Interview: Chris Lowell on ‘Brightest Star’, ‘Enlisted’, His Worst Audition and the Hardest Thing About Acting
Chris Lowell stars in the new indie film, Brightest Star, about a guy (Chris), who’s right out of college and dumped by his girlfriend, Charlotte (Rose McIver). So, he reinvents himself into the man he thinks she wants. Trouble is, along the way he ends up falling for his friend, Lita (Jessica Szohr). The movie, directed by actress Maggie Kiley, shows life as twenty-something New Yorkers and I really enjoyed it (here’s the review).
I talked with Chris the other day about the film, how he didn’t he didn’t play his characters wishy-washiness (I may have just made that term up) and the 18-day shoot. We also chat about Enlisted, his advice to actors and his worst audition. And I’ll give you a hint: the audition was… unchained.
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For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes.
Brightest Star is in theaters and on VOD now
Hey man, nice film. I liked it a lot.
Chris Lowell: Thank you, my friend. Yeah, it was a lot of fun to shoot. It was a crazy, all hands on deck, classic indie filmmaking sort of style but I loved it. It was a lot of fun.
How long did it take to shoot?
Chris Lowell: We shot the whole film in 18 days. It was… we did 3 6-day weeks all over Manhattan… not just Manhattan, actually, all over New York. I think we hit every borough except for Staten Island. And it was totally cacophonous, but it was a complete joy. I think everybody involved was so excited about the project and so committed to it that it was comparatively effortless.
How long were your days?
Chris Lowell: You know, I mean, really we pretty much, because the budget was so tight, we really couldn’t go over that much. So we pretty much kept them at 12 hour days. There were definitely some, you know, 14, 16, 18 hour ones here and there, but… and then we did a lot of night shoots, a lot of splits starting at 5pm and going till 5am, a few of those, which are crazy. But it was all good.
I’d bet that when you’re just so busy and working so long and hard but it’s… you still have your energy up because you’re working with this group of people who have one goal just to make the best movie they can. You know?
Chris Lowell: Yeah. I think when, you know, days are much slower when you don’t have a lot to do. When you’re in, you know, I was sort of lucky enough to be in just about every scene in this film and when that’s the case, the days move so much faster because you just don’t have any time to get bored. Things are just flying past you and all you can do is try and keep up. And so as a result there’s this adrenaline rush that stays with you throughout the day and it’s great because when you get home you immediately pass out.
With your character, you could’ve easily fallen into this zone of being, I don’t wanna say wishy-washy, but I guess that’s the only sort of term I can think of. You could’ve played that throughout the whole movie, and there were sort of times and scenes where you definitely did that, but you didn’t fall into that at all.
Chris Lowell: Well, thank you. Yeah, that’s definitely, I mean, it’s tough because what I really like about the character is that he doesn’t always have his shit together, that he can be very indecisive, that he can be indifferent about other people’s feelings. I like that he’s not a squeaky clean character, but it’s difficult to play those characters and still be the protagonist because even in your fault you still need to give the audience a reason to root for you.
So it’s definitely something that really more, I appreciate you saying that, but it’s really more of a testament to Maggie [Kiley] as a director kind of knowing the time where I really should know what I want and the times where I am allowed to be wishy washy and the times where I am allowed to be selfish. I think Maggie and I really spent a lot of time sort of figuring out those moments so that it didn’t fall too far into one category or another.
Your relationship with both the girls on the film, it seems so true. Did you guys have any sort of rehearsal time or how did you guys get to know each other?
Chris Lowell: Right, exactly. Well, I think because we had such little time, because we only had 18 days, for me personally I wanted to become as connected with the actors as possible because I knew I wouldn’t have much time to rehearse and so Rose and I started immediately emailing and calling each other on the phone and kind of building a relationship before we met in person. And then Maggie, coming from the theatre background, thankfully was really… found a way to work in some time to rehearse and so we had plenty of opportunities to kind of really explore the space before the scene.
And Maggie being an actor herself was also extremely helpful because she was able to kind of shortcut our issues. She knew what our problems were gonna be, she knew where we were going to struggle, we didn’t have to explain ourselves because she immediately understood it because she’s been there herself. So as a result, you definitely felt… the chemistry kind of happened pretty quickly partially because it had to and partially because I think we really did everything in our power to establish it as much as we could before we started shooting.
I wanna ask you about Enlisted real quick.
