Talent Q & A
Rampage actor and certified Georgia boy, GARY WEEKS, waxes poetic on Dwayne Johnson's unmatched charisma, how not to fanboy while working with Clint Eastwood, and the joys of filming in his home state
OZ: You’re hosting a birthday party tomorrow for one of your young sons. How does fatherhood mesh with one of the most unpredictable professions on the planet?
GW: In our business, in this crazy thing, it is awesome to come home and really realize what’s important. I’m so worried about the dialogue of a given script, then I get home and it’s so small in comparison. I’m not demeaning what we do; I’m just saying that there’s so much effort you put into a project for so long, then you get to do something with your kids, and it’s just so pure and simple and fun.
OZ: How does being a father translate to the set? What can you take from fatherhood and apply in front of the camera?
One thing is there’s a whole different comfort level. My wife and I were living in L.A. and about to have our first child, and a friend of mine, an actor named Cullen Douglas, said, “Dude, you’re gonna become twice the actor you are once you become a father, because you won’t have time to worry about the small things and obsess.”
All of us are insane or we wouldn’t be in this business; we all have a screw loose. Fatherhood has kind of helped me focus on what’s important with my job and make sure that it’s done to the best of my ability, yet I can’t sit there and think about it 24 hours a day.
OZ: A lot of the Georgia-born actors with whom I’ve spoken over the years say they were super excited by the Atlanta film boom, because it gave them an excuse to come back and raise their families here. There’s just something special about the metropolitan South that makes people want to raise kids here.
It’s true. With our first son, just the logistics of trying to do everything while living in L.A. [was tough] … My mom used to send me clippings—not emails, but physical newspaper clippings—all the time in the mail like, “This is shooting here! This is shooting there!” And I was like, “I’ve got it, Mom, but I have to be in L.A. This is the only place I can work.”
Then I came back to Atlanta and was just like, “Oh, this is better for my family, so let’s see what happens.” I think I came literally right at the perfect time, because the boom had already begun, and I just kind of came into this unbelievable thing that we have now that I cannot be more thankful for. What’s happening in Georgia is a gift.
"What's happening here in Georgia is a gift."
OZ: How exactly does a kid from smalltown Morris, Ga. get into acting?
Well, it’s funny, because I started out as a writer. If I had to put writing and acting side by side, it would depend on the week which one I like more. I love acting and I have this great kinship with it, but I started out as a writer. I wrote stories, I wrote scripts, we shot stuff on VHS— just to do it. There was no aim, it was just something we did for fun.
I ended up going to college to try and be a sports reporter in… Umm… (Struggles to find the correct term)
OZ: In broadcast journalism?
Yep, broadcast journalism. That shows you how far I went: I couldn’t even remember the name of the school. (Laughs)
Then a friend of mine asked—he was doing a student film—and he asked if I would go in and do it. I did it not thinking about it, and for some reason, that time it kind of clicked. I started taking some classes and I immediately knew.
I was like, “I have no other skills. This is the only one that I feel like I actually have some sort of raw ability.” It just felt right.
OZ: Not to get too deep into the weeds on this, but what about it felt right? What was it that “clicked” that day?
The one thing I love and hate about acting at the same time is the emotional release that comes from it. You’ve been bred to bottle all these things up, especially me as a kid who was overweight with flat feet, glasses and braces. I had this built-in insecurity, and the way that I got away from that was joking around. Like, that's just what I do; I still do that.
So, once I found a safe place where I could do that, and all the things I had bottled up I could actually use and utilize and feel? I get chills just thinking about that feeling; it’s just insane. That’s the draw.
OZ: Were you able to access those emotions right out of the gate, or did you have to take classes to elicit them?
A little bit of both. I feel like the classes I took definitely helped me hone, but once I felt like it was OK to let all that stuff out, it just kind of became part of it. It was always there, but…
OZ: So having an acting coach just helps you zero in on tapping into specific emotions?
Right. And how to utilize it for a certain thing.
OZ: I noticed that you often play a cop, an attorney, a military guy—i.e. some kind of authoritative figure. Is that because they’re casting for type, or are you drawn to those roles?
"...if they have a type for you, you can either fight it or be part of it."
It’s a little bit of both, but I definitely think it’s cast for type. One thing, again, that I’ve learned over the years is that, if they have a type for you, you can either fight it or be part of it.
When I was in Los Angeles as a young actor, I booked a couple of things as mostly cops and detectives, and I went to my small agency and said, “Look, I don’t want to do that anymore. I’m an actor”— you know, all caps, ACTOR—“and I don’t "What's happening in Georgia is a gift." Gary Weeks in The Assault (2014) June / July 2018 45 want to play any more cops,” and all this other stuff.
