Vancouver Actor Jared Keeso Channels His Inner Don Cherry

How do you play someone as iconic as the bombastic Don Cherry? Actor Jared Keeso explains how he transformed into the hockey legend for the CBC's Keep Your Head Up Kid: The Don Cherry Story and its sequel, The Wrath of Grapes

Actor Jared Keeso (right) sits next to the real Don Cherry

Playing Don Cherry a dream come true for local actor Jared Keeso

In playing the role of Don Cherry in two made-for-TV movies, Jared Keeso has been tasked with portraying one of the most iconic, yet controversial personalities in Canadian sports.

But the 27-year-old Gemini and Leo Award winning actor nailed it with his acclaimed performance in Keep Your Head Up Kid: The Don Cherry Story (watch the full movie here) which drew over 1.3 million viewers, garnered praise from the legendary ‘Grapes’ himself and spawned the follow-up sequel, The Wrath of Grapes, which airs on CBC over two nights, March 4th and 11th.

“The Cherrys reaction has been overwhelmingly supportive,” he tells me. “Having Tim and Cindy Cherry on set was a huge blessing for me.
They guided Sarah Manninen (who plays Cherry’s widow Rose) and me through the quirks and subtleties that made their parents who they were. Hearing Don and Ron McLean champion the mini-series the night before it aired on Coach’s Corner a couple of years ago is still the most surreal moment of my life.”

Landing the role after three auditions in three cities over two countries, it was the family’s endorsement that eventually sealed the deal for the Vancouver resident.

“It was the Cherry family that really petitioned for me,” says Keeso. “The CBC was reluctant to cast a green actor, but between Don, Tim and Cindy and director Jeff Woolnough, I was lucky enough to get the job.”

Becoming Don Cherry

Keeso wanted to give an honest portrayal of the man, not some cheap imitation of the TV personality.

“What the Cherry’s liked in my audition tapes was that I was attempting to channel Don more than imitate him. Who likes to be imitated? It was my priority to capture his energy rather than to impersonate the Don we know today. The voiceovers were a different story. I was going for the Don that called the plays in the Rock’em Sock’em video’s which I have been studying since I was 8 years old.”

Though a fan of the legendary figure, Keeso says that he knew little of the man away from the CBC Studios.

“I was clueless as to Don’s family life,” he says. “When you see him on Coach’s Corner talking about the underdogs, the sick kids and the soldiers abroad, you see him as a stand up guy top to bottom. I have an extremely high opinion of Don, but he has called himself selfish when it came to his family life and that surprised me. Rose was the backbone of the family and maintained the household while Don travelled with hockey.”

It’s an honest and heartfelt portrayal of a colourful character and one that has clearly garnered approval from viewers.

“The overall reaction from hockey fans has been positive,” says Keeso. “It’s important to me that hockey people enjoy the project: they are our audience and our inspiration.”