Shaun Johnston, actor (born in Ponoka, AB). Shaun Johnston is an award-winning actor who embodies a stoic Western archetype similar to Gary Cooper, John Wayne and Glenn Ford. He has worked extensively in Canadian film and television since the early 1990s, and is perhaps best known for playing crusty yet compassionate patriarch Jack Bartlett in CBC TV’s long-running family drama Heartland (2007–).
Early Years and Education
Johnston grew up on a farm in Ponoka, Alberta, between Red Deer and Edmonton. He played basketball in high school, earned a degree in business from Red Deer College and worked for a time with the Alberta Treasury Branch. Interested in a career as a fashion photographer, he moved to Toronto in the early 1980s and struggled to break into the industry before finding work as a runway model. After a few years, he had developed a taste for performing and returned to Alberta to study theatre at Red Deer College. He then earned a BFA from the University of Alberta's selective drama program.
Following his graduation, Johnston co-founded the Shadow Theatre in Edmonton and made his first professional forays in Alberta's thriving theatre scene. He made his debut feature film appearance as a loose-living biker in the comedy-drama Two Brothers, a Girl and a Gun (1993). The role won him an Alberta Film & Television Award for best actor. Numerous film and television parts followed, including credits on The X Files (1995), Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years (1995), North of 60 (1997) and several episodes of The Outer Limits (1995–2001).
Johnston played Jake Trumper on Jake and the Kid (1995–96). He had a recurring role on Traders (1999–2000), a small role in the Russell Crowe hockey movie Mystery, Alaska (1999) and played Fire Marshal Sid Flemming in Da Vinci's Inquest (2002). He co-starred opposite Christopher Plummer in two TV movies: the family film The Dinosaur Hunter (2000) and the Cold War drama Agent of Influence (2002). He appeared in the cult hit Smallville (2004) and the Gemini Award-winning CTV movie Mayerthorpe (2008), about the 2005 shooting death of four Mounties.
He inhabited the American West in a 2000 remake of the Western classic High Noon, and appeared in September Dawn (2007), which portrayed the 1857 massacre of settlers travelling through the Western US. For his performance as the wagon train captain who led the pioneers into an attack by Mormon fanatics, Johnston once again won the Alberta Film & Television Award for best actor. He also played Colonel Nelson Miles in Yves Simoneau’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (2007), an Emmy Award-winning HBO film about Aboriginal assimilation in the context of the Battle of Little Bighorn.
Johnston also continues to act on stage and remains involved with the Shadow Theatre. In 2012, he starred in the company’s production of Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love, which was also staged in Calgary by Sage Theatre.
In 2007, Johnston took a regular role in Heartland, a CBC TV series based on the Heartland books by Lauren Brooke. The drama about life on a horse ranch in Alberta's Rocky Mountains fills the CBC's traditional Sunday night family slot.
In Heartland, Johnston plays Jack Bartlett, a crusty westerner who must raise his granddaughter Amy (Amber Marshall) following the accidental death of her mother. Jack is helped by Amy's older sister, Lou (Michelle Morgan), who decides to forgo her high-achieving life in Manhattan to take care of abused horses, her mother's vocation. Johnston plays Grandpa Jack as a taciturn yet sensitive man who values honesty and integrity, and has zero tolerance for phony behaviour. Johnston received a Gemini nomination for his work on Heartland's first season.
Off-screen, Johnston is an avid hockey player and guitar player. He fundraises for the Actors' Fund of Canada and the mentoring program Big Brothers & Big Sisters in Calgary.
In 2011, he received the prestigious David Billington Award from the Alberta Media Production Industries Association (AMPIA) for making “an invaluable contribution to Alberta’s production community.” ACTRA national president Ferne Downey stated at the time: "Shaun Johnston is a gifted actor and a bona fide Canadian TV and film star. The breadth of his resumé speaks eloquently to that… Shaun has always found a creative way to make his character deeply rooted in humanity and completely compelling to watch."
Best Actor (Two Brothers, a Girl and a Gun), Alberta Film & Television Awards (1994)
Best Actor (September Dawn), Alberta Film & Television Awards (2008)
Best Actor (Heartland), Alberta Film & Television Award (2011)
David Billington Award, AMPIA (2011)