Interview – Jeremy Childs

Interview – Jeremy Childs

IMG_1515Acting is a craft that takes a great deal of fine tuning to capture the essence of a character. For American actor Jeremy Childs, that art form has been a lifelong commitment which has landed him roles in such films/television series as 2001’s The Last Castle alongside Robert Redford and James Gandolfini, and most recently ABC’s hit series Nashville. As an actor and musician, Childs has long had a love for the Sci-Fi/Horror genre and recently starred in the compelling film Closer to God as a genetic scientist named Victor. Recently we sat down with the actor for a closer look at his time working on the film, his plans for the future, and more. – In 2014, you starred in the Horror/Sci-Fi film Closer to God. What appealed to you about this movie?

Jeremy Childs – There were several things that appealed to me about this project. First was the opportunity to be the lead in a feature. I think it is safe to say this is something most actors crave for many reasons, not the least of which is to prove to themselves and those around them that they can handle it. This project was even more intensive in those terms. Billy Senese, the director, wanted the whole tone of this picture to be from Victor’s perspective. He wanted the audience to feel the way Victor does. It is very exciting, and in my experience, so far, very rare to work with a director who cares this much about the film language. By that, I mean a lot of directors are interested in creating a variety of interesting and/or pretty shots and often they will forgo a shot that tells the right story for a shot that looks the most interesting but does not add anything specific to the narrative. This to me always feels like a rookie mistake. This feels like misdirected ego. All the sudden it becomes about the filmmaker showing off and thus taking focus away from the story and characters. The film language should be almost invisible. This is my fourth project with Billy and telling a specific story at all costs is paramount in his approach.

Second of course is the material. There was a tragic gravitas to the script that felt like a Shakespearean tragedy to me. Without giving out spoilers, when I read the final scene, it gave me goosebumps, and that is not an easy thing to do. The prospect of me playing this character was incredibly exciting. The fact that Billy Senese and John Rodgers, a fellow producer and editor, are “closers” or they will find a way to make it happen certainly encouraged a certain energy. In other words, unlike several projects I have done, I knew this one would get finished and find its way in the world. This always adds a certain quality to a performance. Also, the three of us are very influenced by the same kind of film, specifically from the late sixties into the seventies. So we wanted to make a movie that felt like that.

Still from Closer to God
Still from Closer to God – Those are amazing qualities to have in a film and producer, as well as the editors. How did you approach the role of Victor?

Jeremy Childs – In retrospect, I guess my approach was rather intensive, but it did not really feel that way at the time because I had over a year to prep for it. The most important thing for me, in this case, was the script. I read it more than forty times and made exhaustive notes for each scene. Basic stuff like what is he trying to get from another character, where is he going, where is he coming from. Pretty much textbook acting class stuff. I do not always feel the freedom to do this because it is all about learning and letting go. In other words, the most dangerous thing for me as an actor is to be in my head or to be thinking about what the character is doing. I have to trust myself enough that I do not have to think. If I get a role one day and have to shoot two days later, I can find that kind of prep dangerous. I just have to cover the basics and trust the character will find me. That is how I look at my process for the most part, I let the character find me. I will send up smoke signals, we will call that the prep, but if I am looking for the character, I find that I am in my head too much.

In addition to book prep, Billy prepared an intensive backstory for each of the main characters. Mine was like twenty pages. It read like a short story and answered nearly every conceivable question I, as an actor, could have come up with. We both meet with a genetic scientist, Billy shared all his notes and links on cloning with me, I learned how to do a cesarean…it was a lot of fun…an actor’s dream really. – That is an interesting approach and a smart way to showcase an honest character development. Did you base him on anyone in particular?

Jeremy Childs – No, the script and backstory read like a novel to me. With a good novel, I will sympathize and empathize with the characters. Now, if I were to look deeply, try to understand on a psychological level why I related or felt with those characters, I am sure I would find lots of reasons. As an actor, I do not want to know the reasons, I just want to feel. It is part and parcel to the whole staying out of your head thing again. I never felt a need to base him on anyone because I felt what he was going through on the page. I do base a lot of characters I play on other people, but it is because I am not getting what I need from the script typically.

Still from Closer to God
Still from Closer to God – You are right, it is important to have a connection with the characters feelings. It is quite a detail-heavy movie. Did Billy Senese require you to do any research before filming began?

Jeremy Childs – Billy did not require me to do anything because he trusted me. I think that is one of a good directors gifts, being able to use actors they trust. In terms of details, Billy is pretty amazing. This is a low budget Indie. We did not have a script supervisor, but he knew every detail in every scene. He may have written the script, but when you are shooting out of order for twelve to sixteen hours a day, that is a remarkable feat. He knew what tie I was wearing in a given scene, how much gray I had in my hair at certain points, how the hair was combed with every single character. I have never witnessed anything like it, and I have been on my fair share of sets. I can not imagine what that guy could accomplish with a real live budget. I can say that he would be a force to be reckoned with. I have to say it because he never will. That is another thing, it was nice to deal with someone in that kind of intensive environment that was not driven by their ego.

