If Beau Mirchoff were to claim that shooting Poker Night was torture, he'd only be telling part of the truth.
When we caught up with the Victoria-raised actor in Saanichton, his character - rookie cop Stan Jeter - was being mercilessly tormented in a filthy, dimly lit room by a masked serial killer (Alcatraz's Michael Eklund).
"Hello?" Jeter asks, blindfolded and squirming on a wooden chair he's tied to. "Where am I?"
Mirchoff was on one of 32 sets constructed for the $3.5million thriller shooting here at 75 locations. It's in what used to be the gym at Mount Newton School. The building, now owned by Butler Bros., also houses jail cells, a cop shop and an apartment for use in producer Corey Large's film that co-stars Titus Welliver, Delroy Lindo, Ron Perlman, Ron Eldard and Halston Sage.
Large and writer-director Greg Francis monitor the action while director of photography Brandon Cox and his crew film the tense scene. "More thumb and neck," instructs Francis, requesting close-ups of the killer injecting a needle into Jeter's neck.
"I'm so thankful to be here," says Mirchoff. It's absurdly amusing considering the weirdness of what has just transpired.
The 23-year-old Mount Doug high school grad has been on a roll since being cast as brooding Danny Bolen in ABC's Desperate Housewives in 2009 and 2010. Although he has since appeared on shows such as CSI and CSI Miami, received a 2012 Teen Choice Award for male TV breakout star for his role as heartthrob Matty McK-ibben in MTV's edgy comedy series Awkward, and will soon be seen opposite Selena Gomez as a mysterious wizard in Disney Channel's movie based on Wizards of Waverly Place, he's clearly happy to be home.
Landing the lead in Poker Night was "serendipitous," smiles the tall, boyishly handsome actor, recalling how shocking it was to be contacted out of the blue by Large, who says he cast Mirchoff as much because he's a fellow homeboy as for his talent.
"I didn't even know Corey," Mirchoff said. "Ironically my dad had called me two weeks prior and read this Times Colonist article on Corey over the phone, about how he was doing good things, staying local and I said, 'Yeah, I'd like to work with that guy.' "
Mirchoff easily qualified as the fresh, solid, good-looking and committed young actor they needed, Large said.
"I texted Beau and said, 'Hey, you should read this script and meet the director,' " recalled the former St. Michaels University School student. "I knew he was good and I wish somebody had done something like that for me."
Anchoring what Large terms a "highly original thriller" that is propelled by flashbacks, combines suspense, grit and dark humour and has elements of Se7en and Pulp Fiction is a tall order. But Mirchoff's collaborators say he's up to the task.
"You could tell the first day we met he was going to be one of those actors who really gets into it," says Eklund, looking creepy in a leather mask that would make Hannibal Lecter green with envy. "I'm like that too, so we knew we were going to have fun."
Mirchoff describes his character as a divorced workaholic who was "stripped of his youth a little bit." His first day on the job goes sideways when he's kidnapped by the sadistic killer, a pupil himself with a twisted agenda.
"He uses advice he's learned from older detectives and intertwines it to get out of his imprisonment," says Mirchoff, pumped about working with his high-profile co-stars whose characters impart wisdom during a ritualistic poker game.
The film's L.A.-based director has also filmed in downtown Victoria, including interiors at Victoria Plaza Hotel and Audio Video Replay, a chase scene on Government Street and in an alley where Large's cop character is forced off active duty after being hit by a car.
Francis says he was grateful to Large's Wingman Productions for helping him move ahead with his project that, like many in Hollywood, has percolated for years.
"This one has almost gone five or six times," he said. "It's been weird to ride that roller coaster, and to see it actually happening now is amazing."
With Mirchoff having wrapped Born to Race 2 - "Top Gun with cars" - and other projects, he said the timing was perfect for Poker Night.
His 2012 passion project is also behind him - a sold-out run of an L.A. stage production of Orphans he did as a fundraiser for group homes in Philadelphia with So You Think You Can Dance star Jeanine Mason, his girlfriend who will join him here next week.
A joke on set suggests Mirchoff is saving Large money on hotel bills since he's staying at his family's home.
"I feel like I'm 12 years old again," he says, laughing. "I've got to get out of my room because we have a student who can't be upstairs, so she took my room. But I need privacy so I said, 'Aw, Mom, c'mon this is stupid. I come home late.' "
Joking aside, he loves being home and eating his mom, Kelley's, homemade desserts.
He'll celebrate Christmas with family after Poker Night wraps before taking a short vacation in Miami and a week of diving in Cozumel, Mexico, with his father, Victoria podiatrist William Mirchoff.
"I've been working steadily since July and we have 20 [Awkward] episodes to shoot so we'll be busy for five months."