Tell us a little bit about yourself. 

Well, I’m a Toronto-based actor who is also a husband, father, and business owner. I’m of Jamaican descent but was born in England.  We emigrated to Canada when I was 6 years old.

How did you first become interested in performing? 

It’s hard to say when it all started for me but I know I was very young when I knew I wanted to be an actor (about 7 years old). I suspect it was largely because being an only child I spent A LOT of time in front of the TV.  I became immersed in that world.  Sitcoms, Westerns, Dramas.  I loved it all.  The seeds were planted then.

You kept your interest in performing a secret until your daughter Nicki started to show an interest in it. What made you keep that desire under wraps for so long? 

That’s a good question. Like most children of hard-working immigrant parents, I was always taught the importance of having a stable “profession”, which of course meant doctor, lawyer, teacher, or something like that. The last thing my parents wanted to hear was that their son wanted to be an actor.  Also, I had no friends who felt the same way I did.  Kids aspired to be the characters they saw on TV, not the actors who played them. So I just got into the habit of keeping my desire a secret.

How difficult was it to pick up an acting career in your mid-40s? 

It was surprisingly not that difficult at all. It felt very natural to me because I had envisioned it for so long.  From the very first day, I knew this was where I was supposed to be. I also found the casting directors to be very receptive to seeing me. I supposed that’s because they don’t often see new actors in my age group. I used that to my advantage.

How have you evolved as an actor since your role in “Red”? 

That feels like a lifetime ago!  As an actor, I feel like I evolve constantly. My role in Red was relatively small. My roles since then have progressively gotten larger and I am often now required to show more emotional depth. I love the challenge of having to dig deeper to find the layers of the characters I play.

What can you tell us about your role in “A Sisterly Christmas” coming to OWN on December 7th? 

This gig was a thrill because it’s my first project for the OWN network. Like most people, I’m a huge Oprah Winfrey fan, so having a movie on her network is a real honour. I’ve done several Christmas movies but a Sisterly Christmas is my first one with a predominantly African American cast.  I’m really excited about that. The story is about 2 sisters who have been estranged since the death of their beloved Mother. Their aunt sends them to an exclusive ski resort for Christmas in an attempt to rekindle their relationship. My character Colton Fisher is the owner of the resort who plays a key role in trying to bring the sisters together and remind them of the value of family.  

What can audiences expect from your character in season 2 of, “When Hope Calls”? 

This is another very cool project for me. I don’t get to do a lot of period pieces (When Hope Calls is set in 1919) so I love everything about this. The set, the costumes, the animals.  It’s amazing.  My character Harley Lawrence is a wealthy rancher in the town of Brookfield where the story takes place.  He supplies goods to many of the local merchants for them to sell in their shops. As a result, he finds himself interacting with many of the townspeople.  He knows a lot of their secrets. I can’t give much away about what’s in store for season 2 but let’s just say the audience is in for some real adventure and surprises. I have had some interesting discussions with the producers about their plans for Harley and I’m very excited about it.

What’s next for your career? 

Good question. At my age, I’m not big on planning ahead much. I just want to keep growing, keep learning, keep having fun.  I do have several movies coming out in the next several months which I hope people will enjoy. I’m really excited about being in Nightmare Alley which comes out in theatres in December. It was my second time working with Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro and it has a star-studded cast. My role in this one is quite small but I would sweep the floors for a chance to work with Guillermo any time. He is amazing!

What advice would you have for aspiring actors/actresses? You’re a huge hockey fan. What’s your favorite team and who is your favorite player? 

I always tell younger actors to make sure they are coming into this business for the right reasons. Make sure you have a love for the craft of telling stories. Most actors are not wealthy or famous. Most of us are just working men and women who have a really cool job. Take care of your bodies, take care of your mind. Take care of your money.

We came to Canada when I was 6 years old. I didn’t know a hockey puck from a donut! But our landlady at the time was a huge Maple Leafs fan. My first exposure to hockey was listening to games with her on the radio. When we finally got a TV I started watching games and fell in love with the Chicago Blackhawks. I still love them to this day although they have had some difficult off-ice issues of late. As a kid, my favourite player was always Bobby Hull. It’s so different now because players tend to be more transient and not stay with teams as long as they used to. I do however still have a real soft spot for the players who were part of the core of the team during their dynasty years when they won 3 Stanley Cups in 6 years. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Marian Hossa are my guys.

What’s your life like off-set?

Pretty quiet these days.  We live in the West end of Toronto in a condo overlooking the Humber River.  We love going for walks along the river.  I also love having a gym and sauna at my disposal that I can use anytime.  What a bonus.  I have also have a company that produces an organic product that helps farmers increase their crop production without relying on harmful chemicals.  We distribute it to developing countries mainly in Africa and Central and South America.  That has been my other passion for the past several years.

Let the readers know where to find you online.

My website is www.neilwhitely.com and I’m on Instagram @neilwhitely.

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