Austin Basis (TVs 'Beauty & The Beast')
'The Basis of Beauty'
With a highly coveted lifetime membership to the ACTOR’S STUDIO, multi-faceted comedy actor, Austin Basis (CW’s “Life Unexpected”) is the hottest breakout star of primetime this fall!
Starring on the CW’s hit drama series, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Thursdays at 9 p.m. post-"The Vampire Diaries" time slot) alongside Kristin Kreuk (“Smallville”) who plays a homicide detective who was saved from death by something or someone and Jay Ryan (“Terra Nova”) as a doctor with a very dark side, Basis charms as JT Forbes, the hospitable comic relief and likable confidant of “The Beast” who has been helping Keller (Jay Ryan) guard his terrible secret.
Chatting recently with the man himself Austin Basis, I first wondered, being that he was born and raised in a little beach community called Sea Gate - which also featured the famous Coney Island boardwalk had his childhood diet solely consisted of Coney Dogs?! "Of course! But we never called them "Coney Dogs"- we called them Nathan's franks or Nathan's hot dogs... I actually preferred their lobster rolls- sooooo good!!!"
You actually grew up dreaming of being a major league baseball catcher for the New York Mets so, er ... what happened to that dream?! "Good question- I ask myself the same thing every day!!! No- that was a childhood dream. The Mets were & still are my favorite baseball team, and I loved playing the sport and looked up to players like Gary Carter & Howard Johnson. But as I matured, my physique and skills didn't measure up to my ambitions. I really just wanted to have a career doing something I loved and have fun doing it, and I think I finally found that with acting."
And then you wanted to be a doctor! So, same question - what happened to that dream?! "That wasn't so much a dream, as a parentally influenced career-direction. Because of my diagnosis with Type 1 Diabetes at the age 9, I grew up going to doctors. So to become one was just a natural pathway to financial stability. Obviously, that pipe dream was demolished by my interest in theatre in college- which scared the CRAP out of my parents regarding my future ability to make a living, but rather intrigued me enough to take the leap into acting."
Through your childhood you performed in a lot of plays, usually musical comedies, despite your lack of singing ability! Was it around this time that you began to realize that acting/performing was really where your destiny lay after all? "No. It was always just about having fun and making people laugh. Growing up, my parents always provided a playful, performance-friendly environment. There was always an audience ready to be entertained, whether in my living room, on my front porch or at my aunt and uncle's house in Massachusetts. We listened to show tunes, went to see Broadway shows every year during the holidays, and created many silly home videos- mainly for our own enjoyment (there was no YouTube back then... actually, there was no "internet"!!!) Needless to say- the instinct to entertain was always in me and around me, so to realize where I am today and what I do for a living is absolutely no surprise!"
Then you were a struggling actor in New York for a few years there, taking odd jobs as a bartender, a bouncer, a busboy, cater-waiter and even a substitute teacher! Knowing that your mother was a teacher for over 30 years, your younger brother also, did you slip all-too-easily into this sub-role? "It's an interesting thing. While I felt "at home" in front of a classroom full of students, there was never a point when I really wanted to be there. I was always daydreaming of being on stage or on some set somewhere else- and actually remember thinking: I could never be truly content doing this for a living, without having fully pursued an acting career. And that's why I respect my mom, my brother & the amazing teachers I've had through the years for doing what they do. I believe people who love what they do, excel at what they do. I've taught on occasion, and there's always that option- but for now I'll gladly stick to what I'm doing."
And, based on all the other odd jobs, please tell us a funny story about a day on the job of one of them? "It's not really funny, but... I was a bartender at the Brooklyn Academy of Music for a couple of years, and they would occasionally do big premiere & charity events for films or shows. Anyway, every so often I would get to serve high-profile clientele there and- being an aspiring actor- I would always think about all those stories of how people were discovered at events like these (such a cliche). I never had the courage to take a risk like that, which I justified by telling myself to trust that they would discover me, unprompted! Well, that never happened- because it just wasn't meant to be... and I was just a lowly bartender serving them drinks at some random gala! I did cross paths with Harvey Keitel once. At the time, we were both members of the Actors Studio- and I mentioned that to him as I was passing him a gin & tonic or something. And to no surprise he nodded & smiled & went on shmoozing the beautiful young woman that was with him. But as fate would have it, I didn't have to make an impression on him with my bar-tending skills- I got to make one 7 years later with my acting skills in a guest starring role I did on the show "Life on Mars" ...Sometimes the "gamble" is to not gamble & trust that if you work hard enough & play by the rules, your efforts will be rewarded eventually."
