Evan Williams

Ahead of the season finale of The Way Home, Evan Williams is reflecting on where his career has taken him so far.

Born in rural northern Alberta in an oilfield town called Swan Hills surrounded by dense woodland and raised in the larger metropolitan city of Calgary, Evan Williams always had the desire to pursue something creative. Against the backdrop of the majestic Canadian prairies, he developed an early interest in music, which he pursued with the curiosity and tenacity of the autodidact even at a young age. 

Upon graduating high school, he attended Ryerson University (now Toronto Metropolitan University) in Toronto, where his film and television career took off, thanks to finding every young Canadian actor’s golden ticket: a role on Degrassi: The Next Generation. He played Kelly Ashoona on the series, and soon after landed the role of Luke on MTV’s Awkward. Rather than sticking in the teen dramedy space, Williams soon after took on the role of Philippe of Lorraine in Versailles, a historical drama about the construction of the famous French palace during the reign of Louis XIV. He was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for his portrayal of the Parisian nobleman. Williams moved to Los Angeles in 2009, where he has resided since, but he considers himself a nomad at heart and has travelled extensively over the past 15 years of his career, mostly to serve others through his philanthropic, grassroots work. 

An actor with true character and refreshing humility, Williams prioritizes his work with organizations such as buildOn and Free Children over chasing commercial success—and it is perhaps this reason why he recently found it. Williams is becoming a household name—and a new small-screen heartthrob—due to his role as the charming Elliot Augustine in Hallmark Channel’s The Way Home. A show with all the feel-good warmth one expects from Hallmark, plus a touch of magical realism, The Way Home has become one of the channel’s most popular shows, alluring audiences with its intricately woven storylines across three generations of women in the small fictional town of Port Haven.

The profound wisdom expressed by Williams, as he drew a thread through all of his interconnecting interests and described his raw love of humanity, revealed that he is a man of great intelligence and integrity. 1883 sits down with Williams to discuss The Way Home, his music project Bright World, and more.

I know you’re from outside Calgary. I’m from Ontario, but I used to spend my summers going to writing camp out there and it has a very special place in my heart, so we’re kindred spirits right off the bat.

[laughs]Yeah, I went to horse camp too, as a kid. 

Oh, that’s actually a common mistake. I mean writing, like, with a pen. But people always made that mistake. It would be a beautiful place to go horseback riding, though, I’m sure.

It is, yeah.

Then you did the standard Canadian actor thing and you were on Degrassi. 

Yes, ma’am.

Now you’re killing it in the American entertainment space and working with Hallmark. Are you an LA transplant now?

Yeah, I’ve been in LA for about 15 years, but maybe on the verge of transplanting elsewhere right now. Everything is up in the air. I’m actually a nomad.

Okay, we’ll touch on that a little bit later, because I did want to ask about your travels. Congratulations on the premiere of season two of The Way Home. I watched it Sunday night, loved it, and was totally taken in by the characters. The show has become such a huge hit and you’re making a name for yourself as a Hallmark heartthrob. Did you see that happening? Did you ever see your career taking this kind of trajectory?

Not at all. [laughs] I mean, that’s flattering. If anyone wants to think of me that way, that’s nice. But I just want to tell stories through true characters that have a heart, you know? I’m really just heart first. However, it’s gonna be received is beside the point. I just want to tell the truth about the characters.

For sure. Can you take me back to the beginning? Tell me how you got cast, what appealed to you about the script, those sorts of things?

Yeah, well, there was always a certain amount of kismet around this project, and other people have spoken about this as well. I was at my family cottage, which actually was in Ontario as well, and like I said, I’d been in LA for 15 years and hadn’t been back to Toronto in a long time. The show would shoot in Toronto, and the thing that struck me was that it would literally be like the way home for me, because I have family up in Toronto, and it seemed like a really nice possibility. 

[The] thing that grabbed me about the script was how different it is from anything that Hallmark has done before. I really like the idea of doing work that flips the script, and this show immediately had such kind of… narrative depth to it. It had a certain degree of… nutrition, a kind of… nostalgia, all the things that we love, but also delved into a lot of things that Hallmark is not known for doing, like grief and family trauma. I loved the opportunity to do the unexpected. I was pleased to find that everybody else when I showed up on the production on the first day, shared that same goal. I think that’s what’s really been the glue, and I think that’s also what audiences are loving about it, too. It’s a new challenge and a new reward.

You’re using your platform for a lot of good, too, which is always refreshing in this industry. Could you talk a bit about your experience with buildOn and Free the Children, and what you’ve learned about the world from spending so much time abroad? I know you’ve done some stuff with inner-city kids too.

Oh man. I started doing volunteer work when I was 15. I sort of stumbled into it and was really lucky to find a certain part of myself there, and I think my mandate as a creator is that we are all the same when you get down to it. That’s apparent when you are working with people who are in crisis, or in need of help, the humanity shines through, and I think that’s really… it’s beautiful to see the way the human heart recognizes itself. When these real transactions of love are happening, we get to see the best versions of ourselves as well. 

