Exclusive Interview with There’s… Johnny’s Camrus Johnson

Interview, Pop Culture, Television

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us. 

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Camrus Johnson is an up-and-coming actor and writer whose name you won’t want to forget. As someone who has had a hand in all kinds of on-camera media, his resume already speaks for itself. Johnson is starring in his biggest project yet as Rasheed Miller in Hulu’s There’s… Johnny. I got the chance to talk with him about his path to becoming an actor, his new role, his recent binge of Black Mirror and so much more. Read on to get to know him better.

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?

Yeah, I’d say so. When I was 16, I was in my second year of acting in high school and I went to this thing back in Georgia called the Georgia Theatre Conference. And it was this sort of…this conference or event where high schoolers get to learn more about acting, get to perform, meet other actors from other high schools. But the biggest part about it, at least what stuck out to me the most, was getting to audition for colleges. So there was a part of GTC where we got to audition for 17 colleges. I had been acting for a year, year and a half by then. I got 14 out of 17 callbacks which was one of the highest, if not the highest, number in class. After sort of thinking that acting might not be a viable career and that I don’t know if I can actually make it and live as an artist, I got the 14 callbacks and was like “maybe I can do this.”

So did you end up studying acting in college? Or did you go straight out of high school into your career as an actor?

It’s funny, I went straight out of high school. I was going to go to the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia. Out of all the 14 schools I had a callback for, that was one of them and they interested me the most. They were very approachable, they were very friendly, one of the teachers was an actor in the show George Lopez, which I used to watch as a kid, so it sort of made sense. Then my great aunt, my grandfather’s sister, called my father just asking about us kids and he told her that I was going to go to school for acting. She was like, “Oh, well if he wants to be an actor, he should just move to New York. Why is he going to go to Georgia?” And I was like, “Okay.” So I did that. And I was going to live here in New York for a year first, and then go to school after that, but in that first year I just decided to keep doing what I’m doing because I was learning as I was auditioning, and I tend to be a better learner on the job than in a classroom setting anyway. So I decided to skip the whole school thing, unless something were to happen and I wasn’t booking anything and I needed to learn. But I liked how I was learning in the streets and on set.

And you’ve been in New York ever since?

And I’ve been in New York ever since. Five years.

You just mentioned how you like learning on set rather than a classroom setting. So kind of going off of that, you’ve worked with a lot of professionals. What would you say is some of the best advice about the industry you’ve ever received and why? 

Oooh. I love that question [laughs]. Some of the best advice I’ve ever received…I’d say it was earlier in my career and someone told me that I have to be my own number one fan. Because in this industry, people will be there for you but at the same time no one is going to help you if you don’t help yourself. If you go in for 50 auditions and don’t get a callback for a single one of them, it will hurt and make you feel like you’re not good and that you shouldn’t be doing this. But an older actor, years and years ago, I can’t even remember who it was, told me that you have to be your number one fan. Because if you don’t have confidence in yourself, there’s no reason that everyone else should have confidence in you. So whenever I would go to those twenty auditions and I wouldn’t book one, I would keep telling myself, “It’s not on you. It could be any other thing. It could be another actor, it could be the director, it could be anything.” So I just had to keep reminding myself that, no matter what, as long as I keep cheering myself on it will make other people want to as well.

You’ve been at this for five years, but what are some of your biggest goals in acting right now? Do you have a personal acting “bucket list?”

Oh yeah. I still want to perform on a Broadway stage. I mean, I’ve performed on a Broadway stage before. I was in a Gypsy of the Year, which is a Broadway Equity Fights AIDS kind-of talent show thing. So I did that and that was amazing. But I want to perform in a Broadway show on a Broadway stage. I would love to lead a movie. I was supporting, last time, in a movie called Stalkerish Prey, which was amazing. I had such a great time, but I would love to lead or be supporting in a bigger project. I’m doing a lot of writing nowadays and one of my goals is to get one of my writing projects off the ground and made.

Moving on, talk to me about There’s… Johnny. What can you tell audiences about the series?

There’s…. Johnny is this beautifully written, period piece about a kid who gets a job at The Tonight Show back in the 70s during the Johnny Carson era. So the entire show takes place sort of backstage and behind the scenes of the Johnny Carson Tonight Show. Johnny Carson was the first big deal, the first legend of the late night hosts. He’s sort of where the Jimmy Fallons and the Jimmy Kimmels sort of come from. It’s been really cool to sort of experience that and live in that.

One really cool thing about this show is that we use archival footage from his show in our show. So you’ll be watching a clip from his show and something goes wrong, or seems to go wrong in that clip, and you’ll cut to backstage which is us freaking out, going “what do we do? How do we fix this?” It’s pretty cool. Tony Danza is in it; he’s making his comeback. Paul Reiser is involved in it and he’s making his comeback as our writer, executive producer.

It’s about this kid, Andy Klavin, who gets a job at The Tonight Show and he’s sort of gifted this. It’s kind of an accident. He thinks he gets a job there and he never really had a job there. But because they feel bad for him, they give him a job. He’s played by my buddy, Ian Nelson, and he’s trying to just fit in and thankfully he gets taken under the wing of Joy, played by Jane Levy. She guides him and tries to make him not be the failure of the whole company. Eventually, he meets my character Rasheed Miller, who is a really powerful, loud, Black Power stand-up comedian who has these huge Hollywood dreams and one of those dreams is to be on The Tonight Show. And luckily for him, he runs into Andy and he befriends him. He becomes his friend, but also sort of his guide in a way because Andy is so innocent and naive.

It sounds incredible and I’m not just saying that. I saw the trailer and I’m excited for it to drop. But I’m curious: how did you get involved with the project? What was the audition process like?

Oh man, that’s a story. So I did a self-tape audition for this show, which means that you have to do the audition yourself at home or wherever. I had my buddy, Patrick McCarthy, do basically every single audition and callback with me for this project. He was my good luck charm [laughs]. I ended up doing one audition tape and four callback tapes. I sent those in December 2016 and come January the role was between me and one other actor. It was a Wednesday and casting called me and told me they wanted me to fly to Los Angeles and be there by Friday. They wanted me to meet Paul Reiser, meet David Steven Simon and do everything as if I had gotten the part, because apparently the other actor had already done the table readings, and was already sort of in the mix, but there was another project that he was looking to work on instead of this show. So it was Thursday morning and I hopped on a plane last minute, got there that night and I just sort of sat all weekend waiting to hear. On Monday I got the call saying I had the part and they said, “you start shooting tomorrow.” So I had to find a place and figure out my situation. I hadn’t been to LA since I was 15, so I was sort of figuring everything out as I went along and it was a crazy ride.

Wow. That is one heck of a story. But going back to your character, Rasheed, would you say that he is more similar or different to the person that Camrus is? Why?

I think we’re similar in the fact that we have a big heart, each of us, but Rasheed is a lot more guarded with his. He has a big heart, but he doesn’t want everyone to know that. And he has a lot more secrets that he tends to keep to himself, or feels the need to keep to himself rather. I’m more of an open book and I don’t feel as if I have much to hide. When I do have something to hide, I still usually end up telling someone about it. I do, also, come from somewhat of a comedy background, but Rasheed’s comedy tends to be a little more dark and political and angry and my comedy is a bit more soft [laughs].

We’re similar in that regard and Rasheed sort of feels like my brother. I feel like there’s so much of him in me and me in him. I feel like he would be a version of me if raised in a completely different environment. And I don’t want to give too much away, and just see when you watch, but when you see his anger come out, that’s the different between us.

I’m sure it’s always interesting to be involved in something that’s based off of real life. How did you go about researching your role, especially cause your character is fictional within a world that’s based on real life? How much did you know about Johnny Carson andThe Tonight Show before you signed on to this project?

I didn’t know too much about Johnny Carson, to be honest. I was told that he was a legend, I was told that he was the host of The Tonight Show back in the day. So I sort of just put him in the head of the hosts that I know and love, Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon. I watched a couple of clips of his on YouTube. But since I got the role the day before, I didn’t get to research him the way that I wanted to. I did as the show went on and after, I watched a lot more clips.

There was a second part to your question….oh, how I prepared for the role. For Rasheed, I actually put on a couple of stand-up routines, in my room, for no audience, to get into the mind of a Rasheed. All of my stand-up comedian friends said to practice jokes on people all of the time; that’s just how their minds work. Think of something funny and then throw it into casual conversation. So I did a lot of that too. I talked to my friends in LA, or over Skype if they were in New York, and I would just try jokes on them because that’s what Rasheed would do. A lot of the time they would be like, “What are you doing?” because I would just be throwing joke after joke. But I think that stand-up routines in my room helped me the most because Rasheed, he performs. What he does is on stage and that’s where he feels he belongs is on stage, behind a mic, in front of an audience.

You mentioned Tony Danza earlier and obviously he’s an icon. What was it like to work with him?

He’s my guy. I love that dude. I really hope for a season two, because I look forward to more scenes with him. I only got to work on set with him a couple of times. Thankfully we became friends and hung out after the show. He’s everything you think he is. He’s this beautiful man where no matter how you’re feeling, he makes you happy. Even if you’re as happy as you think you can be, Tony makes you happier. It’s funny, because you look at him one second and he’s making someone laugh. You turn around for two seconds and then look back and he’s tap dancing and making five people laugh. Then he picks up a trumpet and will start playing it; he’s doing something all the time. He’s like a glowing light.

It’s cool to have him on set because we all know who he is, and we all respect him, and it’s cool to love someone you respect. Tony once gave me two tickets to this show he was doing. It was like a live, singing performance show with this group of kids for a foundation. After the show I walked up to the stage and he was like, “What did you think? Did you like it?” And I was like, “What did I think? You’re Tony Danza, dude. It doesn’t matter what I think?” [laughs]

We’ve really seen streaming services take off in the last two years or so. What’s it like to be a part of this new wave of content, especially for Hulu who has just really dived into original content?

I owe a lot of my career to streaming services because my first two television shows were Netflix, and now my biggest role yet is in a Hulu show. So I owe them a lot and I have a lot of respect for them because they have so many more opportunities for actors like me, who are coming up. Also, as far as my writing projects, there are so many avenues to get content created, and things made, and to get people to watch things. And I kind of like the dropping the whole season in one day thing because people’s attention spans are very much shortened, because we have so much media and so much to look at. For some shows, I’ll watch the first couple of episodes of it and there are just so many things to do that I won’t make my way back to it. It’s good to have it all in one place because I can watch it all in one go. I feel like if I watch seven episodes, thirty-minutes each, I can do that in one day. It won’t take much time from me and I’ll enjoy that rather than waiting once a week to watch something like we used to. And we still do for some shows, but I have to make time to do that. I have to make a commitment to watch that show.

I just have a few fun questions to wrap up with. Now that you’re going to be starring in a new Hulu show, what’s been the best show that you binged recently? It can be on Hulu or a different streaming site.

I sort-of, kind of, binged Black Mirror. That show is kind of hard to binge because it’s a lot. It’s pretty dark. I would watch between 3-5 episodes a day, because that’s pretty much all you can take since they are an hour long each. But that show is great. I don’t know if you’ve seen it or not.

No, I have not. I’ve never even heard of it. Which site is it on? 

Oh man, so Black Mirror was I think a BBC show for it’s first two seasons and then Netflix picked it up. So now there is three seasons on there and a fourth season coming out soon. I recommend seeing 3×01 first because it gives you the tone of the show, but it’s not nearly as dark, or it won’t get your gut turning like some of the other episodes. It’s like the current day Twilight Zone, but in color and under the umbrella of technology. So it’s pretty sweet, but you shouldn’t start with the first episode because it’s pretty dark [laughs].

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

I love video games. I’m pretty sure one reason I became an actor is because of the video games I played as a kid. I used to imagine myself as the main character.  Being able to role play like that was so cool, so it was only natural that I became an actor because I was basically acting with my hands and a remote.

I’m not so much a nerd about comic books, like I want to be, but I read about 50 of them, because I wanted to write my own, which I did, and I’m working on getting that made now. Ever since I read those 50, it’s just like comic books are so cool. I read one about teenagers that went to an assassin high school, like that’s so cool. So I like that kind of stuff. I like very colorful, nerdy things, like a more technology, virtual reality, video games, comic book kind of nerdy.

If you weren’t THAT into comic books before you read a bunch of them, what inspired you to write your own?

I have this idea for a live action video game feature film. A friend of mine read the script, or the treatment for the project. He said that because of the world of DC and Marvel right now, he said you should probably make it into a comic book first, because that will make it much easier since it’s basically an elongated storyboard. And I was like, “Oh yeah, that’s genius. I can do that.” So I gave it a shot, and I read all these comics, and I got a co-writer. I got an artist to make some mock-up art for me last year or so, and I’ve got to write the comic script for it. Since I’m so new,  I don’t know what a comic script looks like because I’ve only seen two. I’m working on re-writing, but essentially I’m writing it for the purpose of turning it into an on-camera project.

There’s… Johnny Season 1 drops on Hulu on November 16th. And you can follow Camrus on Twitterand Instagram.

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Exclusive Interview with Rafael V. DeLeon

Interview, Pop Culture, Television

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us.

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Rafael V. DeLeon took the road less traveled into an acting career. He played a year of Division II basketball at Averett University in Danville, VA, which just happens to be my hometown, before taking his talents to the highest competitive level at Temple University for his last three years of eligibility. After he graduated, he still had yet to try his hand at acting. Instead, he landed a job working for the mayor of Washington, D.C. in the Executive Office of Boards & Commissions. He decided after working 40 or more hours a week in politics that he was ready to follow his passion for film, so he moved to New York to be an actor in 2011 and hasn’t looked back. Currently, DeLeon is set to star in Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It, a revival of the 1986 film that launched Spike Lee’s career, which comes out on Thanksgiving Day. I got the opportunity to talk to him about his journey from college basketball player to actor, his role in the new series, things he doesn’t understand about dating in 2017 and so much more. Read on to see his answers.

There’s a lot of things in your bio that stand out. You were a college basketball player, first at Averett University, which is a program that is close to my heart, and then at Temple University, right? 

