In the "Romeo and Juliet"-inspired drama premiering at 7 p.m. Monday, 29-year-old Finley plays Drake, a member of the alien Atrian race living on Earth who is the best friend of Matt Lanter's character Roman. If Roman is the Romeo in this tale, Drake is his Mercutio, who in William Shakespeare's play is killed defending his bro's good name.
Finley is happy that series creator Meredith Averill didn't follow the Bard that closely.
"I would just straight up ask, because I was like almost dying every episode, 'Am I all right?'" he said, laughing, during a phone interview. "I really like playing the character."
As the series begins, Drake and Roman are part of a group of the heavily tattooed Atrians -- all of whom have been incarcerated in a camp ever since crash-landing on Earth 10 years earlier -- that are being integrated into a human high school. Roman falls for Emery (Aimee Teegarden), which angers the human-hating Drake.
"At the center of the show it's a love story, but there's a lot of action and there's a lot of fighting," Finley said. "And my character's involved in all of it."
Drake doesn't see a lot of that action until later in the 13-episode season, but as tensions between the Atrians and anti-alien human factions increases, we slowly learn about Drake's rocky past with a militant alien group called the Trags. Drake also falls for a human despite his hatred of her race.
"He's got a dark past. He's a badass, but he's got a big heart," Finley said. "He's complicated and he's just cool. I just love playing him."
Finley showed some heart of his own just to get to Hollywood. He was studying restaurant management as a 19-year-old college student when an abscess in his throat got so bad it required emergency treatment to save his life. Weak and emaciated -- he lost nearly 60 pounds -- he was forced to stay in bed for a long recovery period during which he watched a ton of movies on DVD.
The experience turned out to be a blessing in painful disguise as he was inspired by the films and had "a weird epiphany."
"The only time I really wasn't thinking about my own life was when I was lost in these other stories. And I just was like, 'Wow, I want to do that,'" he said. "I wanted to act. I wanted to tell these stories. I wanted to feel these emotions."
So without any training as an actor or even experience in high school plays, he set off on a cross-country drive from Maine to Los Angeles on Jan. 7, 2005, and lived in his car, hostels and a "shitty-ass house in East Hollywood" with nine other people.
After struggling for two years he was ready to give up his dream. While standing in a mall parking garage, Finley was on the phone with his brother complaining about L.A. when he noticed a woman, also on the phone, was staring at him.
The woman was casting agent Jamie Roberts, who wanted him to audition for a role that he ended up not getting, but it led to other auditions and signing with his current agent. That led to a guest role in the CBS series "Cold Case" and eventually to his first series regular role, on ABC Family's "Secret Life of An American Teenager."
Finley starred as high school quarterback Jake Pappas for five seasons in "Secret Life," so playing a teen in "Star-Crossed" is nothing new to him -- although playing a teen alien is.
"'Secret Life' was great because it was really good training. I was in almost every episode of that show," he said. "But these two shows are so completely different you can't even compare the two."
Finley talked more about "Star-Crossed" as well as the feature film he wrote and is producing, the actors and movies that inspired him, his tattoos, and that scar above his eye.
Tell me about Drake.
Yeah, Drake. Actually Drake is a character that I think any actor would really want to play. He's complicated. ... He has no love for the humans, and rightfully so. The Atrians have been in prison for 10 years and the humans are treating them poorly. ...
It's funny because like every episode it's, like, Roman and Drake saving the world. That's pretty much how it's been going this first season, which has been so fun. But both Matt [Lanter] and I pretty much almost die every episode. It's pretty funny. I'll get the script and I'll go, "Oh shoot." ... [Matt] and I got real close, man. He and I are boys now.
Drake is so against Roman and his love for Emery the human. I was wondering if he is going to find his own romance.
He does find someone. He basically develops a relationship with one of the human girls as well and she shows him a better, a different side of the humans. He starts to soften up toward the end of the season. I can't say too, too much about it, but something really big happens with them toward the end of the season.
You say he has a dark past. Does it involve membership in certain Atrian groups?
Yes. The Atrians are in tribes and he's of the warrior tribe, called the Vosac. He's a Vosac. When the Atrians landed, the warriors were the first ones off the ship to fight the humans.
He's never known his father and his mother raised him and his mother was a warrior and she's been in prison pretty much for his whole life. So he's kind of just grown up by himself. Roman's family kind of took him in. And he's just got a huge chip on his shoulder for these humans.
"Star-Crossed" has its "Romeo and Juliet" similarities. Would you rather be doing Shakespeare's words or these words?
Oh, these words for sure. A, because it's a lot easier and B, because I love it. [Executive producers] Meredith [Averill] and Adele [Lim] have been amazing. I wrote a feature screenplay and my story centers [on] one main character essentially. The fact that Adele and Meredith have been able to just intertwine these characters and expand on these characters and make the characters likeable or not likeable -- it's just amazing how they've done it with seven or eight series regulars. I'm just very impressed with what they've done and I'm not just saying that.
In Episode 2, "Star-Crossed" becomes more than just a romance tale with the secret groups and political machinations. Will we see a lot more of those twists?
A lot more. It develops so much. There are so many intricate story lines that go along with that. They really expand on the secret group called the Trags. And Drake has a storyline with that and that's kind of where my storyline goes in the first half of the season. It's really, really interesting and I think the audience is gonna be really surprised.
