Photo credit: Dagney Kerr
Chances are that you’ve seen the devilishly handsome Dylan Neal in a few shows in the past two decades, from Dawson’s Creek, Sabrina The Teenage Witch and The Bold and the Beautiful in the ’90s, to the CW’s Arrow and the Hallmark Channel’s Cedar Cove currently. The Canadian-born actor, writer and producer has appeared in many recurring series roles, and has guest starred on dozens of your favorite TV shows.
Neal has also appeared in big screen family films like Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, cultish sci-fi adventures like Babylon 5: The Legend of Rangers, and scandalous TV movies like Another Man’s Wife. But this week, Dylan Neal’s audience will grow by leaps and bounds as the highly anticipated Fifty Shades of Grey film hits theaters. In the movie, Dylan plays Anastasia’s step-dad Bob, and while it’s a small part in this first film of the story, it’s likely you’ll remember him long after.
In addition to his busy acting career, Dylan is also co-writing and producing The Gourmet Detective movie series with his wife Becky, slated for release on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel this Spring, as well as a movie called Disorderly Conduct filming for the Hallmark Channel in the Fall. Meanwhile, the couple are raising two young children, and finding ways to make the most of their marriage with busy schedules that involve a lot of travel.
We nabbed some time with Dylan Neal to find out how he makes all the pieces of his life come together, the ways he keeps his marriage happy, how fan reactions to his work have affected his life, and what he would actually do if his daughter met a man named Christian Grey… Read on!
Of all the roles you played on different shows, what would you say has the most fanatic fan base?
Dylan Neal: Oh wow, that’s a tough one! Dawson’s Creek really hit a nerve when it came out in the late nineties. It was Kevin Williamson who created that. He was coming off Scream and he was the man of the hour. He plucked these kids out of nowhere, and they shot immediately to stardom in a way. I think it was Katie [Holmes] and the rest of them were on Rolling Stone right after.
It was a new type of show where kids were talking beyond their years, so I think that had a really rabid fan base. I didn’t know it was going to blow up like it did while we were shooting it. I was there probably from the fourth or fifth episode on the first season. I think Katie was right out of high school. She only one other project before that, The Ice Storm with [director]Ang Lee I think. These were just really young kids who were excited to have a job. They were very bright-eyed and eager to do well, and it wasn’t long after that the show kind of just blew up.
What I find really interesting was watching these guys, being 10 years older than them, and they all kept their heads together. It would’ve been very easy for young kids to lose their way a little bit with a show like that, and their salaries rocketing. It was interesting being an observer. I was just a recurring character, and I left to do another WB series [Hyperion Bay] and I returned after Hyperion Bay didn’t make it.
They all kept their heads together and they all have unique personalities. Michelle [Williams] was always a cerebral kind of thinker, quiet, lots of deep thoughts and I could go on about all of them. They are very unique individuals, and I’m just so happy to see that they all have done so well for themselves post Creek.
Do you feel like a lot of your fans recognize you from that show first and foremost?
DN: It’s definitely up there. It’s shocking how people remember me from The Bold and the Beautiful like 20 years ago or more. I still get recognition from that. I did Arrow last year. Obviously it’s a hot show again on CW, and because it’s [from the]comics it’s got a real rabid fan base.
What about Babylon 5?
Babylon 5 [The Legend of Rangers] to a lesser degree. Mine was like the third pilot or incarnation of Babylon 5, and we only ended up doing one TV movie. It was supposed to spin-off into a series, and it didn’t happen. Because it didn’t last, I didn’t really get roped into that world like my co-star on Cedar Cove, Bruce Boxleitner. He did the original Babylon 5, which is funny to joke about that. We were both former captains from the Babylon Universe. He is very identified with Babylon 5; it ran for four or five seasons. I just didn’t get the legs with my show that he got with his, so I don’t have really the same kind of sci-fi following. Of course Bruce had Tron as well, so he really immersed into that world.
What’s the coolest thing a fan has ever done for you?
DN: I never had anything too crazy. You have the panties and the underwear from way back when. You get the crazy letters from prison and panties in the mail. I’m always really flattered when people take the time to do some really involved artwork, like a really detailed drawing or painting of you. As an artist myself, I know how much time and commitment and effort it takes to work on a big piece of artwork. I’m flattered by that kind of stuff, but nothing crazy. I’ve never had someone show up at my house or anything.
Are you ready for the amount of attention you will see from the audience of Fifty Shades of Grey?
DN: It’s a small supporting role in the first movie, so I’m not anticipating anything actually. I think Jamie [Dornan] and Dakota [Johnson] have been through the gauntlet already just by the nature of that whole casting process, and of course the books are massive and it probably is the most hyped movie over the last several years actually. This movie has more attraction than anything I can remember. Those two are going to got through the ringer, for better or for worse with all of it.
For me, I’m not expecting anything from this. It was a really surprise offer that I got. I didn’t read for the role, it was just a call, probably because [they were]looking for those Canadian tax credits! [laughs]I’m often on the short list if they need an American career with Canadian tax credits, I get the call because I am a dual citizen [laughs]. I did one or two days on it, and I was in and out. I was very flattered to be considered for the role and to be part of this juggernaut. It is a crazy film!
You’ve been married 18 years, and you are in the business together with your wife. How do you balance family, working life, travel, and maintaining some sort of normalcy at home?