Right. It’s so funny. There are a select number of people that have even heard of Danville, Virginia so that’s even cooler that you know it and are familiar with the program. I played for a year down in Danville, but I decided that I wanted to play at the highest level of competition in the country and I ended up transferring to Temple University in Philadelphia and finished up my collegiate career, obviously, as a student-athlete there. It was a character building experience but it also showed me that I was able to accomplish anything that I set my mind to at an early age, at 19.

So then was your dream as a kid to be a professional basketball player in the NBA? Or did this collegiate career just kind of happen?

No, it was definitely playing basketball professionally and following that dream. And that had kind of been the vision up until I graduated college.

After you graduated from Temple, you also worked for the mayor of DC in the Executive Office of Boards & Commissions, right?

Yeah, after I graduated from college I ended up going back home to the Maryland-DC area. A friend of mine was working, at the time, for the Mayor of DC. I asked him if there were any job openings and he ended up getting me an interview. I saw two administration changes and I learned a lot when I was in politics.

Did you work for Mayor Bowser or Mayor Gray?

So I actually worked for Mayor Fenty and then also Mayor Gray. I ended up leaving DC in 2011. When Mayor Gray ran against [current mayor] Muriel Bowser [in 2014], Mayor Gray ended up losing the election so I was kind of happy that I relocated to New York when I did.

So you just said you left DC and moved to New York. But I have to ask: 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?

Well, I think that for me, I think there were three primary drivers in my passion for film. The first one was my grandfather. He and I and my cousin, after school when he would pick us up on Wednesdays and Fridays, we would go to Blockbuster and he would let us select a movie of our liking, that was obviously age appropriate, and the three of us would sit around and watch those movies. My grandfather is a huge cinephile, in a way that he has had a love of film for a very long time. As we would watch these films, he would have us guessing what would happen. At the time, I didn’t quite realize it but we were more or less analyzing characters and discovering and uncovering character development, character arcs, that sort of thing. So throughout elementary school and middle school, that foundation was laid.

My mother also did a lot of local theater, so there were a lot of mornings where I was running her lines with her, or if she had an audition then I was the other person. That was always something that she and I always did together. You know how when you have specific things that are specific to one parent, like when you have things that really only the two of you know about, the two of you only experience together? That’s kind of what that was for us. Running lines with her was something I enjoyed doing and she enjoyed as well.

And I would say the third thing is I grew up in the mid-nineties and there were a lot of people of color on TV at the time. Specifically, I think I was heavily influenced by All That, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Family Matters, Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, evenMartin when I was able to sneak it in and watch. But those shows for me, specifically Fresh Prince, were something that really got me. I didn’t know at the time that’s what it was. But I just recall, at the time, really enjoying what was being discussed, being entertained and laughing.

So when you moved from DC to New York, was your wanting to try your hand at acting the reason you moved or were you just looking for a change and then still somehow ended up in acting?

It was specifically for acting. After having lived in DC and also Philadelphia, I’ve always wanted to live in New York and I wanted to specifically pursue film. It was something I had put off in high school and college. Having had an experience working 40 hours a week or more in government, I was excited to do something that was a serious passion of mine. Youthful naivete, to some extent, but I’m happy I did it. 

What are some of your biggest goals in acting right now? Do you have a personal acting “bucket list?”

I do, I do. I think that all actors have a list of roles and films that they would want to be a part of. I think that at this point in my career, I’m open to all types of films and genres. I think that there is something to be said for the story that is being told and what they’re discussing and talking about. I have always grown up loving Indiana Jones so there is a level of action and comedy that I really enjoyed about that. But the answer is I’m open to what comes up and what that quality of work is on that project. But I definitely have a bucket list.

Moving on to She’s Gotta Have It, how you did you get involved with the project? What was the audition process like?

One of my highlights, I would say, of my career thus far was that audition process. When I got the audition, I was already aware that Spike [Lee] was involved with it but obviously the details of how they were shooting it hadn’t come out yet, and they were still casting for the roles. I went into the room and I ended up meeting with one of the casting assistants and we ended putting it up on tape. A few days later, I got a call from my agent saying that they wanted to offer me the role.

The reason why it was such a big deal for me is that Kim Coleman, the head casting director, and Spike, neither of them were in the room at the time. And for me to be offered the role after them having watched the tape was really important because it validated, for me, that I was able to transmit emotion and communicate exactly how I was feeling on camera because obviously that’s a different feeling with stage acting, theatre acting, being in person versus watching it on film. So for me, having them see the tape and select me, I was extremely grateful for it.

Had you seen the original movie before you got the role? If so, were you a fan?

Prior to the audition I had done my general research on the film. When I audition for roles, I try not watch or look at roles that have been done already. As an artist, there is something to be said about authentically bringing in your vision of the role or of the character. So I had not watched the film prior to the audition, but after booking the role obviously I watched it. I had been extremely familiar with a lot of Spike’s work and I had seen most of his films prior to the audition. I did know about who he was and about the iconic status that he has in the film space. One of my first Spike films that I remember was He Got Game with Ray Allen.

Of course. Classic.

That [movie] was something that for me was the first time I was like, “who produced this? Who directed this? Who’s idea was this?”

Speaking of Spike Lee, what is it like working with him? I mean like you said, he’s such a legendary and iconic director.

Spike is really cool. One thing that I’ll say is that, for me, what really struck me is his level of engagement and his authenticity. For me, I didn’t know what to expect. So it was really refreshing to have Spike on set and be very precise and specific with what he was looking for, that made it really easy for me, as an actor, to deliver what he was looking for.

Talk a little bit about your character, Manny Garciela. What is he like? How does it fit into the story?

In the original film, Spike focused on Nola Darling and the three gentleman that were all pursuing Nola and that was kind of the scope of the film. With the show, they’ve built that world out a bit more and my character, Manny Garciela, plays Mars Blackmon’s best friend. I would describe Manny, obviously as Mars’ best friend and road dog, but I would also describe him also as someone who has a lot of different layers in the Hispanic community. What I mean by that is Spike, I thought, did a really amazing job of showing the dichotomy, culturally, that exists in the Hispanic community. An example I would give of that is that with Mars being black and Puerto Rican, he has more of a hip-hop kind of influence where as Manny is a little bit more on the punk rock side. He leans more towards leather than he does fitted caps and sneakers. I felt that the fact that Spike even addresses that on a very subtext level, to me that was a really amazing thing. Because for me, as someone who is biracial, it’s not something that I’ve ever seen on film.

I have a few more fun questions to start wrapping up our time. Since the show focuses on Nola and her trying to navigate dating life in 2017 with three very different relationships, what is something you don’t understand about dating in 2017?

Ooh [laughs]. Great question. I think that people will judge who you are based off your digital and/or social media presence. And sometimes it doesn’t take in to account all of the intricacies of your humanity. I find myself sometimes meeting people who do follow me on social media and they have a preconceived notion about me based on the content that’s posted. I have a lot of things that would be considered nerdy, if you will, that I don’t always share in a certain space due to what I’m looking to have as my aesthetic for my social media. So I do sometimes limit the intricacies of my interests to some extent. I think that people have preconceived notions about some of that stuff. It’s like, “no. There’s a lot more there.”

I know you’re a big basketball and football fan. Being from DC, are you a Wizards and Redskins fan? 

I am, yes. And Nationals. And Capitals.

What are your thoughts on their seasons so far?

With the Wizards, their season just started. I’m still hopeful [with them] in the Eastern Conference. It’s going to be a tough, uphill battle for them. They have Boston and Cleveland, which appear to be the toughest contenders in the east. So it’s gonna be a little bit of a challenge, along with Milwaukee; they’re pretty good this year. Football wise, Washington just came off of a huge win in Seattle. As a Washington fan, I will say that we have been tormented and have nightmares of playing against Seattle, whether it was in the playoffs or whether it was in the regular season, we haven’t had much luck. So to go into Seattle this past weekend and get a win, I thought was really a step in the right direction.

Now that you’re going to be starring in a new Netflix show, what’s been the best show that you binged recently? It can be on Netflix or a different streaming site.

Right now, I really enjoyed Ozark. Jason Bateman was phenomenal in that role and I think that it was really well done and smartly written and the way they shoot it is unbelievable. So I would say Ozark is one and Mindhunter. I’ve been checking that out recently. The first episode, I was a little bit on the fence about. But I will say that, I’m on episode 9 now, that episodes 2-9 have been, they’ve lived up to the hype.

You kind of alluded to being a big nerd but since we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us, what’s something that you nerd out about?

I have a couple so I’ll limit it to three. I like nerding out about anything that is space related. So recently, NASA discovered an unidentified object that entered our solar system but it was not following the trajectory of an asteroid so they aren’t exactly sure what it was, but they are aware that it did enter. So that’s something that I really, really enjoy following and reading about.

I enjoy reading about tech innovations, specifically what Elon Musk is doing with Hyperloop and Space X and autonomous driving and stuff, I find extremely interesting. Also renewable energy, specifically because of space travel, is fascinating to me.

I also enjoy chess, I nerd out about it a lot. I follow a lot of the chess masters. I don’t watch all of their matches because they take time before they make moves, but I’m definitely reading recaps, following along with that [laughs].

Well you just taught me something because I didn’t realize that recaps of chess matches were a thing and now I kind of want to go read one.

Yeah, totally. They have recaps of these matches with these chess masters and you’re able to look through each of their moves and so I play chess on my phone against my father, my uncle, my cousins, strangers and I like to study a lot of chess opens and I’m working on my middle game and my end game right now. But they allow for you to look at the recap and see, in a very succinct way, what their moves were and so you’re able to kind of analyze what their openings were, why they opened a certain way, how they modified things as things changed, etc. So for me that’s something I always check up on and try to learn from.

You can check Rafael out in She’s Gotta Have It when the first season is released November 23 on Netflix. You can follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Photo Credit: Timothy Rosado

Exclusive Interview with Jane the Virgin’s Keller Wortham

Interview, Pop Culture, Television

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us.

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Keller Wortham is like no other actor I’m familiar with. Not only does he constantly put in work to become as successful an actor as possible, he also currently practices internal medicine in the Los Angeles area. He shared with me how he balances the two very different careers, how he originally got the role of Esteban Santiago on Jane the Virgin, which is the role he is most recognized for, and what he nerds out about.

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

This is so funny but I remember being a kid and seeing The Muppets Movie where they all decide they want to go to Hollywood. I love musicals and stuff liked that, I mean I loved movies but it was even better if it was a musical and [laughs] I swear to God I credit Kermit the Frog for having this dream of leaving the swamp and going to Hollywood. I must have been five years old and I think I even had a Muppets-themed birthday and we sang the Muppets songs and I just loved putting on plays and shows and singing for the family. They would entertain me and I think that was their biggest mistake [laughs], encouraging this behavior. So yeah, from a very early age I knew I wanted to perform.

When I was doing some research on you, I saw that you also currently practice as an doctor. 

Yeah, I do.

Where did you study and what kind of medicine do you practice?

Yeah. So I went to medical school at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., I did my residency in internal medicine in Pittsburgh, and then moved to LA to pursue an acting career, or as my parents said, to enjoy the circus. And it was really that desire to get back to a creative and performing life that I was missing so much. At least in medical school and residency, you can’t have that as you don’t have time for anything else. It was a shock to my balance of everything, saying, “oh man. I lost this really significant part of me and I don’t feel complete. We’re going to have to re-think this.”

My father is a doctor so I grew up loving the arts and also having a great example of a guy who devoted his life to science and I also excelled in science so it seemed like, well acting is a hobby and what are we going to do for a career? So that’s kind of how it went until I was really forced to make a choice of all one or the other till I thought, “okay. Let’s move to LA and see if there is a way, a sure way to hybridize. And it’s worked out, it’s worked out quite well actually.

That’s so interesting. I’m curious: how has it been trying to balance your career as a physician and as an actor? I’d imagine that it has to be challenging as I wouldn’t expect there to be a whole lot of overlap. But maybe I’m wrong?

Well the core overlap, if you allow me to get a little bit esoteric, is that they are both really rooted in humanity and what it is to be intimate and what it is to want to understand more about the human condition, albeit one maybe from a more physical aspect and one from a more emotional aspect. There’s a ton of emotion and psychology in medicine and you get in very intimate circumstances with complete strangers. And really, you’re doing that with acting as well. But I think it’s that exploration in both that links them together for me.

As far as more logistically, you’re right. There’s not a lot of overlap. I actually don’t think I’ve ever played a doctor in a movie or a film. As much as I would have loved to be on Grey’s Anatomy, it just hasn’t worked out yet. I think the biggest hurdle I found starting out was that people will inherently take you less seriously about both. People are not comfortable when you don’t fit inside a box. You can obviously understand a patient or a colleague being like, “Oh. You’re an actor?” And just have them completely discount you’re work as a physician. But you equally find discrimination, if you will, from a casting director or a director or a manager who is like, “Oh. Well, you’re not 100% devoted to this so I don’t know if we want to pursue working with you.” So luckily, there were enough people who believed that I was not only capable but could excel at both.

What are some of your biggest goals in acting right now? Do you have a personal acting “bucket list?” I mean, you just mentioned that you’ve never played a doctor before, would that be on there?

Yes, I would love to play a doctor just because I have the wealth of knowledge. I also would love to, I tend to get cast as these decent and noble human beings or as arrogant human beings, but not as very dark human beings. So I would love to…I got offered a job with Telemundo, which conflicted with Jane the Virgin, that was a corrupt, pedophile politician that was based on a true character. And I didn’t get to explore that too much because I knew the dates weren’t going to work out, but I thought that it would have been the darkest character that I’ve gotten to play. So I’m sad at that missed opportunity because getting to get inside the head of someone like that, that’s for sure on my list of exploring. We all have those capabilities within us and the funny thing, coming at it from a very scientific point of view, the amount of impulses that the human brain has on a second per second basis that are so grotesque, they’re there. We just have a very developed cerebral cortex that shuts them down and says, “Nope. You’re not allowed to make-out with that person that you don’t even know. Nope, you’re not allowed to hit that person that you’re really mad at,” and there’s tons of things that are really grotesque that we keep in check. So to be able to explore those uninhibitedly is something I still long to do.

