“Hollywood should consider being open to actors of all shapes, sizes, colors, ages, and genders.” with Rising Star Scott Churchson
If a character does not have to be defined by precise demographics, casting directors should consider being open to actors of all shapes, sizes, colors, ages, and genders. There’s no reason that roles like “Woman on Bus” have to be a 25 year old brunette 5’7 size 0–4. She could easily be a 50 year old African-American, a 30 year-old with pink hair size 16–20, or a transgender lady with tattoos. Thirdly, we as a society need to invest in diverse entertainment. Whether it’s supporting an independent film, writing a letter to a network, or simply spending your entertainment dollars on films that share a different perspective, it sends a message that encourages more voices to be heard.
As a part of my series about TV’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Actor/stunt person and entertainer Scott Churchson. He was on America’s Got Talent season 10, had a role in the HBO series The Deuce with James Franco, appeared on commercials for CBS News, MSG Networks and once performed for College Humor Live. He’s appeared in several local and national commercials including a multimedia campaign for MSG Networks promoting his favorite sports team, the NJ Devils. In his spare time he enjoys gaming, sports, and spending time with his wife and their three-legged asthmatic cat.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was that token introverted chubby kid that got bullied a lot. That straight D student. As a result I was often told I’d never amount to anything, I acted out, and even got suspended 4 times in school. My self-esteem and personal confidence were in the toilet by the time I got out of there.
Can you share a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’m grateful that I was able to overcome a great deal of that and ended up as a licensed financial adviser for almost 8 years. But that’s a tough life. Running from meeting to meeting, client to client and often putting out fires took it’s toll on me after a while. As a result I burned out. Oddly enough while scouting for new career I came across an ad on Craigslist to do background work on TV; something I always sort of had as a bucket list thing. And the career pretty much took off from there.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I’ve been fortunate to have a ton of awesome things happen to me at this point; things I never would have imagined 10 years ago. Probably one of the coolest was being in the end of Dark Knight Rises. I was about a year into my career and there was an open call to portray the cops and thugs in that huge brawl at the end of the film. Long story short I spent two days in fight rehearsals and two days of filming for that scene. You will see my twice; once before the fight begins and also right before Batman & Bane square off. Not many folks can ever say they fought alongside Batman.
I’ll add one more: I’ve been a long time (albeit currently suffering) NJ Devils fan, literally since the team came here in 1982. This was something I mentioned in the commercial that MSG Networks ran all of last season to promote upcoming games which was pretty cool. My father actually made it a habit of DVR-ing games and fast forwarding through the game to see when my commercial would air then send me how many times it would be played. It was one of those touching moments that we have as adults when we realize we’ve actually made our parents proud.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Early on I got called in for a huge commercial audition that required a teleprompter; something I knew going in. For reasons I cannot for the life of me fathom I chose not to wear my contacts for that audition and couldn’t read a single word from the teleprompter. Bottom line I never even came close to getting the part, looked like an idiot in front of casting and wasted everyone’s time. Bottom line; if you’re going in to read something, make sure you can actually read it.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m grateful to have been a stunt/body double on Orange Is The New Black for the past two years which just wrapped the series. It was a great experience seeing firsthand and hanging out and learning from experienced cast members who’ve been successful in this field for 20+ years, including Laura Prepon from That 70s Show, Kate Mulgrew from Star Trek Voyager (two of my favorite shows of all time) and so many others. I’m grateful to say I’ve also just landed a commercial that I’m excited to shoot next week. And unlike some of my other commercials, this one doesn’t involve me being beaten up or tazed.
I’m very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Day by day we’re becoming an increasing diverse culture. Art imitates life. Diversity isn’t necessarily about checking a checkbox or meeting a quota, diversity is respecting the entire range of the human experience and recognizing that people from all walks of life have experiences worth sharing. True egalitarianism. People fear what they don’t know so learning more is necessary. The entertainment industry is what people choose to allow into their brains, from a documentary, to comedy to the news, but it often only exposes us to a single perspective..
I am a survivor of domestic violence, but although there are many other men, both gay and straight, who are survivors or victims, many people are unaware that this problem exists. My situation is far more likely to end up on Comedy Central than an episode of Law & Order because I’m a man; and as a result people have openly viewed what I and many others dealt with far less seriously than it should be treated. Conversely, I can’t begin to understand someone else’s challenges unless they share their experiences with me. So how about we actually include writers who’ve been there first hand? We all have a lot to learn from each other.
From your personal experience, can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address some of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?
