It seems that trying to catch up with 31-year-old Canadian actor Dean Armstrong is getting more difficult by the day. Indeed, the handsome theater/television star is juggling many balls as he climbs to new heights in the entertainment field he so dearly loves.
As the sexy former crystal meth addict turned counselor, 'Blake Wyzecki,' on Showtime's Queer as Folk, Armstrong's character has become a favorite among fans as he has given a solid performance as the on/off again love interest of Ted Schmidt (played by the indomitable Scott Lowell).
A 1997 graduate of Queen's University in Kingston, Armstrong earned a degree in education and an honors degree in dramatic art. No stranger to the world of theater, Armstrong's youth belies a talent that has earned him roles in such productions as Six Degrees of Separation, Twelfth Night, The Last Tasmanian, Departures and Arrivals, West Side Story, Romeo and Juliet, Dear John, and The Shooting Stage. Armstrong also spent a year on Broadway doing Jonathan Larsen's acclaimed Rent at the Nederlander Theater in NYC.
Dean is also the founder and manager of The Armstrong Acting Studio, now in its fifth year. The studio offers workshops and classes for budding actors/actresses in the Toronto area and beyond. Armstrong is also excited about his upcoming role as a spokesperson for 'Youthquest,' an organization dedicated to preventative measures for teens struggling with sexual identity crises.
DAVID GUARINO: Dean, I guess many people instantly recognize you as the former drug addicted lover of Ted Schmidt on Queer as Folk. As far as your relationship with Lowell is concerned, what is that like for you? Off camera are you friends?
DEAN ARMSTRONG: Well I guess that requires really a two-part answer. Scott has become a very important person in my life outside of the show. I think he's an incredible person; he has an incredible heart and he has a remarkable sincerity and truth in his relationships with everyone in his life. We have established a very, very close bond just over the course of working together and where we've been continually and fairly regularly a part of each other's lives given our different schedules. As a colleague Scott Lowell is a real dream to work with. I think Scott's incredibly talented and I think he brings the person that he is in real life, that true, honest, genuine and sincere person, translates very effectively into his work. He makes it easy; I mean I come to the table with my work and it's always amazing to see what he comes prepared with. It's very comfortable to work with Scott, it's very open and he's very giving, unexpecting; he's very real and always very much in the moment. I think that Scott and I had an immediate chemistry when we first met that ended up translating very successfully on screen, which was rooted in a lot of these different kinds of feelings I just described. I could not say enough good things about that man.
DG: You are quite a busy fellow these days, what with your acting studio going full force, your theater and television career in high gear, and your involvement with the GLBT group, 'Youthquest.' But I'd like to address the character of Blake, your character on Queer as Folk. Blake made a comeback last season and in Season Four this past year. I think many viewers are wondering how his story line will develop—will he be able to stay clean and true to his newfound role as a drug counselor?
DA: Well, I mean I think that even looking at the end of Season Three it was a really difficult nut to crack or process to embark upon. All of the original material from the first season; I mean I needed to adhere to an accuracy in the representation of the effects of crystal meth based upon very thoughtful research and time spent exploring what the effects of this drug were.
DG: So to prepare for your portrayal did you talk to crystal meth addicts; did you visit rehab centers; what did you do?
DA: I had conversations with people who had experiences with this drug and read up on it to a point where I felt very confident in going into it. But you know coming back to this role at the end of Season Three—I was a completely different person the last time I represented this role—how do you, as an actor, fill in almost two years? How did I get to this point, and now that I'm there, how do I feel about seeing Ted again? I mean, it was a whole host of things to try to juggle and ultimately at the end of the day it just became just simplifying and focusing on the immediate need in the scene which was to provide the attention and care and assistance to an individual (regardless of whether this was someone I knew or not) who needed my help. And so, getting into the work for the Fourth Season of the show ... can Blake retain this ... can he retain that? I think the biggest failure that could have happened ended up happening; being unable to professionally separate the strong emotional core and affection that I had for Ted. It was walking this line of; I love this guy but, my God, more importantly than that, if I do love this guy I want to help him! So, can Blake hold out on his end as far as returning to the drug? Where it was left I think Blake has a lot of responsibilities to ground himself; again, it's been a learning experience for him in his new position as a counselor for people who have come under the influence of the drug.
DG: As far as your work on Queer as Folk is concerned, what would you say has been the most difficult part of working on that show?
DA: Not being a regular fixture, I would have to say. I'm pretty attached to (the character of) Blake, and I'm pretty attached to the relationship that Blake has with Ted. As an actor, you get very emotionally involved. And I know that the hardest thing for me at the end of the First Season (and moving into the Second Season) was not having closure. You know, for Chrissake, kill me off at least! (We are both laughing) He doesn't run away ... that just wasn't an option!
