Exclusive Interview with “grown-ish” Star da’Vinchi

Interview, Pop Culture, Television

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us. 

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da’Vinchi might be new to the Hollywood scene, but he’s already started to make a name for himself as basketball star Cassius “Cash” Mooney on Freeform’s new comedy grown-ish. I got the chance to talk to the charming actor about why he recently changed his name, how he got started in the business, what’s coming up for his character’s relationship with Zoey, how he would answer a ‘u up?’ text and so much more. Read on to see all that he had to say!

da’Vinchi is a very unique name and I know you’ve recently changed it legally to that from Abraham. What made you want to change your name and why da’Vinchi?

Leonardo Da’Vinchi. A lot of people know him as just a painter, but he was not just a painter. He was a poly-man, which means he had many expertise; he was a mathematician, he was an architect, he was a sculptor, he was a painter, a scientist, music man, all these different things. A lot of times in the industry, when people see you as one thing they want to pigeon hole you and keep you there. I’m not just an actor. First off, I started off doing music and music segued into acting. I don’t only do those things either. There are so many other things that I do. That name is what represents me on a universal level, who I am. That’s why I got that name.

Aside from that, the name separates me from the corporate self. da’Vinchi is the corporate. He is the one who takes all the calls, does all the interviews, does photoshoots, shoots these projects and whatnot. Abraham is the one that’s under him. Behind the character Cash Mooney is da’Vinchi and behind da’Vinchi is Abraham and Abraham is more personal. People who know me on a personal level, they call me Abe or Abraham. I think it’s good to separate yourself from that facade, the industry, and your reality… I feel like if you don’t separate those two realities, it’s really going to catch up to you and it’s going to play with your head. It’s going to give you a slanted sense of reality, I think. It’s not like that for everyone, but I just think it’s good.

How did you get involved in acting? Was there any specific experience you would credit as the moment when you knew acting was what you wanted to do for a profession?

When I was in college, I took acting as an elective. My professor was like, “Kid, I don’t know what you’re doing with your life right now, but you should stop and pursue acting, because you’re a natural at it and you have the ability to grab the attention of a lot of people.” I was like, “Oh, wow. Thank you. I appreciate that, but I hope you’re not just saying that.” He said, “No. I have no reason to lie to you.” Then I kept getting multiple signs from the universe telling me to become an actor and join this industry. I read the book The Alchemist and there is a quote in there that says, “When something is really for you, then the entire universe conspires into helping you achieve that goal.” A lot of people were pushing me towards this direction unknowingly, like even little subliminal jokes that they made.

I decided I was going to save a certain amount of money. I’m going to go up north and I’m going to start this career and pursue music. Then from music I can find a good acting class and do both at the same time. I started performing at Gloria Carter’s [Jay-Z’s mom] restaurant. There was a business manager there who told me I was talented. He put me in this music showcase and was like, “I think you should act as well. Whichever one takes off, it will feed the other.” Then he put me in Marc John Jeffries acting class in New York. He’s a professional actor who’s been in Get Rich or Die Tryin’, Notorious B.I.G., etc. He started training me at an affordable price and I trained with him for two years.

From there, I knew I needed to look for a manager, but I didn’t know how to find one. I didn’t want to force anything, because you’re never supposed to force anything. Just let the universe take the lead and God will just order your steps. At a showcase I was in, Lil Mama was opening and she was like, “Oh my God, kid. You’re so talented.” We were cool for about two years. Then she was like, “Fly out to LA. I want you to meet my manager.” I thought she wasn’t going to want to see me, because I didn’t have enough work under my belt. I was doubting myself and she was like, “No. You should come.”

I booked a flight and flew out there. Mind you, it was my first time ever being in LA. This was a big move… I came out, I met her and it was just love at first sight. It was great. She was willing to work with me and take a chance. She gave me the rundown, told me she was going to ship me to different agencies and that I might not find a good one for six months, but that’s okay. She shipped me to CESD and she told me they might not accept me, because they’re pretty big, especially for you. They were like, “Okay, we’ll give him a shot. Let’s see a self-tape.” I did that and they were blown. They were like we want to sign him right now, fly him back. I was confused about why I couldn’t sign in LA, but they were like, “LA doesn’t want you, New York does.”

I went back and signed. Right after I signed, two weeks later, I booked Marvel’s Jessica Jones. A month after that I almost had my own show. I screen-tested for MTV Stream, but I didn’t get it. They gave it to RJ [Cyler], who played the Blue Ranger in Power Rangers. They were afraid to put the money up, because I had never delivered on a level like that before. I kept getting pinned but never getting projects. Then grown-ish took a chance on me and now I’m here.

I was just going to ask about how you got involved in grown-ish. Specifically, what was the audition process like for that?

grown-ish was interesting. I was in New York and the producers for the show flew me out to LA to do a screen test. After they flew me out, they flew me back to New York. I was telling my agent that I wanted to go back to LA, because there was just something about LA., but they were telling me, “New York has more jobs for you. LA is just really bigger names.”

Then one day, I told them I was going to go to LA for like a week. I bought my ticket, but they didn’t know I didn’t buy a return flight. I knew something was going to happen when I was in LA. This was purely intuition. A lot of people thought I was out there because of the role and I booked it in New York. No, I booked it in LA. As my flight was landing in LA, my agency sent me an email telling me I had an appointment for college-ish/grown-ish.

I was like, “What the hell is that?” I did my research and realized it was the black-ishspin-off. I studied my sides… and then I went in the next day. I got the callback. Then I got the producer session, where I met Kenya [Barris]. I left and they pinged me and asked if I was willing to change my hair and shave, because I favored Trevor Jackson [who plays Aaron] too much. I was like, “Yeah, of course.”

I booked it and I was like, “Wow. That’s crazy.” It was just crazy. It happened fast, but not fast in a way. It was surprising, because I just didn’t expect it really. After auditioning for so many roles and just hearing “no” or “the producers are going in another direction,” you just do your best to not think about it. When you get the call that you got it, it’s just like “woah.” It’s shocking.

Were you a fan of black-ish before being cast on grown-ish? Were you an avid watcher or had you at least seen a couple episodes of it?

Honestly, no. I was not an avid watcher. I had probably only watched one episode. After I got the audition, and when I got the callback, I started watching the latest just so I could get a feel for the show, the direction it was going to go, how they played their comedy and stuff like that. Now, with season four of black-ish, I watch every episode, because it’s hilarious.

For people who might have never seen grown-ish, how would you describe Cash Mooney?

Oh man, Cassius “Cash” Mooney. [laughs] This guy is your typical good-looking college athlete. He doesn’t have the brains, which is why he needs a tutor. He’s handsome and has a charming smile. He’s really skilled at what he does and is most likely to be the number one draft pick in the NBA. Because he has so much going on in his life, he’s really indecisive about anything outside of basketball. He’s been molded his whole for just basketball. He’s literally “ball is life” for him and it kind of gets in the way of him making any other changes in life. It kind of even gets in the way of focusing in school, which is why he needs the tutor.

But you learn from the character. You learn how college athletes are treated, how it’s a huge profit margin for the colleges but not the athletes. It’s interesting. The show in its entirety, it lets you know what every type of student goes through in college: from athletes to bisexual kids, to individuals that are pro-black, to the people that are drug dealers, to everything. It just wraps it all up and it educates you on the matter. Not in a preachy way, more of in an entertaining, comedy way.

Going off the college athletes part and how they’re exploited, do you think your opinion on college athletes has changed after stepping into the shoes of one?

No, I’ve always known the reality of college athletes. I was an athlete as well, but I didn’t play on a collegiate level. I did play on a practice squad, but then I stopped because of my knee and [realizing] that it wasn’t my true passion. I was always well-educated [about] what college athletes go through.

Would you say Cash is more similar or different to the person that da’Vinchi is and why?

The only similarities we have are we look alike, because I play him. [laughs] The smile and he’s charming. He’s charming and charismatic. Other than that, our thinking levels are very different. He’s very immature. I’m more mature than he is. In real life, I don’t think Cash Mooney and da’Vinchi would be friends. We would know each other, probably play around in basketball and stuff like that, but he wouldn’t be someone I would invite to my house to have a serious conversation. If I ran into him at a party I would say, “Hey,” but we wouldn’t be friends.

The other big part of Cash’s storyline is his relationship with Zoey. This last episode [1×05] ends with them finally being on the same page with how they feel. What can we expect in terms of that relationship over the next couple of episodes?

They’re definitely about to go on a journey, because they know each other more on an intimate level. Because [the last episode] ends with them kissing, you’re definitely going to see them be more intimate. That’s one hell of a roller coaster, because they’re both kids and don’t know what the hell they want so… yeah.

What has it been like working with Yara [Shahidi who plays Zoey]?

Working with Yara is great. She’s an extremely smart girl, she’s well-educated. I learn a lot from her, because she’s been doing this for a long time. A lot longer than I have. Because a lot of our scenes are together, me and her, I just get to play off of her energy. She’s really funny. She’s got a great sense of humor, different from mine, but still very funny.

One thing I will say is that she’s so good at what she does. There are times on set where the directors will be doing something, like re-positioning for shooting, and she’ll give her two cents and they’re like, “She’s right. We should actually do it like this.” I’m like, “Damn, Yara. How did you…? What?” Like she’s giving pointers and they’re taking them. It’s crazy. Yara is a boss.

I have a few quick, fun questions to start wrapping things up. Someone on Twitter wanted to know if you could put together an ultimate starting five to play alongside Cash, which 4 other players would you pick?

Oh, that’s a good question. For the point guard, I would pick Kyrie Irving. I’m a shooting guard, so we don’t want another shooting guard. At the small forward, I would pick LeBron James. For the power forward, I would pick Draymond Green.

Oooh, that’s a great choice. 

Then, for the center, there haven’t been many good centers out lately. [pauses] I wish Shaq could come back.

You could put Shaq on it, go for it. Whatever you want.

Anthony Davis is kind of soft. [pauses] Dang it. I can’t think of any good centers right now.

I mean, if you don’t like Anthony Davis, you could just put DeMarcus Cousins or… 

Oh, I want Andre Drummond. [pauses] No, no, no, no, no, no. I’m sorry, I take that back. DeAndre Jordan. I would take him. Now I’m getting into it. [laughs]

You were talking earlier a little bit about your music. Do you have any plans for fans to hear some of what you’ve been working on? Who are some of your musical inspirations?