In terms of Jane the Virgin, which is the role you’re probably most recognized for, let’s go back just a little bit. How did you first hear about the role of Esteban? What was the audition process like?

It’s really funny because my manager, my agent at the time, called me and said that there was a role for a telenovela star on this new show and they’re going to see and she said, “You are a telenovela star,” which is true because I had done a couple of them in Colombia at that point that were really successful. So I had gotten to live that life for a hot second. But I’m American, English is my first language and Spanish was learned. But they wanted a Latino and she had kind of left that detail out. So we kind of had to fudge it a little bit. I went into the audition with Esteban’s accent and I talked with it the whole time as if it were my own accent [laughs]. But it ended up paying off and luckily I got the role.

What can you tell us about what Esteban is up to in the next few episodes? We saw last week that he and Darci are an item and he was a big help with the birth of the baby.

Esteban really, his MO at this point is to be a dad, not only a lover to this woman, who I believe he is sincerely in love with even though it happened over the course of like five days [laughs]. But I think there is this real desire to be a father that he hasn’t gotten to fulfill yet. So it’s going to be a continuous battle to insert himself into the life of this child, much to the chagrin of Rogelio.

Keller in the giant sperm costume that his character on the Jane the Virgin had to wear

Also, going back really quick: did you ever think you were going to have to play a giant sperm? Did you find out ahead of time that this was going to be a thing?

It was so much fun. What happens is usually we get the scripts first and you read it and you’re like, “Oh my God. Are you serious? This is hilarious. Esteban is having sex with the woman and therefore there is going to be a sperm version of him and Rogelio is blocking it out.” And you’re just like, when would you ever get to film something like this ever? And then you have to go to a wardrobe fitting and I had to go to several because it takes a little bit of time to sew up a mermaid-style sperm costume. So going to wardrobe and getting zipped up into this thing, where I can’t really move when I’m in it. They would put me on the ground of the dressing room because we had to figure out how it was all going to fit and had me wiggle. We could adjust the head a bit, and velcro it up in the back, and adjust the tail some more. Just imagine repetitive wiggling on the floor of a dressing room; it was really funny.

I know you’ve got another new series on Telemundo that’s getting ready to start and I would butcher the name if I tried to say it [Sangre de Mi Tierra]. Can you talk a little bit about the series and what your role is?

The series is called “Sangre de Mi Tierra” which means “Blood of My Land.” It’s basically a modern Romeo and Juliet story that takes place in Napa about two immigrant families that have vineyards. It’s very realistically written and I can’t say too much, but it’s about events that could happen to any of us and make the two families battle with each other. My character is basically the ex-boyfriend of one of the lead characters who comes in and disrupts the family dynamic. I would say it’s beautifully written in the sense that it shows the complexity of family life. We’ve all been in scenarios where things aren’t going so well in the family and we fall out of love, etc. I commend Telemundo for taking a risk and trying to write much less salacious material than usual. It’s very, very real and very nuanced and I hope it does well because there’s a lot of tragedy that is quite believable in the story.

Yeah. I think it’s interesting what you said about Telemundo moving away from more salacious material because I think that’s the reputation they’ve always gotten. So I’ll be curious to see how their programming changes moving forward.

The Latin public is, it might sound bad to use the word “maturing,” but I do mean that they’re evolving. There’s so much access to good television now that the public is demanding more interesting content as well now, that is better acted and better produced. So the partnership with Telemundo and NBC has really raised the game and it’s really fun to be a part of that family. I’ve already gotten an offer to be a part of a Christmas special that we shoot next week which is fun because I play an American character that doesn’t really speak Spanish at all and a lot of  the comedy comes from him and the female interest not understanding each other. So it’s fun because my Spanish is really good and my character’s Spanish will not be as good.

Speaking of good television content, I know you probably don’t have a lot of free time, but what shows are you watching when you do have some downtime? Whats on your DVR?

Oh God [laughs]. First of all, I’m notoriously bad at watching every week but I love to binge-watch. I loved Bloodline. It’s really dark. Again, I love that believable family drama where it’s like, “Oh my God. That could happen.” I love shows where good characters, good people sink into bad situations. That, thematically, is great for me because I see myself as a good person so I love imaging scenarios where I would behave that way as well. So I love Bloodline. I love Stranger Things, as well. I have a real soft spot for Goonies-style kid-genre movies. I grew up with Goonies and so it’s like living a special moment. I have not started the second season that just dropped, but that is on the top of my list.

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

Oh well. I’m a pianist so I love classical music so I play every day for a couple of hours. I’ll have friends over and I’ll almost like commandeer them to become an audience. I’ll be like, “Hey, I’m gonna play for you,” and they’re like, “F*ck. If I have to sit through one more f*cking show.” But I love the technical skills that are necessary to play good classical music, and try to impart on other people how brilliant classical music is, and how we drifted from some really important things in today’s world, and I find that a lot of music that is written today to be musically boring.

Exclusive Interview with Brett Zimmerman

Interview, Pop Culture

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us. 

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Brett Zimmerman has been around the block, starring in some notable titles with some huge names. Now, Zimmerman is taking his career into new territories. He will be starring and lending his voice as the primary player, “PFC Ronald ‘Red’ Daniels” in the highly anticipated Call of Duty: World War II game. He is also set to star in the VR film Flesh and Bone, which will be released this fall. We got the chance to talk with him about how he got into acting, his new roles, and his love for comics. Read below to learn more about him.

To get started, I’d like to hear how you got into acting. Was it something you always wanted to do, or did the bug bite you later in life?

Acting, for me, was certainly a bug I caught later in life, but once I got a taste for it, it became infectious. I had an appreciation for movie nights from an early age, however. My mom worked a lot of overnights on the weekends as a nurse in the ER at Carolinas Medical Center, which left all us dudes at home alone with Dad. I have two amazing brothers, who I hold as two of my best friends, and our dad loved taking us for ice cream and watching late night movies. I can remember being roughly 6 years old living in Charlotte, North Carolina when my dad, quite the jokester, would wake my brothers and I up after we had gone to bed many times saying “Hey, boys wake up, you’re late for school!” As we came to, and realized it was in fact Saturdaynight, our dad would then chuckle in awe and say, “I’m just teasing boys…who wants to watch a movie and eat ice cream”? What movies we watched is a bit hazy, as I was young and half asleep most of the time, but I will never forget how enjoyable that was for me as we bundled up on the couch together while we waited up for mom to get home.

As I got older, my adoration for films grew, but it wasn’t until college that I discovered my own personal interest for acting. I never truly knew what I wanted to be growing up, and going into college I was still undecided. I tested multiple majors, juggling several different jobs, and right after my freshman year decided to start working with a local agency out of Charlotte, NC to create additional income. I signed with Evolution Talent Agency, with the intention of booking work for local and regional print jobs, as well as commercial spots for TV. My resume of work at that time consisted of editorials, catalog work at Macy’s, and commercial spots for both Coca-Cola and Bloom Grocery Store. The fire had been lit.

The more I was on set, the greater my interest grew. I joke that if I had half the interest I did towards my college curricular as I did for production on set, I would have graduated with honors cum laude. I paid attention to everything, and had a desire to learn. Through Evolution, I later landed a gig doing featured extra work for a week on One Tree Hill in Wilmington, NC. That week, everything became so clear. I knew without a doubt I wanted to be an actor. Graduating from Clemson and receiving my degree was still a priority, but that didn’t stop me. I worked that much harder and that much faster immersing myself into classes.  As a developmental agency, Evolution gave me guidance, and helped align my path towards LA. They set up agency meetings, class lists, and points of contact here when the time came. December 2007, I graduated from Clemson University with a degree in Business Management and remained home for the next two years. Once securing enough of a savings to trust the road ahead, my mother and I packed up every inch of my car and made the drive across country, arriving here in February 2010. She stayed for a week while I met with agencies and got settled in. She and all of my family are back home in Fort Mill, SC, but I get home as often as I can.  Family always grounds me, as they are the roots to who I am.

I’m nearing my 8th year here in LA, and it’s certainly a home away from home, but in no way has the road gotten any easier. Thankfully, I love what I do and trust wholeheartedly, that’ll never change. I hope to affect people and inspire them through the scope of my work…that is the joy in acting.

You’ve acted in a wide range of genres, from daytime soaps to drama to action and more; which is your personal favorite to watch, and which is your personal favorite to act in?

With the amount of content out nowadays, it’s easy to find an appetite for every genre, but I’m guilty for enjoying a good drama film with some kickass action! The same goes for the type of roles I enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, I find so much pleasure in making someone laugh or smile, but I get geared up differently when diving into an action role. Being able to take yourself somewhere emotionally is one thing, but finding that range while embracing the physical challenges opens me up in a completely organic raw way, and not just physically, but vocally as well.

Call of Duty is a pretty big name in the console gaming business. How did you land the role of PFC Ronald Daniels?

I auditioned for COD close to 2 years ago, which is crazy to think about. Callbacks weren’t until months later, around August or September of 2016, and I eventually got the offer late last year. I remember, though, receiving the first set of audition sides, and feeling so uncertain as to what I was getting into. The first scene was a monologue, which was written so well that I connected to it right away. The second scene was roughly 6 pages of combat, which was paced with minimal dialogue and expressive battle chatter commands. Seeing as how I was unfamiliar with auditioning for games, I did the only thing that made sense…I moved every bit of furniture in my living room, and created the map layout scripted within the pages before me. I recall my roommate strolling into the kitchen while I’m casually diving into the prone position to sight up two enemy combatants in the building (aka my lazyboy sofa, lol) just beyond our clearing.

When I finally sat down with the creative team, we discussed the overall storyline, and they expressed how important it was for the players to be able to connect to their squad while facing the many conflicts that arise throughout the overall plot line.

It’s fun to reflect back on the process, but the role of Daniels by no means came without a ton of heart. I put everything I had into finding the parts of him that were genuine to myself, and at the core of that was family.

What can you tell us about PFC Daniels’ story?

Ronald Daniels was born into a farming family in rural Longview, Texas. Since a young age, he’s been an avid hunter. He’s young and idealistic, charismatic, and carries a sense of pride and ambition. As we first meet him, he’s just joined the 1stInfantry Division as the primary playable character of our story. I describe him as the gamer’s window into this story that is bigger than all of us. As a young soldier in a trial by fire, Daniels learns that being a hero comes at the heavy price of personal sacrifice. As he fights to keep his fellow soldiers alive, he realizes that there is no glory in winning, only surviving, but he would lay down his life for any one of the men or women fighting beside him.

Describe your experience with voice acting. How is it different from stage and screen acting? What additional challenges does it pose? Which do you prefer?

Voice acting was just the start of the characters you’ll see in Call of Duty: World War II. This was so much more. Our characters were built out to our likeness through facial capture. We spent an entire day in a light stage doing well over a hundred different muscle movements rendering nearly every possible way our face could form. Every line, mole, or indentation captured. We then read aloud sentences in different vocal ranges and emotions to test positioning of our mouths and teeth. There are so many moving parts, and so much detail put into each character, level, etc., but the overall process was so well structured.

I describe motion capture as a marriage between TV, film and theater. With both theatre and PCAP you have to project to fill the space, or in our case, the volume. Another comparison would be that both call for actors to deliver a full performance from start to finish. There are no cuts. You either get the take, or you don’t.

Motion capture, at this level, is hands down one of the most challenging performances I’ve ever had to deliver, but it has also been one of the most fulfilling. It’s such an imaginative process. Once you capture a mindset for the world around you, you’re able to find your footing. I will say that the helmet cam took some getting used to, but in some ways I felt it brought more life to my acting. I wore it as if it was my combat helmet. The weight of it was very real.

You’ve done another interesting type of acting recently: the VR film Flesh and Bone. Tell us about the process of filming VR footage, and tell us what you can about the story.

Yeah, I just wrapped Flesh and Bone, directed by Chateau Bezerra, and produced by JauntVR. I play the lead, Charlie, who is grounded by two loves; his life long love, Stella, played by actress Courtney B. Turk, and his unforgiving passion for boxing. The story has similar conflicts to both Southpaw and Warrior.  While my character fights towards two goals, he may lose one to gain the other. The film has hopes of competing in the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Flesh and Bone was amazing to work on for so many reasons, the firsts of which were that I got to portray a boxer, which I have always wanted to do, and it was shot for VR. It is one of the first boxing films ever shot for virtual reality.  Much like motion capture, VR was a new process for me in terms of acting. Similar to motion capture, there is no stop and start for each take.  We filmed on a Jaunt ONE camera. That thing literally looks like an alien and it makes sure to capture every side, angle, or movement…it’s everywhere. The difficulty was that many of our scenes were shot inside of an authentic 12ft x 12ft ring, which meant we had to have a heightened awareness to our proximity and placement when circling the camera. Additionally, VR doesn’t allow you to watch playback, so we had to go with our gut and trust in our work, as did our director. Chateau was fantastic to work with, and I have no doubt Flesh and Bone will deliver a “knockout” experience through a well crafted story and its’ seamless transitions.

What are some of your biggest goals in acting right now? Do you have a personal acting “bucket list?”

Absolutely! As you mentioned, I’ve been fortunate to work in a wide array of genres, but I’m still just scratching the surface. I’ve set goals since day one, and met many of those targets year to year.  I’ve also made lists of characters, creatures, and roles I’d love to play. Both a soldier and a boxer were on that list.

Film will always have a place in my heart, whether independent or the next big blockbuster. I, like all actors, have a desire for the big screen, but with the growth and popularity of TV shows, there is so much potential to work on new and exciting content. The next step for me would be to find longevity in a role.  Whether as a series regular, or reprising a previous role, I’d love to become a character that viewers or players can connect to episode after episode, story after story. The more time you have with your character, the more you’re able to bring your choices into your work.

