Jason Priestley can tell you exactly why he wrote a memoir.
"Back in August, 2012, I found myself looking around at my wife, and my beautiful children, and I was about to head back to Nova Scotia to shoot season three of Call Me Fitz — I'd just won the Golden Nymph at the Monte Carlo television festival for my work on that show — and I sat back and went, 'Hm. I've now accomplished all the lofty goals I set for myself 10 years ago when I was lying in the hospital in Indianapolis recovering from my race car crash.' It seemed like a good time to write a book and close the chapter on all that stuff."
Jason Priestley: A Memoir, brought the actor to Toronto recently, where he talked about his career-changing run on Beverly Hills 90210 and the life-changing racing accident that happened in 2002.
In some ways, Priestley, 44, marks his life as 'before' and 'after' that accident.
The experienced and highly successful driver, with 11 years of pro car racing under his belt, "Stuffed my Indie Lights car into the wall at Turn 2 at the Kentucky Speedway," and nearly died.
Actually, he died twice on the operating table. In Vancouver, Priestley's mother saw his death announced on a TV news crawl. He was hospitalized for three months.
"It was a huge, huge event for me. I suffered catastrophic injuries," he understates, the worst of which were a shattered spine and three skull fractures. No one was sure Priestley could recover from yet another concussion.
But he did.
"I had to re-learn how to talk, how to memorize, how to think, basically. I was really scrambled."
Amazingly, he adds, "It was a transformative experience for me. It's also one I wouldn't change, because it taught me a lot about myself. Having come out the other side of that kind of experience, you can't imagine your life without it."
Priestley's life, in his own words, has always involved a lot of drive and ambition. After the accident, "I had to repurpose that drive and ambition again to rebuild my life and figure out how to get it back.
"And I did that. "
Priestley and twin sister Justine began acting as kids in Vancouver. From commercials as a child, he graduated to TV shows such as 21 Jump Street and Beans Baxter and a producer convinced him to try his luck in L.A.
"So all of a sudden I had an agent and a manager in L.A. and I was going to theatre school and high school at the same time and I was barely 17 years old," he says.
The break he was looking for came in 1990 when he was cast as Brandon Walsh in Beverly Hills 90210, although Priestley says the show was initially not a success at all. Once the second season started, however, the audience was massive; Priestley and his cast mates were instant celebrities. The show led him to directing, too — he directed 15 of the 90210 shows.
Nominated for two Golden Globes and several Geminis, the award-winning Priestley has starred in such series as Tru Calling, Love Monkey, Side Order of Life, Haven and Call Me Fitz; his features include The Boy From Wolf Mountain, Die, Mommie, Die! Tombstone, and Love & Death On Long Island.
As he outlines in his memoir, Priestley had his wild days, drinking and carousing with other young actors and even spending a few days in an L.A. jail after a drunk driving charge in 2000.
But that's the past. These days, the happily-married father of two says he divides his time equally between acting and directing. His recent feature directorial debut, Cas & Dylan (which won the Audience Award at the Whistler Film Festival and the Best Actress Award for Tatiana Maslany ) just get a U.S. theatrical release.
Anything left on his bucket list?
"I want to go to Antarctica!" says Priestley.
"And I want to get my pilot's licence. I don't have that yet. It's just another dangerous thing to do." he says, laughing.
"It's always the dangerous things."
REVIEW: PRIESTLEY KEEPS THINGS ENTERTAINING IN PERSONAL MEMOIR
“I had been granted another chance at life, and I wasn’t about to waste it.” – Jason Priestley
Bradley Cooper offered him advice on how to propose marriage.
Brad Pitt gave him a bible as a Christmas gift one year.
Sam Elliott told him to stop f---ing around on a movie set.
Those are just a few details from Jason Priestley: A Memoir, the 90210 actor's brisk and amusing autobiography. Priestley's book is neither shallow with gossip nor too deep with navel-gazing. The author has a keen eye and an uncomplicated style that make the book highly entertaining.
Priestley's memoir is distinguished by a certain good-heartedness in the writing. He would rather remember positive events — such as fighting to get Hilary Swank a role on 90210, introducing Ashley Judd to her future husband, Dario Franchitti, or discovering the music of the Barenaked Ladies. He is rarely negative, but you have to read between the lines a little; for him to include a story about how rude Mischa Barton was to him, for example, suggests she must have been a total cow.
Still, that particular anecdote comes across as comical, not cruel.
Priestley's memoir is littered with the names of the celebrities he encountered and worked with along the way — tellingly, many are still close friends — but that's not really what the book is about. He doesn't hesitate to cover the emotional side of life and a lot of the book is a celebration, with lovely chapters about growing up in Vancouver and finding his way into a lifelong career. There's a lot of joy in what he writes about friends and family; at the same time, he doesn't shy away from writing about the downside of celebrity or the exigencies of being a driven, Type A personality.
In person, Priestley comes across as a stand-up guy, and you get the same vibe from his book. You also get the distinct impression that he's someone who counts his blessings.
It ain't War & Peace, but Jason Priestly: A Memoir is a good read with more depth than the usual celebrity memoir.
Fans of Priestley or Beverly Hills 90210 (or both) will want to read this one.