Your character Jonah on Melrose Place is an aspiring filmmaker who has to make Hollywood connections. As someone who’s breaking out in this industry, do you relate to him?
Oh my God, absolutely. You never know what hurdles you’ll have to jump on any day, and I think it’s cool to see Jonah go through that. And it’s fun going through that with him, tackling it. It’s a little different than I tackled my hurdles. He has a different approach to challenges. The part of Jonah that’s probably the most like me, is that he loves doing the work or the craft, and the schmoozing is not what’s he good at. It’s not what comes easiest to him. That’s definitely like my life. I love going to work every day, but when I have to go to an event, but when I have to — God forbid — meet a huge executive at a movie shoot or something [laughs], I tend to kind of let my preconceived notions turn into fear, and I get awkward and quiet.
So that’s been a learning curve, the schmoozing world that is L.A. I just like to talk to people. I don’t know how to bridge the gap between getting to know someone and then schmoozing and sort of working contacts and business connections. I can’t seem to think of a story, but they always seem to turn out awkward. Like, when I think, “I have to go meet this person tonight,” it’s just overwhelming sometimes.
Don’t you think Hollywood types actually prefer the slightly reticent, polite type of actor?
Oh, God. I don’t even know. I’m so far from that perspective. Thankfully, sometimes when I meet some of the bigger names, I have no idea who I’m meeting. I’m so not savvy with names in this town. That’s where Jonah is; he’s very savvy with names and with the business. I’m just so not savvy. I’ll come out of an audition or something, and I’ll call my buddies, and I’ll say, “Yeah! Really went well! I read for Jerry Zaks,” who is this huge Broadway producer/director. And they’ll just yell, “What?! You read for who?! He’s done so many things!” And I’ll say, “What? Who?” So, that’s a huge help to me, not knowing that stuff and not psyching myself out.
Who’s the most intimidating, recognizable “name” you’ve met?
Oh God, Les Moonves from CBS Paramount. No one meets Les Moonves. He lives somewhere on a mountaintop in a castle. He just passes on his influence, his thumbs up or thumbs down, and you just hear about him a lot. When I went in to meet him, I was — oh, I was kind of lame. It was just, “Uh, hi.” “How are you?” “Nice to meet you.” And I think I walked away. And grabbed a drink. [Laughs.] That was actually for up-fronts in New York for Melrose Place. But I think I could be better today. I’d be better now. I’d be alright. I’d talk myself down from it. “He’s a real person! He’s just like you! Who knows, maybe he’s… just a normal person.”
Your first film was a biggie, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. How did that come about?
I had started doing theater in high school, and while I was doing that, I got my manager. And I was commuting to New York through high school and college for about seven years auditioning, and then once I graduated college — a couple months after I got with my agency — just one day I was going out of a bunch of auditions. I think I had five others that day in New York, and one of them was for this movie Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. And I don’t know how I did it.
Still, that’s a major role to land right off the bat. Did you have to learn any biz skills quickly?
From my side, nothing felt like it happened quickly. After Sisterhood, I spent a year broke and poor in New York City not working, traveling back to bar-tend in Philadelphia on the weekends. Little by little, once I came out to California and Sisterhood came out, I had a couple recurring guest-star roles. So I guess, and it’s ironic, but I had to quickly learn to have patience.
You attended Catholic prep school for awhile. Did you nervously reflect upon that when taking one of those guest star roles in Sleeper Cell, where you had an explicit gay sex scene?
I have to say, I’m Jesuit-educated, and they aren’t typical Catholics. They’re sort of the bad boys of the church. They have a whole different sort of outlook on Catholicism and what it means to be a modern Catholic. It wasn’t even an issue for me.
Tell me about your new Melrose co-star Heather Locklear. What’s a table-read like with her?
Well, she’s kind of glowing and excited and giddy and happy. She’s so sweet and easygoing, and she doesn’t make you nervous. Very professional, does her thing. And she’s funny. We were cracking up at all her choices in her reading. At first we were all, “Oh my God, I can’t believe it’s Heather Locklear.” Then she would just catch us staring at her.
I take it you were familiar with the original series before you signed on.
I knew of it, but I wasn’t a big watcher. My sister always had it on.
Do you watch the original series now and ever try to use elements of it? Or is the new series just a different animal?
This is another fortunate part of not being savvy, because I don’t try to draw from the original for anything. Ours, cinematically, is updated and very visually stimulating. Just with what our DP does, and with colors, and high-def, and they take advantage of that to the fullest extent. I think that’s a vast departure from the original. That has to be expected, because our technology has come so far in ten years. I just read the script for episode thirteen, and it’s crazy, the stuff that’s going on. They pay respect to the drama of the original, but they jump into the drama a little earlier.
What kind of evolution can we expect for Jonah?
In the pilot, he was an exceptional person. When Riley says she won’t marry him, I think everyone goes, “What? What are you thinking? Why not? He’s perfect.” Just because he does everything right. I sat down with the producers and writers at the beginning and that was my one plug for making him — well, giving him flaws and letting him make wrong decisions, and then hopefully he learns from them. His decisions separate him from the other characters; he has a strong enough foundation to dissect and analyze his choices and learn from the poor ones. You’ll see a lot more of that coming up. Some episodes will end, and you will think, “I don’t know if Jonah is the nicest guy in the world right now.” He’ll withhold information, and layers will pile up. Nothing too sinister, but in a new relationship, any lack of communication can be a wrench in the works, and that’s definitely to come.
What about that entire coterie of original Melrose cast members who’ve joined the new series, like Josie Bissett and Thomas Calabro? What’s it like with their enormous history permeating the set?
To me, their presence means they like our show and give their stamp of approval. So having the alums back is fantastic and thrilling just in that respect. They also just bring this clout with them, this whole world that I am not completely aware of, but that I’m present to — all of this stuff over ten season of Melrose Place.