Definitely. I think towards the spring there will be some things out. I’m a perfectionist so I want to make sure it’s going to be good if I’m going to put it out! But the artists that I look up to: I love Tupac, love Tupac. I love Biggie, I love J.Cole, Jay Z, Drake. Drake is great. Drake is so versatile. The guy is amazing, he’s a living legend right now. He’s an alchemist; any track that he touches is just a hit.

grown-ish addresses this question in episode three so I’m going to ask it to you. What’s the best way to answer a “u up” text?

[laughs] Ooh, that’s a difficult question, because do you want to text them? Is this a person that you like, or is this coming from a person that you don’t? In the scenario with Aaron sending that message to Zoey, she liked Aaron, so if it’s at a time that you don’t want to hang out, I would just not respond. If the relationship is too early, then I would just ignore it. The phase that they were in in the relationship was too early to respond back to that, so I would have just ignored it. I would just wait til the next morning and be like, “Oh, sorry. I was asleep.”

That’s the go-to thing. Everyone should just wait ’til the next morning and be like, “Oh, sorry. I was asleep.” 

Yes, yes. If you guys are as new in a relationship as Aaron and Zoey, that’s how I would answer it. But there is a lot of variables with that question on how to answer it.

Our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us and I always like to end by asking: what is something that you nerd out about?

Oh my god. Like something I talk about and I just can’t stop?

Yeah.

Spirituality.

Okay. Meaning?

Just understanding the spiritual muscle in the human being where you use that muscle to control yourself and thats what separates you from being an animal. That’s what separates animals and humans, if you develop that spiritual muscle you can do things at a higher level. There are some human beings who are still living like animals, because they didn’t sacrifice a portion of their animality for their spirituality. So when it comes to that, I’m nerdy for that stuff. I won’t shut up.

grown-ish airs Wednesdays at 8pm EST on Freeform. You can follow da’Vinchi on Twitter and Instagram.

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Exclusive Interview with Zach Callison

Interview, Music, Pop Culture, Television

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us. 

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Fans might know Zach Callison as the voice of Steven Universe on the Cartoon Network show of the same name. Now Callison is branching out and releasing his own music. I got the chance to talk to him about knowing when he wanted to be a performer, the inspiration behind his single, “War!”, what he nerds out about and much more. Keep reading to see what he had to say.

Let’s just start at the beginning. How did you get into the world of performing and entertainment?

I really liked singing as a kid. My parents decided to put me in singing lessons at a local community college in St. Louis, where I’m from, when I was 7. That led me to musical theatre. I ended up auditioning for The Music Man, to play Winthrop. Did that with my dad. Then I spent a couple of years doing musical theatre and watching my dad perform in rock bands and such. Then I moved to LA to do the child actor thing, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 10 years or so.

The inspiration for the music that is coming out now started about two years ago when I first got in the studio. I finally felt like I had something to write about, to use my piano and my singing for. That’s sort of where that came from.

Was there any specific experience you would credit as the moment when you knew performing, both acting and music wise, was what you wanted to do for a profession?

Funny story. This was before I even did singing lessons. I was five years old, and we were on a company trip with my dad in Hilton Head, South Carolina. At the place we were staying, they had this children’s entertainer, who was this guy who played acoustic guitar and sang little songs like “Billy the Kid” and “Giant Purple People Eater” and entertained all the kids who were staying there. I went there one day, and I was totally enchanted by it. He asked kids to volunteer to come on stage and sing a song. My hand shot up in the air, and I was jumping up and down screaming, “Pick me! Pick me!” I went up there, and I started singing the worm song, which is sort of a family tradition that was passed down from my grandfather…so I sang it. I got a bunch of applause and all the kids were laughing and enchanted. We were walking back to our room that night, and I told my mom I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. She asked me and I told her, “I want to be a star.” It’s super cliche and I have no memory of it, but I can point to that as the moment it all started.

I want to talk a bit about your music and especially your single, “War!”, I have to be honest when I say I’ve had it on repeat pretty much since it got sent to me. I think it’s so good. 

Thank you, thank you.

I’m just curious, what was the inspiration behind it?

That moment I was talking about, when I felt like I finally had something to write about, it came from being broken up with [my] first love…high school sweetheart. Not really knowing any other normal way that I could deal with that, I turned to writing songs. That basically became the small part of the wider concept of my EP that’s coming out ,and “War” is a big part of that. It was inspired because the person I had broken up with, she was also a singer, also had a bit of a public profile, and she was sub-tweeting me when I would call her. She would reject me, then tweet about it afterwards and get her friends to prank call me. Just all of this really childish stuff. I thought that the best way to respond was to get back up on my feet and write something calling her out for things. Particularly with “War!,” the fact that she was a singer, had been working on the same record for many, many years and hadn’t actually done the work to release it, it was sort of like a “Here is my music. Where is yours?” kind of thing.

I was also really inspired by the diss-track culture of hip-hop, people getting into battles, shooting tracks back and forth and seeing who could most eloquently get the upper-hand on someone. I wanted to release something that was so dominating, in that way, that it would be hard to top. As much as I would love to hear that, I don’t know if that will happen. [laughs]

Going off of being influenced by hip-hop culture, there is a lot of rapping on this track and you’re so good at it. Where did you learn to do that?

I’m most[ly] self-taught. The first song that I wrote for this project also has the first rap verse I ever wrote on it. I re-wrote it a bunch of times, so it is definitely not in its original form. When I first wrote it, it was not good. I ended up making tons and tons of song demos in my home studio and studying the greats from Kanye and Kendrick [Lamar] to old-school like 2pac and MF Doom, especially MF Doom. I love the way he does multi-syllabic rhymes and the advanced rhythm structure of his verses; it just blew my mind at what he could do and say in such a short period of time with his lyrics.

It was mostly study. I just had this fascination with the genre. I also had some friends around me that I discovered also had a love for hip-hop. My buddy, Noah Gary, who is an actor and makes a lot of hip-hop music as well, really got me into freestyle cypher culture and worked on that quite a bit, which helped. It was a combination of things, but really just the determination to not be bad at it and put in a record that I was comfortable with releasing.

As you mention studying different artists, this single features so many different styles of music. Beyond the hip-hop ones you just mentioned, who are some of your musical influences?

My favorite band of all time is Muse. Their older stuff for the darker, rock stuff and their newer stuff for the theatrical sound that they have. I really love the way that those two worlds meet. Twenty One Pilots is another big one. They were sort of my ambassadors to hip-hop. I didn’t really like rap and hip-hop before I listened to them. It was in sort of a way that I had never heard before, and it let me see what could be done with it outside of the genre of hip-hop. Once I heard them, I dived into actual roots hip-hop, and I found a love for it. There is some Red Hot Chili Peppers in there, there is some Stevie Wonder in the song. I really just love being a student of music, all genres, and really try to meld all the sounds that influence me into one, without any one being particularly recognizable.

You briefly mentioned earlier that, soon I’d assume, you’re going to put out an EP? 

Yeah.

Is it finalized enough to where you know how many songs are going to be on it and what fans can expect from it when it comes out? 

We’re mixing now. We’re pretty close to be[ing] done. It started out as a five track EP, and it still is, but it’s really evolved into this concept record. It’s less about a breakup and more about how someone deals with it in the scope of these two people have a public profile, people are watching this and how that changes things. I was really fascinated by the idea of a breakup being under that lens and also the responses to each others calls being in the public eye. Sort of like I mentioned with “War!”, and sort of the transformation that I underwent during that part of my life. It’s five full songs, but I’m also doing a lot of interlude tracks, so its coming out to be about 10 in the end, 30-90 second interludes that will help tell the story and flesh it out deeper.

It’s funny that you talk about it being a concept album because I had written down in my interview notes that on my first listen “War!” sounded like it could be a bigger part of a concept album. I think that’s cool that it’s actually going to be part of a concept EP.

Thank you.

How does that affect your writing process? When you wrote “War!”, was it first or did you write some of the other songs on the EP first? 

“War!” came later, actually. To give the fans a hint as well, “War!” is actually the final chapter of this story. I wanted to release it first because “War!” is the version of me that I’m living in now. The rest of the record is showing everyone how I got there and telling that part of my past.

[In regards to] the writing process, I love the idea of doing a concept record. I was really inspired by Kendrick [Lamar]’s last three albums, specifically because they get so specific. They dive into one issue or one part of his life, then flesh it out. I think he’s the greatest artist in the game right now and I wanted to do something like that. I just didn’t really know where to start, because I was so new to song-writing when I began. Once the songs started coming, I strategically picked certain ideas to work on because I knew they would feed certain parts of the story. I was still really focused on writing about one particular thing at the time, because it was all that was on my mind. The pieces of the puzzle came together later on and the interludes are sort of the glue that helps tell the story. The name of the record is A Picture Perfect Hollywood Heartbreak. It is, in the beginning, about the heartbreak, but the more important part is about the transformation of a person from one version of themselves to another. That was the story I wanted to tell.

It sounds awesome, seriously. Is it going to be a spring release or something later in 2018?

We’re thinking late spring. I just played my first show last night and got a really good response. We’re going to do some more of those beforehand and do some cool other sneak peaks for fans on my social media to get people hyped.

Was last night your first show ever,?

I’ve played quite a few shows. My bassist and I, actually, used to play in cover bands when we were 12 and 13. I had the musical theatre background too, singing and performing on stage. This was my first show playing my music, and it was my first on-stage live band show in six or seven years. It was definitely a coming of age for me in a special way. Overall, it went really well. I was nervous for it, but now I’m jazzed to do more of them.

Going off of finally playing your own music at your show last night, previously you’ve been featured on a number of soundtracks [including the Emmy-winning Sofia the First and Steven Universe Soundtrack: Volume One]. How does that compare to putting out music that is all yours?

It’s amazing. It’s not just my first music, it’s my first project that I’ve written, produced, brought to fruition and promoted myself. As an actor, coming from that background, you’re always someone’s hired gun, working as their tool to finish their vision. There’s definitely room for personal expression , having fun, but ultimately it’s a collaboration. With this, I was really in the driver’s seat and able to rep my own vision. That’s all I want to do now. I mean, of course, I still want to work on other people’s projects,  collaborate, be an artist in that way, but I really want to make more of my own content, whether it’s music or television.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you some Steven Universe questions. 

