Call Me Fitz winds down its second season tonight at 8:30 p.m. on HBO Canada. Had a great chat with star/director/producer Jason Priestley last September over lunch in Toronto and he was still pumped from all those Gemini nominations and wins for the series.
We started out talking about how it must be a drag how international press keep hearkening back to his 90210 days 21 years after the series that made him a star began.
"Have you talked to Shannen Doherty?" he mock-asked with an Alberto-V05 accent. "Have you been to Tori's house? Are you going to be on Tori & Dan in Love?"
We laughed, but then he told me a few great stories about working with his old mentor, Hollywood uber-producer Aaron Spelling. Those stories ate up a lot of the story I wrote which appeared yesterday in the Toronto Star.
Priestley got to know Spelling well. “He was very tough when he needed to be,” he says. “At the root of it he seemed to be a pretty simple guy. And that’s the way he liked everything to be. That’s the way he believed television to be. He believed in simple storytelling. He believed if he could understand it, the audience could understand it.”
Another thing Priestley remembers about his mentor: “I never met a Jew who loved Christmas more than Aaron Spelling.”
Priestley recalls the Spelling mansion was turned into a winter wonderland each December. There would be a 50-foot Christmas tree in the main foyer and carollers constantly singing. That rumour that he used to truck snow in to his estate just to keep things Christmas-y? True. “He did that a few times when Tori was little,” Priestley was told. “She would wake up on Christmas morning with snow in the yard. Crazy.”
Spelling’s gift to Priestley was giving him a chance to direct. It first happened on the third season of 90210, when the young actor was just 23 or 24. “Thinking back, what the bleep was he thinking?” Priestley wonders, although, “I just kept bugging him to give me an episode to direct.”
Spelling gave him just one piece of advice: “He looked me in the eye and said, ‘Kid, don’t bleep this up.’”
Priestley didn’t. He went on to direct up to five 90210 episodes a year. He’s gone on to direct 7th Heaven, a web series and even an episode of the new 90210 series as well as a Christmas movie he shot earlier this year in Winnipeg, Dear Santa (available on DVD).
“I’m lucky,” says Priestley, “I get to wear a lot of hats on Fitz, and that excites me when I get out of bed in the morning.”