10 Questions with Josh Zuckerman

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                                       Photo by Vince Trupsin

by Ryan Meehan

Actor Josh Zuckerman has had quite an eclectic career in both television and film, playing everything from a sex-crazed virgin to a serial killer. He’s currently starring in The CW’s new series, “Significant Mother”, about a man who discovers his best friend is sleeping with his mother. The series is set to premiere on August 3, 2015. Josh also recently wrapped the dark comedy “Mind Puppets” with Vinnie Jones and was last seen in the independent drama “Field of Lost Shoes” alongside Lauren Holly, Jason Isaacs and David Arquette. The latter film was based on a true story from the Civil War era about a group of teenage cadets who must confront the horrors of an adult world. Zuckerman also starred in the feature film “CBGB”, the story of the famous nightclub in the role of “John Holmstrom”, the founder of Punk Magazine. Alan Rickman, Malin Akerman and Justin Bartha also co-starred. He is still widely recognized from his leading role in Summit’s “Sex Drive” opposite James Marsden, where he played a young man setting out on a road trip with the intention of losing his virginity, but instead he falls in love with his best female friend. Additionally, female fans remember him as the nerdy boyfriend of AnnaLynne McCord on “Beverly Hills 90210” and as the notorious Wysteria Lane Strangler on “Desperate Housewives”. Prior film work includes “Lions for Lambs” for director Robert Redford as one of Andrew Garfield’s college companions, Mark Webber’s obnoxious best friend in Ethan Hawke’s “The Hottest State”, the wheelchair bound brother of Balthazar Getty in the cult film “Feast” and the “brother” of Ben Affleck in Dreamworks’ “Surviving Christmas”. Don’t forget to check out “Significant Mother” Monday Nights this fall on The CW, and get to know Josh a little better right now as he’s my guest today in 10 Questions.

RM:  How did you first come to be enamored with the practice of acting? Was there a particular performance you saw which moved you to the point where you absolutely had to get on stage, or was it something that you didn’t really become obsessed with until you actually did it yourself?

JZ: It is a combination of both. I watched a lot of adult demographic movies growing up.  And to be clear, by that I mean R rated dramas and action flicks, not porn.  Moving on… Some of those performances can not help but stick with you because they really get to you as movie-goer.  For example, Mel Gibson in Braveheart just killed me as a kid.  So some performances set maybe a subconscious foundation for my interest in acting but it was not until I fell into doing theater and then continued to study acting that I really became enamored with it as a craft.  There is certainly an addictive high to having an audience immediately respond to what you’re doing on stage but there is also an endless obsession with getting better as an actor once your discover technique.  Especially when you continue to see such amazing and inspiring performances.  That is when you realize how much room there is to grow.

RM:  Which subjects did you study in your time at Princeton University? How did you manage to balance the pursuit of a career as an entertainer with the academic requirements of such a prestigious educational institution?

JZ: For the one year I studied at Princeton, I leaned my curriculum towards History.  Had I stayed, that most likely would have been my focus.  But because I was only a freshman, most of my classes were fulfilling pre-reqs.  I was lucky enough to take two incredible History classes:  United States Foreign Diplomacy from 1865 to the present and Ancient Roman History.  I loved them both immensely.  Particularly the former as it was taught by a brilliant professor I can most clearly describe as looking and sounding like Colonel Sanders of KFC.  Initially, my time at university was intended to be a respite from acting.  But as the saying, “Who do I have f#%@ to get out of this business?” tells us, you can rarely walk away.  As a result, I spent a lot of time traveling into New York City via the NJ transit for auditions and meetings.  I also ended up attempting to mount a production of Kenneth Lonnergan’s “This is our youth” in a small campus black box but it was cut short prior to opening by a number of factors.  It is a long story.

RM:  At what moment did you realize that acting had become your main profession and your primary source of income?

JZ: I think it was the summer after my freshmen year of college.  I moved back to LA and worked on a small film called Pretty Persuasion that summer.  By then, my parents had moved away from LA and I was living on my own for the first time.  No school and no parents and gaps between jobs made for a lot of idle time.  I had no idea how to fill it at first.  I listened to a lot of Tony Robbins tapes and read a bunch of self-help books and threw myself into acting classes.  That whole experience cemented for me that acting was my career and I didn’t want to do anything else.  To this day, I am lucky enough to say that acting is the only job I have ever had.

RM:  How would you best describe the character that you play on “Significant Mother”? In what ways is your persona very similar to his; and are there any aspects of his personality that are complete polar opposites of the ones you possess in real life?

JZ: Nate is a finicky, career driven Portland hip foodie who loves his mom and best friend dearly.  He also tends to over-react to anything that’s outside of the expected.  Like Nate, I love my mom and my friends and my career is very important to me.  And I love food.  However he knows more about haut cuisine then I ever will.  I can stress easily as well but Nate takes high strung to a new level.

RM:  What has been the best part of getting to work with the cast of this show so far? Do you have any bizarre on-set stories that you can share with us?

JZ:  One of the best parts is watching the other actors perform.  I am a hard person to crack but every single actor on our set has made me ruin a take by laughing at some point.  We are also lucky enough that our cast is full of good people who actually enjoy being around each other! But bizarre stories…um.. Actually our last night of filming, we were being towed through the streets of Portland for a car scene and Marijuana had just been legalized in Oregon that night.  So we have got this big set up driving through the streets and at one point we passed by thousands of celebrators waiting in line for a handout of free pot.