You’ve worked with some huge names in some well-known titles! Hugh Laurie in Chance, Charlie Sheen in Anger Management, and Eddie Murphy in the pilot for the CBS show Beverly Hills Cop, not to mention your roles in How to Get Away with Murder and NCIS: New Orleans. Have you ever fanboyed over any of these roles or encounters? Tell us your most embarrassing fanboy experience in your career. When did you geek out the most?

I wouldn’t say fanboy would be the exact term I would use, but I did feel like the coolest kid in school when I got to work with Betty White…or should I say, “married her.”  In 2010, thanks to Facebook user demand, there was a push for her to host Saturday Night Live. In our promo, which ran leading up to her night of hosting, she credits the internet for her opportunity to do so, but asks users not to believe everything they hear on the web; such as the rumors that she’s “dating” some young hottie. Ready for her punch line?  “I married him.”  I’m sorry, but it doesn’t get much cooler than that for me. That woman is a gem!

As for a geek out, I have to give that credit to Mr. Marvel himself, the legend, Stan Lee. In 2011, I portrayed Captain America in the Dr. Pepper “One of a Kind Avengers” commercial spot, which ran months before the first Avengers film released. As with all Marvel projects, Stan “The Man” made his cameo in the spot opposite of myself and the other Avengers. As a kid I grew up sketching comic characters with my dad, so yeah, I may have geeked out a bit…okay, okay that may have been an understatement. You got me, hahaha.

Speaking of geeking out, what things do you geek out over? What kind of stuff gets your inner geek revved up?

Well, I gave a hint in my last answer…ALL things comics! There are so many amazing titles set to release over the course of the next few years, the first of which being Thor: Ragnarok on November 3rdCOD:WWII drops the same day, ladies and gentlemen. Looks like Christmas is coming early this year ; )

Also, nothing gets me more excited than to see deserving people working on cool things. My long time friend, brother, and roommate out here, Gentry White, will be seen this season on The Shannara Chronicles portraying Garet Jax, who is a weapons master bounty hunter.  If you haven’t yet followed the show, you should now!

Finally, tell us about any future projects you have in the works.

With COD nearing completion, and Flesh and Bone being wrapped, my schedule is now opening up for new opportunities.  While I’ve crossed off several character types on my bucket list, I’m hoping to land amongst the Marvel or DC Universe next!

The Novel Ideas: Exclusive Interview and Concert Review

Interview, Music, Pop Culture

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us. 

The Novel Ideas by Danny Hoshino.jpg

I think, at least for me, at least for our live shows, we’re constantly trying to connect with the audience. I’d like to think we’re not very different if you were to meet us on the street than we are on stage. And I think that comes through in our banter and how we talk on stage and it’s more of a dialogue. We have a sing-along at the end of the set often and we like to talk to people afterwards. In terms of the music, I think we’re pretty earnest and everything we’re singing is something someone has felt or experienced in their lives and if other people can relate to that, that’s the most ideal situation.

From the moment I met them, I could tell forming connections was something The Novel Ideas prided themselves on, both in their music and in how they interact with people as a band. I arrived early to their recent show in Washington, D.C. so I could interview them (which you can read down below). Our interview was super casual, as they let me ask questions while they set up equipment. In this way, it was different from any other interview I had conducted. Our conversation was just that: a conversation. There was laughter and jokes told, but they answered every question I threw at them.

The country-folk quartet of Sarah Grella (vocals), Danny Hoshino (guitar, pedal steel, vocals), James Parkington (bass, vocals) and Daniel Radin (guitar, vocals) called The Corner Store, a little brick house-turned-music venue  in Southeast D.C., their stage for the night. As soon as I arrived, I knew it could not be a more perfect space for the band to perform. It was cozy, but exuded feelings of warmth and familiarity, all things I felt the band would play off later that night.

But I have to be honest and say I felt a tad out of place, despite the welcoming venue, once the crowd arrived a few hours later. For the most part, the attendees, which filled the small house, were people at least twenty years my senior. I was surprised by the age gap, considering that The Novel Ideas aren’t an “older” band. Later I overheard many of them say they weren’t familiar with the group, but they loved the venue so they decided on a whim to check them out. While I definitely consider myself a newer fan of The Novel Ideas, at least I  was familiar with all the music they had put out prior to this new, self-titled album being dropped that same day. Fortunately, all of my fears about losing the connection I had felt with the band earlier that evening went away as soon as they started playing. Their 14-song set very much embodied what Daniel told me he hoped their music conveyed to the people who listened to it. In tracks like, “I’m Not Waiting” and “I Was Not Around,” I could definitely tell the lyrics were about something someone in the band had either felt or experienced in their lives. Personally, I related to these songs theme of how easily love and people can come in and out of your life.

The band began their set with “I’ll Try” and ended with “Old Ways,” the two singles that had been out for a couple of weeks to promote the new album. For “Old Ways,” the band made one request: sing along to the chorus every time it came around. After they taught the words, one more small request was made: “sing it with over-confidence.” Not only is “Old Ways” one of my personal favorite songs off the new album, but I feel its message about never holding on too tightly to the past is adaptable to many different facets of life. The sing-along was one of my favorite parts of the night and probably the coolest thing I have ever seen done at a live performance.

After non-stop applause, the band did one more song for an encore. Had I not already been convinced all night of how vocally talented this band is, this encore alone would have convinced me. Four of them, minus Pat, the drummer who’s joined them for this tour and had just finished his second live performance ever with the band, came out amongst the crowd for an acapella version of “Lizard in the Spring.” Not only was this surprise a great way to show the audience that they care about connecting with people, they really got to show off what I believe is their strength: their harmonies. I’m a sucker for a beautiful harmony and when Sarah, Daniel, Danny and James harmonize together, you can actually feel it in your soul, as cliche as that might sound.

I highly recommend checking out The Novel Ideas if they travel to your area. From their harmonies to their penchant for earnest songwriting, this band definitely has the kind of talent that shouldn’t be missed.

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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?

Daniel: So the band kind of formed around an album that came out in 2012 and, in terms of band members, it started with just Danny and myself. Then James joined on bass. Sarah came, initially, to sing harmonies, but we soon realized that she should be singing lead because she’s better than us [laughs]. So she sings lead a lot more now, which you’ll hear on the new album. 

How would you describe your sound without using genre names?

James: Ooh, that’s hard.

Sarah: Harmony-driven, emotional —

James: Earnest.

Daniel: Wait, are we looking for a sentence or just words?

Whatever you want.

Daniel: Harmony-driven, emotional, earnest, sadness.

Who are some of your musical influences, either personally or as a group?

Danny: James Brown.

Daniel: Yeah, our tastes run the gambit a bit. It’s like James Brown, James is named after James Taylor.

James: It’s true.

Daniel: All of Emmylou Harris and Bruce Springsteen and Sarah’s number one and two are Celine Dion and Barbara Streisand.

Danny: 1a and 1b [laughs].

James: We grew up listening to a lot of it because of our parents. And we cover a lot of their music now too. 

Daniel: Except Barbara Streisand [laughs].

James: Except 1a and 1b, because they can’t be covered. They’re too good. 

Talk about the writing process. Who does most of the writing? Is it just one person or does the band write most of the songs together?

Danny: It’s a mixture. Some songs one of us will write almost entirely and then present it to the band and the band figures out the arrangement together. Sometimes we’ve written songs that started as just a chord progression that turned into a melody that turns into a song. And then a lot of times, one of us will write a verse or something and can’t come up with a chorus and another person’s like, I have this chorus but I don’t have a verse, why don’t we just try mashing them together and see if they work. 

Daniel: Sometimes they do not.

James: Yeah, sometimes they do not.

Daniel: But sometimes they do.

When you’re working on new songs, who or what inspires you? 

Sarah: Well, I like to joke that Daniel’s songs are about a few different girls, Danny’s songs are mostly about one girl and my songs are about me [laughs].

Daniel: So, also one girl.

Sarah: Yeah. So I think it’s just different for everyone. It’s mostly personal, the stuff that I tend to write about.

James: It seems that whenever one of you sets off to write something that isn’t personal, it ends up becoming about something that is personal, so I think it’s hard to avoid having something from your life influencing where the song goes. 

Daniel: I say, generally speaking, most of the songs are sad and are due to some sort of strife, emotional or —

Danny: I wouldn’t say that’s what we set out to do though [write sad songs]. It’s more just that’s what inspired us.

If you had the opportunity to do a collaboration with any artist or band/group, who would it be and why?

Sarah: Like anyone?

Yeah, anyone.

Sarah: Celine Dion [laughs].

Daniel: Can we collaborate with her?

Sarah: Yeah. 

Daniel: Hmmm. That’s a good question. I’ve never actually thought about it.

James: It’d be cool to have something orchestral —

Danny: Yeah, that’s what I was thinking.

James: I mean, we’re a pretty straight forward rock instrumentation, except for Danny playing pedal steel, so it’d be cool to add a lot of string elements. Even some of the older songs,Daniel produced and composed string parts for a lot of them. So it’d be cool to bring back that skill of his.

Your new album dropped today. Congratulations.

Daniel: Thank you so much.

But before that, you guys released two singles, “I’ll Try” and “Old Ways.” Can you guys talk a bit about the stories behind these two songs? Why were they picked as the singles?

Daniel: I think part of the reason we picked those two is because we have never released any version of either one on any previous album or live session or anything like that. So it was like new songs that people may have heard live, but aren’t really on the Internet, more or less. So that’s part of the reason. They’re probably two of the most… I don’t know. Why did we pick those two?

James: I think the other thing to note is we had a third single that was only part of the pre-order and that was “Broken Glass” and part of the idea was that we wanted to make sure that we were showcasing the fact that we have three different prominent singers in the band. So “I’ll Try” is a lot of Daniel, but also Sarah is part of the duet for the lead, “Old Ways” features Sarah and then “Broken Glass” features Danny. Although all three have different song-writing processes and different tambours of voice, it’s cool to showcase how we’re able to create this unique sound despite the three different elements they bring to the table.

Is there a track, whether it’s an older song or one from the new album, that you feel best represents you and who you are as a band?

James: I want to say “I Was Not Around.” 

Daniel: Yeah, I would agree.

Sarah: WHAT?

Daniel: Well the last track on the record [“I Was Not Around”] was one of the first songs that we arranged as a band together and ended up contributing a lot of the harmony parts together. It’s the first song Sarah shared with us.

Danny: It was the first song she sang lead on and wrote that she showed us. And I think that was kind of a turning point for us, where we went from the first album, Home, that was really just me and Daniel who had written it and recorded it together, to what this is like the band is going to be. 

Sarah: I also think it was the song that we’ve worked the most on the last couple of years.

Daniel: For sure.

Sarah: It has the most re-iterations.

Danny: But the first time we worked on it, we really did gel together and within the course of the one session working on it, that definitely felt like a good, nice moment in the band’s history.

What do you hope your music conveys to people when they find it?

Daniel: I think, at least for me, at least for our live shows, we’re constantly trying to connect with the audience. I’d like to think we’re not very different if you were to meet us on the street than we are on stage. And I think that comes through in our banter and how we talk on stage and it’s more of a dialogue. We have a sing-along at the end of the set, often, and we like to talk to people afterwards. In terms of the music, I think we’re pretty earnest and everything we’re singing is something someone has felt or experienced in their lives and if other people can relate to that, that’s the most ideal situation. 

Moving on to some more “fun” questions if that’s okay with you guys.

James: Sure, we love fun.

You guys are currently on tour, promoting the new album. What are some of your favorite cities to play?

Daniel: Most of the cities that we love to play in are based off the food we’ve eaten there.

Sarah: Austin.

Daniel: Austin. We’re not going to Austin on this tour, but we’ve played there quite a few times and it’s always easy to find a great place to eat…. Lancaster, PA. We’ve played in Lancaster like four times and that’s always been fun. 

Danny: Lincoln, Nebraska. 

Really?

Danny: Well [laughs], we had a really good show there and then the next, when we were leaving, we had an even better sandwich. And literally, another time when we were driving across the country, we took almost a major detour — 

Daniel: Like four and a half hours

Danny: Just to go back and get the sandwich. And we were like, “this probably isn’t a good idea.” But we were really close.

Daniel: I’m really looking forward to playing Asheville [North Carolina]. 

One of my favorite places.

Daniel: We never played there, but we’ve stopped for lunch. It’s a cool little town.

Danny: Actually this tour, and then we’re going to be touring more in October and November, and I think both of them are about playing in new places for us too, so that’s what I’m excited about. 

Is there one place in particular that you’re really excited about going to for the first time?

James: Walla Walla, Washington.

Daniel: [repeats] Walla Walla ,Washington.

James: In honor of Mike Birbiglia [laughs].

Daniel: Well, we’ve played in Berklee, but this will be the first time we’ve played in San Fransisco proper.

James: Or Portland.

Daniel: Or Portland, Oregon. Yeah, the west coast is exciting for us because we’ve only been there a couple of times, so that’ll be nice.

On an off day, what would I find you guys doing?

James: The rest of them will be creaming me at mini-golf [laughs].

Daniel: Mini-golf.

Danny: Antiquing.

Daniel: Yeah, we like to go find antiques and thrift stores. 

James: I like drinking multiple coffees, although that happens on show days too.

Are you guys Starbucks people or do you try to find independent, local coffee shops wherever you go?

Sarah: Dunkieeees. 

James: Yeah, Dunks [Dunkin Donuts].

Daniel: I like finding the local place, I think it’s kind of fun. I think we all do.

Sarah: I like finding the local Dunkin Donuts [laughs].

Daniel: Dunkin Donuts is my favorite too. It’s consistent. 

Our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us and we love talking about what gets people excited and passionate. What is something you guys nerd out over?

Daniel: Ooh, this is a long list.

Danny: Well, very straight forward nerdy is I’m a huge Trekkie. My whole family is. 

Daniel: Lord of the Rings, that’s pretty big.

Danny: Yeah, a couple of our songs have Lord of the Rings, pretty vague references.

Sarah: Game of Thrones, for me. 

Daniel: I feel like that’s pretty mainstream at this point.

Sarah: Yeah, but they don’t nerd out over it. I read all the message boards.

Daniel: Okay. That’s pretty nerdy.

