Jason Priestley was very effective at playing Brandon Walsh, a character almost comically perfect and pure. He never shied away from Brandon’s pompous nature and committed to playing a character that could be insufferably virtuous. As a result, he was easily the best thing about Beverly Hills 90210, particularly in those college years after Shannen Doherty left.
So it has been really fascinating over the last 15 years to watch him flip that Walsh persona to so effectively explore dark characters.
First in Love and Death on Long Island in which he played a teen idol trapped by his public image with real pathos.
Then he was positively chilling playing a man who believed he was God, opposite his old buddy Luke Perry, in an episode of the cancelled-too-soon Jeremiah*:
And he basically gave Tru Calling its purpose when he joined the show as Jack Harper, Tru’s (Eliza Dushku) opposite, an Angel of Death character who was, in a strange way, her only friend.
In each role, Jason Priestley acknowledges that you know exactly who he is and plays with your assumptions of what that means. He’s figured out a way to invert some of the Brandon Walsh pompousness to portray malevolence really really well. His reconstructed beauty (following a near-fatal car racing crash) seems to have freed him. His work reminds me of Billy Crudup, in that he isn’t really trying to distract you from his beauty so much as disarm you with it.
So I’m really hoping that Syfy’s Haven figures out that he is so good at being bad and uses him accordingly in the upcoming second season.
*I was initially annoyed at the syncing issues in this video, but interestingly you can see how beautiful Priestley’s work truly is – its all in the face – because you’re not able to really follow the dialogue in the usual way.