Your TV debut came in Porn 'n Chicken (2002) for Comedy Central, but you got your first major TV break in an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent (2004). Spellbound, Studio 60, Supernatural, Life on Mars, etc. have all followed thereafter, but reflecting back to the L&O episode, how exciting was it to finally be doing something you knew millions would be watching soon thereafter? "It was awesome! As an actor in NYC, getting a gig on "Law & Order" means your a REAL actor- it's almost like a prerequisite. And it was less about the people watching & more about the fact that I was getting payed!!! That job got me into the actor's union (my entire salary went directly to my initiation fees...!) & it legitimized me in the eyes of casting directors... But it was also pretty cool to have my work be seen by millions of people."
And now you are starring on CW's hit drama Beauty & The Beast alongside Kristin Kreuk and Jay Ryan as JT Forbes (a medical researcher turned Biochemistry professor!) So, how much lab stuff did you know going in, and when you relate such stuff on the show do you 100% know what it is you're talking about?! "Chemistry & Math were two of my best subjects in school. But NO... most of the time- in life & on the show- I have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about! I basically have to know how to pronounce the technical words & understand what they mean, but I am by no means a bio-chemistry expert. It's kind of like asking George Clooney or Sandra Oh if they'd be able to operate on someone after working on medical shows. The thru-line of my character's arc consists of one simple directive: complete & total loyalty to his best friend. As long as that is clear, HOW he accomplishes his goal is less important... If I can make him sound good & real, then no one is the wiser."
What is it about this role, and indeed the TV series in general, that has you believing it can run for a long time? "The story of "Beauty & the Beast" is a classic fairytale- an epic love story for the ages. What we have done with our version is to put that scenario in a modern, post 9/11 setting with realistic characters. We've also created a mythology that has endless possibilities. The show has action, romance, drama, comedy, great music- and fans that call themselves "Beasties" ...a definite sign of longevity & good things to come. With my character JT, he is everyone's best "best friend"! He's funny, loyal, smart & willing to put himself in harm's way to protect Vincent. I like the potential JT has as a character- and it's exciting to play someone who is inherently predictable in his support of Vincent, but at the same time has a plethora of colors & dimensions to show."
Taking a tangential step, if I may, you were diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at a young age, but have gone on to be an advocate for T1D research and awareness. Please tell us who you work with, in what way, and what you hope can change about the way it is a) handled by those with it, and b) perceived by the public? "I've been working with the JDRF- one of the world's leading fundraisers for diabetes research. My ultimate goal is to find a cure for Type 1 Diabetes, but my short-term goal is to provide an example for kids with diabetes & their parents, so that they know anything is possible- even with the constant risks & difficult management of a chronic disease like diabetes. With regards to public perception, I also hope to highlight the differences between Type 1 & Type 2 Diabetes- which are commonly confused. Someone with Type 1 Diabetes (like myself) is insulin-dependent & the disease is incurable- at this point in time. Type 2 Diabetes is usually caused by old age or obesity & is reversible with proper diet, exercise & blood-sugar management. I just don't want anyone to think Type 1 Diabetes is somehow the fault of kids with diabetes- or their parents."
You also have a very successful TV commercial career, appearing in spots for Toys 'R' Us, Wendy's. Dr. Pepper (crap, now I want one!), State Farm, etc. But, to this day, which is your favorite and why? "Well, I've been an ice-cream cone, a squirrel mascot and had a conversation with an animatronic bed! But my favorite experience was as "Benjamin Bankes" the personified piggy bank in The Ad Council's "FEED the PIG" campaign. I went through 5 hours of prosthetic make-up (from 3am-8am) & got to wear a pink seersucker suit for 12 hours a day for 3 days straight... what more can you ask for?! Plus- in addition to going to Washington, DC & Las Vegas to make appearances as the pig- the "FEED the PIG" print campaign put me on my first billboard... right down the street from my house!!! That was pretty awesome."
What other upcoming shows or films can we catch you in? "Right now it's ALL "Beauty & the Beast" because I'm up in Toronto filming as we speak... But I have a part in an upcoming Hallmark movie called "Two In" that will premiere in July."
Lastly, and throwing you a journalistic curve ball, we here at Exclusive Magazine love Penguins (the birds, not the hockey team) ... do you, perhaps? "Well, I'm glad it's not the hockey team, because I'm a Rangers fan! ...I do like penguins, especially the Penguin from the old "BATMAN" TV series!!! And "penguin suits"...!"
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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