He plays Skip Fontaine in the new HBO series, Vinyl, a show about the music scene in the ‘70s. In real life, MacKenzie’s life plays to a different tune—one that has him and his son adjusting to a new life in New York.
By Lara Hyde
IF YOU’VE SEEN A MARTIN SCORSESE MOVIE (and who hasn’t?), you’ll probably recognize Canadian-born actor, J.C. MacKenzie. He’s appeared in a whopping three films by the legendary director. You might also know him from TV shows Murder One or Dark Angel. Lately, MacKenzie’s been busy juggling parenting with a starring role in the new HBO series, Vinyl. Produced by Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese, Vinyl depicts the 1970s music scene. To play the role of Skip Fontaine, Mackenzie had to make the move from L.A. to New York with his 11-year-old son in tow. INBETWEEN caught up with MacKenzie to find out how he managed the move and juggles his hectic schedule with parenting his tween son, Liam.
You’re clearly a very busy guy and you have an 11-year-old son. How do you make it all work?
Well, it’s taxing, I guess you could say. Organizing my life when he’s off school and trying to find ways to keep him active. We just moved to New York from L.A. last spring to do the show (Vinyl), so it’s a brand new school and a brand new city for him. That can be daunting for a kid, so you just treat the situation with kid gloves and make sure they’re safe and happy.
What are some of your favourite things to do together?
My son’s a bit of an artist, so a brilliant night for me is just sitting and playing ukulele while he does art. We also go ice skating a lot. We always have. It’s kind of a bizarre sport to get into in L.A., which has a lack of indoor skating rinks, but we found one in Culver City not far from us. In New York, we go to games, we go to plays. I probably destroyed any potential theatre-going life he had by dragging him to every single production of Hamlet when he was five. He was just in torture.
Liam is approaching his teen years. Does that make you nervous?
He’s already in them, believe me! He’s been rolling his eyes for about two-and-a-half years now at everything I say. [Adopts his son’s voice] “Please do not talk to my friends. Don’t say anything. I know you think you’re cool, but you’re not. You’re so annoying,” and on and on. Yeah, he’s a typical kid, but I like embarrassing him. Does Liam being a teenager make me nervous? If he was anything like me, I would say yes, but he’s focused and disciplined and wants to do his homework. Fifteen was the most challenging year for me, so I don’t know…talk to me in four years!
Is there anything you’re looking forward to about the teenage years?
I love this period of time. There is such an innocence about kids at this age. They still want to be with you. I know that’s going to be different in a few years, so I just try to cherish this time. Growing up is bittersweet.
How would you describe your parenting style?
Very, very loose. Probably too loose! [Laughs] I let a lot of sh*t go. I’m not perfect, believe me. But—and I don’t mean to sound Pollyanna-ish—it’s very, very rewarding. I really love being a parent. Yeah. It’s so cool.
Five years from now, what do you hope for your son?
I just want him to do whatever he wants to do. My parents had pretty low expectations—I was such a troubled kid—but they were cool. They always supported me no matter what. That’s what I want to do for Liam. As long as he’s happy, that’s what matters. He can be a garbage man if that’s what he wants.
You’re in the new Martin Scorsese/Mick Jagger HBO series Vinyl about the music scene in New York in the 1970s. Can you tell us a bit about that?
I play Skip Fontaine, the head of sales and one of three senior partners at a record company called American Century. Bobby Cannavale and Ray Romano play the other senior partners. I can tell you that this was bar-none the best cast I ever worked with. Right from Bobby down to the guy who had one line, it was just a seamless group of actors that both Martin Scorsese and his casting director, Ellen Lewis, assembled.
This is the fourth time you’ve worked with Martin Scorsese. The two of you must be pretty fond of each other.
Yeah. [Laughs] He still scares me, so I don’t ruffle his hair or anything, but he’s got a great sense of humour. He’s just a gem of a guy to work with. Very talented, knows what he’s doing with the camera, and that’s complemented by this very free and improvisational style that he encourages when you’re working with him.
You first discovered your love for theatre when you were in university. What were you studying before you switched gears to acting?
I was studying drama in education. It was a lovely introduction to acting because I wasn’t interested in acting at all. The course was geared more around improvisation and play, so it was a nice, liberating place to exercise your spontaneity. Then I auditioned for a drama school in England on a whim and got in, and that’s when I thought, “I’ll give this a shot.” I really thank my father for that year. It was very, very expensive. But that was what turned me around. London has the most incredible theatre and that was the real lesson—not necessarily the stuff I learned in school.
Does your son have any interest in acting? Is it something you would encourage?
He was just in a production of Romeo and Juliet. He played a guard. I saw every performance of it. I think he had four lines. I don’t really know if he has any interest in that. If he does, I don’t suspect it’ll come out until a little later, and that’s fine. In L.A., there were kids in his class who were going out for commercials and I really didn’t want that. Both his mother and I thought that was a bad idea.I just want him to have the experience of a childhood. If, when he grows up, he wants to do it, I’ll fully support it, but I personally think it’s weird to get a kid involved with professional acting at such a young age.
You divide your time between L.A. and New York, but you’re originally from Ottawa. What feels most like home to you?
For me, New York has always felt like home. I first came down here when I was 17, alone, and it felt scary. But if you have a group of friends, there’s no better place to be as a young person. There’s nothing more exciting. Having said that, there’s nothing more expensive—but I can’t stand the suburbs, so this to me is really comfortable. I need people. I’m very, very happy here. ■
Watch Vinyl on HBO Sundays at 9 pm ET/MT