RM:  Do you think that “Sex Drive” would have been a bigger hit if it was released today given the popularity of online dating sites such as Tinder that weren’t around back in 2008? What did you learn most about the business end of  the entertainment industry from that whole experience?

JZ:  You know I would never thought of it that way, but maybe so.  So many more people have had their own successful – or more often than not nightmarish – online dating experiences by now.  Perhaps it was a bit before it’s time, but it is still damn funny.  Sex Drive was an incredible experience for me from start to finish.  From a business perspective, it was unlike anything I’d been through.  They tested the heck out of the film prior to it is opening and it surpassed everyone expectations in audience ratings.  Because of that, Summit Entertainment made a huge advertising push.  There was a lot of buzz.  My manager had other agencies calling her to potentially poach me over to their agency.  We all thought it would be a big deal.  Then it opened to modest numbers.  Then the buzz and the promise it held fizzled away.  It was disorienting for me.  I had this anticipation that my career would change forever — that this would be the “big break.”  And I am absolutely fine with how it all unfolded now.  I am grateful to have been a part of the film and I’m totally psyched that it’s developed this cult following.  But the big takeaway for me from a business perspective was: do your job, do the best you can, be a good person, and move on.  If it is a huge success, great! If not, it is still a success to keep working.  Do not get swept up in the popularity game.  It is enticing but it can never last.  Slow and steady, keep your feet on the ground, be grateful no matter what, all that.

RM:  You had the pleasure of working with a lot of big name box office stars in the film “Surviving Christmas”, including the late James Gandolfini…What do you remember most about the time you got to spend with him, and what was he like off-camera?

JZ:  Gandolfini was like a big friendly bear.  Everyone knows that on screen, he could intimidate in the tilt of his head.  But off camera, he was incredibly sweet and fun and more than anything, kind.  I remember walking into his trailer once and he was so excited about playing this new video game system he had just bought.  He just had this lovable youthful spirit.  I consider myself extremely lucky that I had the chance to work with him.

RM:  I understand that you are very active with regards to addressing environmental concerns…Heading into 2016, what do you think is the most important environmental issue concerning the human race and the many species with which we share this planet? Why do you believe that this particular issue has either been overlooked or not addressed to the degree that it needs to be?

JZ:  I am no expert but from I have read and watched and heard and seen, global climate change has to be the largest environmental issue of our time because it contains so many other issues.  I am sure it seems the like the easiest answer but really it is the most all encompassing answer.  I recently saw Leonardo DiCaprio’s address to the UN Council and his message really hit me.  If we do not address global warming with drastic action, it may no longer be about reducing greenhouse gases or preserving a few species or protecting more land or improving air and water quality, it may be about extending our time on this planet as long as we can.  Humans will be forced into survival mode.  In other words, protecting our environment is not only the right thing to do as stewards of the planet but it may be the necessary thing to do if we want to stick around.  Look, I do not want to be doom and gloom and it is terrifying to think what that future might even look like but it really boils down to doing everything we as individuals, communities, states and nations can, to live and work more sustainably.

RM:  What do you think is the biggest mistake that young actors and actresses make when they are first starting out? Why do you think that blunder is so common among beginners; and what can be done to avoid that specific pitfall?

JZ: Young actors often try to make what they think is the “right choice” with a scene.  And then when they don’t get the job or they get bad feedback, it’s immensely painful.  I think the problem is coming to peace with the idea that there is no right way to play a scene.  There is no right way to play a line.  There is no right!  Acting is rarely a science, (though comedy sometimes rides the line).  Even great actors sometimes do bad work, make a choice that really does not work or forgets their lines entirely.  I once had the opportunity to take a workshop with Jeffrey Tambor and one of his biggest teaching principles was “break the scene.”  In other words, do the scene as “bad” as possible.  Make it just over the top and insincere and just have a ball making a mess.  You can always come back, but see how far you can take it.  And do this publicly.  In a safe place, but publicly.  You might find that the mess freed you up to follow your instincts and simply play the scene.  The other thing is,  as a young actor every one’s opinion is excruciatingly important to you.  You want so badly to be good and the please everyone around you.  That is never going to happen.  Some people will hate your work no matter what.  You might feel great in one take and then the director gives you a ton of notes.  It is so subjective.  So just do you work, try to enjoy it, and adjust as need be.  By the way, all of what I just said is stuff I’m still struggling with.  For me at least, it may be a career long struggle.

RM:  Could you eventually see yourself getting into the field of directing? If so, what characteristics that you have developed as an actor would make you exceptional at working behind the camera as well?

JZ:  It has crossed my mind, yes.  It is hard to use the word “exceptional” to describe my as yet nonexistent directing but I can tell you that I love watching scenes and throwing actors ideas.  It is easier sometimes for me to come up with ideas on how to play a scene when I do not have the acting hat on.  So in that, I might excel as a director.  And whether it would be a hindrance or a benefit I can not tell you yet but I pride myself and have a keen attention to details.  Also you can be sure as you know what that I would work like a mad man to make sure I arrived as prepared as possible for any shoot.

RM:  What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond?  Anything big in the the works that we should know about?

JZ:  Let’s see.  Currently, I am performing a limited run of Mike Bartlett’s play Cock at a small black box theater here in Los Angeles.  I am also developing an animated series with a friend of mine.  Beyond that, it’s been fairly quiet since I returned from the Significant Mother shoot.  There’s always something else on the horizon and I am excited to find out what that is.

Josh on IMDB:  http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0958430/

Josh on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/illbezucked

Once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content.

Meehan

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