Some people just look like movie stars. They have that “it” factor, and we’re not talking about the kind brought to horrifying life by Stephen King. It’s indefinable, but you know it’s there, mostly because you can’t turn away when they’re on screen.
The bartender who served you your pumpkin beer with a cinnamon sugar rim this weekend may have it. The yoga instructor whose downward dog defies human flexibility may have it too. Many people have the look, but not necessarily the talent. In fact, finding the full package is a rarity.
Enter the solar eclipse of actors, Keenan Tracey, whose previous work includes “Bates Motel,” “The Returned,” and a memorable guest spot on “Supernatural.” Not only does he have the look, but he has the acting chops to back up the on-screen presence you can’t look away from. And with the direction his career is heading, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to not look away.
We recently sat down with Tracey to discuss the internal struggles of his “Supernatural” character, his upcoming horror movie “Polaroid,” and why music has so many parallels with acting.
TrunkSpace: You appeared on “Supernatural.” We have an unhealthy obsession with that show. We were hoping we could start there?
Tracey: Sounds good. (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: Your role as Christoph in the episode “The One You’ve Been Waiting For” seemed like it had a lot of meat on the bone. What was it like tackling such an interesting role, which was basically a son torn between his own feelings of what he felt was right and wrong and the beliefs of his father’s, who was working to bring Hitler back from the dead?
Tracey: I thought it was really current and also really personal. He’s dealing with huge issues, basically historically related, but also on more of a personal level he’s dealing with just appeasing his father, which I think most men kind of would relate to, at least on some level. So yeah, on top of it just being a global issue, it was more personal as well. It was like, “Do you go with your father and do what he wants you to do and let him screw over the world, or do you screw over your dad to save the world?”
TrunkSpace: You’ve done a bunch of television over the years, but was it at all intimidating coming into “Supernatural” knowing that it had been on the air for well over a decade and already had an established tone and feeling on set?
Tracey: No, I was encouraged. It was almost more comforting because they ran a tight ship already. That’s the kind of set you go onto and you just figure out how to fit into it because it’s already happening. The tone is already established, it’s already a show with or without you, so it kind of helps to have something that’s had seasons that have aired already and you can plug in. You can delve into the shows, you can do your homework, and you can really pick up on the tone and really know what you’re going to do. You can see how your character’s going to fit into it a lot better.
TrunkSpace: What’s really interesting is that your dad actually appeared on the series as well, the same season no less.
Tracey: Yeah. We were only an episode or two apart. It’s kind of a coincidence I suppose.
TrunkSpace: From a show called “Supernatural” to a movie about the supernatural, you’re set to appear in the upcoming film “Polaroid.” Can you walk us through what we can expect from the film and where your character falls into things?
Tracey: I guess the undertone would be about how vanity corrupts. Anyone taken by the camera, gets taken by it literally.
TrunkSpace: Which in a way, is a bit of an old theme because some cultures used to believe that a photograph would steal your soul.
Tracey: Yeah, and then you’re trapped eternally.
With my character, there’s a couple of scenes in the movie that allude to him being the one that’s skeptical about it, the one who questions the humanity around him and the vanity of the people around him.
TrunkSpace: The film was due out this summer, but recently got bumped to a December release date. As an actor, does it ever get frustrating when you’re anticipating something being released and using it to move your career forward in other areas, only to have the plans change on you in a way that is out of your control?
Tracey: Oh for sure. That being said, that’s a very natural part of the industry. At this point it’s kind of something you’ve come to accept. At a certain point, when you work on a job, you go there, you put the work in, and then you’ve kind of got to just let it go. Luckily the rewards don’t just come from it releasing. There are also rewards that come from shooting it, from getting it in the first place, from meeting the people you work with on set, and for getting the experience there. That’s satisfying enough that by the time you’ve done that, you almost forget that one, you’re getting paid for it, and two, that they’re releasing it and everyone else will get to see it someday.
So, I think working on it, and completing it, and feeling like you put the work in and did the part justice is what makes the job worth it in the first place. The cherry on top is that it gets released eventually.