She was like, “Are you sure?”
I said, “Yeah, I don’t want to do it.” And I didn’t have the resume to be talking like this. Not yet.
So I left, and I didn’t book for another year. I came back and said, “I’ll play a detective, I’ll play a cop, I’ll play whatever they want.” It was one of those things where I realized, OK, you can play outside it, but if you have something like that, it’s actually a great thing—you know, if they see you a certain way and you can play that role.
Remarkably, none of the roles that I’ve ever played like that have been the same. They’re very similar in feel, but what’s going on behind it, what’s going on after it, is all different.
OZ: So that kind of nuance between playing similar characters across different projects, in the end, all contributes to the actor’s collective bank of knowledge?'
Exactly. You learn with each one just like you would with any role, but it’s nice to have a niche, because I think it goes against the acting mind to say, “I don’t want to be pigeonholed into one thing.” If you actually have that and you’re doing it as a career, it’s a great thing to have in your pocket.
OZ: And plus, you can always make a living.
OZ: That’s actually a convenient segue into my next question: As an actor who has gotten steady work—you’ve had recurring roles on shows like Days of Our Lives and Burn Notice, of course, but the bulk of your resume has been appearances—would you be satisfied to continue along this tract, or are you always aspiring to be a lead?
No, I’m 100 percent aspiring to be a lead. (Laughs) I appreciate every role, every chance—the movie I’m shooting now is an absolute gift—but the goal is always to get a lead.
And basically, it’s because I don’t want to audition. I’m so lazy, I don’t want to audition anymore. I want a character that I can kind of sink into and play for a while. I’ve had movies where I’ve gotten to do that, but with TV, I’ve had like two or three episodes of a show. I’ll have a small arc, it’s great, then it’s gone. It’d be nice to have a consistent thing.
Because for a long time, just like every actor at the start, I did literally every job that you can imagine except waiting tables. I worked retail, I worked hotel night shifts, I did everything you can possibly do just to keep it going. Because when you’re booking one or two guest stars or co-stars a year, and you’re living in Los Angeles, you can’t afford to live. I think one of the greatest moments of my life was when I realized I didn’t have to have another job; I could actually make a living doing this.
OZ: When did you hit that mark?
In 2005. I got insurance and everything was constant. I’m no $40 million Denzel, but I make a living, and I’m extremely grateful to be able to do that. It also helps when you have a good support system, and I have a great support system around me.
OZ: I honestly can’t imagine how any artist makes it today without family and friends to help prop them up during those rough times; without people who know that it’s your only viable skill and that you’re not really going to be able to deviate from it, even if you wanted to. The people in your life who say, “If things fall apart, we’ve got you until the next opportunity.”
That’s 100 percent right. My father died of cancer when I was 16, and we didn’t know he had it. We just thought he’d been angry for the past six months, then we found out he had tumors in his brain. He ended up passing away when I was going into my senior year. Me and my dad were really close, so you talk about being able to utilize things for acting? That’s a big one.
But, as far as my mom goes, she was so extremely supportive of me, my brother and my sister, who’ve all had very different paths. If my kids come to me and say, “I want to be an actor,” I’ll be like, “Oh god, please do anything else. Please do anything else.” But, at the same time, if that’s what they really want to do— because that’s the way my family has been across the board: “We think you’re insane, but do it.”
OZ: Who was your first really influential acting coach here in Atlanta?
Mike Pniewski. I took some classes with him, we did a scene from an iconic movie, and I felt like I was amazing—like, in my mind, I prepared it great. And he broke me down—broke it down—so much that my mind completely popped wide open. It’s all about details. You can’t just gloss over a role and really play it.
Before, I was thinking of it as the big picture … I will always give Mike major props for that. I don’t want to tell him to his face. He’s already amazing and I don’t want to make him feel even more amazing, but he was instrumental. I actually think that right after his class, I moved to L.A.
OZ: Tell us about your first onscreen appearance in Major League: Back to the Minors (1998). What can you recall about that experience?
It was really funny. I was a background actor, but I thought I was a supporting actor. I’d only had an agent for about a month and I didn’t have any idea what I was doing. I was completely oblivious, and the biggest thing was that I had to get time off from Sears to go to South Carolina and shoot this thing.
But when I got there, I had a talk with a couple of the actors and they were really nice. And Scott Bakula…was telling us that it doesn’t matter what you don’t know; everybody starts from someplace. So that kind of gave me a little more of that push to move to L.A.
I’ve been very lucky meeting people that have been very positive at crucial times.
