No one knows more about the ups and downs of being an actor than Geoffrey Owens. It’s a “funny life,” he said recently. As you’ve probably heard, Owens – who graduated from Yale and was a series regular on one of the most popular sitcoms of all time (The Cosby Show) – worked briefly at his local Trader Joe’s, something that he now says was a “temporary blessing in disguise.”
In this interview, Owens, who’s now starring as a detective hunting down a murderer in writer/director Nathan Catucci’s new film, Impossible Monsters, talks about the film, self-tapes and his career after his time at Trader Joe’s. And be sure to check out his inspiring story on a long ago nightmare audition!
I loved you as a grizzled detective. You were great.
Geoffrey Owens: Thank you, I appreciate it.
Is this the first cop you’ve ever played?
Geoffrey Owens: Yeah, that was something that was very appealing to me to play a cop, I’d never played one before. So that whole thing was new to me and a very welcome change. I’m usually cast as dads, lawyers, doctors, teachers, and so to play a detective it was really fun, honestly, very fun.
You’ve been working for so long it just kind of surprised me that it’s the first time you’ve ever played a police officer or detective.
Geoffrey Owens: Honestly, there was one time… I was in an episode of Law and Order years ago, about 21 years, 1999 I think. And I played a plain clothes detective, but the few scenes that I had to do really didn’t show anything having to do with police work. At one point, I was answering someone’s questions and according to the plot, I was a cop, but I didn’t do any cop like things in the episode. So, I don’t even count that. This is the first time I actually got to do cop like things.
How did you get the part? Did a casting director think out of the box and suggest you?
Geoffrey Owens: Well, yes. I auditioned for the part and I didn’t get it. I got the part because someone either passed or it was recast with me, so I was a second choice or whatever, which I don’t care at all about that. I mean, I’m lucky that happened. But yeah, I mean, the casting director [Matthew Messinger] was very good and once I was in the film he was very supportive. And since the movie’s come out, I’ve seen him a number of times and he’s very gracious about my work in the film. But yeah, basically it was someone who liked my audition. I remember the audition actually, I was very happy with what I did and I remember feeling disappointed that I didn’t get cast and then really, really happy that it came up a while later. There was quite a little bit of time between the audition and eventually getting cast, so it was a really a nice surprise.
And this was shot kind of a while ago?
Geoffrey Owens: Yeah, I mean, we shot it… I mean, it would have to be five years ago at this point. I think it was in the summer of 2015. Maybe not quite so long, maybe 2016. I’m at that point in my life the years are blending together. But it was a little chunk ago. [Director] Nathan [Catucci] took some time editing it and getting everything together. You know how, It was before I started working at Trader Joe’s, you might be familiar with my story about how I worked at Trader Joe’s. I don’t know if you know?
Geoffrey Owens: Yeah, I started working at Trader Joe’s in April 2017. And I know that I did Impossible Monsters, at least a good year before that. So at the latest, it was spring, summer of 2016. Yeah, because I know that some time had passed between doing that and ending up at Trader Joe’s and awhile.
I’ve done a lot of films and television stuff that never have seen the light of day. I’ve done a lot of projects that have never come out. So, when I actually heard that this was coming out, and Nathan was bringing it together and making it happen, it was incredible because it was like, “Wow, people are actually going to see this one.” I’ve done seven or eight things, television and film wise that have never been seen.
Are they pilots?
Geoffrey Owens: One pilot, two or three short films, actually more like four or five short films. One pilot and a couple of TV projects. Yeah, the stuff adds up over the years, stuff that just never makes it.
I’ve been in a couple of movies and just that waiting… You know, you shoot something, it’s over and you’re just kind of waiting and waiting for it to come out. Like, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”
Geoffrey Owens: Yeah, yeah. There are three short films I can think of right now, in fact, four, there are four short films I can think of right now that I’m in, that haven’t seen the light of day yet. They’re all in various stages of production or preparation or whatever. But there are four that I can think of right off the top of my head, short films that I am in that haven’t made it to the light of day yet. Yeah, being an actor… it’s a funny life, as you know.
Absolutely. I want to ask you about the past couple of years. It’s kind of been like a whirlwind for you. Do you think the whole Trader Joe’s incident and everything that happened after, was that kind of a blessing in disguise?