Chris Lowell: Sure, absolutely.
Man, freaking terrific show.
Chris Lowell: Yeah, it’s really fun. It’s a really fun show.
The only thing that sucks about it is it’s on Fridays.
Chris Lowell: Tell me about it, dude. You’re preaching to the choir over here. I think, honestly, and this is something that I feel very proud of, the first show I was ever on was a show called Life As We Know It, which was critically acclaimed but I don’t think the network really knew what to do with it, and then same thing happened with Veronica Mars, and now with Enlisted. And I think oftentimes when you have a voice as unique as these shows all have, often times it takes a network a while to figure out how to work with it. You know what I mean? Frankly, I’m so humbled by how well the show has been received. I mean, it’s been sort of… the reviews have been just so amazing across the board and I think that’s really the only reason we’re still on the air at all is because of this almost immediate fanbase that we have and having reviewers really believe in us and really support us.
And all we can do as actors is just hope that the network gets on board and really gets behind the show. We’re sort of the little engine that could so far. I mean, our numbers, we opened low but then our DVR numbers we jumped 87% and then they changed us just… they changed us to just 30 minutes earlier and we jumped another 67%. So it’s clear that there’s an audience that wants to see the show and hopefully Fox will come around to putting us on a time when people will actually wanna watch television at all. You know?
Yeah, yeah. Well, I’m totally pulling for the show. I really, really love it. So just two more questions because I know I’ve only got you for a couple of minutes. What is the worst audition you’ve ever had?
Chris Lowell: Oh my God. It’s so funny, I was just talking about this. I was auditioning for Django Unchained, ok?
Chris Lowell: And this is, by the way, this is just the most recent horrible audition because there are just so many.
Rose and I were talking about this earlier. Rose is great with accents because she’s from New Zealand and so she’s always having to switch into British into Australian, to American, so I was playing this Australian character and so I started working with these accent tapes and I called Rose, I was like, “Hey, Rose. Can I do my Australian accent for you? Tell me what you think.” And she was like, “Yeah, sure. No problem.” And so I did it and she literally just point blank was like, “That was the worst accent I have ever heard in my entire life. In my entire life.” And then she was like, “I really don’t think you should do the audition.” I was like, “No, no, no, no, no.”
And so then just to, like, I don’t even know what I was thinking at this point, to I guess maybe dig myself in deeper, I then decided I would just push it even harder and then since the character was such this like kind of debaucherous slimeball, I, in the moment, I had one of these great actor epiphanies where I’m like, “Oh, this will be a good idea,” and in the audition room in front of the casting director, I just spit on the floor. Just like hocked a huge loogie on the floor. And then it was one of those things where I like, I did it and then immediately realized how just horrible a decision that was, but at that point the train has already left the station and you’ve gotta keep rolling with it.
It was a disaster. Anyway, the role ended up going to Tarentino himself, so clearly I… I feel like if the director ends up playing the part, you feel like you kinda win. You know? At least that’s what I’m telling myself and my therapist. You know?
Exactly, I’ll go with you on that one. And my last question is, what’s your advice to actors?
Chris Lowell: I think the hardest thing about acting, about being an actor, not necessarily the hardest thing about acting, but the hardest thing about being an actor is that it’s one of the few art forms that you have no control over in terms of getting the job. Like, I can’t make an audition come to me. I have to sit around and wait for the phone to ring until one presents itself and then I can do everything in my power to book the job, but so often there’s so little of it is in our control and I think for me what’s been really helpful is finding other things I can do outside of acting that still fulfill me creatively and that I can have an active pursuit of. Whether that’s writing or, for me, photography is a big passion of mine.
I just think staying busy is really crucial. The longer, the sort of more lethargic you get the more you kind of wait for the phone to ring. The more important each audition becomes, the more pressure you end up putting on yourself, and I think that that does just a lot more bad than good.
That’s perfect because I’ve been there. You’re explaining me at times.
Chris Lowell: Totally. I mean, it’s me at times. It’s why it’s sort of like I have to find other things to do because I would literally just sit around or I’d email or call my manager or agent and it’s just out of my control. There’s nothing I can do.
And so I just started finding other things whether it was, you know, going back to school or writing or going to classes. Just anything to keep my mind occupied and still feel like I’m making progress as an artist even if it’s not as an actor right now today. I think it helps you kind of get perspective and balance on the world. You know what I mean? And your place in it.