This last week I had the great pleasure of interviewing the wildly talented Steven Grayhm. Steven has had huge success across both film and television mediums, with roles in films such as The Five People You Meet in Heaven, based on the New York best-selling novel and White Chicks. Not only that, Steven Grayhm is a director and writer, working in all levels of the industry, with a passion for telling honest, real-to-life stories. He will be seen on the upcoming new season of the Netflix series Between and is currently developing a TV pilot to go to series. His commitment and belief in telling honest, gripping stories comes through in this interview, and I’d like to personally thank Steven for being so open and incredibly inspiring. We are so looking forward to watching his work on Between, as well as all his future endeavours.
- Your performance in White Chicks was absolutely hilarious, and the film has become a timeless classic, how was that experience? And looking back, what’s the funniest memory you have of your time with that project?
I would say the experience, as an actor, was stressful. Comedy is hard. Only the best make it look easy. You truly have to let go of your inhibitions and just go for it. I mean, you really, really need to act as if no one is watching. Our Director, Keenan Ivory Wayans, brought me out of my shell. Try being funny at the crack of dawn with 300 extras standing around and a camera in your face, working with a comedy family dynasty. Pressure? I am so grateful for that experience. I learned a lot and it was entirely positive. I think once I found my stride, I was able to let things flow and enjoy the process more. I give tremendous credit to the atmosphere that was created on set between the cast and crew.
- When you first entered this industry, did you have a specific direction you wanted to go in? Was it just acting to begin with? Or did you always see yourself pursuing each avenue (Writing, Directing, and Producing)?
Initially, I began in live performance, acting in everything from Sunday School plays in church as a kid to high school drama class. I began to take the work more seriously while I as attending theatre school in England. That was the time when it became clear I wanted to completely immerse myself in the profession and take my craft to the next level. Later, working on film and TV sets afforded me the opportunity to soak it all up from some of the best – both in front of and behind the camera. You learn from participating in the process – what works and what doesn’t – and, for me, writing and directing came naturally from that.
- The Five People You Meet in Heaven is a best-selling novel, with a theme quite deep and profound, did you read the book before you auditioned for the role?
Yes, I read the book in one day! The script was adapted from the book and explored my character in his youth a little more, so it was really helpful to me too. I think I had to prepare three scenes for the audition. I met with the Director and producers and, after doing the three scenes, they asked me to do a fourth one with Eddie and his mother. I remembered the scene from the script but obviously hadn’t rehearsed it. They asked if I wanted to leave the room to prepare and I declined – knowing that I’d lose the energy in the room. So, after reading it over a few times, I just went for it! I was later told that a lot of people played the fourth scene with some kind of mellow drama? I just didn’t see it that way. It’s always better for your audience to experience what you’re feeling for themselves, rather than you indicating to them how they should feel.
- You’ve also done quite a few performances on stage – Hamlet and The Father – do you find there are differences between acting for television and film compared to stage? And if so, what do you find difficult/easy transitioning from one to the other?
There is no safety net in Theater. No Director to call “cut!”. For better or worse, you get up on stage and put it all out there and everything is at stake in every performance. If people are on their cellphones, talking or crumpling their programs – it doesn’t matter – the show must go on. There’s also no ad-libbing Shakespeare, so you better know your sh*t! I think it’s important to take that kind of training into your work in film and TV because it makes you better at what you do. There is little transition from stage to screen except for volume. You project much more on stage – but no matter stage or film – it’s always on the line for me. I’m never waiting for another take, ’cause you might not get one!
- You’ve starred opposite other actors such as Al Pacino and Jon Voight, how would you describe that experience? Is there anything in particular you felt you learnt from them?
Mr. Pacino was unbound by any set rule. Every night on stage was a different performance – as it should be – as it’s always a different audience. So, on that level, we really connected. If he did something different or unexpected, I would match the appropriate reaction as I saw fit to the character and vice versa. It didn’t always work, but it was as real as you can get! Rehearsal did nothing to prepare me for the opening night of the play. When he delivered his first line and looked into my eyes with all the conviction of Michael Corleone and Tony Montana, I nearly sh*t my pants. It could have been bad, real bad, buy I took a deep breath and well … rock n’ roll.
Mr. Voight was a consummate perfectionist. He was relentless in his pursuit of finding the character of Eddie and went to lengths to include me in the process. He really took me under his wing and I can say that it was truly the best master class an actor could ask for. I remember going down to Santa Monica Pier to job shadow the maintenance workers (as Eddie is a maintenance man at Ruby Pier) and Jon got wind of it. He asked why I hadn’t invited him along, and I said, “Well, I gotta be there every morning at 5am. I thought you didn’t wake up until 10am for The Price is Right.” With a smirk, he said, “pick me up tomorrow kid” and the next morning, there we were, scraping gum off the wooden floor boards of the pier. He’s no joke and it comes through in his work.
- Astoria Entertainment is a production company you co-founded – what was the motivation behind creating a production company and what types of projects are you hoping to produce?
I co-founded Astoria Entertainment with fellow thespians, Matt Dallas and Charlie Bewley. Our intention is to make socially conscious, timely and entertaining projects that will knock your socks off and blow your hair back.
- Thunder Road (in pre-production), I’ve read was a story you started writing years ago, and was inspired by the Iraq conflicts – what is it about this subject matter that really resonates with you?
My grandfather was a POW during World War II and I grew up listening to his stories about the dehumanization of mankind. He returned home with severe PTSD. Today in America, 22 veterans commit suicide every day. 1 active duty soldier every 25 hours. This is an epidemic that is close to my heart and something we should all take very seriously. It’s on us to take care of our vets. They take care of us, now it’s our turn to take care of them.
- Most recently you joined the cast of Between as a series regular, how has it been joining the show? What can you tease about your character (a mysterious visitor) and the new season?
The new season is epic on so many levels. The writing is superb. The cinematography is top shelf. I think everyone is going to be pleasantly surprised by the direction of the show. So many plot twists and so much at stake for the town of Pretty Lake. I am so stoked for everyone to see it. I’ll just tease that my character – Liam Cullen – enters the town with seemingly good intentions to provide a cure to the virus that has devastated the population and comes up against every possible obstacle as things get inevitably more and more intense and near implosion. Literally.
- You are currently developing a television pilot to go to series for Amazon, can you give us any spoilers or tease as to what to expect?
To clarify, I’ve met with Amazon, but we still haven’t decided on an official home for the project. This one I have to be extremely tight lipped about. I will say that it is loosely based on my life – and just because it’s unbelievable, doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. HA!
- For any budding film and television up and comers, what is one piece of advice/wisdom you could offer them when trying to break into the industry?
Follow your instincts. Period.