Los Angeles native Ian Verdun is a graduate of the California Institute of the Arts and the British American Drama Academy, and can be seen in Freeform’s sci-fi thriller Siren as “Xander McClure.”
Xander McClure is a small-town, salt-of-the-earth, deep sea fisherman. A native of Bristol Cove, he’s fiercely loyal and much smarter than people give him credit for. After witnessing something unexplainable in the open ocean, Xander finds himself embroiled in the bizarre events surrounding a mysterious young woman who comes to town, ultimately putting him on a dangerous path as he hunts for the truth.
Verdun’s past performances have been described as “brimming with grit and honesty” by Backstage, “quirkily charming” by Variety, and “finely nuanced” by LA Weekly. He has also been hailed by Stage Scene LA as the “brightest stage discovery of 2011”.
Ian continues to cut his teeth on the stages of New York and Los Angeles, along with writing and producing several plays himself. After appearing on ABC’s Last Resort, TNT’s Hawthorne and FOX’s Lucifer, Ian threw his energy into his own television creation, Life’s A Drag. Following years of experiencing the lackluster opportunities for diverse entertainers, Life’s A Drag went on to win a number of awards in the burgeoning web festival circuit, including a special award for recognition in diversity.
Welcome to TV Series Hub, shooting to fame after being on Siren (2020), what was it like before landing the role? How did you get into acting?
Long story short; life was pretty rough, lol. I grew up pretty poor and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in acting didn’t do much to change that for a long, long while. I was like most actors; bombing what few auditions I could get, bouncing from service job to service job, doing extra work, struggling to pay rent, homelessness. I mean, things got real. When you have a dream, no money, and no connections, you tend to spend a lot of time just trying to keep your head above water without succumbing to all the stress and self-doubt. As for how I got into acting, it’s really been a life-long dream of mine. I spent years training, making sure I had all the tools and skills that I needed to make that dream a reality. The hardest part was navigating the industry once I had the training. My college, CalArts, was awful at preparing its students for the realities of Hollywood once we marched across the stage at graduation, so I really had to learn on the fly and get creative.
I had a whole system where I would research who cast certain shows I thought I would be good for, then see how I could get in front of them; what classes, workshops, or intensives they were giving where I could show what I could do. I mean, it’s not like I was getting any real auditions at the time. It was all a lot of hard work and thankless days in those early years and there wasn’t a lot of guidance or powerful agents to help forge the path. Plus when you consider the whole…you know…poverty thing, you can imagine how many things there were to juggle. When I look back at it I marvel at how I managed to do any of it, but when you’re in it you don’t think about it. I had a goal and really, that’s all I could see.
You might be a case study for how creating your own production puts you at a better position to land a gig. Do you think having your own production is a contributing factor to having something noticeable on your portfolio?
If I’m honest I didn’t really care about creating work for a portfolio, in fact I’d never had any kind of reel to speak of for most of my career. It’s only now that I have enough footage to put together a proper reel! At the time, I had become pretty disillusioned with the whole auditioning process and the overall bureaucracy of Hollywood and really just decided that if no one was going to give me an opportunity, I would just create my own. You have to understand that for most of my early career the whole diversity and inclusion conversation wasn’t a thing…at all. Casting people would look at me and just not know where to place me regardless of my talent. My ambiguity just didn’t fit neatly into what had been such a racially rigid environment. It’s only recently that that same ambiguity’s seemingly become a boon, at least in my experience. I think the place where I felt the most tangible contribution was in my confidence. Having a place where I could put my creative energy and effect some kind of control in my career trajectory was absolutely priceless.
“Life’s A Drag” is your own production which won numerous film festivals. How did that experience help you become who you are today?
It really hit home the idea that you have to take your dreams into your own hands. I like to say what I learned over that whole time was to take responsibility for my talent and that whole experience was ultimately so empowering and healing to me down to a spiritual level. I was going through so much when I wrote it, it was such an awful chapter, and “Life’s a Drag” literally ended up saving me. It taught me that not only was I was capable as an artist, but I didn’t have to wait indefinitely for someone, somewhere to finally give me a chance; I could make my own. It’s really the height of irony that right when I was moving on making my own opportunities, the biggest one of my career happened to come along in the form of “Siren.”
What is something interesting about you that people don’t really know?
I’m a true artist. Like, really, lol. As a kid my heart was set on being a comic book artist and you’d be hard pressed to find me without a sketchbook or a folder filled with pages and pages of drawings. I mean, if you had any printer paper lying around, beware, you’d be missing a stack by the time I was done. Plus I sing, I dance, and of course write and act. I love existing in creative spaces, so I can’t wait to get my hands into a little bit of everything as my career progresses.
How did you land the role of ‘Xander McClure’ on Siren (2020)?
Pretty serendipitously, actually. I was actually in the process of pitching “Life’s a Drag” to networks when the audition process for “Siren” started, but the two things were totally unrelated. It actually made auditioning for “Siren” so much less stressful since my mind was so occupied elsewhere. Everything felt like a distraction from my show, so even though I loved the script for “Siren” (which was called “The Deep” at the time) as well as ‘Xander,’ I was at peace with the possibility that I wouldn’t get it. But as luck would have it I actually booked it, go figure. The whole thing was so surreal, I even happened to be at lunch with my whole family when I got the call that the role was mine, so we were all able to celebrate in the moment.
