LOGY BAY, N.L. -- Jason Priestley is a long way from the California zip code that first launched him to fame.

Standing on a tree-shrouded movie set near Logy Bay, N.L., the 45-year-old actor and director is at an even greater emotional distance from sunny Beverly Hills, 90210.

He's here to play Alex, a successful doctor who is unwittingly caught in a toxic love triangle after his wife starts an affair with his estranged brother, Owen, a writer just out of rehab.

The feature film "Away from Everywhere" is based on the book of the same name by St. John's writer Chad Pelley.

"There are a lot of dark elements to the story," Priestley said in an interview about 10 days into the three-week shoot.

"It has been such a journey for us all. I think that's why on our weekends we all try to have a little bit of fun, because Monday to Friday we tend to have to go to some pretty dark places."

"Away from Everywhere" is steeped in bleakness, starting with the quote from Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina that opens the story.

"All happy families are the same; all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way."

Priestley is older now, with two young children of his own. He has honed his craft over the years behind and in front of the camera, and on projects ranging from HBO Canada's award-winning TV show "Call Me Fitz" to decent reviews for his theatrical turn as a ruthless lawyer in the Toronto production of David Mamet's "Race."

The Vancouver-born nice guy still shows flashes of the earnest Brandon Walsh when he describes being so far removed from the big cities like L.A. or New York that have been home for most of his life. For one thing, there aren't hordes of paparazzi ready to pounce if he comes out of a movie theatre with his family.

"To come to small towns like this where the people are incredibly friendly and to just have the ability to walk around ... is really a lot of fun for me. There's a wonderful mix of the small-town feel but there's also a wonderful sophistication here."

It's Priestley's first visit to St. John's, where his Twitter photos of Iceberg beer and storefronts with names like The Tickle Trunk have set fans abuzz.

He saw his first actual iceberg, albeit at a distance, from the top of Signal Hill. The city's charms have been a welcome respite from the intensity of the film set, he said.

Priestley worked with many Newfoundlanders while making "Call Me Fitz" in Nova Scotia.

"They always talked about St. John's and what a vibrant scene it was for food and for music," he said. "It's really beautiful, and the people have been fantastic."

Director Justin Simms said he immediately thought of Priestley for the role of Alex, a man wrestling with anger and regret.

"We really needed an actor who can play the harder parts of the character but still maintain sympathy so that the audience wouldn't check out on him."

Simms describes "Away from Everywhere" as a sort of '70s-era throwback to the deep character studies that were then more common.

"It's really about the people and about the various kinds of turmoil that can happen inside of us, how that can have us take actions that we'll come to regret but that, ultimately, will help us find who we are."

The film is to be released in Canada next year.