James: I’ve been getting really nerdy about beer recently. Yeah, craft beers, microbreweries. 

Daniel: Yeah, James takes a picture of every beer. 

James: Yeah, I do. I take a picture of every beer I drink on tour just to remember. Like how they use food to remember locations, it’s beer for me. 

Pat: Comedy. Comedy is a big source of nerdom for me. 

Who’s your favorite comedian?

Pat: Norm Macdonald. Easy. 

Very cool. And my last question is: what can fans expect from The Novel Ideas for the rest of 2017?

Daniel: A lot of touring. We’ve been working on this album for a long time and so we’re just trying to get it connected with as many people as we can. We’ve been not touring for two and a half years so it’s exciting to be playing a lot of shows again. We’re still getting used to the long hours in the car.

So you guys are driving everywhere you go?

Daniel: Yes, we’re not Taylor Swift level yet. She gets drove around on a UPS truck I heard.

James: What?

Daniel: You didn’t see the UPS-Taylor Swift sponsorship?

James: No, I completely missed that.

Daniel: Like only UPS is delivering her albums and they have her face on the side of UPS trucks.

Really?

Daniel: It’s really weird.

That is the weirdest sponsorship I’ve ever heard. Like why would that even matter, whether it’s UPS or FedEx? That is so random. Do you like Taylor Swift’s music even?

Daniel: Not her new album, not into it so far. But her old stuff, for sure. 

So going back and off of something you said earlier, if you guys have been working on this album for two years, was that just mostly refining it and getting it to where you guys wanted it to be?

Daniel: Yeah, that’s exactly it. We recorded it and just, we had played the songs live so much that it was hard to get them to point where if you saw us live, it would sound comparable to the album. So getting to that point was a learning process for us for sure.

Danny: It was a bit agonizing to have to wait so long to put it out, but it was worth the wait. We’re very happy with what we’re putting out. 

You can learn more about The Novel Ideas and where you can see them play next by visiting their website. You can also follow them on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Exclusive Interview with SIR

Interview, Music, Pop Culture

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us.

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Denver-based trio SIR have quickly started to make a name for themselves. With their sound being described as a cross between Halsey and SEE, the group, made up of Sarah Angela, Kim O’Hara and Luke Mehrens, has a new and unique sound that allows them to stand out in today’s wide variety of musical offerings. I got the chance to talk with them about how their band got started, their writing process, and what’s coming up next for them.

For those who might not have ever heard of SIR, can you give me a brief history of the band and how it culminated into what is now known as SIR?

Each of us have all played music for the majority of our lives. We were all on separate musical journeys when we finally came together in Denver. It took some time to become the version of three we have now. Kim joined with Sarah first after some heavy pleading. Luke then joined a bit later to finally complete our trifecta. There were some trials with other members but we finally decided we liked it best just us three. We wrote the songs we play now and the album we’re about to release.

Where does the name SIR come from?

We needed a name that felt strong and sexy and rock, and we loved the idea of a female fronted band with such a masculine title.

How would you describe your sound without using genre names?

Sexy, melodic, emotional, beat driven, music with lyrics that mean something.

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?

It took us a while to figure out what works best for us, but writing together has been the key. Sarah writes most of the lyrics, and Kim and Luke write most of the music. We usually start with a bare bones idea and morph it into something together, but there have definitely been songs we’ve let go because we couldn’t nail down the idea.

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

Love, loss, life, death, fun, music. We take all of our experiences living, the good and the bad, and write something that was born in one of the those feelings. We have songs on this album about a tough breakup, about losing a loved one, about being at a music festival with friends. Each song tells a story.

Your latest single is called “So Cold.” What’s the story behind this song?

We’ve heard a lot of different stories of what people think this song is about, and it can apply to all of them! We wrote it about losing a band member in a pretty ugly way, so for us it was about recognizing that hurt, and also realizing how much closer and stronger we were because of it. That was the moment we really became a solid band, and we’ve never looked back.

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?

It’s a little like choosing your favorite Game of Thrones character or favorite taco. They all mean something to us. We really tried to make music that we love and hope the world loves them too. There is a lyric from our first single “Go” that says, “So tell me how, how we found this perfect thing here now” and that really expresses how we feel about finding each other and being able to make music together.

Word has it that you guys might be dropping an album sometime soon. Can you give us a little insight on it? 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?

We are! It comes out this November (date to be announced) and we are so excited about it. We recorded it in LA at Serenity West Studios. One of the songs we are excited about is “The Monster You See” which is unreleased but will be on the album. We enjoy playing it live and think people will relate to it.

We’re called Talk Nerdy With Us and we love talking about what people are passionate and excited about. What is something that you guys nerd out over?

Without a doubt it’s Game of Thrones!! We are all probably a little too obsessed with the show. It might not be healthy. We dress up in costumes sometimes while rehearsing.

What can fans expect from SIR for the rest of 2017?

We have one more single we are releasing in October, then the album release in November. We’ll finish the year by heading out on tour for as much of November and December as we can! We love meeting new people, so if you see we are playing in your city, come say hi.

You can find SIR on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Spotify, iTunes, and their website.

Exclusive Interview with Snowfall’s Isaiah John

Interview, Pop Culture, Television

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us.

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Isaiah John is making a name for himself playing Leon Simmons in John Singleton’s Snowfall, which is currently airing on FX. I had the chance to talk with Isaiah about his previous job as a janitor, how he got the part in Snowfall, and his recent diet change. Read what he had to say about those topics and more below.

First off, congratulations on all of your recent success and for the show getting picked up for a second season!

Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

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?

Oh of course. Basically, my sister would perform every weekend for our parents. That was something we did every weekend and people would be like, “Hey, you guys should act,” but we were too shy to perform in front of anyone else. So when I was about thirteen, I asked my mom to help me start acting and [enroll me] in acting classes and things like that. She didn’t believe me and it took a whole year to convince her that I was serious about it and she finally broke. I got called to do a short film and it was my very first acting gig and it was called No Way Out and I hope you guys never see it. [Laughs] But it was a great experience. That really sparked the acting bug for me. It was an amazing short film and I was the lead in it. The acting was horrible but it really made me interested in acting and now I’ve fallen in love with acting and that was definitely the moment I knew I was going to do this forever. 

It’s been a long journey. Now I’m 21 and I’m just now getting my big break. But it was an amazing journey and I learned a lot and made a lot of connections and it helped mold me as an actor. 

When I was doing some research on you, I saw that you worked as a janitor for a while and I know you still had it even after you started booking your first roles. Why a janitor and why did you keep it for so long? 

I started to work as a janitor only for the simple fact that I had had other jobs before my janitor job and for scheduling purposes, they weren’t as flexible. For my janitor job, I would wake up at 5 o’clock in the morning and I would be done in four or five hours. So it was just very flexible. I had the rest of my day to do whatever I had to do when it came to acting. Even after I booked the Barbershop 3 role, I was only on set for a day and the next morning, I was back to cleaning bathrooms. So the money wasn’t there [with acting]. [The janitor job] was just enough to sustain the little responsibility that I had. So that’s why I chose to stick with the janitor job and it worked out perfectly fine. They understood that I was an actor and they were really excited when I booked Snowfall. They weren’t upset.

So wait, you had that job right up until you booked Snowfall?

Yeah, so basically what had happened was I lied to them. When I auditioned for Snowfall, a week or so later they called me and asked me to do a chemistry read in California and they flew me out. But, it was in the middle of the week so I just told my job, “Yeah, something just came up and I’m going to have to miss work for a couple of days.” I never told them exactly what it was. I didn’t even tell anyone I left for California;only my immediate family knew. Everyone else didn’t know. So I told them and I went to California on a Tuesday, the callback was on a Wednesday, and I was supposed to fly back on that Thursday; I had a return flight. But, later that Wednesday, I got the call that I had booked [the part on Snowfall] and they were like, “Yeah, so if you can call your job and quit. You don’t have to be a janitor anymore.” And still to this day, Dave Andron [co-creator] still has his little joke that he thinks is hilarious. He’s like, “Yeah, you don’t sweep floors anymore and clean toilets.” But yeah, I was a janitor up until I booked Snowfall and I had to quit over the phone while I was in California. 

Wow. So kind of moving on to talk about Snowfall, how you did you get involved with the project? What was the audition process like?

My manager found out about the project in 2015 when they did the first go-round of the pilot. They had a lot of big names in the cast and FX wanted new faces. So they re-cast it for 2016 and she, the whole time, even while they were filming the first pilot, would research and see what was happening with Snowfall. So when she found out that they were re-casting, she reached out the casting director immediately. [The casting director] gave me a look and said that I would be perfect for the role of Leon but she wasn’t casting that role right now so she told my manager to reach back out in a couple of weeks. So she did and I was asked to audition. So I did and they loved it.

But my actual chemistry read with Damson Idris, who plays Franklin Saint, it was great. I get there and it’s about three or four other guys who kind of looked different. Basically, what I noticed, was that when I got there, all the other guys that were auditioning for the same role, they had the chance to actually sit there and talk to Damson before they were in the room for their chemistry read. For me, they just told me to go straight into the room and perform with him. I didn’t have time to actually talk with him. So right when I walked in, he asked me what my name was and I said “Isaiah” and he said, “Oh cool. That’s my nephew’s name.” So that’s how connected at that moment. And ever since then, when we perform its very authentic and very real to the point where that the scene in the pilot, the bus scene where I go off the whole time, that was actually not even in the original pilot. What they did was they gave us that scenario and that was our chemistry read test. So all of that that went down to that scene was what me and Damson created in the moment of our chemistry reading and that was really cool.

How would you describe it to people who haven’t seen it or don’t know anything about it?

I would say it is one of the most real shows to get to television. It’s a real story, it’s very authentic. It’s gritty, it’s raw. I feel like you have to be open to receiving certain information and certain visuals. There’s so many different components that make the show great. So I would definitely would describe it as an all around amazing show, honestly. It has a lot of truth to it. It’s educational but it’s also entertaining. 

Talk a little bit about your character, Leon. What is he like? How does it fit in to the story?

Leon is Franklin Saint’s best friend. They grew up together in South Central L.A. My character is a hot-tempered kid from South Central [L.A.]. He was in and out of juvie for assault. He’s really hungry to reach the top with Franklin, whatever the top maybe. He’s very eager to see what that brings him and his friends. He just wants to better his situation. All he knows is the hood that he is from and his encounters with the police and the justice system so he wants different. But he also doesn’t really care about any circumstances so he’s willing to do whatever dirty work needs to be done to get where he feels he needs to be. I’m really curious to see where they take his life story when it comes to season two and seasons to come.

Going off of that, you described him as hot-tempered and someone who is hungry to get to the top; are those characteristics that you see in yourself, or do you find that Leon is a very different person than Isaiah is?

I would say I’m totally different from Leon, but if you asked my immediate family they would tell you otherwise.

Really?

Yeah. I feel like I’m a really nonchalant, chill person, and that is not Leon. He really gets offended very easily and I don’t. I would say I’m different from Leon when it comes to that perspective.

Earlier you were talking about the authentic vibes and that is something, every time I watch Snowfall, you get that very authentic vibe and it seems to be pretty accurate in regards to the time period that the story takes place in. I’m curious, as an actor, how much research did you do about the 1980s to figure out how your character would’ve lived and maneuvered in that decade? 

I was luckily obviously able to ask my mom stories about that time and era. We had John Singleton, of course, on set every day and we had also had WC (pronounced DubC) on set every day with us as well. And you know WC, he’s a legend, he’s a west coast legend. He was a huge help in molding my character. He really made sure I had the dialect, the stance, the lingo, all of that. He really put me up on game when it came to how things were in the ’80s in South Central L.A. So it was just asking a lot of questions and observing the neighborhood, because the neighborhoods changed a lot but the culture is still there. So just observing the people who grew up there and being able to ask John and Dub questions really helped me as an actor put me in that mindset and time era. Having them there was a huge, huge part of my development of Leon. 

Going off of that, what was it like working with John [Singleton], because he’s such a legendary director?

Oh man, John is amazing. He’s a genius. I feel like Snowfall is definitely an important piece that’s out and I feel like he’s just brilliant. His ideas are insane. We’ll be on set and he’s like, “Try this,” and it comes out to be amazing. So just having him there and having his input there was a blessing in itself, being able to work with him because I grew up watching his movies. So being able to call him a friend is very huge to me, especially from where I come from in this industry. I didn’t have much help in the beginning. So to come from that to now being able to call John when I need to, that’s an amazing feeling as an actor to have a legend in your corner who wants to see you succeed in the industry. I would definitely say he’s a friend of mine now. 

What’s your favorite film of his?

Ugh, there’s so many. Of course Boyz N The Hood, I’ve watched that like a 100,000 times. Poetic Justice is another great one. Every movie he puts out I feel like is a classic. I really can’t choose one, but I can just choose the ones that I’ve watched the most. So I would say Boyz N The Hood for sure. 

What can you tease about what’s coming up in the last few episodes of season one?

Oooh. There’s a lot of great things that are going to happen, well not great, but a lot of surprises are going to happen, so I don’t really think I can say anything. I don’t think I can say anything without spoiling because your brain is going to start thinking and I don’t want you to be thinking. I want you to be surprised in the moment when you watch the show.

So just gotta keep watching, huh?

Yeah, you just gotta keep watching. A lot of great scenes are about to happen. Just be prepared, man. A lot of things are about to get really real. 

I have just a few quick, more “fun” questions left. I know you probably don’t have a lot of free time but what shows are you watching? Whats on your DVR?

Of course I watched Dear White People, that’s amazing TV. Queen Sugar is also another one. There’s a lot of great shows out, honestly. Of course Game of Thrones; I feel like everyone is addicted to that show. Oh and Blackish, Blackish is another great one for sure. Those are my top picks right now. 

Our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us and we love talking about what makes us excited and passionate. What do you nerd out over?

