Alumni Jonathan Whitesell in The Hollow
It was landing the lead in his sixth grade play that first sparked Jonathan Whitesell’s interest in acting.
From the moment he stepped out onto the stage and felt his nerves melt away, he knew he’d found his niche. But despite this early discovery—and the many high-school drama awards that followed—Jonathan didn’t seriously consider a career in acting. That is, not until fate intervened.
Now, however, with a couple indie films, a few guest appearances and a supporting role in a promising new network pilot to his name—all since graduating in May 2014—Jonathan is following in the footsteps of many successful graduates from Capilano University’s Acting for Stage and Screen diploma (ASAS). He’s even sharing air-time with a few, like The 100’s Chelsey Reist.
From the army to acting
Hailing from small-town Duncan on Vancouver Island, Jonathan originally wanted to join the army after high school, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, who were army and police officers, respectively. However, a low demand for infantry soldiers led to the deferral of his registration for a year.
While contemplating what to do in light of this unexpected delay, Jonathan ran into his former high-school drama teacher at the grocery store. She had always encouraged him to pursue acting and this chance encounter inspired him to apply to Capilano U.
“I didn’t feel like waiting around,” says Jonathan, “so I decided to just take the risk.”
Bringing his roommate along for support, Jonathan journeyed to Vancouver to audition for the program. As he stood in front of the entrance panel performing Emilio Estevez’s emotional monologue from The Breakfast Club, Jonathan felt the return of the familiar sense of freedom that had first washed over him as a sixth grader.
He let his instincts kick in and nailed the audition. “Everything was super heightened and I got very emotional in the middle of the monologue,” says Jonathan. “I felt really good about it when I left—I just knew I was getting in.”
Learning the craft
The three-year ASAS diploma program is an intensive study in all things acting. Students learn a balance of stage and screen performance styles, plus improvisation, history and technical skills.
First year, says Jonathan, is all about starting fresh and getting down to the basics of acting. Then students must audition to advance into second year. Those who do not move on receive the Acting for Stage and Screen Certificate to acknowledge their training.
For those who continue, the program focuses on self-discovery. “Second year is about opening up your heart and taking a little magnifying glass, looking around inside yourself and learning how to apply that to the craft,” says Jonathan.
In third year, students hone those skills and begin venturing into the professional world. “We’re really trying to find ways to connect students with filmmakers,” says ASAS instructor, P. Lynn Johnson.
She says the ASAS’s close relationship with the BA in Motion Picture Arts makes the program especially unique. Student filmmakers are encouraged to cast acting students in their films. In this way, each student supports the other to learn and gain experience.
Since graduating, Jonathan has hit the ground running. He signed with an agent, revamped his resume, updated his headshots and began a whirlwind of auditions.
However, on the heels of all this excitement came his first experience with the unpredictability of the industry. Within the span of two days, he learned that he had been cast—and subsequently replaced—for the part of a series regular on a local show.
Jonathan admits that those first few months were tough. The pace was relentless and his schedule demanding, but this was what he had trained for. Finally, after more than 100 auditions, he landed a leading role in the indie horror flick The Unspoken, which aired in the UK on October 24.
“The moment I hung up the phone I was crying, it was such a relief of pressure,” says Jonathan. “But there was also a lot of melancholy—I had put in the 110 auditions to book that one role—how many more was it going to be until the next one?”
Although it took six more months before he booked another part, his career began to pick up speed. Jonathan has since guest-starred on the new X-Files and CW’s The 100. He also recently wrapped a pilot for ABC Family’s new supernatural drama Beyond, which now been green lit.
“That was probably the craziest experience I’ve had in my entire career,” says Jonathan. Landing the role of Luke in Beyond involved multiple auditions, screen tests and a personal visit from the L.A.-based producer and director.
Joining the Cap crew
Although a career in acting can be a bumpy ride, Jonathan welcomes each new experience as an opportunity to build on the skills he learned at Cap. For incoming students, he encourages risk-taking, hard work and dedication.
“Fail as much as you can and learn from it,” says Jonathan. “Treat everything you do as your last performance and put your soul into it, because it’s going to be rewarding.”
Jonathan is one of the many Cap alumni making names for themselves in the industry. Graduates include Motive cast member Luisa D’Oliveira, stuntman Mike Kovac, The 100 regulars Matt Giannakos, Natasha Gayle and Zach Martin, just to name a few.
Submitted by Marketing & Communications, written by Natalie Walters