After three years of callbacks and auditions for the musical Rent, Toronto actor Dean Armstrong landed a lead part in the Broadway hit in 2000. But just as he sat down to negotiate the contract, he was offered a recurring part in the TV series Queer as Folk. Somehow Armstrong fit both high-profile gigs into his schedule—as well as running an acting school. “I had my own limo driver and I was flying back and forth from Toronto to New York—working 15-hour days on Queer as Folk, then doing four weekend shows in New York. I never did burn out. But I didn’t think about anything other than work.”
After a year and a half, the Owen Sound, Ont.-born performer left Broadway. But four seasons in, he’s still a key player on Queer as Folk—in fact, the Washington Post raved, after season one, that Armstrong gave the strongest performance of the series. His character Blake started as a crystal meth addict, but is now a drug addiction counsellor. It’s a role that has had impact off-screen. The actor was approached by the British Columbia organization Youthquest!—which helps teens struggling with sexual identity crisis—to act as a spokesperson. “They sought me out because of the correlation between Blake and what these people were referring to at the drop-in centres,” says Armstrong, 31. “One kid actually took his life and made reference to the disappearance of my character at the end of the first season saying, ‘You see, Blake couldn’t deal with it, couldn’t face it.’ You don’t expect your art to have that kind of impact.” For Armstrong, who also has a teaching degree, speaking up for gay youth may be his most important role to date. SHANDADEZIEL
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