Wow. What do I nerd out over? [Pauses] I guess there is a lot of things I nerd out over honestly. I’m a very adventurous person, so sightseeing and exploring new places I nerd out over that. Definitely music. I love finding new artists, different artists, so I nerd out over things like that. Working out. I am a fanatic when it comes to being in the gym so finding new workouts, I would definitely nerd out about that. I’m a newfound vegan, so I’m nerding out over all the new food I’m trying because there are a lot of new vegetables that I’ve never heard of before, a lot of different combinations of food. And it’s kind of hard. I love chicken but I am doing great so far.

What made you, if you don’t mind me asking, turn to being a vegan?

Well, I watched What the Health on Netflix and it changed my life. Like the facts that are behind the foods that we eat on a daily basis is insane. I suggest people watch the documentary and make that decision on their own. Some people may watch and still not want to change, which is fine. For me, I feel like it was the best decision to make and I’ve been a vegan for about over two weeks now and I feel great. 

Yeah. I’ve heard a little bit about this documentary but I feel like now people are starting to talk about it more and more so I feel like I have to put it on my list to go watch.

Oh yeah. But before you do it, I say if you like steak, go enjoy a steak. If you like chicken, eat all the chicken you can because after you watch it, you’re not going to want to eat it. So enjoy your last meal and then go watch it. 

Lastly, what does the rest of 2017 hold for you? 

I have a movie [coming out]. It’s funny because I have a sister, Racquel John, she’s also an actress. We’re four years apart but we had the chance to play twins in an upcoming movie coming out in September called Downsized and it’s going to be on TV One. It was a very fun project to film. It was the first time my sister and I worked together so it’s going to be cool on screen. I have some other things that are in the works right now so you guys will definitely be seeing what is coming up next soon.

You can follow Isaiah on Twitter and on InstagramSnowfall airs Wednesdays at 10pm EST on FX.

Exclusive Interview with Last Chance U’s Greg Whiteley

Interview, Pop Culture, Television

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us. 

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Greg Whiteley is the director behind one of my favorite projects of the year, Last Chance U (you can read my review of season two here). Known for his work on documentary projects such as New York Doll and Mitt, Greg talked with me about how filming season two of Last Chance U was different than season one, whether the celebrity impact affected their shooting at all, the comparison to Friday Night Lights, and so much more. Keep reading to see his answers.

Congratulations on season two! I know I’m not the only one who has been waiting a long time for this to come out. How do you feel now that it’s finally out? 

Well, I think there is a whole team of us who feel like we just gave birth for the second time. It’s a good feeling. It feels great.

Did you ever think we would be here talking about season two, especially because I read somwhere that that wasn’t in your original plans?

We didn’t necessarily plan that it wouldn’t go on past the first season. I think after we were shooting there for two or three weeks, all of us were pretty excited about what we were seeing and what we were getting. I guess I can’t speak for the rest of the crew but I always envisioned this going multiple seasons. I didn’t necessarily know we would go back to EMCC. But I think we saw this as something that could go multiple seasons.

This is a docuseries about a football team but it’s so much more than that. If you had to describe what it is about without using the word ‘football’ or any sports-related terms, how would you describe it?

I’m glad you ask it that way because I don’t really see this as a football series. I think this is a, maybe by virtue of the fact that it’s set in the South… [pauses] that’s a good question. It’s a human drama that I think involves a lot of Faulkian-like elements. There’s just an eccentricity to these characters that we met in Scooba, Mississippi, and we, I think, take great pride in letting their voice dictate the narrative of our show and there is, if the show has been successful, it’s because they’re interesting and we, as filmmakers, did our best to get out of our own way and let them tell the story.

I’m curious about how the whole thing started originally. When did you first hear about EMCC and this program? Did you have the idea to do a sports documentary and found this specific program to be the subject, or did the documentary idea come after you heard about the program?

Lucas Smith, who is an executive at MGM Entertainment and an executive producer on this show, we had a meeting together and the result of that meeting was that we though junior college football might be an interesting, it might provide the kind of climate and culture that would make for an interesting documentary series. But we didn’t know where to go. A few months later, an assistant to my manager found an article in GQ, written by Drew Jubera, and the moment I read that I thought, “This is where we need to be. This is the place.” So the idea came first.

The series is so beautifully shot. Can you talk about the process of capturing all the footage? I know it’s got to be extremely tough technically to shoot all of these football scenes.

Credit goes to Gabe Patay, the cinematographer who I’ve worked with previously. He’s fantastic. It seems like in most instances, you either have to pick fly-on-the-wall moments and sacrifice aesthetic, or you have a really great aesthetic and you’re kind of ruining the improvisational quality of the footage, the authenticity of the footage, or you’re either having to rehearse or stage or choreograph. Gabs has a very unique skill set along with his second, Terry Zumalt, who, their great talent was being able to capture images that had the aesthetic as though they were staged but you knew that they weren’t. So you had very beautiful, very human moments that were happening right before your very eyes, non-scripted moments, but they were shot with such poetry. I would take our images and stack them up against many accomplished feature-length films that can set the lighting and choreograph shots and do multiple takes. I think we were getting things on the first take because that’s what you have to do that I think would take a normal film many, many takes.

Was there anything different about the process in shooting season two? Was it easier because you had already had the experience of season one under your belt?

I think probably [just] because none of us had ever shot a football game before. I think we went in [to season two with] a little less anxiety because we kind of knew, “Okay, this will work,” because we didn’t know if this would work in season one. Will we have all of the coverage that we will need? So that helped. And then we just had to fight against re-creating season one. There was a lot of ambition and energy that grew out of that nervousness and insecurity of, “Well we want this to look good and we’ve never done this before, so we got to make sure we are hustling, covering all of our bases.” I think that kind of energy led to a sort of frantic, almost fog-of-war during games, and we wanted to keep that. So we brought back all the key members of the crew and augmented it with people with a little more sound experience and I think the difference was you have a show that, I hope, is a pretty good balance between we’re experienced, we know what we’re doing so it’s a little better, but we’re still keeping those fresh, scared eyes that I think led to that kind of energy that we were able to capture on film in season one.

Going off the pressure to keep what was good about season one, what was the pressure like going into season two, especially after season one was such a critically acclaimed hit and so many people loved it?

Oh, I guess you just try not to think about that too much. I always feel pressure. I’m always worried that we’re going to make something that’s going to be less than what we’re expecting. You just sort of set those anxieties aside.

Season two definitely touches on the “celebrity” impact that the first season had on the program and the people involved. How did that affect the plan, if at all, for how y’all went into season two? Did the people involved find themselves paying more attention to you guys and your presence?

That’s a really great question. I just think that we’ve been doing this for a while now, and whether you’re shooting a politician running for president or a glamorous rock star or a football team in the deep South, we just try, as best we can, to honor the authenticity of that particular moment. And in this particular moment, these people were quasi-celebrities. And we just need to honor that, we needed to acknowledge that. I don’t think it got in the way of shooting at all. I think them experiencing this small level of fame and them enjoying it was interesting. I think it made the show better. In my opinion it didn’t get in the way at all.

I definitely agree. And you touched on it a little bit earlier with the fly-on-the-wall moments, but I think one of my favorite aspects is the unfiltered, unlimited access that you guys get, especially all of the interviews. I loved seeing the guys in season two talk about and tell their stories on their terms. In terms of interviewing everyone, were there times when it was tough to get them engaged, especially considering the nature of some of the subjects you wanted them to address?

No, it was not a problem at all. I think all credit goes to President Huebner–he’s the person who had to sign off and be okay with the access we were asking for–and then Coach Buddy Stephens and his staff and mostly these players who were willing and trusted us enough to open the extensive parts of their lives. It was not hard, and it was not hard because of them. They were willing to be vulnerable and trusting in a way that I think is the whole secret to the success of what we did.

You kind of talked about it a little bit before but I really liked the fact that you show a lot of the Southern community and lifestyle and especially how it intertwines so naturally with the team. Do these aspects just naturally find their way into your footage, or did you guys make more of a conscious effort, especially in season two, to also get those shots that focus on those aspects?

Well, we spent a lot of time in season one explaining Scooba and sort of setting up the location and even treating Scooba as a character. To go back and redo that for season two, I think, would not be necessary. But, because we had gotten to know the town in season one, it was fun to go and get to know the town a little bit better. So it was a function of some of the people who we had met previously, like Ritchie the Lion, well let’s get to know him a little bit better and then in other instances you just meet other people because you just spent more time in the town and you’re broadening your periphery. I don’t know if this answered you’re question Bryna, but we just got to know them better and get to know the town better. I could keep going back to that town forever, I think it’s so interesting. Even though it’s only got a population of 300, 400 people, all of them seem have a really great story to tell; we only got to some of them.

That definitely answered my question. I, like a lot of people, noticed the obvious similarities to Friday Night Lights. First, have you seen the show? Second, was that in the back of your head throughout filming as a specific influence, especially in the second season after everyone made the comparisons?

Oh yeah. For sure. As much as I love sports, most of our crew didn’t. Most of our crew was not football fans and would not consider themselves sports fans. But, most of the crew enjoyed the show Friday Night Lights. So that was a touchstone. There were frankly other touchstones, Hoop Dreams being among them. But yeah, I’m sure Friday Night Lights subconsciously had an influence on what we were doing. I’m such a big fan of that TV show. I can’t tell you exactly, there was never anything conscious where, “Hey, we’re going to go do this shot because we saw it in Friday Night Lights, but subconsciously it’s all over it, sure. Especially the choice to focus on the human element of it. I think if you were to take a stop watch and measure how much actual football is in an episode of Friday Night Lights, it’s pretty close to how much football is in an episode of Last Chance U, which is not a lot. There’s way less than you think there is.

In five, ten, fifteen years, what impact and legacy do you hope the show has left?

I hope that it is appreciated for its unvarnished and authentic look at these particular lives at this particular time. Now, anything beyond that I just don’t even think about. I leave that to audiences. I leave that to people who will write and think and watch the show. We try and shoot it in a way that leaves space for audiences to bring their own meaning to it or away from it. I hesitate to say anything more than that. I have my own personal opinions about football and academics and major college athletics, and those feelings have really shifted by my experience of being in Scooba, but I hesitate to share them because I think I’d rather audiences take away their own meaning.

Lastly, our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us and we love talking about what makes us excited and passionate. So what do you nerd out over?

Personally?

Yeah.

Oh. I guess I’m getting so self-conscious because I start to realize what a boring person I am. [Laughs] I nerd out on my work. I’m not sure it goes beyond that. Chocolate, maybe?

What do you have coming up? What is something you’re currently working on?

We’re exploring the possibility of season three. There have been some scripted opportunities that have come my way, personally, that we’re looking at. But nothing definitive yet.

Last Chance U season two is now available to watch on Netflix. 

Exclusive Interview with Last Chance U’s Brittany Wagner

Interview, Pop Culture, Television

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us. 

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Brittany Wagner made a mark on people all over the world’s hearts last year as the star of Netflix’s docuseries Last Chance U. As the athletic academic counselor at East Mississippi Community College, Brittany worked close with the athletes to make sure that they were successful in the classroom and remained eligible to play football at the Division I level. Along the way, she helped these athletes in many other avenues of life outside of football and academics. I got the chance to talk with Brittany about a lot of topics that had been on mind ever since I watched season one last summer. We discussed what life has been like for her this past year, the emotional toll of creating bonds with players who are only around for a short amount of time, the comparison to Tami Taylor on Friday Night Lights, and a lot more. Keep reading to see her answers.

First off, congratulations on season two! 

Thank you!

You’re welcome. I know I’m not the only one who has been waiting a long time for this to come out. How do you feel now that it’s finally out? 

Yeah, I’m excited. I mean there’s always that nervousness and anticipation even though season one’s reactions were so great. There’s still an anxiousness about whether the fans will love it just as much as they loved season one, whether the fans will still love me or love the players and see what people take to, what their thoughts are, there’s always anxiousness. So when it came out and I guess the next day, you know, getting online and reading the reviews and getting on Twitter [to see] some of the fans’ feedback, it was definitely a relief after that day.

This is a docuseries about a football team, but it’s so much more than that. If you had to describe what it is about without using the word ‘football’ or any sports related terms, how would you describe it?

Taking the football out of it, yeah I mean there is football in it, but I really think there is some deeper meanings to the show that really has nothing to do with football, athletics, or athletes at all. To describe it without using those words, I would say it’s a human interest story. I would say it’s a story about the struggles of college students, or just people in general. I think each athlete on the show shows a different struggle. I think the adults on the show [struggle too]. You see Coach Stephens struggling with himself and trying to change, you see me kind of struggle with kind of being in a rut. I think there are people everywhere that can relate. There are young people that can relate to the players and the struggles that they go through. But I think there are adults in all walks of life that can relate to feeling like they’re in a rut. We get in a comfort zone and we get comfortable and we are in a relationship or in a town and we get comfortable but we know that maybe its holding us back. And I think that was my struggle in season two, with just being comfortable and struggling with that. Just knowing that I needed to get out of my comfort zone a little bit and make a change.

A lot of people have declared you to be the breakout star of this documentary. What has life been like this past year since season one dropped? And with that being said, what expectations did you have of yourself and your role going into season two?

This past year has been crazy. [Laughs] I get asked that question a lot and I really need to come up with a different adjective but it’s just been a whirlwind. Certainly, I didn’t see or expect any of this. I’m not actress so I wasn’t doing a show to get famous or to get a following on social media, but it just kind of happened. I am beyond grateful for every single part of it. This past year has taught me a lot about myself, about humanity, about our country, and even world wide. The fans that we have that have reached out from all over the world have been wonderful. I’ve had to think, doing interviews and getting questions, deep questions, about our educational system or our criminal justice system or the NCAA and the regulations they put on student athletes. I get these questions, and people are looking to me to be a role model or to be a leader on some of these hard issues and I’ve had to stop and think about what is my position, what do I believe? It’s been tough. It’s taught me time management, it’s taught me how to prioritize my life, to still take time out for my daughter and my personal relationship and not get all consumed in the hoopla of the show and to stay grounded.

