What’s your story? Where are you originally from and what brought you to LA to pursue an acting career?
I grew up in Lake Station, Indiana and attended Indiana University as an undergrad. I was studying Philosophy and Anthropology, but I had a roommate who was a Film Studies major. He had to make short films for his classes, so I started helping him write scripts and I would act in the stuff that we wrote for his class projects. I became more and more interested in acting and I began auditioning for the university plays. I was cast in Eric Bogosian’s subUrbia during my senior year and that was pivotal. I gained a lot of confidence doing that particular play and I also became close friends with another actor in the production. When he and I graduated later that year, we packed up a truck and drove to LA. We didn’t know anybody, we just assumed we’d figure it out. We’re still figuring it out, but it’s going well.
Do you remember your first audition?
Shortly after moving to LA, I had a meeting with a manager (who happens to still be my manger to this day). He asked me if I was a good actor, and without hesitation I yelled ‘Yes!’ even though, at that moment, I don’t think I was totally sure about that. He said something like ‘ok, we'll see' and he got me a next day appointment for the lead in a studio horror film. I went in and I was so nervous that I had to stop halfway through the audition. But I remember taking a moment, and saying to myself, this is your chance, don't screw this up. I started the scene again and it went really well. Ultimately it came down to me and one other guy and I didn't get the part, but it was enough to get on the radar of casting offices in town.
If you can describe yourself using any of the characters that you have played, which one comes the closest?
I never get the job when the character is just like me! Sometimes I'll read a script in preparation for an audition and I'll think to myself 'This is me. I'm absolutely perfect for this.' And I've never once gotten a job in that situation. But I certainly bring some of myself into everything that I do. I think it's important to do that.
Does having a Philosophy and Anthropology degree help you in any way in acting?
I think having a Philosophy and Anthropology degree helps you understand life in general. They’re very closely related. Anthropology helps us understand where we came from, how we got here, how we’re different, how we’re alike. Philosophy goes a little deeper and begins to ask Why? What meaning do we or can we have? When you spend time thinking about that kind of stuff you start to develop a deeper appreciation for it what means to be a human being on a lot of different levels. You develop and appreciation for the complexity of human interaction. Which is largely what acting is all about.
You have the innate gift to be to play a wide spectrum of roles from someone who is bright and optimistic to someone who is dark and threatening. How do you do that?
I think the trick is to not think about a character as ‘bright’ or ‘dark.’ There’s nothing wrong with using those labels as a quick description of the general vibe of a character, but you don’t want to lean on that when you’re doing a scene. The character is a person, and people are complicated. No one is ‘bright’ or ‘dark’ all the time. I try to get specific on what I’m trying to accomplish in a scene and then maybe I let my actual mood that day bleed into the scene. Maybe I try to play a ‘dark’ scene with some levity and watch it become all the darker. The truth is, good writing will often do a lot of the heavy lifting, and it’s your job as an actor to keep it simple and specific. You do that and suddenly the illusion of a brand new person appears and if you’re lucky, it might surprise you.
Walk us briefly through your process as an actor. Tell us a little bit about what you do to prepare yourself for the job.
Learn the lines. It sounds obvious, but it’s supremely important, and surprisingly, often overlooked. I want to know the lines so well that I’m not thinking at all about what I’m saying, I’m only thinking about what I’m trying to accomplish. Sometimes learning lines, and figuring out precisely what you’re trying to accomplish in each scene is the only prep you have to do. Sometimes it’s much more. To prep for once Upon A Time, I had to become very familiar with Henry’s journey over seasons 1-6 and the quality of his relationships with the characters that were closest to him. All of that influences his future so there’s no way I couldn’t take that into account and expect to do the character justice.
How is it to play Henry Mills from Once Upon a Time in contrast to your character Gareth from The Walking Dead?
Totally different. And that’s mainly because the character’s goals, and the way they go about trying to achieve their goals are totally different. Gareth was fundamentally deceptive and he thrived on manipulation. Henry relies, or at least tries to rely, on honesty. There’s an appreciation for straight-forwardness in Henry that’s been fun to explore because interestingly, it’s not as common a human trait as it probably should be.
Out of all the characters that you have ever played, is there a specific favorite and why?
I played the character JR in a film called Rebirth a couple of years ago, and I'm not sure if it was my absolute favorite character, but it was one that I desperately wanted to keep playing. The character didn't have a huge role in the film, but I found him to be so interesting, and well written, and I had so much fun with the few scenes that I had. I always wished I could have explored him more.
Is there a different genre / a character that you want to try and why?
I certainly want to keep working in comedy. I started in comedy, but I've moved more into the drama world over the last few years. But I find comedy very challenging and fun, and I try to work a little humor into everything I do if I can. But it's certainly a genre I'd never want to move away from.
What would you say is the proudest moment of your career so far?
I feel most proud when someone sends me a tweet or something that says that an episode of Once Upon a Time or something else that I've worked on has brightened their day. Working on a TV show can feel solipsistic at times because you're filming in a bubble with no audience, but when you finally get that feedback it lets you know that your work has value.
What keeps you busy aside from acting?
Aside from acting, I spend a lot of time painting. It's a hobby I picked up about 9 years ago, and I can get pretty immersed in it if I ever have a little time away from work.
Name any actor that you want to work with (dead or alive) and why.
I would have loved to have worked with Philip Seymour Hoffman. Scene by scene in everything he was in, his performances we’re incredibly rich, but also reduced to only what was necessary. The idiosyncrasies and authenticity that he brought to every character were consistently mesmerizing.
Any advice you can give to young and aspiring actors out there?
Move to a city in which there exists opportunity to start a career in acting. There aren't many, but choose one and make the move. It can be tough, but it's necessary. Then focus on getting good. Study acting. Maybe take a class, maybe read books, but engage with it, and work at it. Develop a real relationship with it. And make sure you really enjoy it because you absolutely have to in order to contend with all of the difficulty and rejection that comes along with pursuing this type of career
If you’re going to be a book, what book would you be and why?
A cookbook. For obvious reasons.
If you had the chance to help a specific cause/charity, what would it be?
I’ve been involved with Fonkoze which is a good organization that provides services for the people of Haiti. A Place Called Home is also a great one that offers programs for underprivileged kids in South LA.
Catch Andrew West as Henry Mills in the final season of Once Upon A Time only on ABC!