[laughs] Of course.

There are new episodes coming out in April, right?

The timing lined up, didn’t it?

What can fans expect when the new episodes come out?

You know it’s a strange time on Steven Universe right now, because of all this home world drama that just happened. Nobody really knows exactly where it’s going and there are some strained relationships back on Earth. We did get to watch some of the final cuts recently with someone from Make-A-Wish and the Cartoon Network. That was cool. It’s not often that we get to all get together and watch the show. The episodes really are awesome. There are some that are particularly heartfelt, that are focusing on the relationships between the characters. I’m really excited for people to dig into that.

One of the cool things about Steven Universe is how it uses music as a narrative device. As someone who is now pursuing music on his own, what have you learned from producing and singing on those tracks for the past couple of years?

It’s been an incredible lesson. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Rebecca Sugar’s influence on me as an artist. Mixing mediums so much, creating a cartoon musical like she has, it was really inspiring to see her breaking ground on something that, not only is breaking genre boundaries, but also social and cultural boundaries. I’ve always said being an actor and [essentially] a hired gun, sometimes you just walk into the studio and do your thing. With Steven, there’s never been a more artistically fulfilling project to work on for me as an actor. Working with Rebecca and her team has been very important. Watching her hustle, working nights and weekends, making sure not just everything with the show is in line as it should be, but the video games, the comics, the universe around the show is cannon and all feeds into each other. That’s been really inspiring to see as far as work ethic goes.

Have you gone to her for any advice about your music specifically?

Yeah, actually. The first song that I finished a demo for, about a year and a half, two years ago, I sent straight to her. She gave me a round of notes on it. She liked it, but she definitely had a lot of constructive criticism of it and it definitely needed it. I took a lot of that, changed up a lot of that song and now I have the version that’s going to be on the album. She messaged me about “War!” and we talked about it because we saw each other in person a few days after the release.

Our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us so what is something you nerd out over?

Oh, man. A couple things. Within fandom culture and my connection to that with all these video games, I love Mass Effect. That’s my video game that I dive into when I want to pull the blinds on the windows and disappear for a couple of days. That’s my favorite science-fiction universe ever. Over Star Wars, over Star Trek. I just love how rich it is and the variety you get with a game like that from BioWare.

The other thing, that is not even, really, totally related, that I nerd out about is baseball. I’m of the opinion that its the nerdiest sport, because of the amount of math and statistics involved. That’s my fascination with it, the amount of rabbit holes you go down with comparing statistics, finding oddities and historical firsts that happen almost every week, because of how much crazy stuff you can get into with the math and because of the way the game is structured. I’m a huge St. Louis Cardinals fan.

That was going to be my next question. Being from St. Louis, that makes sense.

More than any other city in America, I think, baseball is life to St. Louis citizens. Being a Cardinals fan is like religious doctrine there. It’s super important.

Were you a math person growing up? 

Funnily enough, no, not at all. I was good at math when I was in first grade, second grade. Then once multiplication got involved, something went haywire. [laughs] Even still, it’s more about statistics for me. I leave the math to the really talented statisticians who follow the game. I like comparing stat lines, lining them up against each other and looking at different stats to evaluate a player, because no one stat tells the whole story. There’s a whole new field of sabermetrics that are so advanced that you could just do it forever.

Sabermetrics blows my mind. I’m much more of an NBA fan, but I’m with you on liking stats and seeing trends. It’s become one of my favorite parts of watching sports.

For sure. You can do it with games like basketball too. With like exit velocity on throws, and hits in baseball or route efficiency. They can track how guys move across the court or across the outfield, if their lagging behind and making poor split-second decisions. It’s so bizarre how psychological these numbers can get.

“War!” is out now on iTunes, Spotify and Apple Music. You can follow Callison on Twitter and Instagram.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Exclusive Interview with Chicago Med’s Marlyne Barrett

Interview, Pop Culture, Television

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us. 

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On Chicago Med, Marlyne Barrett plays Maggie Lockwood, the head charge nurse in the emergency department of Gaffney Chicago Medical Center. I got the chance to talk with Marlyne about how she initially got the role on Chicago Med, what fans can expect from the rest of the current season, her foreign film obsession and much more. Keep reading to see what she had to say!

Before we talk about the current season of Chicago Med, let’s go back to how you got the role in the first place. You had been a part of Dick Wolf’s world before, by making appearances on Law & OrderLaw & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Law & Order: Trial by Jury before. But what was your audition process for Med like? 

Yes…. I had taken some years off from acting, because of an unfortunate personal tragedy that had happened in my life. I often thought that I was going to not return to acting after, unfortunately, an assault that had happened to me.

When returning back, one of my first jobs was on American Crime and then the year after that I was offered this job by the Wolf Pack. Wolf Films is what we call the Wolf Pack. It had always been one of my dreams to work with Dick Wolf and Peter Jankowski.

It’s a combination of what I call a divine appointment in time, what I call a kairos time, and just destiny opening up, because I don’t know how they knew I was available. I had auditioned for some spots on Chicago P.D., but by no means did they know I was available for full time, let alone for full-time as a charge nurse and ready to move to Chicago. They had as much faith as I did.

You mention auditioning for guest spots on Chicago P.D. So were you on their radar and they reached out to you or you heard about the role of Maggie and sent in audition tapes? How did you actually get the role of Maggie?

I was on their radar for a job on P.D. and they pulled the offer. They said, “No, we want you full-time on Med.” That happened within a span of three days. Within three days I was told I was relocating to Chicago for an undetermined amount of time.

I remember the first phone call was on a Wednesday or a Thursday, and Labor Day was happening that weekend. Sunday, I took a flight. Labor Day, I rested in Chicago. Tuesday morning, I was at my first medical practice.

Wow. That’s so fast.

Oh, yes. And the whole shock of the situation. I remember I was in Los Angeles and I was going to have a Labor Day party on Monday, which my husband still had and I wasn’t there. But the shock wasn’t just…it was meeting so many different people, the locations, everything, everything about the Wolf Pack team, because Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D. already had their crews there and they just embraced us and made it feel like home. It was easy, an easy transition.

You came to Med with quite the medical background; your mother is an ICU nurse and your sister is a doctor, you went to school and received a degree in nursing before going on to pursue acting. 

I did, I did.

Because of that, did you ever feel like your medical background was an advantage and still is an advantage? 

I did, actually, because I knew what I wanted to portray on screen, because the medical institution is such a prominent figure in my family upbringing that we have honor for it. My mother is an ICU nurse, my father is a medical engineer, my sister is a pre-med student who went on to pursue law, I have a nursing degree, my aunt works for Kaiser, so it’s everywhere in my family. We have enormous respect for the medical institution. It’s probably the most constant thing in your life. You have to eventually see a doctor at some point in your life.

Having immense respect for the nurses and doctors in this country, I don’t necessarily appreciate the business behind health, meaning the drugs, how they pay the doctors and nurses.

Although, compared to PD and Fire, we haven’t seen that many episodes of Med due to the season’s late start, I feel like the show has come out of the gates really strong and is poised for a breakout season. How do you feel about Season 3 and do you think the show has changed from the past two seasons?

Yes, I think this season is rich. I think we’re hitting the marrow of what this cast and production company are able to put together. I think we’re able to go down as one of the great shows of healthcare, because of the parallel between what it takes to be a great healer and how to balance your life. I think, contrary to the other shows, we’re exploring, at a slower pace, this idea of the constant in our work relationships. Why am I disagreeing with Dr. Halstead again? Why am I disagreeing with Dr. Choi this time? Does Maggie know how to take care of her personal needs in order to be an efficient caregiver? Does it make me a better person now if I fall in love with someone or is my loneliness affecting my long hours? We explore all of that.

On top of that, Chicago Med is set in one of the most dangerous cities in the country: downtown Chicago. It’s not Houston with its hospitals that deal a lot with cancer patients. No, it’s gunshots and stabbings and car accidents and mental disorders. It’s just non-stop drama.

Maggie has now been the longest role you’ve had. What have you learned from playing her for so long and how do you feel like you’ve seen this character specifically grow over the past two seasons?

I think one of the biggest things that I’ve learned is to slow down the pace of my exploration of a being. I think one of the greatest things I learned from some of the greats is that you can never get tied to getting to know someone. If you ever think you’ve figured out a human being, no matter how much you feel like you’ve known them, there is always a deeper process in their current life exploration. Yesterday has affected them into a greater way of living or of compromising, but you can never fully know them.

So I don’t think I necessarily explore Maggie as a Marlyne that I’ve lived so many years of my life. I explore her as someone who has multiple faces to an octagon. Even if I think I’ve seen all eight faces, suddenly one of those faces develops a new eight faces. I think its the idea that you’ve never figured [out] a human being. I think I’m like that with my friends and family, when you allow people to change in front of you. I have a lot of long-term friendships, because I’m allowing people to change and also have a great expectation for change.

Would you say that Maggie is different/similar to the person that Marlyne is? How so?

She’s completely different. Maggie is a local Chicagoan. She loves her town and I doubt she would ever move from there. She believes in helping this city become a place that she’s hoped and dreamed it would become all her life, a multi-cultural place. I’ve often said that Maggie’s grandfather was there when Martin Luther King Jr. marched and said, “If you can take Chicago, you can take any town,” and that Maggie has become one of the people that takes Chicago. She learned that from her grandparents, because she was probably raised by her grandparents, because her mother had to work all the time, because her father walked away from her and then her mom passed-away from over-exertion and working all the time. That’s some of the storylines that I’ve been given, as the actor, by the writers, about my mother. I just saw that in the construct of Maggie.

Marlyne is so international, so patient, would probably never, ever pursue nursing, loves people. That Maggie and Marlyne have in common, loving people. Maggie never has time to sit and have conversations, she’s always trying to walk away. While Marlyne loooooves long dialogue with her friends, she will stop what she’s doing, sit down. Maggie doesn’t have many family members that are left. I have an extended, wide family that’s left. I’m really close to my sisters. I think there are a lot of things, outside of the fact that we’re both chocolate, that we don’t have in common.

We haven’t seen too much focus on Maggie so far this season. But from what you’ve filmed so far, are we going to get deeper into her personal life this season?

