Nils Hognestad declared that he wanted to be an actor before he even knew the word for it.
“When I was young back in Norway, I didn’t know the word for ‘actor’ at the time: I remember telling my mom that I wanted to become ‘a talking face’ on TV,” he says.
Later, living in London, it was Hognestad’s mother who recognized that her son well and truly had the acting bug, during a performance of Cats in the West End. She missed most of what was happening onstage, instead watching her 10-year-old son transfixed and on the edge of his seat.
The Vancouver-based actor now has a varied and busy schedule, acting, writing, producing and teaching the craft that he honed at Handsworth’s drama program, while getting his Bachelor of Fine Arts at Ryerson, and later at the prestigious London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.
It was all put on hold, of course, when Covid-19 broke out. Hognestad was wrapping up on one of the last productions shooting in Canada (“A Hint Of Love,” released last week on the W Network). “We finished on the Friday, and they announced the shutdown that weekend.” Hognestad headed up to Fort McMurray to visit his partner, just as the historic flooding hit the area. “So I found myself dealing with two states of emergency,” he said. “A lot of people needed help: what wasn’t affected by the fires was wiped out by the flooding, so I decided to stay on.”
Back in Vancouver he focused on writing and teaching acting classes online, and anticipating the release of his latest project: Psych 2: Lassie Come Home. The movie is a spinoff of the cult classic “Psych” dramedy, which ran for eight seasons between 2006 and 2014.
Hognestad plays Per, the seemingly arrogant son of a Norwegian ice bar owner. He insists he can’t say much about his character though rabid fans of the show, dubbed PsychOs, keep trying. “When I first posted that I was part of the cast I got a message from a friend of mine saying ‘Oh my god this is so embarrassing, I’m a closet PsychO, tell me everything!’ but I can’t reveal anything.”
Hognestad was just happy that this role didn’t require learning a new language, as was the case with his role in the Danish film Min sosters born og guldgraverne. It was a real headache initially, he says: at least with stunt work, like his battle scenes as King Arthur in DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, you know what you’re in for. “Give me a rapier and a dagger and I can work my way through that fine!”
Psych 2 was shot in Vancouver. “If someone’s going to pay for me to shoot through Europe, don’t get me wrong, I’d love it,” laughs Hognestad, But what he loves about shooting in his home city is discovering new places, and giving new meaning to places that are familiar: “there’s something magical about shooting in your own city.”
When Hognestad isn’t shooting, he’s writing: his film Cross-Country Baby was part of the Whistler and Banff film festivals. “I went into acting thinking it was the be-all end-all, but I realize that there are a lot of things I want to talk about, that I want to address,” he says. “I’m finding a lot of reward there.” When you can hold over 200 pages in your hand of something that you have created, “you can’t help but be proud.”
Something else the actor is looking forward to: his citizenship test. Norway didn’t allow for dual citizenship until January of this year and Hognestad is excited to become a certified Canadian at long last. “I’ll be 36 and voting for the first time in my life, I long to be a real grownup!” And one of the reasons he’s so grateful to his adopted country is for the medical care he has received here. Hognestad was born cyanotic, a “blue baby,” and had his first open-heart surgery at age three. He had another at age five, and a pulmonary valve replacement at 13. Six years ago he had another (less invasive) heart surgery and was “back on set after a week shooting guns off of the back of a truck.” It’s why he volunteers with the Pacific Open Heart Association and the Children’s Heart Network. “The Canadian system healed me and I’ve always felt a strong need to give back somehow.”
He may come and go as work demands, he says, but Vancouver is home. “I don’t think we could be anywhere better globally. ... I always end up coming back.”
Psych 2: Lassie Come Home premieres July 15, on NBC’s Peacock streaming service.