Uncork'd Entertainment
Uncork’d Entertainment – Trust is definitely inportant. With the care and passion that Billy Senese possesses, it will be interesting where he will go from here. Your career seems to be in a really great place right now. Do you find you are getting a lot more offers now, thanks to your role on the ABC TV series Nashville?

Jeremy Childs – It is interesting because this year has been pretty stellar so far, but a lot of that seems to be coming from seeds I have planted over the last several years. Nashville has been a great gift, and inasmuch as I think one project feeds another, I cannot help but think that it has played into things greatly. My work with Billy started well before Nashville, even before Country Strong (2010), but I think the fact that I have done fourteen episodes so far on the show and the brilliant David Alford has done more than fifty has helped the exposure of this film on some level. Some smaller Indies have come my way, and that may be in part due to the show, but it is hard to say. My hope is that fans of the show and producers and so forth will see this film like it, like me, see us all in a different light and bigger work will come. Do not get me wrong I think I would be the most happy if I had great roles in modified to low SAG projects. I do not look like a conventional leading man or anything, so I do not expect roles like Victor to come rolling in. However, my best shot at these roles would be in lower budget stuff. My stance has always been to create work for myself anyway, and I have several cool projects in the works. I really hope I do a lot more Nashville because the cast and crew are as cool as they come, and it is such a wonderful thing to be a part of. This show deserves to live a very long and prosperous life. I cannot say enough great things about everybody, especially Callie Khouri.

DreamWorks Pictures
ABC – Creating art for yourself is what leads to a successful career. It creates a real and true feel. What would you like to do more of – film, TV? Maybe some theatre? Where does your interest lie at this point in time?

Jeremy Childs – Most of my professional life has been spent on a stage. I have done more than a hundred equity shows at this point and that is where I learned about this craft. The thing about theatre is it takes you out of the running for film and TV stuff because of scheduling. I really started focusing more on TV and film a few years ago and it is quite fulfilling. I also love the idea of the work I do living for a while…well most of it. Theatre is a temporary art and there is something kind of poetic about that, but film and TV are not…and they pay a lot better. I doubt I will ever give up theatre totally, but I am all about film and TV right now. In terms of preference I cannot say. It depends completely on the project. I really like the idea of having a great character in something long form, but I am sure I echo every actor in the world on that one. – TV and film do have longer life spans, but there is, as you said, an artform to theater. In terms of Horror/Science-Fiction movies, would you jump at doing another?

Jeremy Childs – Absolutely, I am a huge Sci-Fi geek. I wept when Leonard Nimoy passed, collect vintage one sheets, and even have a Sci-Fi sketch comedy channel on youtube called The Nether Region with my brother Joshua Childs and dear friend Cris Cunningham. I love a lot of different genre’s, but Science-Fiction/Horror has always had a special place in my heart. I do not think anything excites me more than when a director tackles this genre well. I am a huge Ridley Scott and Robert Wise fan. I am one of Stephen Kings’ “constant readers.” I would really love to tackle some more good stuff. Do not get me wrong, I am not at a place in my career where I could turn down the bad roles, but I would really prefer them to be good, and I guess that is something. – Being a fan of the genre, what are some of your favorite Horror movies?

Jeremy Childs – Okay…let’s see. I love all the Universal films from the 30’s through the fifties. The standouts for me of course being what you would expect. Dracula (1931) is my favorite, although, I preferred the Hammer remake in the ’50s with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. After that, Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954), then Frankenstein (1931). Although the comedy aspects of Bride of Frankenstein (1935) were interesting and clever, they put me off a bit. All of the rest of the Universal efforts are about the same for me; not scary really, but extremely fun with a ton of moments that transcend time.

Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures – Wow, it sounds like you are very well-versed on the Horror genre.

Jeremy Childs – Yes, when I was a kid there was something that came on every Friday night called Shock Theatre. It was a big deal when I got to watch it. That is where I first discovered Hammer and Amicus, and a little later, American Independent, which were more or less Hammer wanna be’s with a few stand outs here and there. These were all made before I was born, but even now, I find myself going back to these films more than any others. In fact, it was during a blizzard on one of the Friday nights that I made up my mind; I wanted to be an actor. I had just watched Scars Of Dracula (1970) with Christopher Lee and I knew I wanted to do what he did. Truly, I love them all, but the standouts for me include all the Dracula films with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, yes even Dracula A. D. (1972) and The Satanic Rites Of Dracula (1974).

Watch Closer to God on Amazon

Keep up with Jeremy Childs: Twitter

Interview by Jessica Svenson

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