By Sneh Duggal
Tassie Cameron would collaborate with award-winning Newfoundland author and actor Joel Thomas Hynes on “pretty well anything.”
“He just has that star quality. You know it when you see it and everybody else does too,” she says.
It’s been a slow but steady rise to stardom for the 40-year-old Toronto and Newfoundland-based novelist-screenwriter-actor-producer (oh, and he’s a musician too).
While he’s been acting in small roles since his 20s, Hynes first began to make a name for himself in 2004 with his critically acclaimed, award-winning debut novel Down to the Dirt (later taken to screen by Darius Films and Newfound Films in 2008). The book follows the love story of two Maritimers whose relationship falls apart due to drugs. His third novel Say Nothing Saw Wood (2013), which follows a young man returning to his hometown in Newfoundland after serving time in prison, was also adapted into a film through St. John’s-based Away Films in 2014. The film, written by Hynes went on to win six Atlantic Film Festival Awards, and was nominated for four CSAs, including best adapted screenplay. That’s when doors really began to open.
The novelist-turned screenwriter also ramped up his acting career, landing recurring guest roles on Republic of Doyle, Orphan Black and The Book of Negroes. And after working with Hynes on Rookie Blue in 2015, Cameron later brought him aboard Mary Kills People in a role loosely written with him in mind. Even though he had few lines in MKP, he was “so memorable,” she says.
So, when he pitched his first TV series in 2016, Cameron and her sister Amy jumped at the chance to bring his idea to life. “[I] thought, I want to be working with [Hynes]. He’s got a specificity of vision and a unique voice like I’ve never seen before,” she says.
Developed and produced by Toronto’s Cameron Pictures and Elemental Pictures, Little Dog is slated for CBC’s winter 2018 line-up. Filming began in August in Newfoundland.
The series, penned by and starring Hynes, who also serves as executive producer, follows Donny Ross, a boxer who quits during a championship fight, ending his career – until he gets the chance for a rematch. Hynes was inspired to write the series after breaking his ribs during a mixed martial arts (MMA) fight in 2015. He has turned to MMA after rehab, and the injury meant quitting the therapeutic outlet. “I was just stopped in my tracks,” says Hynes. “It meant I couldn’t fight, and I really wanted to.”
Sally Catto, CBC’s general manager, programming, says the pubcaster fell in love with the fictional Ross family.
“[The show has] that gravitas and humour and you instantly just want to be with the family and in this world. That’s pretty much a bull’s-eye for us,” she says. “[Hynes] is so raw and honest [as a writer] and he can go to very dark places, but he can do so with a dry humour.”
While nothing is secured in terms of funding or production schedule, next year Hynes is hoping to direct a feature he wrote, Faever Crescent, with JoBro Productions. The Toronto prodco helped Hynes create a proof-of-concept trailer while at the Canadian Film Centre’s Writers’ Lab in 2014. He describes the film as a thriller about a recovering sex addict who meets the woman who abused him when he was 13-years-old.
Off screen, Hynes’ most recent book We’ll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night was released in April. The critically acclaimed novel follows a “scrappy” petty crook as he embarks on a hitchhiking trip of redemption across Canada, and has generated some interest in the production community – though Hynes is not certain he wants to option the rights. He’s also developing an idea for a new novel, Dark Clouds Over Home, an intergenerational family story that spans 100 years.
“Because I’ve been on the fringes for most of my life, I had to overcome a lot of hardships and serious odds to get where I am today,” he says. “I have a lot of faith in these stories from my own backyard.”