It has to start with the writers., There needs to be more stories told, so let’s educate, hire,and support more writers with diverse perspectives. Secondly, from a casting standpoint, if a character is of a particular race or ethnicity or has a disability I feel more work needs to be done to find someone who shares those characteristics to play the role. If a character does not have to be defined by precise demographics, casting directors should consider being open to actors of all shapes, sizes, colors, ages, and genders. There’s no reason that roles like “Woman on Bus” have to be a 25 year old brunette 5’7 size 0–4. She could easily be a 50 year old African-American, a 30 year-old with pink hair size 16–20, or a transgender lady with tattoos. Thirdly, we as a society need to invest in diverse entertainment. Whether it’s supporting an independent film, writing a letter to a network, or simply spending your entertainment dollars on films that share a different perspective, it sends a message that encourages more voices to be heard.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1) I needed to learn what my type was. Cop, thug or comedic sidekick. Bradley Cooper/Hugh Jackman I’m not, going for roles like that is a bad use of time. Early on I would submit for anything if it was an age match. Oh they need a hipster looking Asian man? Well maybe they’ll change their mind once they see me. Nope, all you’re doing is wasting your time and especially wasting the time of casting who will remember you for the wrong reasons.
2)It’s okay to take unpaid work in the beginning. You’re underpaid to be overpaid later. Smaller roles, unpaid roles are great opportunities to hone your craft and make connections to build from. Early on a made a connection with someone looking for unpaid background for his independent film. That connection alone led me to 15 speaking roles later and some huge further connections as well. You never know
3)Start associating with film festivals and theater groups. Again, it’s a great chance to make connections. After parties are a great chance to mingle, find out who’s looking for what and let other directors and producers know what you can bring to the table.
4)Start to build connections through social media; Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, it’s a self-promotion world. It doesn’t matter who you know so much as who knows you. People need to know the accomplishments you have and why it’s worth it to know you better. When I landed the commercial for CBS News it came through a hugely respected independent filmmaker who passed my name and info onto the folks booking the spot. She knew what I had happening thanks to building a relationship initially through a couple film festivals then staying in touch on Facebook. That commercial ran a full year.
5)Enjoy the process; this is a numbers game. Some roles you’ll get, most you won’t. Don’t take it personally. You could be the best strawberry ice cream on the planet but if casting wants chocolate you’ll never be what they want; UNTIL they want strawberry in which case they’ll remember you. I had an audition that I thought I absolutely nailed but I did find out I wasn’t exactly what they were looking for and it irked me. But fast forward about two months and those same casting people call in for a new commercial. I booked that one and it’s been seen by at least a few hundred thousand people which is really cool to me.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Schedule your time. Most people in life are haphazard with their schedule and they run out of time. Keeping a daily regimen of when you’re working, when you’re hitting the gym, when you’re relaxing is key to protect yourself from burnout. Also, and this might be unusual, but stay focused on your accomplishments. It’s easy to find yourself comparing yourself to other people in this industry but they aren’t you. They haven’t had your challenges, your weaknesses, your strengths. Most importantly, treat your acting career as a business. There are a lot of talented actors who don’t succeed because they neglect things like marketing, having a business plan, and managing their finances.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I feel our education system desperately needs to be revamped. Show me what percentage of kids graduating high school that have been taught CPR, or how a mutual fund or IRA works, or even basic leadership and people skills. A kid will know what year the Magna Carta was signed but not what to do if someone’s having a heart attack or how to make a household budget. Why can’t we focus more on that?
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Absolutely my wife Robin. This is a tough industry and can take a huge toll on you so being able to share the lows and even the highs is huge. When I was booked to appear on America’s Got Talent the girl I was seeing at the time didn’t want to see me perform because she was jealous it was me up there and not her. That hurt like hell. Conversely when I booked The Deuce it meant having to come back from our trip in Maine a day early and I was terrified of saying something would have to budge. Robin almost had a car accident screaming with joy and I breathed a sigh of relief. She’s been my reader (the person who speaks the other characters’ dialog) in almost every self-taped audition I’ve done since we met, and always asks if “we” got the part. Having someone in your corner is huge.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of the biggest quotes I live by comes from Charles Swindoll: “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you deal with it.” I’ve had a unique life, and not all of it was great. But I can chose to be weaker from it or stronger because of it, and I choose stronger.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
If there was one person I’d like to have lunch with it’d be Kevin Smith. Fellow Jersey boy, once gave me a jelly donut (no joke!) and recorded a message for my then fiance/now wife. He’s a kind and frankly inspiring human being I’d love to chat with further.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!
Thank YOU! This was an absolute treat!