I’ve been lucky enough to be all over the world doing service work and have found that people are the same everywhere, children are the same everywhere, and everybody responds in the same way to being cared for and being seen. Whether it’s through telling stories in front of the camera, or through, you know, getting my hands dirty and getting right into the thick of it in crises, I think it’s the same impulse. It’s always thrilling to say how human beings open up in response to a little bit of love being shone their way, a little light being shone their way. It helps me stay grounded. 

I feel like [if] you get to know someone, you love them. There’s a saying in acting class: If you spend enough time staring into somebody’ eyes, you’re gonna fall in love with them. When you meet people where they’re at, it’s not hard to fall completely in love with them when you see their beautiful humanity.

Has there been one specific standout incident or a particularly valuable moment that you’ve had?

Mm, oh man, there’s been so many. Let’s see. Um, yeah, when I was working in the psych ward of the Moscow Children’s Hospital at one point and it was a pretty woefully unfunded [sic] program and there wasn’t enough space and there [weren’t] enough resources and a lot of the kids had been put there for a variety of reasons that weren’t necessarily all of the same. [They] were struggling with a lot of different things and one of the only ways that the nurses there could keep a hold of the kids was to deny them their playground privileges. 

[O]ne of the days we were working there, we were able to get permission to take them outside. Just the simple act of getting to share simple play in nature with these kids, you could see their entire experience change. Especially at a young age, something like that can be formative and very important. I know it was just a day, but just to see, in that instance, to see them come alive, was very powerful, and made me feel like, despite [the] seeming scale of impediments in the way, the smallest simple moment of human touch and play has a great alchemical possibility.

Yeah. That’s so beautiful and profound. Kind of on that line, in terms of, you know, other forms of creative expression and healing and whatnot, it’s been two years since you started releasing music. Have you always secretly been doing this?

Oh, yeah. Yeah. Music has always been an essential part of how I’m encountering life. I started writing music when I was seven and didn’t want to take piano lessons, and my parents made me a deal that I was allowed to stop lessons as long as I didn’t stop playing, and I thought that was a fantastic deal. [I] just started playing and they had to put up with a few years of experimentation.

I did the exact same thing, actually.

Oh, yeah? No way.

Yeah, I hated the classes but liked teaching myself, and figured it out along the way.

Yeah, well, I mean, music is ancient, right? It’s the stuff we already know in our body. We know what makes us wanna move. We know what makes us wanna dance, or feel, and some of that can be taught but a lot of it can’t. Like, it’s natural. I use music as kind of a psychiatric tool as well. Any time there’s something in my subconscious, something rattling around in there, I’ll use music to sort of bring it out. The process of actually making it public has been a long road because it’s been very private for a long time. I’m not really trying to make pop music either. 

It’s all the same impulse that I was describing before, about how I’m trying to build bridges and have people feel seen, so I realized that some of that. . . required making my music public and not hoarding it. I had a teacher who was on me for years who always said, “You gotta release your music, you gotta release your music. You gotta do it, you gotta do it.” Then finally I started.

I love to make music. I play any instrument I can make a sound on. I’ll have more music coming out soon. It’s been really cool to be able to put some of my music in my acting projects. I’ve had the great fortune of getting it in some feature films I’ve done, and even so far as getting a song into The Way Home, which was really rewarding to see that up on the screen.

Of course, yeah. You mentioned that it was mostly a mentor’s pushing, but was it related in some way to the lockdown that you felt the need to finally put it out there?

No, I had released an EP before the lockdowns. I had kind of started in university. I had kind of turned the class in the year prior to us into a choir and asked if they would sing. I wrote a choir with… I think there were thirteen instruments, just to see if I could do a symphony orchestra piece. We ended up performing it, and it was cool. That was one of the first times that it was music in a more grand sense. That was sort of the beginning of the genus of this idea of what Bright World ended up being, which was kind of… bring[ing] the more emotional, private impulse and blow it up, and bring it up, and see what it wants to grow into. It’s all been a trajectory that’s continuing to reveal itself to me.

Of course.

But I will say, I did get to use the lockdown to, um… there was so much time to write during the lockdown, and so I did use the time to create a music video for one of my songs. It was a stop-motion music video that took me literally 200 hours which I wouldn’t have had time to do otherwise. I ended up winning an award at a film festival for that, so it was cool to see that it actually worked out. About halfway through I wasn’t sure it was going to pull together because I’d never done any sort of animation before whatsoever. The Bright World project is an opportunity for me to throw all my different sorts of artistic impulses into it, so I’ve done all the album artwork and directed the majority of the music videos, and… just sort of see what I can create that can sort of fit under that umbrella.

For sure. What do you have planned for the rest of 2024? I know you mentioned you have more music coming. What can we expect, besides more The Way Home every Sunday night? I know people are really excited about what’s ahead [with the show].

We are too. We’re really excited about the story we’re telling this year. I think for 2024, I’m also developing a feature film with my co-star from a project I worked on called Versailles. I will be continuing to record more music, and I will be watching along every Sunday with everybody.

The Way Home is airing now on the Hallmark Channel.

Interview Carly Bush
Photography Elias Tahan
Grooming Elsa Canedo

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