“You get to fully excavate and navigate and explore the world of the character that you don’t necessarily get doing a play which is 2 to 3 hours of a segment of someone’s life.” – Austin Basis on working on a long-running TV show
Austin Basis stars alongside Kristen Kreuk, Jay Ryan and Nina Lisandrello in The CW’s fan-favorite show, Beauty and the Beast. Basis plays the likeable JT Forbes, and even after almost 4 full seasons of playing him, he’s still having a blast. He told me that while filming the latest episode, he’s got a “fun scene to play because it’s just a new version of JT that the audience hasn’t seen before.”
I talked to him recently about the show and playing JT, trying to find a place to live while on location, late call times, the Actors Studio and more!
Hey Austin, how are you? Where are you right now?
Austin Basis: Actually in Toronto, filming season 4. I’m filming today, I just have a late call time. It’s the last scene of the day. You know how you wait around all day and you have to go in and rev it up for everyone’s tenth hour on set and it’s your first hour. It’s like no excuses time.
Right. I’ve had call times where you’re waiting around all day and I’m so antsy. You don’t know what to do with yourself.
Austin Basis: Yeah. I never get used to it. I’d rather go in and they’re running behind and have more time than the opposite of having to rush around then not be, you know, grounded.
That happens sometimes. My call time is 5pm today. “Your call time was 5pm but we’re running ahead so can you come in at 4:30?”And that’s rush hour and I’m like, “I don’t know, then I’m going to have to leave at like 3. Or 3:30.” So, what I had planned, I’m going to have to move it up and then go in. And then they’re still running ahead and I’m the one that’s keeping everyone behind.
I like taking my time. I don’t like rushing unless I need to. There’s enough rushing on set that it’s just hard to get out of that mode.
You know, even doing the dialogue. We got a lot of stuff that we have to rush through. You memorize it and you’re rushing through. Even yesterday, I’m like, “We did that really quickly. I didn’t feel like that was the comfort zone for the scene. Can we take that a little slower?” And we were kind of locked in to that already and it’s hard to pull back from the momentum of what you’ve already created.
When you’re up there do you rent a place or stay in a hotel?
Austin Basis: Well, we’re local hires. Once the show is picked up, you get a travel stipend which is union policy and CBS policy. Then we are left to our own devices.
I mean, it’s the fourth season already. Production gets put together so late. Production is anywhere from like 2 to 3 weeks before you start filming. Usually it’s 2 or 3 and so there’s not enough time to find a place with the real estate market in Toronto as it is. It’s a very hot time of year when we would start, usually it’s anywhere from May to August. And the summer months are the times everyone moves and looks for places. Once winter comes in everyone is locked down so it’s much harder to get places or it’s much harder to find places with a choice of places. Whereas there’s a ton of choices in the summer it’s just that they get snatched up. For people that are coming for furnished apartments for short-term leases, they’re always going to take a year lease be over a six or nine month lease. Which even with the full seasons we’ve had earlier in our run we weren’t able to take the full nine months because we weren’t guaranteed a full 22 episodes. We were only guaranteed what would take six months of 13 episodes and we always have to get leases with an option to extend it three months.
It’s not the easiest thing. I mean there are worse things in life but the constant searching and moving and relocating has basically been part of mine and my wife’s life for six years or so.
I can imagine it’s gotta to be a huge hassle.
Austin Basis: Yeah, they don’t tell you that coming out of drama school.
People love your show. You guys have these rabid fans. I bet some of these fans know the show even better than you.
Austin Basis: Yeah, it’s interesting because it helps or challenges me because when we come up with something…. Let’s say we have a throwback to something earlier in the series and bring something back up whether it’s a prop or a character or a situation… In the same thing, like Trekkies, there was that sketch on SNL with William Shatner where they were like, “What were you thinking in that one scene of episode four of season three?” and they name the title of the episode. I barely pay attention to the title because that doesn’t make a difference to me. I’m trying to follow the through line and integrity of the character.
So when we come up against facts and mythology of the show, we have to be our own best historians because we know we have a fan base that’s gonna hold our feet to the fire with regards to the history.
Attention to detail is at the highest level because of the fact that they’re watching it so many times and they’re going to see everything you do.
I’ve never had an opportunity to play a character for so long and play someone who is constantly evolving. So make me jealous, how cool is it to do that?
Austin Basis: Well you know, when I went to school in New York… I went to undergrad at SUNY Binghamton in upstate New York and then I got into grad school at the Actors Studio Drama School. Even after auditioning for plays, the longest run that I had ever done was six shows. To do six shows of something is awesome because over that time, five or six shows, there’s an arc.
When I did my thesis, Actors Studio has a rep season where every week, two or three performances of the graduating classes’ thesis happen and they do a run of a couple months. Every week, there’s three or four shows whether it’s a writer-director or an actor’s thesis and we did ours in the second week. My fellow actor and friend Mark Solomon, we had it kind of approved for a really long time to the point where we’re doing improvs on our characters’ history. Like, we go out for days at a time as these characters and have an adventure and do research. The characters were into the Navy ships and stuff and all the things that we talked about in the actual play, we went to the Intrepid in New York and explored all these things as the characters. We did stuff that detailed.
