Half-Canadian, half-Jewish, all talent

Jonathan Keltz

Jonathan Keltz has trained at some of North America’s finest acting schools. At 13, he enrolled in a college-level acting course at SUNY New College. That summer, he was taught dramatic improv by a pre-Academy Award-winning Alan Arkin. The list of instructors goes on: Dean Armstrong, Armstrong Acting Studios; David Rotenberg, Young People’s Theatre; Michelle Lonsdale Smith, Lonsdale Smith Studios.

But none of them compared to Mr. Robert from Toronto’s Northern Secondary  School’s high school drama department.

“He really encouraged me and gave me a lot of support,” Keltz recalled over the phone in Toronto. “He just kept telling me to go, to push it, to go further.”

His professional American training stood in stark contrast to his time as a Canadian drama student. Unlike professional classes, Northern afforded him the breathing room to write his own plays, direct passion projects like Canadian playwright George F. Walker’s Criminal Genius, and perform outside the theatre box. 

“We had to do three-to-five-minute monologues,” he recalled of one Grade 11 project. He chose a lengthy piece from Edward Albee’s famously heavy Zoo Story – a story about a character and his dog. “And Mr. Robert was like, ‘Sure, why not? Let’s see what you got’… With some cutting, and with me moving through it at an expedient pace, I think the monologue ended up being about 10 minutes long,” Keltz laughed. 

His time at Northern was predicated on exploring the non-dramatic world, too. He remembers briefly joining Northern’s rugby team, for example, only to face his agent’s fury and be forced to quit shortly after. And it wasn’t just for worries about a broken nose: “If I had an audition – let alone even having booked something – I’d take the audition over the game,” he said.

He had a lot of auditions. That was right around the time when Keltz earned his status as a landed immigrant in Canada, green-lighting his acting career with early roles on Degrassi: The Next Generation and Queer as Folk, and, eventually, his breakthrough role – Ari Gold’s assistant in the final seasons of Entourage.

That trajectory landed him a supporting role on The CW’s historically inspired teen hit, Reign, about the rule of Mary, Queen of Scots over France in the 16th century. Without feigning too much historical accuracy, the show is something of a tween-friendly Game of Thrones. In the first season of Reign, Keltz played a recurring kitchen boy who enjoyed a flirtatious relationship with a woman above his class. The romance proved so popular that Keltz’s character, Leith, was upgraded to a starring role for the second season.

“Luck is a tricky word,” Keltz said of his current surge in popularity. “I’ve gone on probably a couple thousand auditions at this point, you know, and I’m so fortunate and lucky to be a part of the 40 or so projects that I’ve been a part of. I mean, those odds are insane. And I’m someone whose odds and everything are considered to be a success.

“There are millions of factors that need to line up for you to be the person they want for something. It’s not always about being the best, it’s not always about being the best looking, it’s not always about knowing the right people – it’s not always about anything… But you’ve got to put yourself in those rooms and push yourself forward.”

Reign shoots in Etobicoke, which has afforded Keltz enough time spent in Canada to apply for dual Canadian citizenship. He feels his career could only have launched because of the time he spent bouncing back and forth between the two countries.

His parents didn’t mind the moves, either. Both are products of North American immigration: Keltz’s father is a Polish Jew whose family emigrated in 1910, and his German mother was born in Hamburg in 1944. “I am Jewish from my father’s side, but am the Aryan poster boy from my mother’s side,” he said. He’s aware this doesn’t legally qualify him as a member of the Chosen People, but his heart’s in the right place.

“I guess technically I’m not a Jew,” he said, “but I am Jew-ish.”