Going into season two, I was excited, obviously. Season one and the aftermath of that was fantastic. So I was excited about season two and doing it again and giving the fans, to show more inspiration. I knew that the players we had were inspirational stories, and I knew that it was going to be good, that the material would be good. But I was also stressed out if I’m being honest. Everyone was watching season one, and we were filming season two, and that’s what people don’t really realize. While I was doing five interviews a day and flying all over the country to do speaking engagements and answering hundreds of emails a day, I was filming season two every day and trying to handle that team that we had on campus. So it was a lot more stressful just because there was a lot more going on. But it was still fun and a great experience. I still bonded with the players. Yeah, it was a little different than season one, but it was still the same at the same time.

Talking about the players, the documentary both in season one and two does a good job at showing the different sides of these players. But it can still only show so much as it’s a documentary with a limited amount of time. So what do you think people most misunderstand about the athletes you worked with?

I mean, yeah. It can’t be a 200-hour show; they film us for six months, so they have to edit it down. I don’t know that you could show anyone’s complete self in an eight-hour documentary. But I think they do a very good job at getting pretty darn close with all of us and really showing who we are and the struggles that we have. I don’t think they portrayed anyone in a wrong light. I think everyone was portrayed pretty true to who they are. I respect and trust and appreciate Greg Whiteley, the director of documentary, for that, for his ability to film us and really be honest and open about what he’s showing the world [in terms of] who we are. For me, season two was a little bit heavier. It wasn’t as lighthearted and funny maybe as season one. I think there were some players who really were funny. I think Chauncey Rivers, he’s really a funny guy, and I don’t think that came off. There were some of the players that I kind of did wish that a little bit more of their lighthearted and funny side shown because it seemed so serious. But yeah, they were shown pretty true to who they were.

Going off of that, I definitely thought season two had a much heavier, emotional tone to it. Was that something you noticed while you were filming or was it something you only saw after they put it all together and edited down the six months of footage?

I think there were definitely times throughout the year where I definitely noticed it. Because we had so many transfers, all the guys that they really showed were Division I transfers, and anytime you have a transfer like that, they’re coming in and they’re not going to be there for two years. Ronald Ollie, in season one, and DJ Law, those guys were high school players; none of them were transfer players. So we had them for two years. And when you have someone for two years, you’re not in as much of a hurry academically. So you have more time to spread out the classes and the load, and you have more time to establish the relationship and deal with some of the issues. But these transfers, what people don’t realize, you saw in episode one them checking in when they arrived in Scooba. Well that was in June. I mean they checked in in June and they were gone by December. I only have them for a semester and then a few months. And when you only have someone for that short amount of time, you’re cramming a lot of hours, a lot of academic work, off the field work, in such a short of amount of time. But it is stressful and there’s not a lot of time for goofing off and fun and games and lighthearted conversations because everyone is stressed out. So I think that was the difference in the heaviness, maybe. And the situation was heavier, because we had so many transfers and everyone has the same goal of getting out in December and then going back to Division I, there’s just a lot of pressure on everybody to get that done.

You did touch on how much time you have with these athletes, and you do create these special bonds with them. I know you put a lot of work into continuing these relationships after they leave EMCC. But what kind of an emotional toll does it take on you when they leave, knowing that you only had such a short amount of time with them?

Yeah, that part is really tough, and it’s really rough for me because I do get attached and I do form a bond and then it’s like having kids leave your home every couple of months and that’s tough. I believe it was the year before Ollie came, so it would have been two years before we filmed the first season of the documentary, I had kind of made the pact with myself. I had this player right before Ollie who I had gotten really close to, and when he left it was just really hard for me to get over that player leaving. And Ollie came in, and the class that Ollie was in, I just kind of made this pact for myself that I wasn’t going to get attached to anybody, that I just wasn’t going to do that anymore. I was just going to do my job and keep all of the players at arms length and not get attached and form those bonds anymore because it was just too heartbreaking. And then walks Ronald Ollie and five minutes later, I am putty in his hands [laughs] because of his story and how much help he needed. And then I found myself, with that group, forming some of the most intense bonds that I have ever formed. So I think that just goes to show you that the minute you think you have it figured out, the universe is going to sling something different at you. Thankfully, I broke myself and allowed myself to get close to that group. John Franklin and I have a special bond, Ollie and I have a special bond, Marcel Andry and I have a special bond. That group, I’ll probably have more relationships with that group than any group I’ve ever had.

Do you think the documentary plays a role in why you have such a special bond with that group and why you might have broken your pact?

I don’t know, maybe. I’ve never really thought about it or given the documentary credit for that. I think I would have definitely formed that relationship with Ollie anyway. We just would have. I don’t know. Maybe I was a little bit more vulnerable and open because I agreed to do the documentary and I wanted it to be honest and ope, so maybe I was a little bit more vulnerable than I was trying to allow myself to be. But I’m grateful that I was and, for whatever reason that I did it, I’m grateful that I allowed myself to get attached again and be vulnerable because it definitely changed all of our lives.

A lot of people compare Last Chance U to Friday Night Lights. First off, have you seen the show? Second, what do you think about your comparison to Tami Taylor?

You know, this is going to make a lot of people mad probably, but I have not seen Friday Night Lights at all. I was aware of the show but I hadn’t watched any of it. And then after season one, when people compared me to Tami Taylor and I was being compared so much to that, I did turn it on and started with season one. I think I got through about half of season two and then I just kind of fizzled out of it. So I haven’t finished it. I like it. It’s good. I don’t think I’m really far enough in yet to see the comparisons yet with Tami Taylor. Where I stopped with the show is when she just starts working as a school guidance counselor. Before that she was a coach’s wife, and I’m not a coach’s wife so there was really no comparison. But I could see, with the start of her getting the job at the school, why people were comparing us. I’m flattered by that. It was a great show and a successful show. I love Connie Britton so I don’t have any complaints about being compared to Tami Taylor at all.

Over the past year, Last Chance U has had such an impact on a variety of people all over the world. How would you like yourself and the show to be remembered as the years go by?

I want my part and my character, if you want to call it that, in the show to be remembered [by] the passion, the passion I have for what I do and the passion that I have for those athletes as whole people. I didn’t care if they played a game of football again. I knew it was important to them and that it was their way out of the life, they wanted to make a better life for themselves and a lot of times [football] was their way out and that was a good tool to help them get out. But I wasn’t helping them because they had the potential to be NFL players. I was helping them because they were beautiful people and I wanted to help them contribute to society in a good way, whether they are playing football or not. And I want people to remember that. I want people to have hope. I want people to watch the show and inspire them to be better themselves, whether it’s just to be nicer to people or to get to know stories before you make judgement, whether it inspires you to be a good teacher, mom, to be a better coach, I don’t know. But I want people to, when its over, to sit there for a minute and think about themselves and their own life and how they can be better with whatever path they’re on in their own life.

I have a few more “fun” questions to wrap things up.  Why pencils over pens?

[Laughs] I love pencils. I love them because A: they have an eraser and you can erase your mistakes, which I think that’s symbolic in life as well as on the paper. Nobody’s perfect, we’re not all going to make 100; our first answer, our first draft is not always going to be perfect and I think its okay. I think its okay to erase, start over, re-do, fix, whether its on paper or in life. I like that aspect of the pencil that perfection isn’t expected. I also think that the pencil is what we first learned to write with. In kindergarten, no one hands us a pen. It’s a big fat, yellow, number 2 pencil. And I think that picking up that next big fat, yellow pencil every year is also symbolic of just continuing to put one foot in front of the other and continuing put forth the effort and move forward and a lot of times it starts with a pencil. I like that aspect of it. I also learned the other day, which I did not know, someone told me, and this has really impacted me and another reason why I love the pencil, is that if you write with pen and the ink gets wet, it runs. If pencil gets wet, it stays. To me, it’s also very symbolic of that pencil in a way, yes, there is an eraser but that lead is so strong. You would think of maybe the pencil being the weaker utensil, but in all honesty, that lead is so strong and so durable and stays on the paper, I think that is also a really good lesson in life. I just always have a pencil and I never really wrote with a pen when I was in college or high school. I always had a pencil so I guess I was just going with what I knew and it stuck.

I think some of my favorite scenes were the ones, in both seasons, when the players were just hanging out in your office, joking around, and talking about life. Why do you think your office is such a popular destination for the team to hang out?

I think that was intentional on my part. It was a strategy on my part, from the beginning, and something that I thought really hard about and really tried. I created it on purpose. I think they hung out in my office because I allowed them to be who they were. There weren’t all these rules. In season two, you saw me getting on them a little bit more because there were a lot more players hanging out all the time so it was louder, noisier and a little bit crazier. But I think that they knew that those four walls in my office were safe and that they could come in and talk about what they wanted to talk about openly and freely. I wasn’t trying to force them into being someone else. Yeah I was allowing them to be who they were, and I let them listen to their music and cut up. There was a time to get serious and then there was a time to just have fun, and I think I just allowed it to flow freely and they respected that and loved that and I think it was just a place that they felt comfortable. And when you feel comfortable, you’ll respect it and you’ll feel like you can be who you are, you’re going to go back and you’re going to sit in that environment. And I tried really hard to create that with them, and I think that it worked, and it’s how I formed the relationships that I formed with them because I allowed that space to be safe.

Our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us and we love talking about the things we are so passionate about that it’s all we talk about. So what do you nerd out over?

Something that I nerd out over… gosh, I feel like I’m so busy that I don’t have time to nerd out over anything. [Laughs] I love food, I love to eat. I do nerd out over yoga. I am a yoga freak. I will read anything that has to with meditation, yoga. I’m fascinated by our minds and the whole mind-body-spirit connection so I nerd out over that. I nerd out over self-help books. I all the time have a self-help book in my hands. And I’m one of those people who highlights and writes in the margins of the book. I have a quote page in my notes section on my phone that I started years ago, and I have a hundreds of quotes. So when I see a good quote, I go to my phone and type it in my notes page. So I just kind of like flipping through that page and reading them and inspiring myself or other people. I guess I nerd out over our brains and our minds and how people work, what makes us who we are, how we operate, why we do the things that we do. That kind of stuff fascinates me.

Lastly, we see you leave your job at EMCC at the end of season two. Can you talk about what you’re doing now?

I am super excited. I am working for myself, which is a lot of fun. [Laughs] I like myself [laughs] so I like working for myself. But I have started a company called Ten Thousand Pencils. We call it 10KP for short. Basically, I can be hired by any athlete or coach or athletic program in the country to be Ms. Wagner to athletes everywhere. So if there is a high school athlete or junior college athlete out there who needs a little extra help or guidance or motivation or management, they can hire me to come on board and help them see their plan through, whatever that plan may look like. It is taking off in a huge way right now which is a lot of fun to read these emails I’m getting from people and read their stories and figure out how I can help them.

I am also on quite a little speaking gig run. I am in the car right now heading to New Orleans, Louisiana. I am speaking tomorrow at a NCAA conference there. So yeah, I’m doing a lot of speaking gigs which is a lot of fun because I love meeting people who are fans of the show and inspired by the show. When I get to go to these places and talk to people and they come up afterwards and you get to hear their stories, its just inspirational for me. I’m getting pretty booked solid. This morning I took some time to check some emails and I had about ten requests for speaking gigs just overnight. So constantly, yes, which is fun and I love it. A lot of them are athletic programs, high school teams, junior college teams, who want me to come speak to their teams or come to games and be on the sidelines and things like that, which is super fun. I will be doing that next year and then running 10KP. I’m just super excited about getting to work with athletes everywhere and programs everywhere and to see how different programs operate. I’m also being hired to train teachers and counselors. I’ll be in Detroit, Michigan, at the end of this month training some teachers and counselors that work at an inner-city school district on how to low socioeconomic at-risk students. So that’s fun for me too. I have an opportunity and we have an opportunity as educators right now, this platform has given me an opportunity to, we can go out and change the scope of our educational system and college athletics if we really want to right now.

You can follow Brittany on Twitter and on Instagram. Last Chance U Season 2 is available to stream on Netflix.

Exclusive Interview with The Bold Type’s Dan Jeannotte

Interview, Pop Culture, Television

This article was originally written for Talk Nerdy With Us. 

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You might recognize Dan Jeannotte as James Stuart, Earl of Moray on CW’s Reignor as Brandon Russell on The Good Witch. But it is his recent role as Ryan Decker (Pinstripe Guy) on Freeform’s newest drama, The Bold Type, that is likely to be his biggest role yet. I got the pleasure to talk to Dan about how he got his start in acting, what attracted him to The Bold Type, his thoughts on comic books, and a lot 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?

That’s a great question. Well when I was in college I became friends with a guy, Matt Goldberg, who told me that he was, I hadn’t done any acting, but he was bringing together a comedy troupe and that I should try out for it. So I did, I auditioned for him in the basement of his parents house. I had never done improv before, but in that audition scenario I thought, “Well this is exciting, this is fun.” And I got into this improv troupe that he was putting together, and the first time we performed in front of any audience [we had] several hundred people watching, and I got up there and made stuff up, as you do in improv comedy, flying by the seat of your pants, and it was just exhilarating, absolutely exhilarating. And I thought, “This is pretty cool.” And around the same time, that same friend, Matt, was in a play and told me that I should come see it. I went to see it and it was a bunch of kids my age doing Pippin, which is a musical theatre show, and it just kind of blew my mind. These kids were doing this great seemingly high class production. People at my school got to be doing this as a part of their credits, which was amazing to me. So it was a combination of starting to do improv and watching this piece of theatre. [I decided] that’s what I wanted do, so I switched programs and found that I loved it and I wasn’t horrible at it [laughs].

What did you originally go to school for since you said you didn’t start out as wanting to be an actor?

I was in liberal arts, so I was studying philosophy and history and religion and English lit[erature]. At the time I thought I wanted to be a writer but I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to do that. I thought I might be an author or a novelist. At that point I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. That program felt like these were things I was interested in but it was still very academic. And then finding theatre and acting, it just kind of clicked. It was like, “I could do this.” And my parents were like, “Uh, I don’t know” [laughs]. After years of poverty [laughs], I’ve shown them you can make a living out of it.

What’s some of the best advice about the industry you’ve ever received and why? 