It got to the point where the lines were so memorized and we got so into the blocking and the characters that that energy gave us this magical chemistry that happened on opening-night. The other two plays too, everyone just got like standing ovations at the end of it. It was like one of the craziest best nights of theater that I had done.
And then there’s the next night and you have to do the next show. There’s four more shows to do until your thesis performances are over. So we start out the next performance, after this applause and standing ovation at the end of the previous night performance, we do the first couple lines and it’s like giggles but nothing else. We’re like, “Okay, we’re not bringing last night’s energy out of tonight. What do we do with it?” We just made it a little edgier and made it less of a comedy and more drama because there were both elements to it. So the laughs became really dark and it was really good but it just didn’t have what it had the night before. But we used the energy in the room that night.
Now, I’ve been doing JT Forbes for four years and haven’t really done too much else. I mean I’ve auditioned for stuff and I’ve done a couple things on my own but it’s amazing to be able to carry a through line of a story that you don’t know the end. So I’m just playing the moment and history of it. All I have is just the background of the character what he’s done, how he’s acted in certain situations before and then the direction he seems to be going.
That’s kind of a fun exercise and it’s always been great to have the writers throw me different things that seem naturally to evolve out of what happened but are different than what’s happened before.
In most of the stuff I’ve done or seen, a lot of supporting characters that I would audition for whether it’s the comic relief, the nerd or the sidekick or the best friend or the brother, those characters don’t really get a full arc of the story. They get the B story and the side stuff and it’s all with reference to the main storyline, and in this case, it’s Vincent and Catherine. And what the writers have allowed me as an actor to do is show as many sides as I could within the context of the character and the given circumstances of the story.
As an actor, you get to fully excavate and navigate and explore the world of the character that you don’t necessarily get doing a play which is 2 to 3 hours of a segment of someone’s life. It could span several years in film but you have to jump time. Whereas in a TV show, you’re following it mostly in real time.
We’re filming episode 407 now and there’s a great episode for JT and Tess at the end of the episode that I’m like, “I haven’t done yet that in this show.” I’ve done it before as an actor but in the show in this history with Tess, that can be a fun scene to play because it’s just a new version of JT that the audience hasn’t seen before. It’ll look the same to them but it’s just subtle little differences that make the characters three-dimensional and bring them to life.
You mentioned a couple times that you went to the Actors Studio. How was that?
Austin Basis: You know, it’s funny because I was very specific. I had a New York accent, a Brooklyn accent growing up. I was auditioning for plays at my college and I didn’t get into of the main stage plays. I wound up doing a lot of the regional stuff. If you go to University there’s like the main stage that the theater department does and then there’s the little theater groups of the dorm communities. For me that’s where I was able to perform and thrive. And also in acting class because I was still a theater major, I just didn’t fit the textbook… I looked very young and if there weren’t any characters who was a kid they couldn’t fake me being an adult. And the couple plays that there were kids in, it was a very Connecticut, waspy kind of character so my Brooklyn accent didn’t really fit into the mold.
I almost got into Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. I feel like I did a great job. I was taking the Shakespeare class and I was kind of pumped and ready but I did look way younger than everyone else and also I had a Brooklyn accent.
So I understand in retrospect. I was able to do the community theater stuff, the regional stuff with the dorm groups. The only plays I did with the department were one acts written by the students.
And so when I was auditioning for grad schools… You know I auditioned for all the big ones and I didn’t get into any of them. I didn’t get into NYU, I didn’t get into Juilliard. There was a Harvard program at Rutgers. Yale. I said let me audition for all of them.
And I think in the same sense, they were casting their rep season and if they had one guy who had a Brooklyn accent that kind of look like he was a teenager, how many different parts would he be able to be cast in the gamut of American contemporary drama or even classical drama? So I felt like I was being cast aside in a way.
But when I went into audition for the Actors Studio, I’d been watching Inside The Actors Studio and I knew the program was a new program and more open to contemporary types. Which was like me and people outside the box and people that were about spontaneity and trying to be truthful with given circumstances and finding the vulnerability of characters. And so when I went into audition… I kind of wanted to be me as opposed to trying to be something that they wanted. I did a monologue from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Rosencrantz was trapped on stage and he keeps telling these bad jokes that he doesn’t have the punchline too. I had to do a monologue. They were the only program that asks for a scene but my scene partner had to cancel last minute. Within two days, which is kind of like an audition, I had to prepare a monologue that was going to be a substitute for my scene.
To me, it was being part of a growing program that we were able to help form. So, when we came in it wasn’t perfect when we graduated it wasn’t perfect but over that time it got better because of the input that was given and to kind of dive headfirst into method acting and Lee Strasburg and the Stanislavski system. That’s what was most valuable because I only had a taste of that before then in undergrad and the taste that I got was with the teacher in summer class that actually taught at the school. He was like, “You should audition for the school, it’s a great program. I teach there.” So I did and his class was probably the turning point of my acting career at that point because I wouldn’t have had the Actors Studio as a favorite. The stuff that I had discovered and the breakthroughs that I made in his eight week adult class were probably way more than I had gotten in all my time at undergrad. And that’s the kind of acting that I wanted to do and I followed through. The path was laid out for me and I just followed it.