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Home Life Weekend

'The role I play now is much more gratifying than 90210'

Twenty years after Jason Priestley left teen soap Beverly Hills, 90210, Georgia Humphreys finds he's grateful to be playing meatier parts

Jason Priestley as Matt Shade
Jason Priestley as Matt Shade
Jason Priestley with Cindy Sampson

Think of Jason Priestley and one character instantly comes to mind. After all, the Canadian actor played Brandon Walsh in Beverly Hills, 90210 for nearly a decade back in the Nineties, turning him into a teen heart-throb the world over and landing him two nominations for Golden Globes.

But now he's back with a new instalment of Private Eyes, a comedy drama which sees him portray Matt Shade, an ex-hockey-player-turned-unlikely-detective.

And, sure, it's nice to be talked about for a different hit show.

"Shade is a far more multi-faceted character, he just has a lot more depth to him than Brandon had - and maybe part of that is just age," Vancouver-born Priestley (48) says.

"That's not to say that working on Beverly Hills, 90210 wasn't a great experience, because it was. I certainly had a lot of fun on that show, working with a lot of great people. But I find the work I'm doing nowadays is better and more gratifying."

Private Eyes has been on a hiatus since last summer, following the decision to split the second season into two parts.

For anyone who needs a reminder, Priestley plays a guy "trying to figure out what the second act of his life is going to look like".

"He decided to leave the hockey world and he starts working with this very tough female investigator Angie Everett (played by Cindy Sampson). The two of them don't get along very well initially, because they are so different, but then as the show goes on, they figure that, if they just find a way to work together, their differences can actually be a strength."

The new episodes promise to hook us in straight away, as we find out Shade and Angie have decided to ignore their undeniable attraction to each other and are dating other people. "The two couples go away on a murder mystery weekend and, of course, someone gets murdered for real and we have to solve the mystery," teases Priestley. "So, there's a lot of fun episodes coming up."

Discussing the appeal of the show, which is inspired by novel The Code by GB Joyce, Priestley continues: "It's sort of the antidote to the very dark, very gritty procedurals you see on cable these days. It's a little lighter in tone."

As a long-time fan of detective shows, he also envisioned Private Eyes as a throwback to hits of the past.

"We wanted a show that was very much in the vein of The Rockford Files, or Moonlighting, but an updated version of those shows. That's what we developed this show to be like - and I think we were pretty successful."

Of course, success is something that came at a young age for Priestley - he was just 21 when cast in Beverly Hills, 90210. Having started his career in adverts and with just a few small roles on US television under his belt, teen idol Brandon was his big break.

Asked what advice he would give to young people working in the industry today, Priestley notes: "It is such a different time now, the way that the business works with social media and access and how you utilise those things. I wouldn't even know where to begin."

Priestley has two children with British make-up artist Naomi Lowde-Priestley, whom he married in 2005. And, while he says his eight-year-old son is more interested in gaming, 10-year-old Ava loves watching her dad on screen.

"My daughter is becoming more aware of what I do," he confides.

"I've tried to keep them as unaware as I could for as long as I could, but they're starting to figure it out now."

The family are based in California, but Private Eyes is shot in Toronto, a city Priestley loves working in.

"A lot of TV series shoot in Toronto, but they pretend Toronto is somewhere else," he muses. "I think one of the things that's special about our show is that we shoot Toronto for Toronto. We showcase Toronto for the wonderful, international, vibrant, multicultural city it is."

Priestley, who is also an executive producer on Private Eyes, has proved he has more than one string to his bow over the years.

The star has also turned his hand to directing a number of times, including for the The CW channel reboot of 90210, which aired from 2008 to 2013, and saw Tori Spelling, Jennie Garth and Shannen Doherty reprise their roles from the original American teen soap.

And, while Priestley recently told Digital Spy there are currently no plans for a comeback show with all the original cast, he told us he's still in touch with a couple of his old co-stars.

So, we're not giving up hope on a Peach Pit reunion quite yet.

Private Eyes, Universal Channel, Monday, from 2pm

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