TrunkSpace: And what is great about the current pop culture climate that we’re living in is, because of all of the various streaming platforms, projects have longer shelf lives once they do get released.
Tracey: The beauty of the internet is it has even further eternalized film, and TV especially. I mean, TV used to be so much more fleeting. You would have to catch it when it was airing, if it was still airing, and the only way to see it after that would be to have recorded it yourself and then play it later. Now everything releases and if you remember the title of it, and you have an internet connection, you can find it whenever you like on some sort of platform. So, I think that’s a really good thing for the entire industry, to be honest.
TrunkSpace: From a performance standpoint, it really adds an extra layer of oomph to guest spots for TV, because an actor’s role, even if it’s for one episode, lives on through the fandom and ongoing streams.
Tracey: I agree. And that’s something I’ve noticed change in the industry, even over the last half a decade. I mean, five years ago you could tell what was airing that you had been in, in what country, at what time based off of your Twitter traffic, or whatever. You could tell where things were happening based off of who was responding or writing what from where, but now it’s kind of all over the place at any time from anywhere really. Anybody can watch anything anywhere, so I’ve definitely found that the feedback online is definitely more diverse when it comes to the project.
TrunkSpace: You have worked on some great television shows like “Bates Motel” and “The Returned.” Does the experience working on a television series differ from something like “Polaroid,” just in terms of how you prepare and what you do day to day performance wise?
Tracey: Typically a film shoot will be considerably longer than one episode of something, so it kind of depends how much of a season you’re in when it comes to TV, or how much of the movie you’re in. A movie will typically take place over four to eight weeks, depending on the project and the budget. You usually have a longer amount of time with the script for film because it will usually have been written farther in advance. Pre-production will start sooner and you’ll just have more time with it, which I always love. I mean, the more time the better. It just gives you that much more to do with it and you get more time to prep it, and I think that’s everything. I think 90 percent of it is the work you put in before. You should craft your performance and figure out 90 percent of the stuff you’re going to do and leave 10 percent for a little surprise on the day, but basically hone in what you’re going to do before you even get to set. So, having that extra time is always nice when it’s a movie.
That being said, sometimes it is also nice to just get a script a week or 10 days before and not have too much time to also overthink it and just sort of go with the flow. Sometimes you’re coming onto a show like “Supernatural” that’s already been going for 12 years, so there’s just an established tone. You don’t want to have to make as many decisions on your character or make as many guesses about how the movie is going to go, or how the show’s going to go and how your character choices are going to fit into it. Or if you’re going to have to alter them on the day, which you’ve always got to be open to doing anyways. When it’s a show and there’s already an established tone, it’s easier to see how your character is going to fit into it without having to guess as much.
TrunkSpace: You’re also a musician. How do you compartmentalize the two creative worlds? Is acting completely separate from your band in terms of the focus?
Tracey: I’m pretty good at dividing the two. They are very parallel and I kind of use them to learn more about the other one because of how parallel they are, especially in steps. I just finished my first studio record, a full LP, and it was interesting to see how parallel the steps were and it really helped me understand the other one. Being my first record, I would constantly compare it to film. I would say, “Oh, this is the part that’s like that step in film.” You go through all the same steps really. You go through pre-production, you go through production, and then post-production and editing, and each minor step along the way would directly relate to something I could at least find a parallel to in film, so that was really interesting.
As for time management, luckily music is the kind of thing I can do at home, alone in my apartment with a guitar, and not have to get hired to do it. You just wake up in the morning and feel like it and do it, and I guess it yields that satisfaction immediately without having to learn lines, drive to a place, read it for somebody, hope they like it, hope they bring me back, do it again, maybe a third time, wait, do the part, and wait for it to get released. I would say music is an easier thing to satisfy yourself with personally when you’re alone, but there’s time for both.
The good thing about film is you’ll work intensely for weeks, or a month, or a couple of months, and then the project is over and then you’ll have time off. I don’t really like wasting time at all. I think it should always be utilized. And I’m not saying to work too hard, but to find work that brings you joy so that it’s also fun and then the work is the play and you can just be doing both of them all of the time and not wasting any of it.
“Polaroid” is set to arrive in theaters December 1.