Rising Star: Craig Olejnik
First Published: July 2, 2009 6:38 PM EDT Credit: NBC
LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- As the star of NBC’s new drama “The Listener,” comely Canadian Craig Olejnik has spent the last few weeks having his angelic face plastered across the network, in the magazines and floating through the Internet. But AccessHollywood.com’s newest Rising Star hasn’t seen any of it.
“I don’t know if you can grasp really, where I am,” he said on a surprisingly clear cell-phone line from Macedonia in Southeastern Europe, where the actor escaped to on a brief vacation. “It’s insane. Look on the map. I’m pretty far [away] right now.”
Earlier in the day, TV’s newest heartthrob, who plays “The Listener” Toby Logan, a twenty-something paramedic with a supernatural ability to hear people’s thoughts, was simply enjoying a spot of exploration — spending the day at Lake Orhid, likely the deepest and oldest (5 million years) lake in Europe.
His trip has been a welcome respite after the press onslaught that came around “The Listener’s” premiere earlier this summer and the Monte Carlo television festival, where after years in the business, the 30-year-old had his first real brushes with what life is like when you’re the star of a network show.
“I had no idea… I’m jet lagged and my mother’s with me and I just want to get in the car and there were about… 10 people waiting there with pictures with me,” Craig recalls, still surprised by the newfound fan attention. “Some of them wanted to get their pictures taken with me. I had no idea. It was really kind of – to be honest with you – that was the first time it’s ever really happened.”
Now based in Toronto, coincidentally where “The Listener” is set, Craig spent his early years in Nova Scotia, which he likes to call “Canada’s Maine,” as a “base brat” due to his father being a military man. He grew up with worldly influences, the result of his grandparents’ immigration from Poland via Germany, after escaping World War II.
“My grandfather… brought everyone over and they worked from scratch, basically to give me this opportunity that I have,” he said.
Craig is quick to credit his family for supporting his early acting pursuits – mom Pam, who he brought to the Monte Carlo event, his military dad and his two-years-younger sister, who he lovingly describes as “Julia Roberts meets a hippie basically.” And when Access asks if he has a funny side like fellow Canuck Michael J. Fox, he says if he does, it comes from his grandmother.
“I’ve got an 87-year-old grandmother who basically is still alive and kicking because she loves [laughter]. All she does is like, ‘Oh, you have the jokes! Life is too short, you must be funny,’” Craig added, quoting his elder with an Eastern European inflection.
As an early teen in Nova Scotia, Craig scored his first big role, playing Helena Bonham Carter’s brother in the 1995 coal mining drama, “Margaret’s Museum.” He was a freshman on set, but tells Access many, including Helena, offered advice and looked after the then-14-year-old.
“She was like a big sister to me, back then,” Craig recalled. “Everything was so new. I had no idea what I was doing at that time. [The] crew and other actors would take me under their wing. It changes your whole life really.”
In between then and now, Craig found parts in films like 2001’s “Thirteen Ghosts,” with Matthew Lillard and Tony Shaloub, while trying out a host of entertainment related hats – writer, director – and non-related hats – traveler. But two years ago, “The Listener” caught his eye.
“There was something about it,” he said of the script written by Michael Amo. “Literally I just woke up one morning and my buddy and I ran the lines a few times. We went down to the Valley [in Los Angeles, where he was at the time], put it on tape and sent it up to Toronto.”
His quiet confidence and those deep blue knowing eyes undoubtedly helped land him the role of Toby in the series, which wrapped up filming Season 1 earlier this year.
Craig says he’ll spend what remains of the summer on perhaps, another worldly adventure, reading the scripts that have been coming across his desk, and of course listening out for the decision over another season of his drama.
“I would do it. I’d be excited for Season 2, you know, another chance to make the show great,” he said. “I think the show is good. I think we can make the show great.”
And of course, if that does happen, Craig will have to get ready to be recognized much more often, though his mom, Pam, has already taken pride in her son’s mounting success.
“She thinks it’s cool. [My parents are] from Nova Scotia… which is a very simple place,” he said. “My parents are enjoying it. For me, it’s hard to really truly describe what it is you’re going through… You never really know until you’re in it and I’m still not defining it. I’m still just experiencing it and I know that in a few weeks or months, it’ll pass and be over and I’ll have figured out what it meant.”
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