Definitely. I think Maggie is one of those slow burns. When you have a show with nine cast members, you have to have a couple of characters that are slow burns. Sometimes shows decide to add a cast member at the beginning of season three, and I saw Maggie as that, more this added cast member that they would start exploring in season three, which is something I perceived that they had to do because of all the doctors that we had and all the staff members that we had. Maggie is this great secret of Chicago Med that is about to be explored and be expanded on over the next couple of years, starting this year. You just have to keep some pieces in your back pocket.

Maggie is the head charge nurse in the ED so she has a little bit of a hand in helping everyone else out with not just their patients but also with their personal lives. I mean she really holds the doctors together and is an integral part of the show. Because of that you get to interact with all of the other doctors and help them out with not just their patients but also their personal lives. What’s been your favorite storyline of someone else’s that you’ve gotten to be a small part of either this season or just in general?

I actually have two. Dr. Halstead and Maggie have a really great brother-sister friendship. I think Dr. Halstead’s transition into becoming an Attending and learning how to let go of his stiffness to get to know Dr. Manning has been a great process for Maggie, because of the relationship she has with Dr. Manning. But also the relationship she really has with the idea of working, working, working, working, working and never doing the self-exploration that needs to be done in order to enter in a relationship. I think Dr. Halstead represents the other side of the pole.

Then there was the whole storyline with April. Maggie really watched April with her pregnancy and really wanted to be there during the birth, the way she was there for Dr. Manning, but it turned out to be her being there for a friend as a loss happened. I think that was a great place for Maggie to be. Now she’s watching April, in more of a sisterly way.

One of the questions we got from Twitter: are there any Maggie and Sarah scenes coming up?

Actually, there is. Sarah just lived some pretty intense times. It’s funny, because Rachel [DiPillo], who plays Sarah, and Marlyne have a really great relationship and we always wonder those things. I think Sarah is at a place where Maggie is watching her collect herself, it’s like PTSD. Sarah watched a father-figure get shot and Maggie knows that she needs to grow up from it. Trauma happens in a hospital, and I think there is an inevitable moment where Maggie is going to have to comfort her in a way where, if you’re going to be in a metropolitan city, you’ve got to get over that. So there’s a scene coming up for that.

Going off of that, is there anyone you haven’t worked with a whole lot that you would like to have a scene with in season 3?

I think I would start with Rachel on our show, just like someone mentioned. But if we’re talking about crossing over, I would have to say Jason Beghe, who plays Voight. It always works out to be some great movie magic when you have two strong personalities together. I did some really great stuff with Taylor [Kinney] last year on Chicago Fire. I think Severide is a really great friend of Maggie’s. I’ve had some nice work with Monica [Raymund]’s character. Oh, I’m trying to think. [pauses] Paddy [Patrick Fluger]. Mr. Swagger, himself.

Another question we got from Twitter: Are we gonna see more of Maggie’s relationship with Barry?

Standby and yes…. We’re about to air episode 7 and it just keeps going from there.

I always like to end with: what is something that you nerd out over?

Foreign films.

What’s your favorite one?

Right now: a Korean film called Villainess. I think I’m a nerd over great action sequences. Bad-ass women doing bad-ass stuff. This chick, let me explain what she did. This chick went into someone’s house and proceeded to try to kill him silently in his sleep. Unfortunately, she made a little bit of noise so about 20 people show up out of nowhere. After running out of bullets, in both of the guns she had available to her, she had to use her sword, which she figured she should make sure she takes with her, after they follow her to her motorcycle. As everyone is speeding down the road they’re in tunnels sword-fighting with this chick as she’s trying to avoid trucks and cars and still [she] arrives home to take care of her kids. Point-blank, finished, done. When I saw that sequence, I think I almost shed tears. My reaction was, “Well, I was available to do it. Why didn’t anyone call me? [laughs]

I also love all foreign stuff, in general, on Netflix, Amazon. If, God forbid, that I love a show, I will re-watch the show right there, the entire series, as if I’ve never watched it. I just love story-telling. I’m an intense nerd about it.

Is there anything on Netflix that you would recommend?

La Casa de Papel, which is a Spanish show. Spanish meaning from Spain. The third season of Narcos. The second season of The Crown. A French tv show called Ten Percent. Mindhunter is a must.

That’s what I’ve been hearing!

Girrrrrl, be ready. David Finch got problems. There are some people that you ask yourself, “Do you think he sleeps at night?”

And he’s one of them?

Oh, my god. Everyone who can get past the first scene of the pilot episode. It’s fantastic. It’ll get you right away, because you’re like, “Holy Toledo. What are they talking about here?”

But what I’ve just given you there, this is outside of Stranger Things, obviously, and hopefully people are watching Dark, which is a German television show. It’s kind of like Stranger Things for adults. What I mean by that is I think Stranger Things can be watched by adults, but I think Dark is specifically made for an adult perspective. There’s no 80s music to entice you more, there’s no kid banter. It’s darker.

That is my list that everyone can bite onto for the next six months, but I would watch all of that in the next two and a half weeks, max, if that was me.

You can watch Chicago Med at 10 pm EST on NBC. You can follow Marlyne on Twitter and Instagram

Exclusive Interview with Singer/Songwriter Maggie Schneider

Interview, Music, Pop Culture

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us. 

Maggie Schneider.jpg

Singer/songwriter Maggie Schneider started 2018 with a bang as she released her EP, Tinted Glasses. I got the chance to talk with Schneider, who is as sweet as she is talented. We talked about how she balances her up-and-coming music career with her studies, what it was like to work with Rian Dawson, from All Time Low, on her EP, the story behind her single, “Chuck Bass” and so much more. Keep reading to see what she had to say!

What age did you take the step into making and performing music?

I have been into music since a really young age. I was in theatre and started out with that. When I was four, I was in Annie. That was my first experience performing. I started performing more seriously around 15/16. Even before that I was in an acoustic duo and a ton of different bands. But early mid-teens is when I thought to myself, “No, I really want to do this and try and make some dreams come true.”

Going off of that, when you were 15/16, was there something or someone that pushed you into realizing then was the time to start making your dreams come true?

It is funny because it kind of happened in a spontaneous way. There is this venue called The Masquerade. They were looking for an opener for Allison Weiss, who is a great singer/songwriter from California. I had been listening to her for a little while and thought, “Huh. Well, maybe I should submit my stuff and see if maybe I could open for her.” I sent them my information, and they took a chance on me. That was kind of my first transition into playing more serious shows.

In general, though, what gave me the inspiration to play music and everything, definitely starting at a young age, the Jonas Brothers [laughs], Demi Lovato, all of the Disney Channel stars, and all of the music coming out there. All Time Low was a really, really big influence on me, they kind of brought me into the world of pop-punk and rock music. Once I heard them I was like, “Okay, I really want to make music like this.”

If I was reading correctly, you’re still in school right? 

Yeah, I am. I am a sophomore at Savannah College of Art and Design.

Oh cool! What do you study?

I’m studying writing. I love writing about music, that’s like another passion of mine. It’s really helped with song-writing, putting myself out there as a musician and being more creative, because it is an arts school and its a super creative environment anyway. At SCAD I have the chance to take visual arts classes, then I take journalism classes and fiction classes. All of that stuff really helps me as an artist. I love my school.

Have you found it challenging trying to balance your up-and-coming music career and school?

Luckily, I love staying busy. When I have a day to myself, not doing anything, I find myself thinking, “Huh. I’m a little bored.” It hasn’t been too overwhelming. I try to do my school work early, then on the weekends I can play shows, publicize my music and all of that stuff. It really adds more to my music, because I feel like its really influenced me as an artist, doing visual art and learning how to write in all different styles. It’s super great to go to school everyday, its so colorful, there is art everywhere…to be inspired in that environment.

Moving on to talk about your music. You just released your new EP, Tinted Glasses. How would you describe the EP’s sound? 

I think it’s on kind of the singer-songwriter side but also with a little bit of a pop-rock edge. I went to the studio with Rian Dawson [All Time Low], that was a great experience. I gave him 12 songs before I went into the studio. He really encouraged me to branch out of the pop-punk scene just a tad and get a broader audience with more pop/singer-songwriter songs. Frank Turner, I always say he’s kind of an influence of these new songs, then also Paramore and a lot of the female-fronted pop bands.

Talking about Rian, what was it like to work with him and how did that relationship come about?

It was really, really special. I went up there for a weekend to track another song, for another band who was working with Rian. I went up there for a couple of days, and on the last day he said, “You know, you should come up and record your own stuff.” Immediately I was like, “Really? That’s an option? You would like to work with me again?” Because I’ve looked up to them since middle school, so singing and playing piano for one of my middle school heroes was a huge deal. He was like, “No, come back.” A few months later I scheduled it with him, and I came back and recorded the tracks with him in the summer. I think in late June we did all four songs. It was great. It was such a cool experience. His studio is in Nashville. I love Nashville so automatically it was super fun and inspiring. He was just so supportive the whole way, he still is. I keep him updated on what I’m doing, and he’s super happy to be part of the EP.

You just talked a little bit about recording, but talk a little bit about the writing process. You mentioned how you gave Rian 12 songs before you started recording, so a) what was your process like for writing those and b) how did you pick the four that were going to be on the EP?

I started writing all of these songs last winter. I was feeling inspired. A lot of things were going on in my life. I tend to write songs in spurts. I don’t write when I’m not inspired, because I want the songs to be honest, real and relatable to me. I wrote all of the songs in a 2-3 month period. I really liked all of them, and I demo’d them out. I thought that Rian would really help choose the ones that were the most cohesive and had the strongest writing, because obviously All Time Low are fantastic song writers. I sent him all 12 demos in an email and told him to let me know his thoughts, because I really trust his judgement. He got back to me a few days before I went in. We talked about the ones he thought were the strongest. We agreed, so that was good. He was really helpful in choosing them. Luckily they were all cohesive, because at first we thought, “Well, should we just put one out now?” All of them really mesh well together.

Talk a little bit about your single, “Chuck Bass.” What was the inspiration behind it? I’m assuming that the title comes from Gossip Girl.

I wanted to write a positive anthem about the strength we have as women, and the importance of valuing honesty in relationships, because I’ve had my own experience with dishonesty in relationships. I wanted to write a more positive song to empower women and help them move past those things, because obviously we’re in a time now where there is a lot of stuff going on in the world. I think it’s important to highlight the negative things, but also find positivity in it. Find our voices, and find our confidence to say something.

