You started off in the entertainment field at a young age, by chance and under the watchful eye of your parents. Was this your dream when you started out, or did it become your dream after that first role?
It was definitely not my dream starting out. In fact, to be honest, it has never been my “dream” to be an actor. I was blessed with wonderful parents and an amazingly supportive family, in an environment where huge sacrifices were made to provide experience and the cultivation of interests and talents for each of us. I always had an artistic mind and was always pretending. I found a lot of joy in making people believe that which was make-believe. I found happiness in moving people to emotion. I can’t say why … it’s just the way I’ve always been. Oddly enough, my earliest career interests were in the field of medicine, but as life would have it, that was going to have to wait.
Honestly, things fell into place so fortuitously for me with regard to my acting career that I hesitate sometimes to tell the story to aspiring artists, because it rarely happens the way it happened to me. I met some wonderful people very early on who helped guide me in the right direction. I had the support and interest of all members of my family. I was encouraged to develop this ability further and was provided the means to do so. So really, I take very little credit.
As soon as I did my first few jobs and began to understand the work, I fell in love with it. It just felt natural to me. I was steered away from classes or workshops by those who represented me because, as I was told, my instincts for performance and timing were the biggest and best tools I had to be successful, and my managers and agents didn’t want acting coaches or teachers to try to manipulate me into being the actor they thought I should be. And for me, that approach worked.
So to say it was a dream would be a stretch. It was more a fortunate stumble into a successful career doing something I already loved doing long before there was ever a camera rolling. The fact that I was able to work in the company of amazing people, able to make a good living and enjoy what I was doing, was more of a bonus. I was always going to be an actor by nature—the fact that I made a career out of it had more to do with good fortune, clear blessings, and the support of so many. It all happened so fast, and when you get on a fun and fast-moving train, you don’t want to get off … and would struggle to jump even if you did.
Who have been your acting mentors?
Wow. This is hard. I admire the work of so many actors, but never really had any personal acting mentors so to speak. Like I mentioned before, I was never coached and never really received notable advice from any one actor with regard to performance. My mentors have been filmmakers for the most part, as I find I relate more to the overall creation of the project than to any one aspect of it, even acting. It takes an army to create a project, but the audience only sees the faces of actors, and sometimes, sadly, actors get the most credit.
My mentors would be people I have spent the most time with in a creative setting. I’ve been blessed to travel with an improv comedy group known as The Society. There are a bunch of people on the L. A. cast, but those I work very closely with would be considered dear friends and mentors of mine, because we work to create stories from scratch every time we perform, and out of necessity there must be unquestionable trust and respect in that environment, when the success of the whole is entirely dependent upon the collective contribution from each individual.
Lincoln Hoppe, Kirby Heyborne, and Kelly Lohman are some of my dearest friends in the industry and I look up to and admire each of them so very much. My filmmaker mentors would include my older brother, Jason, who is an extremely talented filmmaker and has worked behind the camera in a variety of positions, most notably as a director and assistant director. He is personally responsible for connecting me with many of the filmmakers I’ve worked with in the state of Utah over the past decade, and our close collaboration has been a huge blessing in my life. Not everyone gets to share their love of the arts with their own brother.
There are others I work very closely with and respect immensely. I can’t start naming them all or I’ll leave someone out and not get a Christmas card from them this year.
What has been your favorite role so far?
Favorite? You can’t ask that! I’ve loved them all. However, I will say that the most fulfilling roles are those which force you to extend outside yourself the very most—those roles that are nothing like you and push you to places you’ve never been, to emotions you’ve never really felt. Yes, those roles are often the most difficult and require the most investment, but they are also the most fulfilling when you pull them off. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which roles I’ve enjoyed the very most, based on what you know of me.
What is your process in preparing for a new role? Does that process change when the role is based on actual events, as with Saints and Soldiers?
I prepare for roles the same way each time but I wouldn’t say it’s a very formal process at all. Portraying character is always dynamic—I don’t think you’re ever fully “prepared” for a part. The character tends to grow, develop, and change throughout a project and throughout a story, so I try to be flexible and receptive to this dynamic process.
