Tyler Johnston (Stewart – Letterkenny) – Xperience History
Written by Staff on December 24, 2023
Tyler Johnston (Stewart – Letterkenny) – Xperience History – by Liam Sweeny.
As a writer, not like this, but as a fiction writer, it’s my job to describe a character and make you love them or hate them. If you’re indifferent to them, back to the drawing board. But an actor has to become another person and make you love them or hate them. Infinitely harder, mostly because all they have to work with are the words of people like me.
The show Letterkenny’s resident misfit ‘Stewart’ is both loved and hated, often at the same time. He is played masterfully by Canadian actor Tyler Johnston. He’s been in a number of television shows, including Supernatural and Less Than Kind.
I sit down with Tyler and we discuss the skids.
RRX: Letterkenny has categories of people. Wayne and Dary and Squirrely Dan are hicks; Stewart is a skid. Stewart is an outcast, basically, in a town of five-thousand, which is different from being an outcast in New York or L.A. It’s an interesting dynamic with the other characters. What do you think keeps a guy like Stewart in a town like Letterkenny?
TJ: Well, for one, he’s living in his mom’s basement. You know, rent these days is higher than ever. If you’re getting free rent, and your mom’s not kicking you out into your later years, then a guy like Stewart is going to hold on to that with both arms and both legs. And you can have your misfit friends over in the basement, run your illicit activities, essentially free, that’s a pretty good deal for a guy in Stewart’s position.
RRX: Do you think it’s anything more than free rent? If Stewart had the money, do you think he would go somewhere like New York and LA?
TJ: For a couple of minutes there, we went to the big city of Toronto, love brought Stewart to the city, you know – his chivalrous nature brought him to the big city of Toronto, but you know, I think there’s something to be said about small town folks. Many of them move to big cities, but there’s a familiarity of a small town – knowing your neighbor and your neighbor knowing you. People might leave for a couple of years and go to college, get a job, but it does seem like a lot of them circle back to their small town that they came from.
I think for Stewart, he’s got a little clique there, Roaldie and Connor and Darrien, and he’s still vying for Katy’s affection, and he gets the opportunity, so he’s got goals he still wants to attain in Letterkenny.
RRX: As mentioned, Stewart is an outcast. But he has friends, and he is the leader of these friends. And in some situations, Stewart leads the town on different ventures. He’s almost a “leader in exile.” What is Stewart’s view of leadership? What leader(s) would he look up to?
TJ: Oh my goodness. It depends on which season you ask. In some situations, he certainly runs it like it’s a dictatorship. But he has all sorts of political views. One day he’ll be a socialist, the next day, he’ll talk about communism. He’ll talk to alt-right people on the internet. That’s the cool thing about the skids, is they’re kinda ever-evolving, and, I don’t know if it’s ‘evolving,’ but they’re always changing. I don’t want to say Stewart would be following some of the dictators from our past, but he might take some things that he found useful in controlling his subjects, which is essentially what Stewart does in the basement there, his palskis, so. Couple of seasons where there were other skids vying for the crown, and Stewart had to shoot them down with some well-placed dance moves.
RRX: Stewart represents something in Canada, America and everywhere. He’s the artist in the school full of jocks, the gamer geek, the theater kid. His presence in Letterkenny evens it out, making it more than just ‘hick humor’ or strictly Canadian. Have fans ever reached out to you who’ve appreciated Stewart in their own lives?
TJ: Absolutely, yeah. For sure. There are people who’ve reached out and have been what some may consider ‘outsiders,’ and appreciate Stewart and the skids’ willingness to just be themselves, no matter how weird or how bizarre that looks. And that was something we established very early on, me and my co-stars as skids. It’s like if we don’t fully jump into this behavior, we’re not doing justice to those who are sometimes on the fringes of small towns, or cities, or stuff like that. It’s always nice to hear from fans who can relate to the skids. It’s sort of a wide group of people that kind of fit under that category, like you were describing earlier, that ‘hicks’ tend to be that same standard type, and athletes or hockey players or baseball players, or football players. You know, there’s these stereotypes that come with some of those factions, where the skids, you could be a cybergoth, you could be a weightlifter, you could be a drug dealer – you could cover most things on that outsider spectrum, and there’s lots of room to grow.
So yeah, I’ve certainly received some messages. It’s also good to see people dress up as Stewart and Roald and the skids for Halloween; I don’t think that’s ever going to get old to me.
RRX: You aren’t just Stewart from Letterkenny. I’ve seen you in other roles, and one, I was shocked to find out, because it was such a departure, I didn’t recognize you. It was of the angel Samandriel on “Supernatural”. Now we are big fans of that show, and we’ve heard that “Supernatural”, auditioning for it, was a rite of passage for Canadian actors. Is that true?