Of course the name “Chuck Bass” is after the Gossip Girl character, because I’m a fan of the show. I thought his character is kind of the antithesis of honesty, no matter how charming he can be. In a lot of ways he’s the opposite of what we deserve as women, which is loyalty, honesty and integrity over wealth and someone’s social status.

I’ve been listening to your EP all week and I my favorite, hands down, is “Break” featuring Alex Crain. 

Thank you so much!

I was just curious: how did that collaboration with Alex come about and what’s the story behind this song?

Alex Crain is one of my best friends, and we started writing songs together last winter as well. We became really, really close friends. He brought the chorus to me and said, “Hey, would you like to finish this with me?” because he had had the chorus for over a year and just didn’t really know how to finish it. We both love duets and musical theatre and wanted to make something really powerful and kind of intense in a way production-wise. We sat down and wrote the song in a night. I think it was the first song that we wrote together. It was a really special song to us. It’s really about the highs and lows of relationships, wanting to hold on to someone so tightly and wanting to make it work, but there is distance between two people and how to deal with that, move past that. He’s fantastic, and he’s playing a lot more shows with me right now. Its fun to collaborate with him.

Is there a track, whether it’s one you have already released on this EP or one you have yet to release, that you feel best represents you and who you are and who you are as an artist?

It’s always so hard, because they’re all my babies. But I’ll say “695 North Avenue,” which is on the EP and has a lot to do with The Masquerade, which is the venue in Atlanta that I started playing shows at. That place is really my musical home, so that song really has to do with all the memories I’ve made there. I even met Alex Crain at The Masquerade. I’ve had a lot of memories there, met a lot of friends there and had some great experiences. I think that really highlights who I am as an artist, my optimistic view and also that I’m super thankful for all of the experiences that I’ve had.

On the more personal side, I would have to say “Tinted Glasses” is the most personal song on the EP for me. Once again, like “Break,” it has to do with the ups and downs of a relationship, wanting to stay, wanting to fix something, but unfortunately it doesn’t work out. I think those two specifically were the most fun to write and show who I am.

I just have a few quick questions left. Who would be your dream tour mate and why?

It’s between two. All Time Low, definitely, because I think that would be super fun. Their set is incredible and every song, I would dance to all of them every night. Also DNCE, just because I love them. I love their stage show and they have such high energy. Not to mention, Joe Jonas has been my crush since elementary school.

What do you like to do for fun when you’re not making music or studying?

I love getting coffee [laughs], which is a really small thing, but there are so many cute local coffee shops in and around Atlanta that I love going to. I love meeting friends there, going to record stores and hanging out with friends. Obviously going to concerts, because I’m a concert junkie. [laughs]

What is your go-to coffee order?

Right now it’s been a vanilla latte. It kind of depends on where I go, but right now I love my vanilla latte. I’m sad that Starbucks doesn’t keep the eggnog latte year round. I would drink it all year long. But yeah, vanilla latte for my warm order and a cold brew with cream for my cold order.

Our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us — what do you nerd out over?

I love John Hughes movies.

Which one is your favorite?

Ferris Bueller.

Classic.

Oh, yeah. I can practically quote the whole thing. [sighs] So good. I just love those coming-of-age movies. Whenever I’m sick I’ll just put on Ferris Bueller or The Breakfast Club or something and quote the whole movie and feel comforted. I know what’s going to happen, and I know there is going to be a happy ending.

Last question: 2018 has already seen the release of your EP. What else can we expect from you music-wise this year?

I’m definitely playing a ton more shows. I like to play once-a-month or so in Atlanta. I’m playing a show in New York City in March, which is super exciting. It’s my first show in New York. It’s at The Bitter End, which is the oldest rock-and-roll club in the city. I’ve always wanted to play there, because Lady Gaga got her start there. I’m just going to continue to write songs, keep collaborating with Alex and hopefully record some more stuff with Rian over the summer.

Schneider’s EP, Tinted Glasses, is available now on iTunes, Apple Music and Spotify.

To find out more information, check Maggie’s website and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube

Exclusive Interview with “Forever My Girl” Director Bethany Ashton Wolf

Interview, Pop Culture

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us. 

bethany

While Bethany Ashton Wolf might not be a name you have heard before, her career as a successful indie screenwriter speaks for itself. Now Wolf is making her name known by directing her first major motion picture, Forever My Girl. I got the chance to talk to her about how she came across the story in the first place, the casting process, what makes the bond between Josie and Liam so special and much more. Keep reading to see her answers.

Forever My Girl is based on the best-selling novel, of the same name, by Heidi McLaughlin. How did you come across the story in the first place?

It was a screenplay writing assignment; the production company, LD Entertainment, had already optioned her book. They had just read a script of mine that another studio had bought called Other People’s Love Letters, which I’m told they really enjoyed. They called my agent and sent over the book to see if I was interested in pitching a take that would work to lift it from the page and onto the screen.

I read the book and I was truly, deeply inspired. For me, as a filmmaker, when I see the whole world as a film, for me, every single detail, how to transport it, it’s what I call a popcorn pitch. When I say, “get your popcorn out,” it’s because I want to take you on the whole ride of this movie, from every character, to every single detail. I saw Josie in her pink gown walking across the green vast fields to Liam, to their romantic date night, to what his father is cooking on the stove when he has Billy over to his house for the first time. For me, I was fueled to write and direct it and that was the inception. It was the love of those two characters, Liam and Josie, that really made my imagination take flight.

Off of the love of Liam and Josie, since the movie is all about their romance and their journey back to each other, what do you think makes the bond between them so special?

It was really important to me and Jess[ica Rothe]. Alex [Roe] and I talked a lot about this, that there is this undeniable pull between them, [which is what] we all want in the most romantic experience. We all want to feel that. But when you find your true soulmate, you also want all the other things that come with it: laughter, and your best friend, and the playfulness, and the banter. I really wanted people to see not just two gorgeous people who fall for each other, because they are two gorgeous people, but that they truly are meant to be together, and that their personalities [match], and how much they enjoy each other, and the real humor they share. You really see in the film that they take playful jabs at each other, and I think that, in real life, that’s what you want. And to sustain true love, the one, over years of time, you need all of those elements for it to be the love of your life. I hope that people see that in them.

I even see the reaction to people seeing the two of them in interviews, and from what people have seen in the trailer. I love that they’re really highlighting all of that, and not just two beautiful people falling in love because they are two beautiful people.

Going back really quickly to the inception and the film’s beginnings, how did it feel to have Roadside Attractions acquire the rights to the film?

We went into the movie as just the production company. We didn’t go in with a distributor. What’s beautiful about LD [Entertainment] is they operate, sort-of, as a boutique studio, but they really are a production company. We went in as an independent film, so we basically had to take a huge leap of faith. But “huge leap of faith” doesn’t even really represent what went down here for all of us that were involved. It wasn’t a huge leap of faith; it was an open-arm plunge of faith.

For us, we’re out there making it and we don’t know yet [whether or not it would be acquired]. We felt it was special, we felt that it was something really magical at play. I had really lofty plans for this film, and I was going to will it into bigger waters, and everyone joined forces with me and charged along with me, moving all of these mountains. But you don’t know until you have that distributor screening. It was that night, when we had all of the distributors in a room watching the film, and you have everyone responding, and everyone wanting your film. We really, really, really wanted Roadside [Attractions]. For us, we saw those offers were coming in, and then we saw Roadside’s, that was really triumphant for us because we felt like it was the perfect combination. People can call it a popcorn movie, but there is a lot of gravitas to this film, and I feel that’s what Roadside offered us.

Bethany Ashton Wolf & Alex Roe

Can you talk a little bit about the casting process for the film, like especially for Liam and Josie? Who was cast first: Alex or Jessica?

For me and Jeanie Bacharach, who was my casting director, this was a really tall order. [With Liam] we’re coming in…in a very different place [compared to] where most films open. A lot of times in a redemption story someone’s realized they’ve done something egregiously wrong and they go home to atone for it. That’s not where we’re coming in, in this movie. We’re coming in on someone who is a very famous country star, but you quickly see that there is a lot going on underneath. There’s this angst and this torment, but you see that he’s buried it so deeply that he doesn’t even acknowledge it. He’s just going through the motions, just trying to keep it all tucked underneath.

At the same time, we had to find an actor that just exudes this gritty coolness in an effortless way; to me, [we were looking] for a throwback to old Hollywood movie stars that we haven’t really seen in a long time. To me, we were trying to find the next James Dean, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman. You take that, and you add this layer on top of that, in that I truly wanted him to be an amazing singer and command the stage as if he was this huge country star. We wanted to cast Liam first, because if we couldn’t find Liam then we didn’t have a movie.

We cast for weeks and we weren’t finding him. Then I would love to say, for poetic reasons, that Alex was the very last audition that we had set up, but he was the second to last. We were literally at the place where we were saying, “Gosh, I don’t know if we’re going to find him, and if we don’t find him then we don’t have a movie.” Then Alex came in and blew me away. It went immediately from feeling like an audition to feeling like an actor and director working the scenes together; it felt very natural and organic. Then he sang and he blew us away. We cast him first.

Then Jess, again, another tall order. For me, it was very important to create a leading heroine that isn’t a damsel in distress, that she isn’t pining away waiting for the guy to swoop in and save her. When we meet Josie, she’s already weathered her storm, she’s already gone through her pain of him leaving and it’s eight years later. She’s built this wonderful life for her and her daughter. It was really important to me to have this sweet, loving, but strong woman who truly…when she says she’s at peace and doing well, she means it. At the same time, Liam is the love of her life, so of course feelings are going to start bubbling up. She doesn’t want him to disrupt that perfect life and it’s a very delicate balance.

A lot of actresses were coming in and playing it with a lot of anger and resentment, but she’s past that. If he had come home a year after leaving her, maybe that’s where she would have been. But again, I needed an actor to do it so effortlessly, and to be so deeply complex, that it was another tall order. We saw actresses again, for weeks and weeks, who were all lovely and wonderful, but just weren’t hitting exactly what I wanted to find in our leading lady. And then there was Jess. It was interesting because usually you do a chemistry test, especially for a movie like this, that is about their romance, but Jess was on a TV show at the time and so we didn’t have time. We could have lost her had we waited to do that chemistry test. When I auditioned Jess, and when I worked with her on her callback, it was the same experience [as Alex]. It immediately went from feeling like an audition to feeling like my actress and director, and we were just working the scenes. I really felt like Alex and Jess were cut from such similar cloth, both personally and as artists, that I just knew they were going to be pure magic together. And we all felt that, LD [Entertainment], Jeanie, everyone.

