'It's all in the head' for 'Listener' star Craig Olejnik
Like a 20-something with a quarter-life crisis, Toby Logan is conflicted.
He's a paramedic with a heart of gold, has an on-and-off-but-mostly-on love interest, and one big problem.
Toby can hear everyone's thoughts. But no one knows.
"The fact is he's always got a white elephant in the room. Always. He's got a canary in his mouth, and his way of dealing with it is to not say much. He's a simple guy, in a way, but he's got so much un-simple things going on," says Craig Olejnik, who brings Toby Logan to life on "The Listener."
While sitting on a sun-soaked patio at 299 Queen Street West in Toronto, Olejnik explains to CTV.ca what makes his telepath tick, and how Toby deals with the gift -- and burden -- of mind-reading.
"The gift has always been a skeleton in Toby's closet, and he's lived a very safe, careful life. The only time he's ever been dealing with people because of it is behind the mask of being a paramedic. He's now learning, as he's opening it up, that he can control his power," says Olejnik.
"It's all in the head."
Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Olejnik currently resides in Toronto. It's been a long journey for the young actor, who remembers sweeping floors at K-Mart and delivering newspapers before landing his first major acting role in "Margaret's Museum" at the age of 14.
"When I look back on that, I can see I just had no idea what I was doing. My voice was cracking... I was a baby. That's when my life changed," remembers Olejnik.
"It was a 180 degree change. I grew up as an audience member, a pop market consumer. Now I'm on the other side of it, meeting writers and directors and actors. That film changed my creative life."
Following "Museum," Olejnik spent his late teens and early twenties pursuing roles in TV and film, transplanting himself from his native Halifax to Vancouver and Toronto.
During that time he performed in the films "Thir13en Ghosts" and "In God's Country," and appeared on the CW series "Runaway." Olejnik also honed his skills as writer, producer and director on his own flick, "Interview with a Zombie."
"In my 20s I spread myself thin, but at the time I was glad. I was writing, taking pictures, attempting to produce... At that time in life, you need to make money, you need to make an impact and you open any door that might have an opportunity on the other side," says Olejnik.
"When I moved to Toronto, I said 'screw it,' and decided to focus only on acting. I figured if that one thing went well, then it might put some handles on doors... who knows?"
It's safe to say that choosing to focus solely on acting is a risk that has paid off so far for Olejnik. He's currently at the centre of "The Listener," which beyond airing in North America on CTV and NBC, has also found a world-wide audience with FOX International.
Working on the series has also allowed him to hone his craft deeper, working with talented directors like Clement Virgo, a Canadian known for his films "Lie with Me" and "Love Comes Down," in addition to directing episodes of "The Wire."
Olejnik says the pair was destined to work together.
"I met Clement when he had 'Rude' at the Toronto International Film Festival while my first film, 'Margaret's' was there. He's intense, I'm intense, and in our way we butt heads, to the better of the show," says Olejnik.
"Maybe it has something to do with being born on the same day. The same day we did the pilot."
In addition to Virgo, Olejnik also worked on "The Listener" with Canadian screen legends Colm Feore (as Dr. Ray Mercer) and upcoming guest star Gordon Pinsent.
"You can see the torch with these guys," says Olejnik.
"They've done this, they've been through years, they've seen it, and they've seen a different part of the business and are still in it."
Completely filmed in and around Toronto, Ontario, "The Listener" proudly showcases the Canadian city, and doesn't shirk from letting audiences know they're north of the border.
As a passionate supporter of the arts, Olejnik believes that original programming like his show and "Flashpoint" is vital to Canadian culture, and would like to see the government help ensure productions like his continue.
"Art is culture, art is a destination, and it gives people a place to go... without public funding for the arts, you don't have a place for people to go. People go to Montreal and come to Toronto because we have museums and galleries and a music community and an art community, a television community. We need to have these things," says Olejnik.
"I think some politicians don't put enough money into the arts, because that gives us the same voice as them, on the internet. They think our ideas are in conflict with them, but our ideas are about community. It comes from our taxes, and I'll gladly pay that! I like to drive on nice roads, and have my medical, and have Canada be an arts destination."
But for now, Olejnik feels like he's on the right creative path, and credits Hugh Dillon, one of the stars of CTV's "Flashpoint" for making him feel welcome in the city's acting community.
"I once saw 'Flashpoint' shooting here in Toronto, and I thought I knew the director, so I walked onto set, and I realized I knew half the crew because they were our 'Listener' crew," remembers Olejnik.
"I felt like they were my colleagues, and I told them I felt like I had an affinity with them. Hugh told me, 'That's good, because this is where you belong.' I just thought, 'Nice.' Hugh Dillon is solid man."
"The Listener" airs Thursday nights on CTV, with full episodes available online in the CTV Video Player at CTV.ca.
Visit the "Listener Official Online Experience" at http://thelistener.ctv.ca and find out what it's really like being a telepath.