Story by Dick Hildebrand
Photography by Melissa Stewart
There is an air of excitement I sense, as I speak with Jake Raymond over the phone. The Windsor-born actor recently returned from the 2017 Milledgeville Film Festival in Milledgeville, Georgia where he debuted his first feature film ‘Ashes’ - a project which he proudly produced and stars in. It was there where he saw all his hard work to date pay off as he was honoured with the ‘Best Actor’ award. "I felt like I just won the Oscar!" he chuckles. Raymond, a graduate of the University of Windsor with a degree in Human Kinetics actually did not start his career in acting.
About a decade ago, he was a national level gymnast and represented Canada at the World Junior Gymnastics Championships. “I was doing quite well,” he says, “until I fell on my head and ended up in 28th spot!” Actually he suffered a knee injury which effectively ended his gymnastics career. While in University, given his keen interest in drama, he took several courses as his electives, appeared in a number of school plays and chummed around with other students who were in various arts programs.
It wasn't until after University that Jake decided to give acting a serious shot. So he left Windsor and moved to Toronto where numerous production facilities beckoned. He went through the same routine that every aspiring actor faces – hiring a manager, attending hundreds of auditions and perhaps getting one “yes” after many, frustrating “nos”. To pay the bills, Jake took bartending jobs because of the flexibility of hours they offered. Eventually he landed a role in a kids’ TV show titled ‘Tati’s Hotel’ that was filmed in the United Kingdom. “This was one of the most incredible experiences for me,” he says, “because I got to spend three months in Wales during production. The role was a perfect fit because it combined my gymnastics and acting abilities.” Tati’s Hotel aired on Disney Junior, ITV and TV Ontario’s Kids. It was the story of a girl who owned a magical hotel…Jake played the back flipping bellhop of the hotel.
Back home in Toronto, it was the same old grind again – more auditions and more rejections. As Jake puts it, “it’s crazy in this industry: you get one success and you think it’s going to carry you on for another show – but that’s not the way it works.” His persistence did pay off. He got a role in ‘The Birder’, most of which was shot in Essex County and starred Tom Cavanaugh, the Ottawa native who has found success in Hollywood. For Jake, it was a breakthrough role, because it got him into the actors’ union. “Once you get into the union,” says Jake, “people take you a bit more seriously as an actor. More doors have opened for me resulting in bigger and better roles.” Incidentally, ‘The Birder’, which was debuted in Windsor, did very well globally. It was featured at a number of major festivals, had a limited theatrical release in the United States and is now available across North America on DVD.
After his stint on ‘The Birder’, Jake appeared on ‘Being Human’, which aired on the SyFy and Space Channel. Last season he was seen on an episode of ‘American Gothic’ on CBS and most recently he’s been on the YouTube series ‘My Roommate’s an Escort’ which has been getting rave reviews and on-line attention.
Jake’s latest project was born out of the frustration of attending hundreds of auditions, with only a few positive results. “I wanted to create an acting opportunity for myself and my closest friends,” he says, “so I wrote a script that I acted and produced in - my first feature, ‘Ashes’, which has gratefully already garnered some terrific responses.”
After its official release this past April at the Milledgeville Film Festival in Georgia, with plans to be screened at other festivals, the film was received with “incredible feedback.” It’s already won an award and has been nominated for two others. The feature was produced back in 2015 with a majority of the filming done at Balm Beach on the shores of Georgian Bay in the Midland-Penetang area. Some scenes were produced in Windsor at the Raymond family home.
‘Ashes’ is an emotional, coming-of-age drama and tells the story of a young man, Liam, who has lost his parents and intends to spread their ashes in the area where they first met many years earlier. During their exploration of the area, Liam and his closest friends navigate old memories and create new ones. “Filming this was a weird experience,” explains Jake, “since both my parents are still very much alive and were on set with us every day doing all the catering for it. It was quite an experience for me, as an actor, having my parents nearby while dealing with such an emotional topic.”
When the actors and crew were invited by the town of Balm Beach to have access to film, they had a chance to take advantage of a go-kart track and an arcade which they used as locations for some of the more uplifting scenes in the film. "The people there were absolutely incredible,” says Jake, “and bent over backwards to make our stay as pleasant as possible.” As of now, Jake is hoping for a global release of ‘Ashes’ which he says would be like winning the lottery. "We are also hoping to be screened at the Windsor International Film Festival," says Jake. "It would definitely be a humbling experience to come home and showcase my first feature film where my acting dream first started."
So, what’s next for Jake Raymond? As he sees it, “making ‘Ashes’ inspired the filmmaker brain in me…to be able to see myself not only as an actor, but a producer as well, so I’m writing another feature titled ‘Chalk’ …somewhat autobiographical about my gymnastics career and my injury that ended it.” In the meantime, he intends to go to as many film festivals as his schedule permits, to promote ‘Ashes.'
Without hesitation Jake says he intends to do what’s necessary, first and foremost, to continue being an actor. “This is what I love doing and it is a lifelong career.” Obviously, his long term goal is to travel that rocky road to Hollywood and eventually walk up the wide stairs at the Dolby Theatre and accept ‘the Oscar’.
Coming up next, you can catch him on the first episode of ‘Salvation’ on July 12th as part of the CBS summer schedule and he’s in the feature film ‘White Night’, set for release this year.
Want to know more about this talented young man? Check out his IMDB page and follow Jake Raymond on Twitter and Instagram.