The Los Angeles premiere was on Tuesday. Screenings of the movie have been happening all around the country. It comes out for real on Friday. What is it like for you now that people are finally seeing it?

It’s so surreal, because for me, as the screenwriter/director, when I walked in that room and pitched my take on the film, that was 2013. Almost five years ago. The journey from writing the screenplay to development. I did all of the music. I felt the music in this film was as equally as important as the screenplay and the script, so I developed all of the music three years before we even started production. I’ve been so busy that I haven’t even experienced sitting and watching TV and seeing the trailer come on. [laughs] But people are texting me, and calling me, and I’ve seen it online, but I haven’t experienced it the way everyone else has. The premiere, for me, was truly a beautiful, magical moment because it was, “Oh, this is really happening. We’re actually here.” That was the most exhilarating feeling.

Forever My Girl is out in theaters everywhere on Friday, January 19th.

Exclusive Interview with Forever My Girl’s Alex Roe

Interview, Pop Culture

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us.

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In the upcoming movie, Forever My Girl, Alex Roe plays Liam Page, a country superstar who returns to his hometown after a tragedy, only to find the woman he left at the altar and the daughter he never knew he had. I got the chance to talk to him about what the audition process was like, how he prepared for the role, what he did to create a father-daughter dynamic with Abby Ryder Fortson and a lot more. Keep reading to see what he had to say.

What was the audition process like for the role of Liam?

I read the script and I realized, obviously, that he was an American country singer and that I was English and hadn’t sung before. I initially saw that as quite a cool challenge to maybe take on. And, then also, I really liked the story. I liked the arc that this character had…as starting as this kind of man-child and then slowly, as he reconnects himself to his roots and his family, learning a little a bit more about what it’s like to be a fully-formed human being.

I went into the audition and I had never sung before in an audition. I took a friend of mine’s guitar, and I played a guitar a little bit when I was a kid so I knew a couple of chords. The audition went really well. They were crying for the scenes and then it came to the singing side of it and I was like, “Well, it seems to be going well so far. Hope I don’t ruin it.” There was a few people I had heard before me, who had these amazing musical theater voices, and I was like, “If that’s what they want, they’re not going to get that from me.” After I finished singing they seemed to be really happy. They seemed like they had found their guy, which was kind of surprising to me. They saw some kind of talent that they thought they could nurture a bit.

From then on it was down to me to really put in the work, because the more research I did on the country scene, the more I realized that it’s important to the people, the country fans, that people stay true to their roots, and how important that relationship is, and how I respected the scene itself. The more I found out, the more I wanted to do a good job. I was training like every single day to learn how to sing like this dude.

Regarding the preparation you did, Forever My Girl is based on the book of the same name, did you read it in order to help prepare for playing Liam? Or did you decide to just approach the script with fresh eyes?

The director, Bethany [Ashton Wolf], let me know that the script was a lot different than the book, so she kind of discouraged us from reading the book. Even when the script is very similar, I think sometimes the book can throw you off. It’s better to kind of approach the script on its own, sometimes.

But we’ve been doing screenings around the U.S. and there is often people who love the book, who come in and they’re like, “This has changed and this has changed” and I just say to them, “Watch the movie and then tell me what you think.” And when they come out, they’ve usually really enjoyed it for some of the same reasons they enjoyed the book and some different reasons.

When you were talking about the preparation for the singing part…I got to see the movie early and you’re right, there is a lot of singing in this film, and when you were talking about not having singing experience I was kind of shocked. So what were you doing to become a singer?

We started off listening to country artists and trying to figure out which ones fit in with my vocal range and tone. We kind of quickly pushed Chris Stapleton aside and realized that I was never going to sing like him. We listened to a little bit of Dierks Bentley, some of his ballad stuff like “Riser.” We kind of found our inspiration there. Then it was about listening to that a lot, and letting it sink in by osmosis, and then trying to add that into the songs, and get rid of my British accent. We would play and sing every day. And Brett Boyett, our music producer, would go through each phrase and figure out what different scoops or twangs would be good to add in different places. It was quite an intense learning process, but I think it really helped me get into the character of Liam, because there is a lot of country artists that I think would have gone through quite a similar process in order to find their sound. And it might sound manufactured in some way, but I think a lot of country artists do go through that to figure out what that sound is.

Going off country music, were you a fan of it before you got this role and started listening to it 24/7? Are you a fan of it now?

From the country music that we were kind of exposed to back home, I definitely had a love for the storytelling aspect of country music, and I’ve always liked it. But my respect for it was really kind of opened up as I looked into a little bit more. I saw how important the country music artists are to the fans, and how important their lives are, and their integrity, and their staying true to their roots and all of those things. I definitely developed a whole other level of respect for it.

Is singing something that you would consider pursuing in the future alongside acting?

I think I’ll keep singing forever, as far as for myself. As far as a career thing goes, I think there are so many talented singers out there, like really talented people, that out-master my abilities.

This film is in a completely different genre than all the others you’ve worked on before. What was it like working on a romantic feel-good movie versus a horror or a sci-fi movie?

Yeah, it’s a nice little break, you know? It’s completely different to tackle. The conversations that you have on set and stuff become more about…I was talking to Jess[ica Rothe] about relationships, and what makes them meant to be for each other, and you kind of get to get a little more emotional, and it’s a completely different kind of experience and one that I definitely enjoyed. What’s amazing about it is that there seems to be people from all different walks of life going to see it…old, young, couples, families, whatever and all different ages and backgrounds. It seems to be a movie that everyone can enjoy in some way. And I think sometimes doing more of the genre stuff, you limit your audience as far as the audience that enjoys it. It’s really nice to see a wide range of people come out and enjoy it.

I’ve seen a lot of people compare it to the Nicholas Sparks movies. Does it bother you when people compare it or is that something you take as a compliment?

I think Nicholas Sparks movies are really romantic and this is really romantic. I think Nicholas Sparks movies are generally pretty feel good and this is a feel good story. I think it’s probably a good thing to have the comparison. I think if…the main thing is if you like Nicholas Sparks movies then you would probably like this also. But that doesn’t mean that if you don’t like Nicholas Sparks movies you won’t like this movie.

I think my favorite part of the film is the relationship between Liam and Billy. What was it like working with Abby Ryder Fortson and creating that father-daughter bond? Because on screen it seemed so natural.

Oh, thank you so much. It was really strangely easy. I had the easier job out of mine and Jess’s jobs, just because I was trying to figure it out as Liam anyway. What was fun was to figure Abby out, in some way, during the process. Liam gets to come in and they have a little fun relationship. We built that on set, and we would always be messing around and joking with each other. It was just a chance for me to be a big kid, really. A lot of stuff that does make it into the movie is just us improvising, and for the stuff that made it into the movie there’s another 50 silly things that we did that didn’t make it. She was always down to improvise, and she’s incredibly smart, and a real talent. She kind of reminded me that acting is a fun thing. It was nice to have a little reminder that we are doing this because we love it.

Forever My Girl comes out this Friday, January 19th in theaters around the country.

Exclusive Interview with HEGAZY

Interview, Music, Pop Culture

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us.

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Twins Leila and Omnia Hegazy are not only proving to the world that two is better than one, but also that music with a message can still be entertaining and fun. While they currently perform together as HEGAZY, they each have impressive music backgrounds of their own.

By her early 20s, Leila had already performed at several of New York’s most well known venues including SOBs and the legendary Apollo Theater. Her debut release, The Black and White EP, was recorded by Grammy-nominated producer Dr. Joseph Ferry; her second, a full-length album called Looking Glass, was funded by fans on Kickstarter. She studied Studio Composition at the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College, where Regina Spektor and other renowned singer-songwriters recorded their first records.

Meanwhile, Omnia attended the Clive Davis Institute at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and played her way through the Lower East Side’s indie music scene. She became the more politically outspoken of the two sisters, inspired by American folk artists of 1960’s and the revolutionary musicians of the ongoing Arab Spring at the time. She released two EPs independently and a fan-funded music video with unapologetically feminist themes, garnering press from prominent media outlets in both the US and the Middle East, including Fox News, The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, and pan-Arab newspaper Al Sharq Al Awsat.

The two sisters reunited musically after their father passed away in the beginning of 2016. While working together was a great form of emotional support, they also chose to make music as a way to honor their father, who always insisted they were more powerful together.

HEGAZY took the time to answer a few questions and let our readers get to know them better. Keep reading to see what they had to say.

For those who might not have ever heard of y’all, can you give us a brief history of the band and how it culminated into what it is now?

We are identical twin sisters who were previously solo artists and now we are a soul/pop duo. Leila is an R&B singer/songwriter and keyboardist and Omnia is more of a guitar-driven pop/rock artist. Hegazy is our last name: not a random word that we made up to sound cool. 🙂

What is it like working with your twin? Do you guys ever feel like you spend too much time together?

Haha, for sure. We rehearse almost every day and we live across the hall from each other in the same apartment building (we previously lived together), so you can’t get much more twin-y than that. Working with a sibling has so many layers to it – sarcasm, joking around, bickering, but also sharing hopes and dreams. It takes a lot of mindfulness and compromise to make the duo work, as well as remembering that we are sisters first and foremost.

How would you describe your sound without using genre names?

Soulful, smoky, rhythmic, dirty, playful, groovy. We do a lot of dual harmony when we sing together so there’s often two melodies for each song, a lower melody and a higher one, both equally important. We are influenced instrumentally by bands like Alabama Shakes, and vocally by artists/bands like Emily King and Destiny’s Child.

Talk about the writing process. Do you guys write all of your own material or do you have co-writers? If you write your own stuff, which one of you does most of the writing? How much of a song is ‘finished’ once the band plays it together? Have you had to scrap songs that just didn’t work once the band started to rehearse them?

We both contribute to our material equally. One of us will come up with an idea for a song on our own and sis will finish it. Often the way we play each song as a duo changes completely when we play it with a band or go into the studio to record. We’ve definitely written songs we don’t love, as any songwriter does, and sometimes it takes writing a mediocre song to write a good one later. But we’ve found that taking our songs to a band usually rejuvenates our love for them.

Is there a track, whether it’s one you have already released or one you have yet to release, that you feel best represents you and who you are as a band?     