DN: We’ve been married 18, and together 23. I think you just do what you can do. Everyone approaches it differently I’m sure. Our life is particularly busy right now, and the fact that most of my projects if not all of them shoot in Vancouver or that area and my family is in Los Angeles. It means that it’s a lot of travel, a lot of back and forth when I’m doing Cedar Cove. For four or five months of the year, I travel home every weekend, sometimes a 36-hour trip home to remind the kids what dad looks like. Sometimes with the schedule I’m allowed to get four or even five days. It just depends on the schedule.
The tricky part this past year was that while I was shooting the second season of Cedar Cove, my wife and I were writing the first script for The Gourmet Detective movie franchise for the Hallmark channel. We’ve written together and sold projects, but we’ve never done it in separate countries, so that was a little tricky. I was writing the first draft by myself while shooting Cedar Cove.
My weekends weren’t really weekends. I was in my apartment writing away, or in between scenes on Cedar Cove I was in my trailer writing. Then Becky was finishing up another script that we sold to the network, unrelated to The Gourmet Detective. Once she finished that, then she came on board with my first draft of Gourmet. Then we went back and forth over the phone and on Skype, and we kind of found a rhythm that worked for us to be able to divvy up the script. We come together over the phone and go through it line by line, but it’s a lot of juggling.
My wife is solo parenting while I’m away of course, so we have to hire a full-time nanny. It’s a juggling act, but it’s really no different from a working parent kind of family. You just figure out how it works. I think that the added struggle we have is that I happen to be away so much of the year. I probably am going to be away closer to eight or nine months, because The Gourmet Detective is also being shot up in British Colombia – in Victoria on Vancouver Island.
The other movie that we have, a romantic dramedy called Disorderly Conduct, is going to be shot in Ontario in the fall right after I finish Cedar Cove, and I’ll be producing that on location. So I’m like a salesman, it’s no different than people who have to be on the road all the time because of work. We just do the best we can, and you figure it out on the way.
If someone were to ask your advice on how to keep their marriage happy, what would you tell them?
DN: You’ve got to be marrying your best friend, I believe. You’ve got to know your core values and goals that you have in life, the ones you haven’t quite met, are in alignment so that there’s no big surprises six months or five years down the road.
There’s some really obvious things you want to have lined up, like if someone says they want to have a child and the other isn’t on board with that. There’s so many different things you can advise people about going into a relationship, but at the end of the day, you don’t have all of the answers and you’re going to have to be ok with that. That’s part of the journey of life; you can’t have every box checked off moving forward.
You do the best that you can. You take a leap of faith together, and know that marriage is probably really the hardest thing to do in life. I really believe that. It is an evolving, ongoing relationship that you’re embarking on with someone else. You’re going to have a lot of ups and downs, and as long as you realize you’re going to have to fight your way through it to come out through the other side, then you’re gonna be okay.
It’s when people go into marriage thinking it’s going to be a bed of roses the whole time, and when in the realities of life come down on you, real problems come in. So I think if you go into a marriage realistically, with your eyes open and an open heart, then maybe you got a fighting chance. But it is the most difficult thing we all undertake in life, and that’s okay because all good things are worth extra work.
You have two kids, right? How old are they?
DN: Yep, I have a nine-year-old [son]and an eight-year-old [daughter]. My daughter actually turned eight today.
Are your kids aware of mom and dad’s careers? Do they want to be like you?
DN: My kids know that I’m an actor, they know that I work on television. They certainly know that I’m gone a lot. They don’t watch what I do, because a lot of what I do is slightly inappropriate for them. Even on Hallmark, where it’s obviously a family channel, I’m always romantically linked to someone – so it’s a little uncomfortable to see dad kissing another woman who’s not mom on TV. They don’t get to watch what I do.
They don’t understand why people recognize me – they know it’s because I’m on TV. It’s slowly getting better and dawning on them a little bit more, the realities of what I do. They know that mom writes TV shows, but they don’t really understand what that means. They just know not to knock on the door between these hours because mom is working and needs to concentrate. They know our lives are very different than most of their friends’ parents. We’re definitely not that traditional nine-to-five working couple.
As far as wanting to go into the business, I don’t think my son would have any interest in it. My daughter, that’s still to be decided. I think she likes the limelight, but she’s still very shy. She wants to take acting lessons, she’s taking dance lessons. Of the two, she would definitely be the one to maybe dip a toe into these waters.
Let’s fast forward to 10 years. Your daughter says “Dad, I met a nice man named Christian Grey.” What do you do?
DN: First of all, I don’t think any daughter would tell their parents the nature of the relationship that they gotten themselves into [laughs]. Not for quite a while! I would believe just in general that I’ve hopefully done a really great job in grounding both my kids so that they have the ability to make the right decisions for them in their life. And that they know that both their mom and dad are always there for them to be a sounding board, to get advice to solve the crisis that will inevitably come their way.
I would hope that we always have an open dialogue. That’s the most that any parent can hope for, and hopefully you keep that as open as possible during the teenage years. I’m not too far away from the years that both of them are not going to talk to or see me for three hours, if not 24 hours, of the day. [laughs]
Hopefully we pass through those waters relatively unscathed, and as they become young adults we’ll loop back again to having a really open, honest, and meaningful relationship that will last the rest of our lives. You need that open dialogue. You have so many questions and so many uncertainties in your life, that having a really great relationship with your parents just helps you out so much. That’s the game plan for everybody. You do your best and hopefully it works out.
CLICK HERE to find out more about Cedar Cove on HallmarkChannel.com
Stay tuned to HallmarkMoviesAndMysteries.com for more info on The Gourmet Detective mystery movies
Watch the 50 Shades of Grey trailer, and check it out in theaters on February 13th