I noticed that you, Greg, have a tattoo on your shoulder.
Yeah, I have a few tattoos, yeah.
I was wondering if they use those as part of your Atrian tattoos.
No, unfortunately. Where all my real tattoos are I have Atrian tattoos covering them. But they cover them first and then they put the fake ones on. So it's like a good hour and a half in the makeup trailer every day for me. I never thought I'd regret my tattoos.
They were thinking about incorporating them but Katie, the makeup artist, developed a certain way to do all the tattoos and it's actually a really clever way. It's kind of like a temporary tattoo how she designed them. So that's how they do it.
Is it weird to be 29 and playing a high school student?
Yeah, I mean [laughs] it's not weird. I always make the joke, like, if I was 29 playing like a 50-year-old or a 40-year-old I'd be a little sketched out, because that means I'd be looking really old. So I guess it's not a bad thing. ... But the thing of it is the aliens, we age differently and ... they don't quite know how old we are. You know what I'm saying? So it kind of plays that but it is a little strange, yeah.
How was filming in New Orleans?
Amazing. I don't know if I could live there full time, but just the people, the culture, the food -- it was a really good time. The party scene was crazy though. It was just a constant party 24-7.
I'm sure you did not have time to partake in that, did you?
Thank God, yeah. My character doesn't really develop so much until Episode 3 or 4 and on. So the first couple episodes I had free time, which was a little dangerous out there. But after that I was working like 15 hours a day, thank God, so I was staying out of trouble.
What kind of trouble did you get into before that?
You can walk around with a drink in your hand, for one thing. And the people are so friendly and just want to party out there, so you'll walk by a bar and there'll be people there that [say], "Come on. Have a drink." You know, "Come on in." They're very welcoming. It's the friendliest place I've ever been to.
Did a throat abscess actually get you into acting?
Yeah, kind of it did. It really did. I let it go for so long I didn't know what the heck was going on. ... I had had a couple surgeries on my knees and hip the year before. And then this throat thing happened and I was bedridden. I had to get that to heal so I was bedridden for like a month and a half. And then I had to get my tonsils out after that because it was caused from the infection in my tonsils. So like I was bedridden for a long time and I just was very depressed I guess you could say.
I had had these basketball scholarships and now I'm just laid up weighing like 140 pounds, like emaciated. And I just would watch movies and my mom would bring me stacks of DVDs and ... it just kind of hit me. It was like a weird epiphany and then Jan. 7, 2005, I packed up my bags and drove out to L.A.
With no formal training or having even been in plays?
Nothing. ... It was weird. I had this thing inside that like I just knew I wanted to do it and I could do it. I feel like I did it for the right reasons. I didn't want to do it for fame. I didn't want to do it because I wanted to go to California because I saw "The Hills" on TV or some shit like that. I wanted to act. I wanted to tell these stories. I wanted to feel these emotions.
That's cool that you were actually inspired by things you saw.
I went through a lot and it was really crappy. I definitely wouldn't want to do it again, but I find comfort in knowing that like I'm not one of those dudes in the audition that's like, "Yo, bro. My name's Brody. I'm from Laguna Beach. I'm doing the acting thing. Like I was a model." I'm just like, "Oh, my God." I find comfort in knowing that I did it for different reasons.
Was there a specific performance or movie that inspired you?
I mean there are a lot. There are certain actors that I just grew up watching and just loving, like Leo is a big one. Leonardo DiCaprio. It's funny, that movie "Basketball Diaries" I watched when I was a younger kid and I just loved it. And then I watched it later on and that was a huge. That was one of the movies and one of the performances I was like, "Damn, I want to do that." I love what [Mark] Wahlberg does. ... I look up to him being a fellow New Englander.
There are a lot of great ones -- Johnny Depp, Jack Nicholson. Right now, honestly in my opinion, I think the best out there is Christian Bale. I just think he can play anything. I'm playing a certain kind of role right now, but I'd like to later in my career just do everything. I think an actor wants to kind of try to play any kind of role.
You mentioned your "Danny Boy" script. I understand it's an Irish crime movie. How's that coming along?
Oh my gosh, man. That's coming along too good. We just had a huge meeting with the financier yesterday, with the management company who is also the production company that's behind it. And it's just going great. We're looking to shoot it this time next year.
So we've got the funding in play and now we're starting to package it. We've narrowed it down to six different directors. And we're gonna attach a young lady to play the lead and it's going really good.
Are you going to be in it, or just in charge of it?
Oh yeah. Why the hell do you think I wrote it? Yeah, yeah, I'm Danny for sure.
Good luck with it.
I'm really proud of it. And later on I actually hired a real writer to spice it up a little bit and fix where it needed to be fixed. And I'm pretty proud of it so, yeah, it's definitely getting made and I think you'll like it. It's a cool story.
It seems your fans want to know how you got that scar near your eye. So I'm just going to ask if you'd care to tell that story.
When I was kid [11 years old, he said later] we were throwing rocks into a pond near my house and this kid didn't want to go home. I was like, "You gotta leave. Time to go." And he didn't want to, so he picked up a rock and threw it at me. It was a quarter of an inch from hitting my eye and a quarter inch from hitting my temple. I was like bleeding to death. I had to get 46 stitches -- 23 on the inside and 23 on the outside. It hurt like a bitch
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