“Alive” showcases both of our individual talents really well, but “Here to Stay” speaks to us the most in terms of message and urgency.

Talk about your single that you just released, “Here to Stay.” I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but it’s so good and so powerful.

Thanks so much! We wrote this song about xenophobia and anti-immigrant rhetoric in the times of the Trump administration and all that comes with it (the removal of DACA, the Muslim Ban, the mainstreaming of white supremacy, and the prevalence of hate speech in politics). We are half-Egyptian and were raised Muslim in the age of 9/11, so we know what it’s like to be treated like “the other.” Immigrants have been scapegoated for generations, accused of taking jobs and resources away from American citizens and contributing to crime rates, and we wanted to make fun of this nonsense by listing all the common stereotypes and flipping them around to be empowering, which is not what the xenophobes/racists on the far right intended.

The music video for “Here to Stay” is just as powerful as the song itself. How was that concept decided on and who came up with it?

We both came up with the concept for the music video very early in the songwriting process. We knew we wanted a Muslim character and a Mexican and/or Latino character, since these groups have been the most targeted by Trump’s rhetoric. The intention was to describe how “scary” we [immigrants and children of immigrants] are, and juxtapose that visually with adorable children of all different nationalities, races, and religions, getting along and playing together. The boogeyman may be real, but it sure as hell isn’t us (we’re pretty sure it’s Trump and the white supremacists who are out in full force right now).

Word has it that your debut EP, Young, is set to drop in early 2018. Can you give us a little insight on it? What are you most excited about this album? Any particular track that you favor and are most looking forward to sharing with the fans?

Our debut EP is a fairly autobiographical coming-of-age story and chronicles being young and naive with big dreams and not a lot of money, pursuing those dreams anyway, and all the challenges that come with it (being in love, coping with bigotry, rising above financial uncertainty, etc). It definitely speaks to the millennial experience, and we’re excited to share this perspective. Millennials are very often accused of being lazy and complacent, but we this is an unfair analysis, as many of us are dealing with so much more than our parents had to deal with (massive student debt, lack of opportunity, etc.). We’re also super passionate about the singles and music videos we’ve released so far, and can’t wait for our audience to hear the rest of the EP, including the title track “Young” – we think any young person in college or post-college will really relate to this one.

Last question: we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us so what is something that you nerd out over?

Omnia: I nerd out over guitar pedals, which I love collecting. I also nerd out over classical music and orchestral instruments, because my first love was violin and I still play. I’ve gotten really into cello lately too (hoping to incorporate this more into Hegazy in the future).

Leila: I’m a music theory nerd for sure, and this has always helped me with my writing. I’m also a yoga philosophy nerd (I’m a yoga teacher), and the Yoga Sutras and like texts are magnificent to me.

Exclusive Interview with Author Ashlyn Hope

Interview, Pop Culture

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us.

Ashlyn Hope Author Portrait

Ashlyn Hope is a sports romance author, whose debut novel was published in November 2017.  Going Pro: Touchdown tells the story of Pro, a massage therapist who, at first, seems unlucky in work and in love. Soon after she gets her new business up and running, she–quite literally–runs into David, a massively sized, massively hot professional football player.

Ashlyn took time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions for me about what her life was like before her book was published, her writing routine, Going Pro: Touchdown‘s sequel and a lot more. Keep reading to see our entire conversation.

What was your life like, pre-book? 

Pre-book life was pretty much like post-book life, at least so far. Except then, my boyfriend didn’t tell everyone that I’m a writer. I guess I seemed far more boring in my pre-book life, judging by how interested our friends and family are in what I’m doing now.

What do you typically do to get yourself into writing mode? Do you need silence or do you need background sounds? Do you have a specific place you write or does it vary?

I have my dedicated seat at the dining room table set up as my writing station. I hunker down there first thing in the morning when I’m off of work, and on weekdays, I try to do at least one chapter before I go to bed. When I get down to business, I’m for silence or white noise. Otherwise, I get too distracted. But I don’t really need to do anything to get into the zone — when I have ideas, I have to do things to get myself to stop writing so that I don’t stay up too late or get nothing else done.

Tell me the story behind the story. How did Going Pro: Touchdown come to be? What was the inspiration behind writing it? 

I’ve had a journal of ideas going for some time now. And then I read a sports romance. It got me thinking that one of my ideas would be a good fit for a sports romance, and then I read another and knew it was! Of course, through the writing and revision process, Pro’s story ended up being almost nothing like my original notes, but I’m happy I found a home for a character I liked as much as I liked her. Also, so many of the sports romance books I ended up reading were “bad boy” romances. I found myself thinking that I’d love to see a nice guy for once, so when I started writing, I was determined to include one.

How much research did you end up doing before you started writing? 

Not enough! I found that I kept having to keep stopping what I was doing to look something up or remind myself of a detail from earlier in the book. For book two, I learned my lesson and did a more detailed outline and a few hours of homework before getting down to business.

Was sports romance always your genre preference? Did you ever see yourself writing any other genre/would you consider something else in the future? 

I never pictured myself writing a sports romance. I’ve written many short stories and pictured myself as a literary fiction kind of girl — and then I read a sports romance! It was so much fun to read, I had to read another. And then I decided to give it a whirl myself and loved it! I’ve never had the ideas flow so freely before. I definitely see myself trying other genres, especially science fiction. I’ve banked a lot of ideas over the years, and I think now is the time to start working those out.

Is there anything you would do differently with Going Pro, whether it’s something in the writing process, with the publishing, how it’s been advertised, etc.? 

Oh yes! More notes, research, and outlining up front. Having to drop everything to start Googling really messes with my flow. I will for sure get more eyes on it before it goes live — typos and accidentally running with an old version is super embarrassing! As for publishing and marketing, the book is published / mainly marketed by my friend’s publishing company, and this is his first foray too. He’s been learning a lot.  Book two is going to be a whole different ball game!

You’re working on a sequel! What can readers expect from the second part of Pro and David’s story?

I don’t want to give too much away, but I can say readers will get to learn more about David’s past, learn more about who Pro is, and be treated to some more steamy scenes. As for the story itself, Pro is wrestling with some major drama in her professional life, and it’s getting close to the start of David’s final season. Pro is stressed out with work, and she feels like she’s getting mixed signals: one day David is giving her gifts and sending sweet texts, and the next he’s canceling on her and telling her he’s “too busy.” Are insecurities creeping in or is he trying to let her down easy? Is everything good in her life going to fall apart or will Pro (and her relationship with David) come out stronger than ever?

How has publishing your first book changed your process of writing the second one, if it has at all? 

It didn’t really change my process, but it gave me one. I’ve gotten discipline and a routine now. And I’m moving through my writing so much more quickly because of it.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? 

One: write. That book isn’t going to get published if you never write it. Two: routine. The idea of a daily writing practice that’s routine helps you stick with it, and really lets you have a clear mind for letting the ideas flow.

Last question: we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us so what is something that you nerd out over? 

Despite writing football romance, I’m actually obsessed with baseball stadiums and baseball history. I’ve watched games in over 30 major league ballparks — most of which aren’t around anymore. My favorite is Fenway Park, hands down! I love the few remaining older parks with history, but I also enjoy the newer parks, like Detroit, with lots of amenities and fun things to do because it’s easier to make a whole day of it!

Make sure to visit Ashlyn’s website or her Facebook page to get more information about her and her upcoming books.

Exclusive Interview with The Eskies

Interview, Music, Pop Culture

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us. 

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While I had never heard about the Dublin-based quintet known as The Eskies until I was approached to cover them, I have since grown a fondness for the group and the music they create. The members that make up the band include Ian Bermingham, Tim George, Steven Kearney, Rob Murphy and Sean O’Reilly. With them being a UK-based band and a group that I was unfamiliar with up until a few weeks ago, I knew I wanted to chat with them to learn more about their background. The band’s drummer, Kearney, took time to answer my questions about how the band was formed, their process for creating new music and their second album, And Don’t Spare the Horses, which drops today.

For those who might not have ever heard of y’all, can you give us a brief history of the band and how it culminated into what is now known as The Eskies? And what exactly is an eskie?

The Eskies, as we are known now, were formed after the failure of our attempt to unionize mini-disc manufacturing workers and fight the CD lobby. How could we have known it was a losing battle? When we formed six years ago, mini-discs were such a huge part of our lives, even if others had already stopped caring about mini-discs. It’s important to explain this, as we worked so hard on it and when we failed we turned to music as a form of therapy, and The Eskies was the resulting project.

An eskie itself is what a group of mini-disc manufacturing workers call themselves, like a gaggle, or swarm, its our tip of the cap. The mini-disc will rise again.

Your sound is so unique. There’s a mix of more traditional genres, like rock and blues, as well as some rarer sounds such as the Yiddish and the Kelzmar. What was the reason for adopting the sound that you did?

It wasn’t so much of an adoption of these rarer sounds in the beginning as it was discovering them and becoming excited about them, pulling them apart musically and finding out what makes them the way they are. And as for the more traditional genres felt in our music, a lot of us have grown up with rock and blues and more traditional roots music playing an important part in our musical upbringing, and by the time we got together we all had different sides of the same coins to show each other – then together we tried to push the comfortable into the uncomfortable.

Can you give us a little insight into your new album that is coming out? What are you most excited about with this album? Any particular track that you favor and are most looking forward to sharing with the fans?

This album is very exciting because in many ways some of the material is a departure from our first album, and in other ways it’s a more concentrated take on things and themes we had explored before. As far as insight goes, maybe I would say we have matured somewhat musically, but this maturity does not necessarily mean more retrained. Personally, I am excited for people to hear the track ‘Building Up Walls,’ as I think this track in particular is new space for us to play in, but all the same its very us. I also believe the song will hold a lot of different meanings for people and hearing what they might be is quite exciting to me.

Talk about the writing process. Who does most of the writing? How much of a song is ‘finished’ once the band plays it together? Have you had to scrap songs that just didn’t work once the band started to rehearse them?

Well we all write together, but often this stage of writing all together comes after somebody brings something as small as a riff or short passage of music all the way up to a more or less finished song. Ian and Sean took the lead on this album as far as the lyrical credit is due, sometimes collaborating. Again, they may bring something half formed and some input from somebody else is a good help in unsticking them from a point where they may have been struggling, so it’s nice to have everybody involved at all stages of a song in progress.