DG: Dean, as a Canadian citizen portraying a gay character on QAF, do you yourself have an opinion on what gay and lesbian Americans should be most concerned about in this, an important Presidential election year?
DA: My God, David, I don't really even know how to start with that answer. In all honesty, if I can kind of generalize in an answer yet be specific at the same time. I mean, my concern specifically would be the fact that huge atrocities such as the Matthew Shepard murder are still being committed in the name of homophobia. That is still a huge fucking issue ... the violence that is associated with it; the discrimination that is associated with it. It seems to me that a lot of our large cities (and not even all of them) ... cities like New York, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Chicago ... I think we are (light) years ahead of the majority of the population as far as their mentality is concerned ... just because of the speed with which things are operating, there is more interaction of people, there is more understanding of who people are regardless of their race, color, creed, sexuality ... anything. In rural areas very often kids are still afraid to be who they are and they suppress it because of the viewpoints and the backwardness of rural thinking—of parents, of teachers, of friends. And for me it's really about still bleeding what is happening in a beautiful way in big cities; bleeding that throughout the country. But, David, it's going to take a lot of time ...
DG: You have to your credit some amazing work in the theater, including appearing in Rent on Broadway. What was that experience like?
DA: I think I can describe my experience today by saying that every day I think about that show.
DG: Really? You enjoyed it that much?
DA: Yeah, that's a show that I left way before I was ready to leave but it was what was to happen in my life at that time. I think the show, Rent, is the best show on Broadway, unquestionably, considering what people leave that theater with. Having lost a sister and a stepbrother and knowing the story of Jonathan Larsen, I am so grateful and appreciative to have had an opportunity to fulfill and to participate in my dream. Everyday I would say a prayer for my sister, my stepbrother and for Jonathan before I would walk on stage. I am so grateful for that opportunity.
DG: I'd like to know more about 'Youthquest,' and your role as an international spokesperson for it.
DA: Right. Well, Youthquest is really a journey that I am soon to be fully embarking upon. Although I have completed a series of Web site sponsorship-related promo pieces that took place early on this year. I have not yet had an opportunity to get out to the actual individual drop-in centers, which, to be quite honest, is the main reason why I wanted to be affiliated with the organization. To have an opportunity to have hands-on related work with those people who, (my character) Blake, incidentally, had a significant impact on. Youthquest kind of fell into my lap. As a result of the impact that Queer as Folk had, or more specifically that 'Blake' had had, underlies that a number of struggling teenagers with sexual identity crises also have drug addiction as a result of their identity issues. And it happens that in a lot of the different drop-in centers the character of Blake kept coming up. The reference was to Blake, the character from Queer as Folk ... I think that the honesty and genuineness of the relationship between Blake and Ted on QAF and Blake's conflict with his addiction spoke to a lot of people. And so as a result of that I was contacted because references to the Blake character kept coming up.
DG: Were there any specific references made verbally or otherwise by Youthquest drop-ins that the character of Blake had influenced them one way or the other to get help with their addiction or confusion with their sexual identity problems?
DA: Actually, yes. In fact, Blake's name came up in a potential suicide note written by an individual. To hear my (character's) name associated with an individual's decision as to what he would do with his life was so profoundly huge. It really perpetuated me in a direction in which I felt it was necessary for me, because I believed I could, have an impact on people's lives. I am the character, at least to them, but also because I have an education group. I mean I teach, I work with young people ... I inspire, I motivate ... I have designed specific workshop packages that cater specifically to the development of self-growth and self esteem. We are looking at that in the context of academic achievement. I knew that with my ability to interact with people on that level as an educator, and to bring to the table this character of Blake with whom they can associate ... it wasn't an option for me, really. It was a choice that was made for me. I will be working with Youthquest hands-on come this September. It will be my first time; I'll be heading out to Vancouver to meet the kids, to meet the people on the Youthquest board, to do a number of fundraising events but most importantly, to work with them, to talk to them.
DG: Dean, I recall asking Hal Sparks how many more seasons he thought Queer as Folk would run when I interviewed him on the set in 2002. That was in the second season and he said he thought that 'In three seasons we can tell the story heartily.' We are now at the end of Season Four with Season Five waiting to be filmed this fall. It would seem that by this point some of these actors are going to begin to get restless ... you can only take a character portrayal so far and then it can begin to get superfluous ...
DA: Yes, I would agree with that, and I mean I think that dovetails in nicely with what I'm saying. I think the third and fourth seasons of Queer as Folk got back into some of the great stuff that was prevalent in the first season ... I think that they've had a very successful season this year (season four), and I think it will be nice to stack season five on top of that. But I would imagine that it's not something that people are looking at (doing) for two, three, or four more seasons.