Siren is on air right now, what should fans be expecting in the coming episodes?
We’re about halfway through the season, so it’s safe to say that things are about to get pretty intense. Our writers love whiplash inducing twists and turns, and this season is certainly no exception, lol. I’m really looking forward to seeing how everyone reacts to what’s coming…
What has been your best moment so far? Any funny experiences?
There have been so many “best” moments and funny experiences being a part of this show, it’s hard to narrow anything down. We’re constantly laughing on set, we’re all basically a group of big kids. But bringing my mom to set for the first time was definitely a high point for me. She sacrificed so much so I could walk this path and it felt like the culmination of something we both had been working toward for most of the time I’ve been alive.
Your latest project in the movies side of things is, “Death of a Telemarketer”, how would you describe the movie? What role do you play?
It’s a dark comedy and it’s got a great cast. It’s actually my first movie, which I’m pretty excited about. My role is small but I really had a great time shooting it and it was so much fun to work with Lamorne Morris! I’ve actually known him for years, from back when I was still bussing tables, so it was a full circle moment to be working with him as a peer.
What other projects are you working on?
I’ve got a few things coming up the pipeline. Currently, I’m working on a “Life’s a Drag” movie, plus I’m developing another tv series and working on a football feature. I’m super excited about everything. Each project is so different, speaking to different themes that are incredibly important to me. I can’t wait to share it all with the world!
How has COVID-19 affected you personally, did the movie get affected too? How are you coping with it?
It’s affected me in much the same way that it’s effected everyone else, I suppose. Production wrapped long before the crisis started so the only thing I could see it affecting is when and where it’s released. But I’m not a producer on it, so I don’t really know how the crisis has really affected the film. I’ve just tried to use this destabilizing moment as an opportunity to write, finish some projects, and take stock of what’s important in life. I work well with introspection and I’m a home body at heart, so I almost feel like I was built for this moment.
During a lockdown, everyone responds differently, how have you been taking it?
To be honest, I’m such a homebody that not much has really changed in an immediate sense. I do all my best writing from home, plus I’m a big gamer. I can get lost for weeks in a video game, so having an excuse to be glued to the couch, geeking my heart out is kinda nice. But I also have to acknowledge that the cavalier attitude is such a privilege. If this happened 4 years ago, it would be a very different experience. I was bar tending and bussing tables to survive, so I know first hand how scary this moment is for millions of people. I think a lot of it is reminding myself to be thankful and that everything is tenuous, even life itself. Hopefully this moment in time inspires us as a species to be better people and to develop a better, more equitable society where disruptions like this won’t literally kill the most vulnerable among us. After all, I know that uncertainly all too well.
In the coming years, other than acting, where else do you see yourself venturing?
If you haven’t been able to tell by now, I consider myself a storyteller, not simply an actor. I want to do everything; write, acting, sing, produce, direct, just tap into every facet of myself and explore my creativity in as many ways as I possibly can. I want to be able to influence the culture, be a leader in the creative fields and clear away the barriers of my generation, the same way it was clearer for me so the ones after me won’t have the same struggles. As a kid I would say, “Why not aim for the stars? You may end up hitting the moon.” No really, that’s a thing I would actually say.
What motivates you to keep on hustling every day?
Really I’m just a hustler by nature, have been since I was very young. My goals are pretty high-minded and I’ve never underestimated how much work (and time) that it would take to achieve them all, so to me hustling for it is just a given. Plus I just sincerely love what I do, the craft itself brings me so much joy. I love storytelling and characterization, and I love how art in general exists so we can interpret and reflect the human experience as a whole. When you think about it, we all end up as stories at the end of the day. I’m writing my life story every day, year by year. I’m just motivated to make one that’ll still be an interesting read in a century’s time.
If you had to give some advice to fellow artists who are trying to make a mark, what would it be?
The same advice I mentioned earlier, “take responsibility for your talent”. It’s a whole new world and there are so many tools that are accessible to us today that we didn’t have just ten years ago. Surround yourself with talented and driven people and collaborate, create, and forge your own paths. If anything you will have an outlet for your creative self while you learn the ropes of the industry. You can often feel powerless in this industry and it’s important to take your power back where you can. It’s your dream, your career, your life; take responsibility for it.
Thank you for joining us, with a crisis looming around us, staying positive is important, what positives came out of this crisis for you?
I think there are two positive things that could potentially come out of this. First, I think this crisis has gone a long way to remind us how much our fortunes are tied to one another. We affect one another and our actions have a major impact on our neighbors, irrespective of intentions. I hope that that sense of empathy continues to permeate though us as a global society, and help us to mend some of the fissures that have been exacerbated amid the chaos we’ve been experiencing. This is a moment for self-reflection and an opportunity for us all to remember that we have a choice. We can choose the kind of people we want to be, the kinds of lives we want to lead. We have much more power that some would have us believe and now’s the time to execute that power and create the kind world we want to live in, that future generations will live in. We just have to have the will to do it.