As far as finished goes, maybe songs are never finished entirely. They can change in the studio, or live after they have been recorded and maybe even just change over the years. Some songs are never finished in the sense that they are never finished at all, because some songs are crap.

When you are working on new music, who or what inspires you?

I take a lot of inspiration from films, both musically and in how they feel. Suspense, excitement etc. are all felt in films and are created in different ways, and all of the time with a different style, and trying to conjure these same feelings in music, with a style, is something I always draw inspiration from.

Is there a track, whether one that’s already been released or one that has yet to be released, that you feel best represents you and who you are as a band?

I would say the track that best represents us is ‘Im Not OK’ by My Chemical Romance. I’m not sure if you meant one of our tracks, but I think they said it better.

Some of the videos you have made are really entertaining. Who comes up with the concepts and do you have any plans to release another video for one of the songs on your new album?

We treat our videos very much like the songs themselves, we all have a hand in them, after an initial idea, which may have been minute. We have great plans to release great things for all the world to see, but even the best laid plans of mice and idiots often go awry.

You guys have a tour coming up! Why can fans expect if they come see you play live? Any plans to come over here to America sometime soon?

At our gigs there is an amazing amount of sweating and screaming, and hopefully the new album captures a bit of that, even the sweating. There’s a lot of energy and maybe some intensity. If you think this sounds like something you are into, then please talk with the powers that be stateside and help us accomplish our goal of absolutely coming to America and sweating and screaming all over it.

We’re called Talk Nerdy With Us so what is something that you nerd out over?

Well, seeming as we are all nerdy here I can safely admit that I have a vast knowledge of dog breeds and their histories. It may be off to some, but I find the unnecessary interference of unnecessary monarchies in the development of certain dogs blood lines all too fascinating, don’t you?

You can find The Eskies on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. For more information about the band, please visit their website.

Exclusive Interview with The Mayor’s Bernard David Jones

Interview, Pop Culture, Television

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us. 

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Bernard David Jones might not be a name you recognize, but chances are that you have seen his face before. Jones has a career that has already spanned a lot of different roles on a wide variety of mediums. He got his first big break in television appearing as ‘Milo’ on Tyler Perry’s Meet The Browns and House of Payne. He’s also done a little bit of film work, starring in The Lookalike opposite Justin Long, Jerry O’Connell and Gillian Jacobs. He’s even starred in Refinery29’s YouTube series Shitty Boyfriends opposite Sandra Oh. Now, Jones has gotten his first ever regular role on a television show, starring in ABC’s new fall comedy The Mayor. Jones talked with me about how he got his start in acting, how he would describe his new character, Jermaine, which real life rapper would make the best politician and so much more. Keep reading to see his answers.

How did you get involved in acting? Was there any specific experience you would credit as the moment when you knew acting was what you wanted to do for a profession?

For sure. I think it all started, like for a lot of black artists, in the church. That was my first audience, so to speak. [I was] singing in the choir and transitioned into the Easter plays and the Christmas plays. That led me to where I am today, thinking, “Hey, I actually love doing this. This is a lot of fun. And I can get paid doing it? Absolutely.”

Did you have any formal training? Did you study it in college or did you start your acting career right out of high school?

When I was younger, I was a part of a performing arts troupe and that led to me going to a performing arts high school in Patterson, New Jersey and from there I went to Morehouse College in Atlanta and got my degree in acting.

You’ve had a lot of different types of roles on a lot of different mediums, from television to film to stage to YouTube. Do you have a personal acting “bucket list” of things you still want to accomplish in your career? If so, what are some of the things on it?

[laughs] This is going to sound weird, but I’m going to say it anyway: I want to be a vampire. But like the oldest living vampire known to man that just looks young. Like that is a dream role for me. So whoever can write that, think about me when you do.

[laughs] What is it about vampires?

I don’t know! It’s just like they’re mysterious, they’re sexy, they’re strong. They dress well for the most part. They’re dark and edgy. I play nice guys, for the most part, so it would be fun to play something dark.

Which role that you’ve played do you think has had the biggest impact on your life and has maybe changed you as a person and why?

I think for me it was my first professional gig. I did a show at the Alliance Theatre which was called Class of 3000: Live with Andre 3000. That was the moment when I realized I’m a professional, like this is my job. Having that company, the Alliance Theatre, give me this role, I was like, “You know what? This is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.” And I’ve been pursuing it ever since.

Moving on to talk about The Mayor, how would you describe it for people who aren’t familiar with it?

I would describe it as fun, family comedy that addresses political issues from a non-partisan lens. So it’s fun, but it’s for the people who enjoy politics, the people who enjoy the underdog/fish-out-of-water story. I think people will love the fact that this guy actually cares about his community and cares about the constituents there and I think that’s something that our country needs.

How did you get involved in the show? What was the audition process like?

It was during pilot season. For actors, during pilot season, you’re getting a lot of stuff in, just auditioning and auditioning and auditioning. I remember getting the script and reading it and immediately knowing that it was important, that the story was important and that I wanted to be a part of it. I told my agent, “please get me in for this. I would love to do this.” And they got me in for an audition for Jermaine and then I remember, during my audition process, I did my audition and the casting director was like, “Well, I don’t know about Jermaine for you. But let’s try the other character.” And I was like, “Okay!” So I ended up auditioning for TK as well. But my manager and my agents were like, “Let’s get you back in there to audition for the role that you originally auditioned for and let the producers see it and see where it goes from there.” So I was able to get back in and audition and show them Jermaine again and they liked it and, now, here we are!

You kind of touched on it a little bit earlier, but how do you feel about taking on a politically flavored show at this time in our country’s climate?

It’s truly been an amazing experience so far. It’s been a joy to talk about issues that I care about because even before the show, I’ve been very in-tune to our political atmosphere; I’m listening, I’m reading articles, I’m watching the news. But I think because of the way our country is right now, a lot of people are more aware of what’s going on and are more interested in government and trying to figure out what they can do to make their communities better. I think that’s kind of how I came at it. I’ve always been politically aware, but this show has definitely sparked it into a new interest and the fact that we can show these characters that love each other, first and foremost, but also love their community and the constituents that are a part of that community and to show America Tuesday night after Tuesday night what it looks like for a leader to actually care about the community is priceless. This leader doesn’t know what he’s doing, he’s not a politician. But at the forefront of all his endeavors is to make the community better and I love that.

How would you describe your character, Jermaine?

Jermaine is very interesting; I love Jermaine. At the core, he’s all about love. He loves his friends and his family, his friends are his family and he loves them so much. That was one of the things that drew me to the character in the first place. He’s kind of like Courtney’s voice of reason even though sometimes his advice can lead to bad decisions [laughs]. But it’s always well-intentioned. He’s a snazzy little dresser; he takes his fashion pretty serious.

I think what also makes our show pretty special is that these characters want to work and they are serious about their jobs. It’s not these guys get into the office and just goof around. They really take their job seriously and I love that about Jermaine; he takes his job seriously.

Would you say that Jermaine is more similar or different to the person that Bernard is and why?

We’re different in ways and we’re alike in ways. The things that I mentioned was leading with love and that’s what I try to do in my own life is lead with love and to love on people and to recognize people’s humanity and I think Jermaine does that as well.

How we differ [laughs], Jermaine is a little shadier than I am. He doesn’t like old people, he doesn’t like children. He’s a little shadier than I am for sure.

I love this cast a lot because there is newer faces like you and Brandon [Michael Hall] and Marcel [Spears] but then there is also some Hollywood vets like Lea [Michele] and Yvette [Nicole Brown]. What is it like working with everyone, because you all come from such diverse backgrounds, but you all seem to get along so well?

Yeah, I think that the fact that Marcel Spears and Brandon Michael Hall, we’re all experiencing this first together and that has made the journey even better. I mean, it’s a first for all of us in a way. For Marcel, it’s his first show ever, this is Brandon’s first leading role, my first regular series role, first time Yvette has had such a leading role on a show, this is the first role that Lea has had away from the Glee franchise, or should I say away from Ryan Murphy. So we’re all experiencing a first. I think that’s what has drawn us together and has made our chemistry so good because we genuinely enjoy each other. We have fun. Our set, Yvette, she made it very clear that our set was going to be a set of love and that we’re going to love on people when they come and visit us and we’re going to make sure that when people leave The Mayorthat they know that they were appreciated and that their talent and gift was loved and needed and appreciated. We did that early on and that’s the kind of atmosphere we set and have tried to maintain all season.

I figured I would wrap up our time with some more fun questions. Your character Jermaine is Courtney’s communications director and he is always posting stuff on social media. What’s your favorite social media platform and why?

I really love Instagram. I love being able to see how people, even though Instagram is sometimes your highlight reel and you only show the good things that are happening, I love to see how people express themselves and see when people take pictures of the environment that they are in and how they view life from their perspective. I think it gives everyone an opportunity to be artistic, even if you don’t think you are, you can be artistic and I love that. And also being able to connect with people, having hashtags that you can click on and see the people that are participating in that particular hashtag, I really love Instagram for that.

What real-life rapper do you think could have the best career in politics and why?

Oh come on, you know Chance the Rapper would be an amazing mayor.

Yeah. He’d be my number one choice.

He would be so good for Chicago, the commitment to the city and the people and using his platform. That’s what is so important, when you get a platform, and that is why the show is so important to me because it gives you a platform, but it gives you a platform to do some good in the world and I think Chance has done that with his platform, speaking out against things that need to be spoken out against. I think he would be a great mayor.

Since music plays such a big part of this show, who are some of your favorite musical artists and bands?

I’m all about R&B/soul. Jazmyn Sullivan is one of my favorites, P!nk is one of my favorites, John Legend, I love Adele, Sam Smith. There is so many; I love music so much. But then sometimes, I like to turn up a little bit. I’ll listen to Migos [laughs] and I will listen to hip-hop. I’m pretty eclectic. I’ll listen to Alabama Shakes.

We’re called Talk Nerdy With Us so what is something that you nerd out about?

I nerd out about gadgets. So like getting the iPhone 10 and I have this EchoDot so I have to get all the accessories for the EchoDot so that I can try to figure out how to get Alexa to order me a pizza [laughs]. I’m into gadgets. I love it.

The Mayor airs Tuesdays at 9:30pm on ABC. You can keep up with Bernard by following him on Twitter and Instagram.

Photo Credit: Andre L. Perry