'Sponging' not unfamiliar territory for actor

Labrador's Darryl Dinn making most of opportunities

Tara Bradbury tbradbury@thetelegram.com
Published on December 22, 2012
In 2008, Dinn filmed what he said has been the highlight of his career so far: a public service announcement with Oscar the Grouch.
— Submitted photo

He's been nominated for a couple of Canadian Comedy Awards, appeared on TV with Oscar the Grouch and recently shot a film with Jake Gyllenhaal - but you probably know Darryl Dinn best as a walking paper towel.

Dinn, of Labrador City, is an actor based in Toronto with a recurring role as one of the padded paper towel sponges in the SpongeTowel commercials, quick to jump on spills and messes.

"It's the ultimate onesie," Dinn says, laughing, of the white padded suit, complete with hood and mittens and worth $5,000, he wears in the ads. He just filmed his eighth TV ad for SpongeTowel.

Dinn has been living in Toronto for the past 10 years, having worked for a bit on community television in his hometown, and studying TV production at Algonquin College in Ottawa.

He's a graduate of Toronto's Second City Conservatory program and a former sketch comedy troupe member. He began commercial acting with a spot for Molson Canadian beer: in a follow-up to Molson's "I Am Canadian" rant ads, Dinn played a railway worker in the "I Am Canadian" anthem commercial.

After that, commercials became Dinn's thing.

"Most commercials in Canada, 80 per cent of (the actors) are comedy performers," Dinn says.

"For some reason, they really like comedians in commercials, maybe because they're really flexible. I think they just want people who can be playful and not so regimented, and I think that's sometimes the issue with people who've gone to theatre school. They're a bit too regimented and breaking down every word, as opposed to just playing in the moment."

Though it might be a 30-second spot, commercials generally take up to 12 hours to film, Dinn said, and can be just as exhausting - particularly if you're in a puffy suit.

"I'm lucky. I'm not a heavy sweater," he says with a laugh.

Dinn said he had been getting auditions for film and television roles a few times a year, and they stressed him out. It wasn't until he relaxed and stopped worrying about things that are beyond his control that the parts started coming easier to him.

"A friend is doing the producing course at the Canadian Film Centre and this kid came in and was an amazing audition, but everyone else they had cast was a foot taller," Dinn says.

"It was one of those things as an actor you'd beat yourself up over, but you might have done a good job; you would just look so weird next to everyone else who is so much taller than you. As long as you've done a good audition, there are so many other variables working for or against you.

Last January, Dinn shot a pilot called "Stand by Your Booth," a comedy show in the style of "The Office," based on the lives of escalator handrail salesmen. Dinn plays a guy who works at the elevator button store.

"Masculathon," a webseries in which Dinn performs, has hit 1.6 million views, while another web series, "Out With Dad," has earned nine Indie Soap Awards nominations, and won the award for Outstanding Ensemble Cast in a Drama at the 2012 L.A. Web Series Festival.

The series, which has been subtitled in a dozen different languages and has been sold for broadcast in France, follows Rose, a teenage lesbian, and Nathan, her single dad.

"I've realized that there are people in different parts of the world, where the situation might not be common, who see themselves reflected in the characters," Dinn says, explaining that he's received emails and messages from fans around the globe.

"We're not only creating entertainment, but maybe helping people at the same time. And it's cool to have that connection."

This past summer, Dinn was nominated for his second Canadian comedy award for "Fruit Blog," starring and created by Scott Thompson from "Kids in the Hall."

"Scott, in real life, is obsessed with fruit from around the world," Dinn says. "He just finds it so interesting. They rented a room in a seedy hotel and we basically improvised for six hours and they turned it into 20 episodes."

The highlight of Dinn's career so far, he says, was a public service announcement he filmed with Oscar the Grouch for Ontario's Waste Reduction Week in 2008. Dinn played an office worker whom Oscar chides for his use of reusable lunch containers instead of creating more trash.

"It was the most surreal thing - in between takes he'd pop his head out of the can and go, 'I'm watching you, Darryl.' To hear Oscar the Grouch utter your name was the best thing ever," Dinn says.

Dinn gets home to this province at least twice a year, and is in Labrador City now for the holidays.

He's taught drama and improv at the Newfoundland and Labrador High School Drama Festival, and this spring he'll adjudicate the Labrador High School Drama Festival in Goose Bay.

In the summer, he'll appear in "An Enemy," a movie shot in Toronto in which Jake Gyllenhall plays a professor at the University of Toronto.

Dinn plays a video store clerk and has two scenes with Gyllenhaal, he says, and adds it isn't a huge part, but was somewhat challenging all the same.

He and friend Dina Pino are working on a TV concept - for which they were named finalists in the 2012 Innoversity Summit The Big Pitch competition - called "Céline Poutine," about a couple living on the Labrador/Quebec border, the woman working as an impersonator for a certain Quebec chanteuse.

Though comedy is where he's had the most success so far, Dinn says he never wants to limit himself to just that.

"Comedy comes most natural to me, and I think it's genetically encoded, coming from Newfoundland and Labrador," he says.

tbradbury@thetelegram.com Twitter: @tara_bradbury