TJ: I got an interesting little tidbit, Liam, I absolutely was Samandriel in season eight. Alfie/Samandriel. But I was even in “Supernatural” earlier. Season one, episode seven. I was in the “Bugs” episode, which a lot of “Supernatural” fans considered the worst episode of the entire series. So that’s something I’ve been able to hang my hat on for the last 15 years. So, I was in that when I was 18 years old, one of the first jobs I had received any sort of payment for. I had done a lot of student film stuff before that. “Supernatural” season one was one of the first jobs I had. And then there were a bunch of years they couldn’t audition me. Being a Vancouver Canadian actor in particular, you’ll see all sorts of your peers and friends popping up on that show from time to time. Even Nathan Dales, who plays Dary, was on “Supernatural” as well. I believe Kaniehtiio Horn, who plays Tanis, I believe she was on it as well. There’s a couple of “Letterkenny” folks who pop up.
So absolutely a rite of passage, and to get to be Samandriel in later seasons, was incredible. I remember putting on the hotdog uniform, which is a striped red and white hotdog vending outfit and just feeling so, so ridiculous. And then getting a few episodes out of it. And it’s been pretty amazing now, being part of this SPN fandom. They’re so outgoing, and just so large and expanding every day. So, I’ve had the opportunity to do a couple of conventions with “Supernatural” castmates and stuff like that, and that’s always 12/10 good time.
RRX: Stewart started out by being “Letterkenny’s” meth dealer. Which you would think would make him super unsympathetic, but the show turned it around into just one more ridiculous thing about Stewart. But I noticed real change in him as the seasons progressed. He really grows into being more accepted. What do you think drove him to evolve?
TJ: That was always something we wanted with Stewart and the skids, Talked season one with Jacob, the director and one of the writers, and we’re like ‘I want to make Stewart the evil genius of these first couple of seasons. Even if he’s not effective, in his own brain that’s what he thinks he is. Like when you’re a young person and you have this vivid imagination, and you’re a little bit of an outsider, and maybe there’s some drugs involved, like I think he was a little disillusioned the first couple of years. When he started to gain that acceptance, he was like ‘hey, actually this doesn’t feel so bad being part of a community.
I think part of his nature was that it was a defense mechanism, shooting down some of the collaboration, the other groups’ olive branches to socialize; I think he’d been hurt too many times and wasn’t wanting to open himself to be hurt again. I think especially after he fell in love with Gae and realized, ‘hey, you know, relationships with other humans in nice ways aren’t so bad,’ it inspired him to continue to grow with the other groups.
Me and Evan (Stern,) who plays Roald, every time we get invited to a group scene, we’re all at dinner or we’re all at the bar, it’s like ‘Hey, thanks for inviting us. Thanks for letting us out of the basement.’ Me and Evan and the actors thank Jared (Keeso) the writer, for inviting us to this party. We’re usually stuck in the basement.
He’s just grown like everyone else, and realized ‘hey, this is a community to be proud of, and it’s okay to not get along all the time, and Stewart still gets annoyed with most characters most days, but he’s not the same maniac that he was in season one, that’s for sure.
RRX: So much of Letterkenny is just everyone screwing around with each other, it might be hard to imagine that behind the camera is even crazier, but I’ll ask: is it crazier? Do you all prank each other hardcore, or is it the absolute pinnacle of professionalism?
TJ: We don’t do too much pranking per se, like we’re not wrapping Saran-Wrap around peoples’ toilets, doing any of that kind of stuff, but we certainly like to make each other laugh. Our pace on set is quick, right? We have big days, lots of dialog. We try not to mess around when there’s a moment that needs to be captured; it’s like picking and choosing your battles. Will Jacob, the director, throw crazy dialog at me, my coverage, or will someone mess up a line and cause the whole cast to burst into laughter, and not be able to rein it in for a period of time. Some people will improvise moments just to screw over their fellow actors. There’s more of those moments, like Mark Forward (“Coach”) does that with Andrew (Herr, “Jonesy,”) and Dillon (Playfair, “Riley”.) Coach will just do that to try to make Andrew and Dillon just burst out in laughter. There are some moments in the series where you’ll see maybe Dillon chuckling in the corner or Andrew smiling in the corner because ‘that was the best take. The boys were smiling, so be it.’ So, it’s more of that, more of us trying to make each other laugh.
RRX: You have other work that you do, not just “Letterkenny” and “Supernatural”. You were Danny Lubbe in “Less Than Kind”. You’ve actually been in a ton of stuff. Do you feel like throwing some shameless promotion at our viewers? Trust me; they love it.
TJ: Okay, well I’m developing a book right now, so I’ll give a couple plugs here. It’s a book called ‘The Last Gang in Town”, written by Aaron Chapman, and it’s a book set in the 1970s in East Vancouver, and I’m hoping to make that into a TV Series. Very very prelim, but that’s what I’m currently working on. I’m going to have a VR short film come out, that Evan and I actually shot together earlier this year, so if any of your readers have a VR set, they will be able to watch a movie that Evan and I did together. I have no idea how it’s going to go or how it’s going to be. But those are two things people can look out for from me looking forward.