One thing that is very important to me—and for the truth of any character I portray—is to ensure that every character has a back story. If the film based on reality, I research the history of the events or the character and adopt it as my own history when I’m working. If a project is not based on reality, when all I have to go off of is the brief snapshot of the character’s life that I find in the script and the insight from the director, then I have an obligation to create the events leading up to the script in my mind so that it comes through on screen. Where did this character come from? Who is this character? It’s important each character comes from something as real as the brief snapshot of their life that the audience sees, so that they can invest in dimensions of the character’s life. There has to be a past, a history, otherwise it’s a lie—it’s just an actor faking it for an audience for a few hours. However, when the actor brings something from the past to the present, the audience will leave caring about the future. I think this part of the work is often overlooked. I don’t go to the movies to see actors fake reality by delivering lines—I go to the movies to care.
Was it hard to play the role of Tuttle in The Saratov Approach, knowing that the real Tuttle is still around to see your performance?
No—in fact, I welcomed it. Travis was such a great support to me during the project. At no point did I ever feel judgment or dissatisfaction from him. In fact, the opposite is true. He was so gracious and receptive to what I had to offer. I could never know exactly what he went through, but I did my very best to do the role justice, so that what I did bring to the table would pass as a conglomeration of the truth of his reality and the truth of my creation of what his reality would have been like for me. When you’re performing fiction you only have one half of that recipe—you only have your creation of a false reality. I’m glad Travis was there to add the unmistakable layer of truth. You can’t fake that.
How is it different playing a villain versus playing a hero?
I wouldn’t know—I’m always the good guy whether the director wants you to believe that or not. :)
Really though, like I mentioned before, those roles which are the most satisfying are those that require you to stretch yourself the most. This goes in both directions. Playing evil is so enjoyable because you don’t have the boundaries around you that a hero must live within. You have the luxury of controlling chaos and aren’t bound by rules. It’s a lot like real life in that sense. Only evil men are free to do anything they please. You’re only constrained by the vision of the director; beyond that, it’s yours to create.
On the flip side, heroes can also be a significant stretch because you have the privilege of extending yourself toward that man you would like to be. No matter where goodness is found—in life or the illusion of life—it is powerful, and nothing stirs emotion like the actions of a hero.
So yes, they are very different roles but in equally wonderful ways. It’s a pleasure for me to do either. And in all reality, either role contributes to the common good. A hero is simply not a hero unless he has an equally powerful villain to balance the scale. With either role, my job is to make the hero look good, and it’s an absolute pleasure doing it from either side of that line in the sand.
Do you find it difficult to let go of a role when filming ends?
Not at all. I don’t intend this response to be too deep, but it is an important question. Perhaps I won’t gain popularity from this statement with other thespians, but I believe part of being a skilled actor is being able to know when you’re acting and when you’re not. Believability should not require you to invest yourself so deeply that you cannot utilize your own faculties at any time when necessary. I’ve never been intoxicated in my life, and don’t intend to, regardless of the “drug.” I have an obligation to the director, filmmakers, and other actors on a professional level to be accessible every single moment of a project in order to get the job done.
But more importantly, my family deserves to have me leave those characters behind no matter what. I just don’t feel that I would ever allow myself to be defined by who I portray. I can be anyone at any time, but not anyone can be me. I am in control of the character at all times. The character would never and should never control me.
You embarked on your mission at a time when your career as an actor was in full swing. How did your mission change your acting?
When I told my manager and agents that I was leaving for my mission, they told me I was crazy—that nobody comes so far in the film industry only to give it up for religion. They said that I was flushing my career down the toilet. Truth be told, a career that would prevent me from serving God and his kingdom isn’t worth a moment of my time, and should be flushed down the toilet immediately.
If my acting changed as a result of my mission, it was for the better. I have only been blessed for my service as a missionary. At the time, my mission was not only the best thing I could have done for my life, it was the only thing I could have done for my life. It gave me perspective. I learned gratitude. At a pivotal point in my life, I gained a solid testimony and was reminded that the Lord’s work is the most important work to be engaged in, and that to whom much is given, much is required—and I had been given a whole lot.
I have heard that serving a mission is like paying tithing to the Lord for the first twenty years of your life. If that’s true, then I’m not a full tithe payer—I should have served ten missions to account for the blessings that came into my life during those first twenty years.
In what ways has the gospel influenced your work throughout your career?
