Every one of the jobs, for me it was all about the actors and watching how people experience having their own shows, how they interact with their crew, how they dealt with the long hours and the last-minute revisions. And just really just getting to sort of clock all of these different ways that people have of doing the same job, which is a really tough job, it turns out. As a guest star, I don’t think I ever fully appreciated that part of it. It was just how these are long hours. It is hard work. I just have a profound amount of respect for all of the people who do it so well.
So those were the five years of my career, learning that.
And the most vaulable lesson?
The most valuable experience to me, to be honest, would be sort of the more recent one. Funny, you’d think it would be something sort of earlier on, but between this pilot shooting and when we got picked up as a series I did a sort of three or four episode arc on this show, “Luck,” on HBO, and I got to work with Dustin Hoffman.
I had all these scenes with Dustin and my first day out with him was probably the most valuable experience I’ve had as an actor yet, in terms of just the sort of a day at work. I sat down with him in the scene, it’s an interview scene where he’s sort of interviewing my character and sort of really putting me through my paces to see if I have what it takes to do a job for him.
Dustin, being one of the world’s great method actors—and I didn’t really understand what that meant—so the whole day there was this sort of this attitude coming at me, this sort of you-better-bring-it-today attitude. Not in any kind of mean way or anti-social way, but it was there.
When we sat down to do this scene, I came out of the gate running, like ready to go, ready to just blow his mind and be the best actor I could be. We do the scene and the director comes out and says, “We need to see you’re a little bit more affected by Dustin.” And Dustin, I see, clocks this note.
We start the scene and Dustin just stares at me. He doesn’t say a word. And I’d stare at him and I’d say the line again and he goes, “I heard you.” And I’m just stopped cold. I don’t know what to do; I don’t want to like start improvising, so I’m just sitting there staring at him. Dennis Farina’s to my right.
And then Dustin just sort of stops and looks at me and says, “Oh, I see what’s going on here. You’re just some young actor who thinks he memorizes all of his lines and you show up here on this set and you…” He just lays into me. And he gives me this monologue that just terrifies me, and it drops the bottom out of me.
And I remember thinking in that moment, “OK, its fight or flight. I got to get out of here or I’m just going to lose it.” My hero has just sort of dismantled me here on camera. And then I just had this moment where I looked at him and I was like, he’s doing this on purpose. Of course he’s doing this on purpose. This is your guide. And in that moment, I was like, I see what you’re doing, I’m not going to let you get away with it.
In that moment, I just kind of figured out what the best acting in the world is all about, which is that. It’s creating that moment. He created a situation where I connected to what I had to say. And much like my auditions and my experience with “Suits,” he created the experience in real life that we were trying to act or replicate on screen.
For the next three hours of shooting that scene, I can’t even remember what happened because it wasn’t about what I was trying to act or the ideas that I had about the script. It was really one guy trying to convince another guy that he belonged in that room with him.
Talk about having to face your fears. That was a moment where my first instinct was to run as fast as I could from this room because everything in my being was telling me, I don’t belong there. And Dustin Hoffman really gave me this gift. By saying, “You don’t belong here,” he was basically saying, “You belong here. Now do it. You got here, you got this far, let’s do this.”
That to me has been the single biggest gift I’ve gotten in my career from another actor, and it sort of charged me up for this whole process because I feel like, again, if I can do that, then I can do anything.
Did Dustin Hoffman anything afterward, like that he was happy you figured out what he was doing?
That’s how brilliant he is, because he was very kind to me before he did that that day. When I arrived, he was like, “So happy to have you.” He had personally had to OK my tape and he was really welcoming as we were getting our hair and makeup done and everything. So I knew that he wasn’t just angry at me [when the incident occurred].
But he had given me any real like, well here’s like how it’s going to go down, then it wouldn’t have been effective. And to be honest, I don’t even think that he knew I think, and this is just my observation, but I think that it is such a muscle in him, I mean watching someone like him work and there’s no premeditation to any of this. I think that he sat down with me and in an instant read me up and down and knew what to do. And I have talked to other people who had worked with him before, you know, and it’s that same experience, and it’s not something that he sits at home and thinks I’m going to go in there and just torture this poor young guy. I think what he does and what great actors do is just stand and response to what they get. I think he saw in me, and I think that’s so moving to me and to which I will hold on to, during the rest of my entire career, which is that he saw in me something that he trusted to deal with that. And so he went right for the jugular.
And so in any moment when I question my own strength or my own fortitude in this business or my talent, I can look at that and say, “That’s the guy who saw something in me and he knew that I could handle it.” And afterwards, he gave me sort of like fist pump, sort of a nod of the head.
Like I said, I had been fired from that job not long before, so I still thought for sure I was getting fired. I went home and sort of steeled myself to the idea that this was all over. And I was about to get a phone call saying, “Sorry, thanks kid, but no thanks.” And I was OK with that. I got to work with Dustin Hoffman.
And a day went by and I still didn’t get that call, and another day went by and I still didn’t get that call. Then all of a sudden I was back at work thinking, “Oh my God, I have to do it all over again. Oh no!”
They were filming when that happened, right?
Yep. I’ve spoken to the editor actually at the Christmas party … They have all of this; they’ve had to sit and watch hours of me going beet red, terrified. I haven’t seen any of the work; I can only imagine that scene is going to be pretty interesting to watch for me.
Years from now when you’re on “Inside the Actor’s Studio” you can share that story.
Oh man, that’s my story from now on! I’m going to try to refine how it’s told. I have to try to get like the short version of it and the longer version.
I’ll have to write this up really fast so I have it first.
One more thing from Twitter. Gentleman, rogue or scholar, which order is it?
[Laughs.] Look, it’s different some days. If I’m at Burning Man, it would be rogue first, for sure, then gentleman and then scholar. I think scholar probably comes last every time. But rogue and gentlemen could be switched out on any given day.
And @halfadams, is there any story to that?
That is something that I shall not reveal. There’s got to be some mystery, Curt. There has to be some. [Laughs.]