Jason Priestley Talks Leafs Great Börje Salming and His New Miniseries ‘Börje – The Journey of a Legend’
Jason Priestley, seen here attending 90s Con on March 18, 2023, plays fabled Toronto hockey talent scout Gerry McNamara, in a new Börje Salming miniseries. Photo: Emily Assiran/Getty Images for 90's Con
Given the unwavering, multi-generational devotion of Toronto Maple Leafs fans to their oft-beleaguered team, there’s a keen, ready-made audience for Börje – The Journey of a Legend, the upcoming biopic of late Swedish-born Leafs defenseman and NHL legend Börje Salming. It debuts Nov. 19 via the new Scandinavian-based streaming service Viaplay, which is now available in Canada.
With its meticulous depiction of 1970s-era Toronto, white-knuckle in-game moments and an ace cast led by Valter Skarsgård (The Playlist, A Class Apart) as Salming and homegrown star Jason Priestley (Beverly Hills, 90210, Private Eyes) as fabled Toronto talent scout Gerry McNamara, the six-part series directed by Amir Chamdin has heaps of appeal for even casual fans of the sport.
It also comes with an impeccable pedigree. Before he died of ALS in November 2022 at age 71, Salming was involved in the project, giving interviews to scriptwriter Martin Bengtsson, coaching Skarsgård before and during filming, and even visiting the set on location in Stockholm, allowing cast members like Priestley to get a sense of the man.
“That was in September or October of last year,” Priestley, 54, recalls from his Nashville home ahead of the series’ premiere. “I got to meet him and spend some time with him. But he was already very sick at that point, and he died six weeks later. Very, very tragic. And when Börje passed away, it hit everyone on the production incredibly hard.”
Priestley suspects Salming would have loved Börje – The Journey of a Legend, which covers his personal life and career chronologically, beginning with his childhood in Sweden, his eventual draft to the NHL alongside Inge Hammarström (Pelle Holmström), his initially fraught but soon ecstatically received role within the Leafs organization under pugnacious owner Harold Ballard, his enduring friendship with teammate Jim McKenny and, especially, his relationship with his wife, Margitta (Hedda Stiernstedt), who followed him to Canada when he migrated.
“Growing up and watching him on TV, all I knew was that he was from Sweden,” says Priestley, whose recent documentary Offside: The Harold Ballard Story — which he directed, and which featured the real-life Gerry McNamara — made him uniquely qualified for the role.
He continues: “I had no idea about Börje’s whole back story and how he came from a mining town way up north and dreamed of getting out. Learning about his origin story, for lack of a better word, was one of the things I really enjoyed about the project.”
As might be expected of the freewheeling era it depicts, Börje – The Journey of a Legend features an eclectic cast, notably A.C. Peterson as the blowhard Ballard, Oscar Skagerberg as man-of-few-words big brother Stig Salming, and Jack Langedijk as Börje Salming’s equipment manager and friend Dan “Smokey” Lemelin, who narrates the series.
There are also some fun cameos (no spoilers here) plus vintage footage of Salming, the Leafs, and 20th century Hogtown, as well as scenes shot on location in Toronto, Mexico, and Sweden.
For Priestley, one of the biggest challenges was nailing the look, sound, and mannerisms of his character. “Gerry is still alive, and I was able to meet with him. He actually makes a cameo in the series; he’s in the same shot as me playing him as a younger man. He’s the cab driver. That was super-fun to do.
“I also got to spend some time with him shooting my documentary, which was lucky because it’s difficult to do research on Gerry. There’s just not that much footage of him available from back then. There were a few interviews with [sports broadcaster] Dave Hodge but that was about it even though he was a part of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ organization for decades and his history in Toronto in pretty awesome. It was a great honour for me to play him.”
Does Priestley, himself a Leafs fan, think that the individual achievements of hockey players like Salming — who spent 16 years with the team, was the first European player inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, and broke multiple records before his #21 jersey was retired in 2016 — have been overshadowed by the Maple Leafs’ perennially poor track record in the playoffs year after year (after year)?
“Yes. And it’s too bad. Börje and Inge were two of the very first European players to play in the NHL. They were certainly the first two to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs. And I think the things that Börje was able to accomplish in Toronto are the stuff of legend.
“He was an amazing player — an amazingly tough player — and he was fearless which resulted in some nearly catastrophic injuries during his career,” adds Priestley, referencing a November 1986 game against the Detroit Red Wings when Salming’s face was slashed by a skate blade, requiring hundreds of stitches and reconstructive surgery.
“He was remarkable in his determination and perseverance to overcome those physical challenges and get back to the game he loved,” Priestley says. “He really was an interesting guy. If he was around today, I hope he would enjoy this miniseries as much as we enjoyed making it. I hope we have honoured Börje’s legacy in a way that would make him happy.”
Börje – The Journey of a Legend is available beginning Nov. 19 at Viaplay.com.