I was in the room waiting for something—maybe coming in for wardrobe—and it just so happened that they were trying to make a decision between two actors. It came down to the size of their heads, and they literally took out a tape measure. [Laughs] The actors weren’t there, it was on screen. But they were literally measuring. One guy’s head made him look older, so it was a choice.
OZ: What kind of differences do you note between the L.A. scene and the Atlanta scene, in terms of that willingness to mentor, or to be a gracious star?
Oh, 100 percent difference. I feel like here…everybody’s kind of on the same team. They congratulate everybody, they lament with everybody. As opposed to L.A., where there were so many people who—I know they’re hungry, but it was past hungry.
Cutthroat, yes. You’d walk into a room and people would try to ice you.
OZ: Which, as Southerners, we don’t really understand.
I don’t understand that, no … People couldn’t understand why I talked to everybody. I was so nice, and people were like, “You need to stop.” (Laughs)
OZ: I live in a building packed with industry people, and I think Atlanta begins to soften them over time. They begin to realize, you know, this isn’t L.A.; I don’t have to be dog-eat-dog. It’s kind of fun being nice and engaging with people.
And I think it’s genuine. For me, the word would be genuine. We’re all actors, we’re all weird, we all have our own neuroses, but the majority of people I come into contact with here are truly supportive of everybody else.
I don’t want to make it sound like L.A. was terrible. I had a great time in L.A. A lot of the people I met there will be my friends for life, and they’re amazing people who influenced me, but it was hit or miss. Especially when it came to pilot seasons and I had been there for a while, and I would see the same guys in the same rooms. There were four or five guys like me who were playing the same game, then these other guys were playing their own game.
"You're either the guy or you're not."
OZ: Do you think it keeps you looser as an actor, the calm that comes with not wasting energy on that kind of pettiness? I would think that a more competitive mindset might tighten you up.
Yep, I think it’s a huge mistake if you focus on that. I think we have enough to worry about on our own. Just do what you do, get it down—whatever it is that you’re going to do in the room—and that’s your focus. The other stuff is just going to hurt you.
I’ll admit that my first couple of pilot seasons in L.A., when I was actually going in regularly, I’d be sitting next to all series regulars and movie stars and I’d be thinking, “There’s no way I’m getting this.” And if you do that, you’re just automatically starting off with a no.
OZ: In other words, there’s no reason to compound an already difficult task?
You’re either the guy or you’re not.
OZ: Speaking of the handful of nice guys in Hollywood, you recently worked with Dwayne Johnson on Rampage. Is “The Rock” as charming and friendly as reported?
He will be the president one day. He literally might be the most charismatic person I’ve ever met in my life. I’m only on that set for three days, and he comes in and beelines straight through the crowd to me and says, “Hey Gary, I’m so glad you’re here. We’re going to have a great time. If you need anything, you let me know.” And I’m like, “What is going on?!”
But it’s 100-percent real. I think that’s just who he is.
OZ: He really surprised me with Ballers (now streaming on HBOgo.com). That was a huge evolution for him. He really nails both the dramatic and comedic notes on that series. I’ll be honest, I didn’t think he was versatile prior to that role, but Ballers really changed my mind.
No, he’s legit. I’ll admit, when you first think about a wrestler, which is acting— no offense to wrestling, but there’s an element of acting there…
OZ: No, it’s entirely acting. Don’t be ashamed to say it.
(Laughs) But you see that and you say, “How’s he going to come in and do film?” Then you see The Game Plan, which I believe is one of his first films, and you see sparks. He’s actually really good.
Then you see Rampage and he’s a star in every way.
OZ: You’re still in theaters with another film as well, 15:17 to Paris. What did you take away from working with Clint Eastwood?
I worked with him on Sully, too. He was my Dad’s favorite, which is one of the many reasons I’ve loved him for so many years. But on Sully we also had Tom Hanks, and he’s one of the three reasons I became an actor. I remember specifically that one day Clint comes up, and Tom’s there, and we’re kind of talking about the scene a little bit, but I don’t hear any words. All I’m thinking is, “This is Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood. This is another world.”
And Clint is just this really sweet man. He knows what he wants; we’re not doing 100 takes. Then when we did 15:17… you would’ve thought I worked there for a year. He has such a family feel that it’s just great.
OZ: I’ve heard it said that when Robert Redford, for instance, directs an actor, the actor knows they’ve done a good job when he doesn’t say anything to them at all. He’s never going to congratulate or puff you up, he just moves on to the next scene. What is Eastwood’s approach to engaging with his actors?
It’s very similar, in a way. He just lets us do our thing. Any specifics that he gives you are about the shot.
Very rarely is he going to talk about the style of acting. You do it and he trusts you. When they go through the casting process, I think he casts with that in mind: “This is the guy because of X, Y and Z.”