The gospel has influenced my work in every way. My faith and religion is not some isolated piece of my life. It’s not just occupying some compartment within me, making up only some small portion of who I am. My testimony is everything. It influences my decisions with regard to all of my work just as it does my decisions with regard to every other aspect of my life. I weigh and measure everything as it relates to the gospel. It guides my work.
What advice do you have for aspiring actors?
I get asked that a lot and always say the same thing: acting is a labor of love that doesn’t always love you back. If acting and performing is really what someone wants to do, then I encourage any and all sacrifices to help develop talents and cultivate passions. But the same goal with film should remain as with anything in life—it should serve the purpose of serving others. There is no sin in loving what you do for a living, but making the film business your entire life and losing perspective is a temptation that is very real and powerful. There are very few jobs I can think of where a person is the actual product. Think about that.
It comes with rejection and nauseating praise in the same day. It can be a wonderful thing, with many opportunities to serve the Lord and find joy, but success is hard to come by and integrity is vital in order to avoid sacrificing what you want most for what you want now. Selling out is common, but if someone is strong enough and willing to stand for the challenge and remember who they are, then I encourage it wholeheartedly, because who knows what those talents will do for this world.
What are the hardest parts about being an actor?
Being away from my family is the hardest part by far, as with any job. The rest is an absolute joy. I love everything about it. Don’t get me wrong, acting is exhausting work—it can be a challenge to mesh the many ideas and personalities to create one piece of art—but I love that part of it.
You have faced many challenges recently with your daughter, Lily, having spina bifida. How has this affected your acting?
In every way Lily has made my life better. I am blessed to say that I have married a woman who represents all that is good and wonderful in this world. The very best of God’s creations decided she’d tolerate me for eternity, and I am a lucky man. She has given me beautiful children, all of whom bring me more joy than any man should be allowed, but I won’t complain. I draw strength from my wife, from my children, and my experiences in life—all of them, the good and the bad, the easy and the hard—contribute to the emotions and feelings I am able to draw from while I am working.
What are you currently working on?
I am working on my postgraduate education. It’s a full-time gig. Oh, and I’m working on helping my wife get my kids to sleep. I’m not that much of a help with that—in fact, I may be fired.
As far as film projects, I have a few productions in the early stages of development. Looking forward to it.
What direction do you see your career going in the next ten years?
Well, I’m a full-time graduate student in a physician assistant school of medicine in Oregon right now, so I hope to be a working medical provider much sooner than ten years.
As for film, I hope to keep doing quality projects every year for the rest of my life. I never intended to be famous in any respect—or rich for that matter—so I won’t say I’m chasing those distinctions. However, I will say that I hope to be able to satisfy my artistic passions as often as time and occasion will permit. I see in my future several more films over the next ten years, and a happy and healthy life with my family outside the wild, wild world of show biz. I find that people should always plan to find something else outside the industry they love and are interested in that they pursue with equal passion, as it will prevent desperation and help provide a sense of fulfillment and continuing progression. People do foolish things when they are desperate, but I have been fortunate enough to avoid it in my career. I have so many other passions—and remembering that the world doesn’t revolve around my next acting job helps me keep perspective and keep the world of entertainment weighted where it belongs in the grand scheme of things. Additionally, it allows me to be very selective with regard to the roles I choose to do, keeping my résumé void of embarrassing features. It’s a silly business.
The more important answer I suppose to this question is that in ten years I hope to have strong children who know who they are, ten more years of blissful marriage behind me, looking forward to eternity, and a clean conscience. I hope in ten years to say that those who love me most are proud of me, and that I’ve offended nobody—not even myself.
For you, how does film help to build the kingdom?
The Spirit testifies of all truth—not just the truth you hear at church, but all truth. It is my testimony that the truth mentioned is truth as relates to spiritual things. There is no better way to reach so many of God’s children and to touch their hearts and move them to emotion than through film. You can teach truth—grand and magnificent principles as well as small and simple truths—all to an audience eager to feel something. Though there are many productions with little or no spiritual value to speak of, and some that even detract from the Spirit, there is limitless potential for film to bless and benefit the lives of all of God’s children. As a captive audience watches intently, filmmakers need to understand the obligation we have to take that sacred time and bless the audience with truth. People should leave a film feeling better about life, feeling better about who they are and having a greater desire to do something good in the world. Film is communication to the masses, and I believe we have a responsibility as filmmakers to communicate, in some way, truths the Lord would approve of. ❧