When Diego Klattenhoff left Pictou County in his late teens, he was probably better known as a ballplayer than as an actor.
Lately he’s been putting those base-running skills to good use, though, chasing criminals and terrorists through U.S. city streets on the NBC series The Blacklist, and evading the law while trying to uncover a deadly secret in the new Canadian feature film Radius.
“The last couple of jobs, especially this one, have required a lot of physicality,” says the French River native during a break in shooting The Blacklist in Brooklyn. “It’s funny, I was telling someone that on Homeland I didn’t have to visit the hospital once while shooting that show. Maybe on the next project I won’t have to make a trip to the ER.
“But it’s fun. We get to do stuff that some people only fantasize about. Our stunt co-ordinator, Cort Hessler, won an Emmy in our first season and has been nominated every year since, which speaks to the quality of what we’re doing. For today’s gag, we have to burn somebody while we’re trying to save them. We’ll see how that works out.”
On The Blacklist, Klattenhoff plays FBI Counterterrorism Division acting assistant director Donald Ressler, acting on tips fed to the bureau by James Spader as master criminal Raymond (Red) Reddington, “the bad guy that everybody loves.” In Radius, which had a theatrical run in select Canadian cities earlier this month and appears on VOD in March, we’re not really sure who Klattenhoff ’s character Liam is.
At least, not at first. “It makes for a very interesting reveal along the way,” says the actor, whose character is discovered suffering from amnesia and able to cause the death of anyone who gets within 20 feet of him.
Eventually we learn how he gained this fatal power, and why co-star Charlotte Sullivan’s Jane has the ability to nullify it. Filmed around Selkirk, Man. by the married writer-director team of Caroline Labreche and Steeve Leonard, Radius is propelled by a growing sense of dread, set against a small-town Prairie backdrop, with the gathering storm reflected in its menacing score by Benoit Charest.
“Like any actor I’m just looking for a good character in an interesting story, and there was plenty of that in this script,” says Klattenhoff. “It’s drawn comparisons to things like Memento and Twilight Zone, and it was a really fun journey from reading the script to getting involved in making it.
“I know a lot of other guys who weren’t too happy that I ended up getting it over them, because it’s the kind of story that grabs you from the start and makes you wanna be involved in it.”
Radius also happened to fit into the perfect slot between shooting seasons four and five of The Blacklist, and Klattenhoff was looking for the right project to bring him back to work in Canada. The fact that Radius was a personal project for Labreche and Leonard was an additional incentive for the actor to get on board.
“They’re an incredibly talented team and they’re very unique personalities,” he says of the Quebec-based filmmakers. “I think they have a big advantage as a husband and wife, in terms of developing, writing and directing projects.
“They complement each other quite well. Hopefully we’ll all get to work together again soon.”
The Blacklist picks up again on Wednesday, Jan. 3, and Klattenhoff is already pondering projects to pursue when production wraps on season five. He hasn’t enjoyed a ton of down time between seasons but he chalks that up to his early acting experience, when he wasn’t always sure when the next role would come along.
“Coming from rural Nova Scotia, you have to have a work ethic,” he says. “Nobody’s going to start your fire for you or peel your potatoes or any of that stuff. If you want to get it done, you’ve got to do it yourself.
“But you’re coming from a place with a great sense of community, and it’s something that’s served me well. From here, who knows? It’s all about being inspired to keep doing it and tell those stories and find those good roles.”
Klattenhoff points to his turn as high school jock and Spring Fling king Shane Oman in the Tina Fey-penned comedy Mean Girls as a major turning point, leading to recurring roles on series like Whistler and Men in Trees (the latter featuring fellow Nova Scotian James Tupper), and parts in sci-fi features Pacific Rim and After Earth.
One thing he’d like to do is find a project backhome in the Maritimes, where he hasn’t worked
since filming the 2003 TV movie Blessings starring the late Mary Tyler Moore.
“It was a bit of a trip to fly back home to work as an actor,” says Klattenhoff, who only had a handful of credits to his name at that point. “I was actually in flashbacks, working with an actress who was playing a younger version of Mary Tyler Moore’s character (Flashpoint’s Janaya Stephens), but I met her for a second and took a quick Polaroid, as everyone used to do back in the day.
“It was a really good memory. At the beginning you don’t really get to choose what you do. If they want you, you do it, and for the most part you take what you can get. I was fortunate enough along the way that there were a few of these roles where I was the right guy at the right time.”
-By Stephen Cooke