go at season two and expand on what we started there.”
The timing on Ties was perfect for Scarfe. “I really was looking for a series. After we sold everything we owned and took off on our boat [and sailed around the world for two-and-a-half years], we were completely off the grid. After we got back, we were so used to being together all the time that we really, really wanted to find something where we could all stay together and I wouldn’t have to be out of town. It was so perfect. It was like the ideal job [because I didn’t have to leave home].”
The role of Sidney Snow on the fourth season of Hell on Wheels was Scarfe’s first foray back into acting after the family trip. “That was like a dream job. It was a naturally fabulous part. We had just gotten to the point that we were in American waters. I talked to my agent for the first time [since we left] and he said, ‘is there any way you can put yourself on tape?’ It was such a foreign idea,” he says. “My son balanced our iPad on his knee below deck, my wife read to me off camera, and I was hunkered down on the settee doing the audition.”
“Miraculously, that all worked out and they ended up giving me the part. We parked the boat in Hawaii and I went up to Calgary. It was the most fun part I have ever gotten to play. The show itself is so great, all of the people involved are so great. I’ve worked all over the world [and met all kinds of people], and they took the cake.”
Scarfe’s favorite moments on the show were both high drama. “The confrontation between the two trains on the train track [in “Two Trains“]. I love that scene. It was so fun,” he says. “I also liked the death scene [in “Bleeding Kansas“]. One of my favorite westerns of all time is Tombstone and one of the best performances of all time is Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday and in the death scene when he says ‘That’s funny,’ when Wyatt finally leaves. The fact that they’d written that as the last line for Sidney felt like an homage to that performance. I love that final death scene.”
Scarfe was offered Hallmark Channel’s Love on the Air outright, and it was another first. “Again, it was one of those [things I’d never done.] Then I did it, and it was fun and easy to work with Ali Sweeney. It was so much fun. It was so easy in a way,” he shares. “Now I totally understand why movie stars known for romantic comedies keep doing them. It’s such a great gig. No one beats you up, you never have to fall on the ground. You show up and banter. It’s lovely.”
[Note: As of 2020, Love on the Air is now running on Hallmark Drama.]
The sailing trip was a set of happy circumstances that timed out well for his family. “My wife always had that in the back of her head. I was doing Raising the Bar, so I was down in LA all the time, and we were apart and didn’t like that. I was paying rent and I realized the rent would be the same as the slip for a sailboat,” he recalls. “So [I bought a boat and lived on that]. Six months later, we rented out our house and [my family] moved on the sailboat in LA. A year and a half later, we realized [we had a window to make the trip], so we untied the lines and hung a left and that was that.”
Coming back from the trip gave Scarfe a new view on work and life. “The most significant thing is that your perspective on everything changes when you have been in the middle of the ocean in a lightning storm with 30-foot swells and your wife and two kids, as far as way from shore as you can possibly be,” he explains. “The pressure of a television set seems so insignificant in comparison. It all seems like fun and games, and aren’t we all lucky to be here?”
Scarfe joined Twitter earlier this month, and he’s learning as he goes. “It’s been cool to talk to the fans, but I feel like a complete dinosaur,” he laughs. “I’m about ten years behind the curve on all that. I’m very new to it. I’m like a 95-year old man.”
Right now, he’s working on Angel of Christmas with Jennifer Finnigan, which will air this Christmas on Hallmark Channel. “It’s a classic Hallmark Christmas movie, really sweet, really charming,” he says.
After that, he’ll be home for a bit for time with his family and Canadian Thanksgiving, coming next month. Then it’ll be back to work. After a stretch of good guys, he’s ready for a switch. “I probably have an itch to play a bad guy again,” he teases. “I’m all topped up on good guys now for a little while. It’s been a blast.”
Ties That Bind airs at 9/8c Wednesdays on UP Television. Here’s a sneak peek of this week’s new episode.
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