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Dillon Casey enjoying ride on TV's 'ruthless' 'Nikita'

Dillon Casey first came onto the set of “Nikita” with guns blazing.

The shot-in-Toronto spy series, starring Maggie Q as a kick-ass double agent, returns for a third season Friday on The CW and CTV Two.

“I got cast out of Toronto,” explains Casey. “Two days later, I’m handed this Beretta, this gun. I tell the guy: ‘I’m Canadian — I have no idea how to use a gun.'”

The 28-year-old was given a quick safety lesson.

“Within two minutes, the director yells ‘Action!’ and I jump out of the SUV and start shooting at Maggie Q — who I haven’t even met yet.

“Afterwards I’m like: ‘Hey, nice to meet you, I’m Dillon, I’m the new guy on the show.'”

Shoot first, act later, is the new norm in the hurry up world of TV production. It’s a world Casey has learned to embrace and he has the war stories to prove it.

Born in Dallas but raised in Oakville, Ont., Casey — who plays former Navy SEAL Sean Pierce on “Nikita” — does not have your typical “art school” acting background. The drama classes, he says, were the ones he skipped back at Oakville Trafalgar High.

The acting bug really only bit when he saw “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” That’s when he said to himself: “I want to be like him.” His mom spotted an acting job ad in a newspaper and gave him a push. Soon he was booking gigs on commercials and TV shows, including YTV’s “System Crash.”

He’s earned film and TV credits on both sides of the border, including CBC’s “Being Erica” and guest shots on “The Vampire Diaries.” Being one of the leads on CBC’s shortlived and somewhat notorious “MVP” was the real eye opener, however.

Casey played one of the hunky hockey players on the much-hyped series which tried to take Canada’s game and give it a jolt of “Desperate Housewives.” Casey found himself at the centre of a marketing campaign, up high on a billboard in Times Square in his Jockey shorts, clutching a hockey stick.

“That experience just scared me,” he says today. “I had no idea how to act, I was taking my shirt off in every scene.” He looks at photos of that billboard today and thinks, “That guy has no idea what he got himself into.”

That being said, the exposure didn’t hurt. Casey’s manager was able to shop him now as a series lead.

What he learned next is something you often hear from his Canadian acting colleagues. Career momentum seems to mean one thing in Canada, another in the U.S.

“In the States,” he says, “it’s not so much ‘front of the line,’ but it’s ‘I want to see that kid.'”

In Canada, he notes, “you’re sort of nobody until you’ve been in this business for 50 years. Even now, people are like, ‘Gordon Pinsent — why do I know that name?'”

Before he landed “Nikita,” he spent three tough “pilot seasons” in Los Angeles. Friends envied him for chasing his dream, but Casey knew he was spending most of his time alone in hotel rooms, waiting for the phone to ring.

He took his “struggling Canadian in LA” situation and turned it into a hilarious “Funny or Die” web series called “Livin in LA with Dillon Casey.” It’s now up for several Streamy Awards.

That kind of resourcefulness grows in his family. Together with his brothers Connor and Lyndon, he’s written and produced several shorts, including “Captain Coulier,” featured at the Sundance Film Festival. The Casey Brothers have several projects in development, including one inspired by their dad, who Dillon describes as the world’s funniest urologist.

“Our goal has always been to get a movie off the ground,” says Casey.

In the meantime, he’s been busy shooting a few of his own, including “The Vow” with Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum, as well as the upcoming feature “Only I…”

As for “Nikita,” Casey’s grateful for the loyal fans (they call themselves part of the “Nikitaverse”), but, as someone who knows he’s in the lottery business, he’s taking nothing for granted.

“It’s one of those ruthless shows where you could die in any episode,” he says.

“So far, it’s the longest job I’ve ever had. I’ve learned so much, and I know it will help me moving forward.”


Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.