James Daly has been leaving his mark on stages and television screens around the globe since 2014, but getting there started in St. John’s at Rennie’s River Elementary.
Best known for his continuing work in the role of Ron on the hit television series Letterkenny — which released its 10th season on Christmas Day — Daly said he was bit by the acting bug at a young age and points to Canadian superstar Jim Carrey as an early inspiration. He has also appeared on the CBC sitcom Workin’ Moms, which is now in its sixth season.
Outside of his acting career, Daly is a working musician and in November released his debut five-song EP after releasing a series of singles throughout the pandemic. Daly was nominated for three MusicNL awards at this year’s gala, including pop artist of the year, rising star of the year and side musician of the year.
The CBC’s Mike Moore caught up with Daly, who spoke from his home in Toronto, to talk about his career, what’s happening now, and what’s on the horizon.
Pitter patter, let’s get at ‘er.
The discussion has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: When did you get into acting?
A: I always wanted to be an actor. I think it was watching Jim Carrey movies. I remember watching him in The Grinch, Liar Liar, Dumb and Dumber, Ace Ventura,and just wanted to be like that. I wanted to be a comedian, I wanted to be in movies and I wanted to make people laugh. I would act like him as much as possible, I would act out his scenes for my family, for my classmates and for anybody who would listen, really.
I got into community theatre pretty early. I think by age 11 or 12 I was doing Peter MacDonald productions and school plays, and got into music as well in school. So I was always kind of really immersed in the arts, music and theatre in school and the community all growing up.
Q: Was it acting or music that first caught your attention?
A: It was acting. I never wanted to be a rock star or a singer-songwriter until I got to high school and started doing music more seriously. Acting was definitely my first love.
By high school they were kind of on par. I remember my mom bought me my acoustic guitar in Grade 10 and I started playing guitar, started writing songs, and then was I the lead in the school musical in Grade 11. I kind of found musical theatre was a great blend of both of my loves at that point.
Q: Leading up to graduating high school, was there a conscious decision to pursue acting as a career?
A: Absolutely. There was no other option for me. I never considered going to MUN, I never considered going to university and getting a degree of any kind. I just knew that I wanted to be an actor. I was auditioning for musical theatre schools: Randolph College for the Performing Arts in Toronto, Sheridan College in Oakville, Ont., and the National Theatre School of Canada in Montreal.
I got into all three and chose the National Theatre School in 2011 because it seemed to be the most prestigious, and their acceptance was they took the smallest class of actors of any school. There were 11 actors that were accepted in my year and I felt really lucky to be one of those. I was really excited about that.
Q: Were you then a working actor coming out of theatre school?
A: Kind of, yeah. I did a musical in Toronto called Next to Normal, and I did it the summer in between my first and second year and then they remounted the show in the summer between my second and third year. I was doing the show non-union: I think they were paying me $600 biweekly. I was making no money, staying on a friend’s couch.
My now-agent came to see me at the show the second time I did it, and I got signed to the Gary Goddard Agency going into my third year of school. That was a great feather in my cap going into my final year of school, knowing I already have representation, I’ve already worked in Toronto. So then I was auditioning for shows sort of throughout my final year of school. When I graduated in May of 2014 I had a couple of musicals lined up already for the summer.
Q: When did you break into television?
A: I booked an episode on TV show called Saving Hope, which was on CTV. I think that was in 2015, shortly after I graduated and was doing theatre as well. I actually did a Canadian Heritage Minute shortly after that, which was cool. I think I booked Letterkenny shortly after that, 2016.
Q: How did you get involved with Letterkenny?
A: It was just a regular audition. My agent sent me out for it. She was really excited about it because she had a couple of clients who worked on the show already and she thought it would be a really good fit for me.
I actually knew of the show and was a big fan of the show because my best friend from theatre school, Alexander De Jordy, was a main character in the first two seasons. So I was watching the show already and got the audition for it.
Q: How has the experience been?
A: I’m just super-grateful for the guys who run the show, because I think originally our characters [with actor Gregory Waters] were only supposed to be in just three episodes of Season 4, and they really liked working with us. I guess our characters were a bit of a hit on the show, so they brought us back for the following season and they’ve brought us back every season since.
It’s been cool. The last time I was up there I was talking to Jared Keeso, who’s the star of the show, the writer, the creator, executive producer. It’s his show, and I was like, “Dude, thanks for bringing us back,” and he was like, “What are you talking about? You guys are regulars on the show now.”
That just felt like I’m part of the family. It was really validating. I look up to Jared Keeso so much. He’s a bit of an idol of mine.
Q: Everybody seems to have fun on set. What’s a regular day like shooting Letterkenny?
A: We do a lot of scenes with Dylan Playfair and Andrew Herr, who play Reilly and Jonesy on the show, and they’re just cool, funny, down-to-earth dudes too. It was cool to become actual friends with those guys.
All the actors are really funny and then the script itself is really funny, too. It can get a bit overwhelming, just the amount of laughs that are going during filming and also on breaks.
Q: Outside of acting, when did you decide to release your own music?
A: It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, and something that had been trying to figure out how to do for a long time. I’ve done my own basic demo recordings of guitar and vocals and stuff, but I’m not a producer by any means.
It’s fun to write songs in my room but I want people to hear them. With music it really feels like you’re going it on your own and blaze your own trail and make connections yourself. It was really during the pandemic that I started releasing music and had the time to focus on it.
I had like, single, single, single, and now I’ve been working on this little album, and that is an accomplishment that is now out there.
Q: What’s next?
A: I’m going back to the Shaw Festival next year, which has been really great this year for letting me perform music. They’ve been been doing a lot of concerts and outdoor pop-up shows and letting the actors take the lead on whatever they want to do. I’ve sort of leaned into playing music there.
Next year I’m going to be doing a musical there and also doing some of these outdoor live shows as well. I feel like that’s going to be a good balance of being in a musical and also getting to perform some of my original stuff there as well.
I’m really proud to be from Newfoundland and I feel like I want to represent that as well as possible while I’m up here in Toronto.