In Conversation with . . .
Blackstone, Part IV
Justin Rain: On Playing Alan Fraser, Part II
Volume 20 Issue 06 2012-02-10
“A nation must be embraced, rehabilitated and expressed as a tangible sign of human creativity and as an integral element of mankind’s heritage.”
Blackstone is a Gemini award-winning Canadian television series based on a fictitious Canadian First Nations reserve. The second season is now airing on the Aboriginal People’s Television Network (APTN) and features some of the finest aboriginal talent in North America.
Cast member Justin Rain studied acting at the Vancouver Academy of Dramatic Arts after spending several years working with the East Vancouver Urban Native Theatre Company. He’s had many roles on the stage and in film, including Ayaa: A Hero’s Journey, Journeying Fourth, Dance of My Beating Heart, and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, and received the Best Actor award at the 2010 Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival. Recently Justin took the time to answer some of Wanda Waterman’s questions about creativity, positive influences, and his coming film, Solace. Read Part I of Justin’s interview here.
Justin Rain attributes the downward spiral of his early youth to his social context at the time. He now affirms the importance of good companions: “In order to keep on being creative I need to surround myself with positive people. Now I make sure the people around me are positive and constructive people, and that makes all the difference.”
According to Justin, the idea that real artists are either haggard drug abusers or mentally ill is a thing of the past.
“I don’t know any real artists,” he says, “who are true to the work they love that aren’t healthy, happy people. I can’t speak for everyone when I say that, but most of the successful artists I know are doing what they love.”
The Blackstone residents continue to struggle with external problems (reserve politics, family problems, and bad business deals) and internal demons (addiction and inner turmoil). Moral compromises are the soup du jour; Justin’s character, Alan Fraser, has begun tending the bar at his uncle’s strip club (the pay is just too good to pass up). This not only leaves Alan wide open to all the temptations the lords of darkness have to offer, it understandably upsets his girlfriend, Sheila, causing a rift between them.
Alan’s decision to accept work at the club is just one of many ethical dilemmas created in a climate of moral weakness born of intense suffering and a lack of opportunity. Chief Andy’s “talks” with his dead father show this up on a regular basis, the ghost calling for a heroic refusal to compromise the First Nations moral code:
GHOST [OF ANDY’S DAD]: If you wanna know what’s wrong with our people, take a look at their garbage. We’ve become a culture of convenience.
ANDY: Welcome to the 21st century, Dad. Wish you were here.
GHOST: You call this progress? It’s a failure. Can you not see that?
ANDY: People are free to do what they want. It’s their right.
GHOST: Freedom is not a right, you fool—it’s a legacy. We fought for this! You think the fight is over yet? We ask for respect and we don’t even respect ourselves. We say, “Walk in peace” and we do the opposite.
Justin is one of many First Nations people actively striving to turn this state of affairs around. He’s chosen to focus on teaching and mentoring the young.
“I designed a youth project called The Artist Inside; the slogan is ‘Speak with your heart—speak with your art.’ I ask teenagers what that slogan means to them. If you’re expressing yourself creatively through your art, then you’re an artist. If we’re not expressing our feelings through something positive, we’re usually expressing them through something negative—like getting into trouble, getting into fights, getting arrested.
“One of the questions I like to ask when I go to schools is, Who are the fighters here? There’s always a small group of people who fight. Some of them talk about it and some of them don’t. I say, if you want to express aggression why not train yourself to be an ultimate fighter and get paid for it instead of getting charged with assault?
“When I talk to high schools I’m in the gymnasium or the auditorium and there’s not a lot of ‘art’ around. I ask the kids to point out a piece of art, and I tell them that it’s all around us. Sometimes they can’t, so I tell them that at one point someone sat down with a pencil and a piece of paper and drew this building, and now this building is a reality and we’re inside it.
“When I hear the word ‘artist’ I automatically think ‘paintbrush,’ but it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s artistry in a person who’s pursuing answers—they’re creating, they’re provoking their creative intuition to solve problems, like a defense lawyer who has to try to help someone avoid jail. There’s a mathematical equation you have to figure out in order to do those things.”
Justin sees creative art as not only a means to avoid self-destruction but also as one of the most effective ways of dealing with personal pain. “Acting has turned out to be a very therapeutic thing for me,” he says. “I think of all my creative pursuits acting is the most rewarding.”
He’s now channelling his own hurt into a short film, Solace, now in pre-production. He wrote the script himself and will both star in and direct the film.
“It’s kind of a tragic romance,” he says. “I express my real life experiences through my art. I had broken up with someone I was with for a while, and there’s still pain lingering from that—I just wanted to get it out. I’m really looking forward to filming it, and the team that I’m getting together is great.
They know what they’re doing and have the confidence that this little film is going to shout out.”
Wanda also penned the poems for the artist book They Tell My Tale to Children Now to Help Them to be Good, a collection of meditations on fairy tales, illustrated by artist Susan Malmstrom.