Geoffrey Owens: Oh, of course it was. Yeah, it definitely was. It was, it was a definite blessing in disguise, but it was a temporary blessing. What I mean is, when I took the job at Trader Joe’s, I was still working as an actor on and off. I was working sporadically, I just wasn’t working enough to make enough of a living. I was in a financial situation where I just had to just make some money. I took the Trader Joe’s job because they allowed me the flexibility to continue my acting career and stay in the business. In fact, while I was working at Trader Joe’s I booked four or five things. I think I booked four TV gigs and one commercial over those 15 months. So, I still had a foot in the business.
And then the thing happened, which was unpleasant for a few hours and then became a very good thing, as you no doubt know about. I got opportunities for work, I got offers, I got audition opportunities that led to work and a lot of exposure. A lot of exposure, interviews and just a lot of variety and stuff. And a whole flurry of interest and at one point…
But that dissipated. I mean, in terms of work, that dissipated over the next… It lasted for about eight or nine months and then, just so you know, being an actor you’ll appreciate this, even with all that stuff happening and all that activity and all that scrutiny and focus… That happened in early September, right? 2018? At the end of May, 2019, so whatever that is, maybe nine months later… work stopped. I remember the last day. May 30th, I did a TV job and then Lance, I did not work again until January 16th, this past 2020. Okay? Seven and a half months went by, after all the stuff that had happened, dude. And then all of a sudden, I went seven and a half months without working.
And that’s this business. No matter what, when you’re hot, you’re hot and it’s like the heat wore off. People kept recognizing me in the street and all that but in terms of the business, things moved on again and things went back to normal. Those are the kinds of conditions that drove me to Trader Joe’s in the first place. Periods like that are what led to the problem in the first place. So, then in January I did a TV show and then did a couple of gigs in LA and then one in New York. And then this stuff happened, right? Right? We don’t know when we’re going to work again, Lance, right?
I know, I know. I do a lot of theater and that is not going to come back until January at the earliest, I’m thinking.
Geoffrey Owens: Yeah, theater’s not going to come back until after TV and film. I was supposed to do a production of Romeo and Juliet in New Jersey. It was supposed to go up this month, it was supposed to go up in May and it was of course canceled.
You teach a lot as well.
Geoffrey Owens: Yeah, I teach…
Well, not now, but when things go back to normal.
Geoffrey Owens: Yeah, right now, I’m doing some over the phone FaceTime, Skype type coaching now. But yeah, before the plague hit, I’ve done a lot of teaching over the years. Most consistently a weekly Shakespeare workshop that I’ve done for literally decades. Shakespeare’s my thing. I’ve taught acting and Shakespeare at a number of universities and private workshops. I taught at HB Studio for years and recently at Columbia. I love teaching, that’s a big part of my life.
Do you like doing self-tapes?
Geoffrey Owens: I don’t like doing self-tapes. I do self-tapes but I don’t like doing self-tapes. I used to do them at home, but then I just found that the quality of what I was doing wasn’t good enough, so I started going to people and paying people to do it. Which is better quality-wise, but it racks up. If you’ve got consistent auditions and I’m paying $50 to $65 a shot for the hour for a person to do it for me, that adds up, so that’s the downside of it. The upside is that I do self-tapes that look much better than when I used to do them at home.
What has been your worst audition?
Geoffrey Owens: My worst audition? Oh, what a funny question. You know what? I had one recently, but I can’t remember what it was for… some television thing. I’m recalling the sensation of my saying to myself, “Oh my God, that was terrible. I sucked.” I haven’t auditioned for theater for a long time. The theater things I’ve done most recently have been offered to me, which is great, but I stopped auditioning for theater some years ago because I wanted to focus on TV and film. I’m trying to remember what this audition was for, it was for some television thing and I remember leaving thinking, “I wouldn’t cast me. Nope, I sucked at that. Nope, that was bad. I wouldn’t cast me.”
I do remember one years ago, going way back, where I remember I audition for some theater company in Florida. This is way back when I was starting my career back in like ’85. And I walked out of the audition and I really felt this like, “I was so bad. How would anyone cast me? I don’t know if I’m cut out for this.” And then it was only within weeks of that, that I got The Cosby Show. I always remember those two things happening. You just never know. You can totally suck somewhere or feel like you do. Like, a theater company in Florida didn’t think I was good enough but Bill Cosby did. I’m like, “Okay. I don’t suck after all.”