I can think of two things. A few people told me this when I was younger, but I didn’t quite know what they meant. They said, “this is a really tough business. If you’re not sure that this is what you want to do, then quit now.” Which to me, at the time, felt very negative and pessimistic but I understand that advice. You have to be fully committed to this kind of work, or really, I think it goes for lots of different creative kinds of careers. You have to be committed to it because you’re going to go up against so much opposition, so many obstacles. There’s going to be so many times when you want to quit or when you feel like the world is telling you that you should quit. You have to know in your heart that this is the only thing that you want to do and that you could do because, let’s put it another way: if you have a fallback plan, you’re probably going to fallback on it because [the acting industry] is just so tough.

Another great piece of advice, too, is that you have to create your own opportunities. As actors, we are kind of at the mercy of a lot of external factors, a lot of people: waiting on agents to get us auditions, waiting on casting directors to hire us, waiting for producers and directors to take a liking to us. That can be a little tough to stomach. But if you create some of your own work, then you can be creative and you can be fulfilling the desire that we have to create; you can do that for yourself without it being contingent on anyone else. So a lot of actors will either write screenplays or maybe they are musicians too. In my case, I’ve been working with a comedy troupe, the same one that I auditioned for back in college. I’ve been working with the same guys for more than 15 years now. We do improv shows, we write sketch comedy and that kind of stuff, and although it doesn’t bring me any money, it is satisfying to do, it’s fun to do, and it keeps me busy in periods when work isn’t coming along.

If you had to give advice to an aspiring actor, would that be the same advice you would give them? 

I mean, yeah. What I was just talking about wasn’t inspirational advice, more like a warning [laughs]. Yeah, if I was supporting someone, if someone was looking for that kind of inspiration, I would say everybody has their own unique them-ness, everyone has something that no one else has because we’re all unique individuals. That specific thing is what sets you apart. So if you’re trying to make it as an actor, it doesn’t matter what your body type is, it doesn’t matter what your background is. What matters is that you are a unique person and that comes across in the work that you do and people will respect you for being yourself and people will want to watch you being yourself as a unique person.

To date, 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?

What I love about this business is you get to work on different projects and you get to move around from project to project fairly often. You find projects are interesting and inspiring and satisfying in different ways. I could say a role that I worked on that meant a lot to me was I did a production of the play Equis, which is a really beautiful and kind of heartbreaking and mind-blowing play about a young man with severe mental and spiritual issues. And doing this play years ago in Montreal, it was a life-changing for me because the director, who didn’t know me, was taking a chance on me to play a very challenging role, and getting that kind of confidence placed on me by such an amazing artist was validating and really helped me. And the role was so hard, I would be exhausted and spent after every performance, but it was real. It was like going through acting boot camp.

So there’s that kind of role and then there is the kind of thing where a couple of years ago, I got cast in a show called The Good Witch on the Hallmark channel. It was not long after I had uprooted my life from Montreal and moved to Toronto, and I got this role and then my wife got pregnant. So The Good Witch changed my life because we had the means to support a baby, and I got paid well to be on this TV show. So that’s what I mean. There are different kinds of roles, and they’re important in different ways. I just feel so lucky every time I get to work on something. I worked on a show called Reign for a year and a half, and that was amazing because I got to live in sixteenth-century Scotland for a year and half and wear amazing costumes, sword fight, ride horses, and work with amazing actors from Australia and New Zealand and Canada, and I got to go to Ireland to shoot the show, so that was such an exciting and wonderful gig to have.

Moving on to talk about The Bold Type, what did you think when you first read the script? What attracted you to the show?

When I first auditioned for the show, I didn’t have a whole script to read. What I had was a couple of scenes between Jane and Ryan, or “Pinstripe guy” as he’s referred to in the script; I don’t think I knew his name was Ryan yet [laughs]. What drew me to it right away was the banter that Jane and I have. It felt very classic, like kind of old-school comedy banter where the two people on the surface don’t like each other, but you can obviously tell that they are into each other. It felt like a classic setup. But at the same time it was very modern, very now, very current. I thought it was very funny and I thought it was sexy and I thought this would be a very fun role to play. And then I got to read a little bit more of the script a little bit later, and then I was reading everyone else’s story, not just Ryan and Jane’s story. And I was like, “Oh man, this show is awesome. It’s so smart, it’s so sweet, it’s got positivity and heart to it, and yet it takes on these issues but never feels like a lecture or anything.” It felt very of the moment, and I thought that this was a show that could really work, could really take off. And then once I got the part and got on to set and met the people who were doing it I was like, “Oh yeah. This show is going to be awesome.” The lead actresses are all so charming, so good at what they do. The directors and producers were all about kind of having a supportive work environment and collaborating together. It felt like a no-brainer to me.

What was your audition process for the show like?

It was a bit more drawn out than some of the roles I’ve had before. I first sent in a taped audition. Then from that found out quite awhile later, maybe a month or so, that they wanted bring me in to do a chemistry read, which you do sometimes when you’re in contention for a role. They wanted to see how Katie [Stevens] and I might work together. So I flew to Montreal to do this chemistry read, and that’s when I met Katie for the first time. We did a couple of scenes together in front of the producers and director. It’s always strange because–an audition is always strange to begin with because you’re really putting yourself out there and are like, “Here’s me. Do you like me?” And then with a chemistry read, it’s just hoping we get along well. And I thought we did. I thought she was great, I felt very comfortable with her and that our scenes were pretty solid. And then I went back to the place they were putting me up and hung around for a bit, and just when I thought I wasn’t going to hear from them that night, they called me and told me they wanted me back for another chemistry reading the next day. I was like, “Oh my gosh. What? Why? You haven’t made up your minds, really?” So the next morning we were back in the same room, reading the same script again. I think at that point they were trying to define the character, and there was, in the beginning, this idea that he was kind of cool, detached, super confident guy, which is not who I am personally. I’m not super cool [laughs]. So they wanted to see if you could be a bit more aloof, a bit more not exactly a jerk, but a bit of a jerk I suppose. But the next day, I found out I had the part and two days, I think, later I was shooting.

And then the role ended up sort of changing a bit, as we went on, as we incorporated more of me into the character and a bit more of the dynamic that Katie and I naturally have, incorporated that into who they are together as characters. So it changed a little bit, but yeah, they made me sweat for it a bit.

How would you describe your character, Ryan?

Well now that we’ve shot the whole season, I would say he’s a smart and driven and straightforward guy who is trying to be a good man and trying to be upfront about what he wants. He doesn’t shy away from confrontation or shy away from challenging people. I think he actually gets a kick out of challenging people and challenging Jane. Although he’s a bit mischievous, his heart is a good place; he’s a good guy. And I think that she kind of slowly comes around to see that. She sees his headlines and she thinks she knows who she is. But she sees, and the audience sees, that there is more to him than that.

And you said that the character of Ryan changed to incorporate more of you in the character as you guys went along and shot more of the first season. With that being said, in what ways would you say Ryan is similar to the person that Dan is?

There’s definitely a playful side to both of us. I like to use humor as a weapon and I use it as a defense and I think he does that as well [laughs]. But I think what changed in the character to reflect a bit more of me was a bit more warmth. I’m basically a person who wants to get along with other people. I want other people to be happy. I think we incorporated a bit more of that kind of warmth into him and goofiness, which comes across a bit more later on in the season. I’m a big goofball sometimes. But also, in terms of how similar, we’re both people who are trying to figure out how to lead a good life, how to be better, how to be better people, and what I like about Ryan is that he’s doing that for his readers as well. I think his articles are not just about writing stuff that is salacious or attention-grabbing, but also writing an article that can help his readers become better people.

Obviously we have to talk about Ryan’s relationship with Jane. First off, I think Janestripe is the best ship name I’ve ever heard. 

Oh my gosh, isn’t it? Katie came up with it.

I was going to ask who came up with it.

We were just, you know, tweeting about the first episode and she was asking people, “What should their ship name be? Jayan? Ryane?” And she said, “Well how about Janestripe?” And I was like, “Oh my gosh. It couldn’t be anything else. It’s perfect.”

Seriously, it’s the best thing ever. What’s it like working with Katie?

Oh it’s great. It’s very easy to work with her. She is a really down to earth person, she’s genuinely sweet, and she’s a real professional. When we knew that I had the role, she went out of her way a little bit to make sure we got to hang out before we started shooting. We had dinner one night to get to know each other, and I really appreciated that she went out of her way to make sure we had that time together. But its for both us. If you’re going to be doing intimate stuff together it’s just weird, and the less you know someone the weirder it is. So thankfully we got along super well. We are really just on the same page. She’s funny and she’s nice and open to collaboration, and I really couldn’t have hoped for a better scene partner. Especially because everything I do in the show is pretty much with her. So it’s like all about how do we get along, and I feel blessed. I’m glad she is who she is. It comes across in our work, in the episodes I’ve seen, that we are two people who are complicit, who are simpatico; we are on the same wave length.

So I took to Twitter for some questions and they were all pretty much about this relationship. Someone wanted to know what you thought Janestripe’s biggest strength & biggest flaw is?

Janestripe’s biggest strength as a couple and biggest flaw as a couple, it’s the same thing: they push each other. That’s an amazing thing because they’re pushing each other out of their comfort zones, they’re challenging each other’s ideas, they’re making each other look at things in a different light. But that’s also problematic because you want some of that kind of challenging and conflicting energy in a relationship, but too much of it can make things blow up. So it’s going to be interesting to see what happens with them.

This is another question I got from Twitter: how does your character stay away from being just “the love interest” over the course of the season and how do you approach that as an actor?

That’s a good question. I think that one of the things that The Bold Type does really well is that it presents relationships as an important part of a well-rounded life, but not the most important or the only part of a well-rounded life. These women in the show, the main characters, are pursuing their careers, are pursuing personal fulfillment, and also if they can find a good partner or have some good romance or have some good sex, then that’s great too. It’s never presented as the be-all-end-all. And to that end, I think the relationship between Jane and Ryan, at first at least, is sort of, they both understand that this just “a thing.” They don’t know what to call it yet but they know it’s not like, “Well now we’re getting married.” They are feeling out and seeing what happens, but they both kind of come into it with their own ideas about what kind of relationship they want to have. And those slightly different ideas is the root of some of the conflicting drama in their storyline.

Personally, for me as an actor, you have to understand the role your playing. For me, I hope, I’m playing a three-dimensional character. But I know that in the larger picture of the whole show it’s not about me. My scenes with Katie, it’s about Katie more than it’s about me, in the sense that Jane is one of the through lines for the whole show. So I don’t think of myself as just a love interest, but at the same time I understand, “oh, I’m just a love interest.” I’m happy to play that kind of role, especially in such a well-written show and especially with such a great actor in Katie, that I don’t need to do anything different in my acting. I just need to make sure I’m playing a fully-realized person. I’m not playing someone who is solely defined by his relationship with Jane; I’m playing someone with his own wants and needs.

Is there anything you can tease about the rest of season one of The Bold Type?

[Pauses] Well, I think I can say that its not all smooth sailing for the Janestripe ship. It’s going to come to a point where they both have to figure out exactly what they want from each other. And [pauses] I don’t really know what I can say without giving anything away. It’ll be fun for people to see the two of us get a little bit jealous about what the other one is up to the rest of the time.

I have a few more fun questions to wrap things up. Let’s start with this: your character is a relationship/sex columnist for a men’s magazine. So if you had to pitch an article to write for Pinstripe, what would it be?

Oh man, that’s a great idea. Great question. Oh, I should have thought about that before. Some of the things I think are interesting in terms of sex and relationships from the lens of men: why don’t we, as men, talk more to each other about our relationships? The big thing, a lot of male friendships, keep quiet about everything, We don’t really talk to each other about important stuff. But for a relationship column, I would pitch: why don’t we, as guys, talk more about, “Hey, how is it going with your girlfriend?” Also, I feel like this would be the kind of article that would be in an Esquire-type of magazine, like “Demystifying Menstruation for Men,” because that’s also a thing that guys don’t know about. Not a lot of women feel comfortable talking about it with their guys, but you know.

Our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us and we love talking about what makes us excited and passionate. What do you nerd out over?

I nerd out over improv comedy because I’ve been doing it forever and so there’s certain performers, certain shows that I can really go on about. I nerd out about Game of Thrones. I read all of the books before there was a show,so when the show came out and it was so good, it was like the greatest thing ever seeing this amazing fantasy series turned into reality. So I love talking about that, specifically with people who have read the books, but now the series has overtaken the books, but yeah. I used to collect comic books when I was younger, so I’m a bit of a lapsed comic book nerd. Now though, I just feel grumpy about most of the superhero movies that come out. I feel sort of like a crotchety old man —

I was going to ask what your opinion about the recent Marvel movies and the DC television shows. How do you feel about all of that?

I think its super cool that both Marvel and DC now are creating this cinematic universes that overlap with each other. It’s really exciting that that exists. But that being said, there’s a lot of it that I don’t like. I like the idea in theory more than I like the practice, because especially with the movies, movies these days are just multi-billion dollar blowouts that are just made by committees, and everything gets watered down, and I feel like every superhero movie I watch ends with like a third act with people punching each other through buildings. That is not interesting. Maybe it was interesting once, but now it is just the same thing. I went to see a movie in theaters the other day and the previews before it, it was like four or five superhero apocalyptic movies in a row, because now they all have to be about the world. They can’t just be about interesting characters struggling for what they think is right. It all is Apocalypto or someone taking over the universe and ending mankind. Ughhh. It’s all so heavy [laughs]. I got my issues, but that being said, if anyone of them want to hire me, I am available and I would love to do it [laughs].

If you had to pick, which comic book character’s world would you want to be a part of?

When I was collecting comics I was collecting Marvel, so it’s the world I know better. I’ve enjoyed some of those movies. But then [Christopher] Nolan came around with The Dark Knight, and those movies were amazing. And DC is now trying to cast itself as the grittier, darker kind of more realistic superhero movies. So yeah, I’m not sure which world I would work better in. Probably Marvel, because Marvel tends to be quippier and sillier, and I am sillier than I am gritty.

You can follow Dan on Twitter and on Instagram. The Bold Type airs Tuesdays at 9/8 c on Freeform.