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Wingman Wednesday

Cooper Andrews

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Whenever established shows attempt to introduce new characters well into the life of a series, generally it feels like sharks are being jumped. But when meeting new characters is ingrained in the very premise of a show, such as “The Walking Dead,” the audience is more accepting of a revolving door and even anticipates first-time faces, often while simultaneously having to say goodbye to longtime favorites.

Few characters in the history of “The Walking Dead” have brought synchronous smiles to the faces of the fandom more so than Jerry, King Ezekiel’s ax wielding, peace sign flashing right-hand man. Portrayed by Cooper Andrews with a jovial perfection, the affable resident of the Kingdom offers hope in a world where it, much like their resources, is becoming increasingly scarce.

Landing a memorable role in one of the most popular shows in all of television has a tendency to impact a career, and for Andrews, the after-effects have been no exception. Later this week the New York native will appear in the crime drama “Den of Thieves” opposite Gerard Butler and 50 Cent, and as it has been reported, he is set to star as Victor Vasquez in the highly anticipated “Shazam!,” due in theaters April 5, 2019.

We recently sat down with Andrews to discuss the fandom’s acceptance of Jerry, building a backstory for his undersized chest pad, and how he went full circle on “The Walking Dead,” from boom operator to star.

TrunkSpace: Not every job in the world has the power to change someone’s life, but we have to imagine that landing a role in “The Walking Dead” is one of those gigs where you can sort of feel the crackle in the air of things to come?
Andrews: Yes. Once I started on the show, I didn’t have a clue how people would respond to him (Jerry), but it’s been going well. I’ve been getting some cool opportunities from the show, just getting to go around the country and getting to go to other countries now. Just as an actor, working with all those performers, it gave me a confidence that I didn’t have as an actor before, I don’t think.

TrunkSpace: And from what we read, things moved pretty quickly. You auditioned, and then you knew within a couple of days that you were going to Georgia. Did the fact that it happened so quickly allow you to not overthink it?
Andrews: Yeah, pretty much. From me finding out to me leaving was just a few hours. I was with my friend shooting a fight sequence, and I got the phone call. I was sitting with all of this camera gear in a swimming pool. So yeah, I really didn’t have time to process it.

TrunkSpace: How soon did you feel the reach of “The Walking Dead” fandom and their acceptance of both Jerry as a character and you as a performer?
Andrews: The day after it aired I was already bumping into people who were like, “Hey, are you…” You know, with that kind of surprise, “Are you that guy?” But to the point where people just say my name now, that’s weird.

TrunkSpace: We mentioned this to Khary Payton recently as well, but with all of those from the Kingdom, the characters have made such a big impact, but in the grand scheme of things, you guys haven’t been around that long. For fans, it feels like folks like Jerry and King Ezekiel have been around for many seasons.
Andrews: And honestly when I was watching it, it does feel that way. I do a yearly binge of the show. I’m on Season 4 right now, and it was just one of those things where I’m like, “Man, I forgot how much I love this show.” I never forgot that, but with just how much story happens before we even get there, I’m like, “Wow, I feel like we’ve been on here forever, but it has not been that long.”

TrunkSpace: Jerry’s comic relief is often injected into the series at times where it feels like, as an audience, we need it. Do you feel like Jerry and other characters who offer those playful moments are important to the success of the series – a sort of balance of light and darkness?
Andrews: I don’t know how Jerry affects any of the series, but as far as I feel how I try to make him effective is, and I think when they gave me all the cool writing stuff, all these awesome one-liners, I think it’s important for people to remember that there is something other than fighting. And Jerry, I think, is a big part of that. He’s an optimist. For me, that’s an awesome thing to be on a show like that. And I think the other characters on the show kind of need that optimism. So yeah, I definitely think that the show needs it, too.

TrunkSpace: We know fans love to obsess about backstory, but one of the things that we love is that we can take a character like Jerry and try to read between the lines and dissect who he is and why he is. Like with Jerry’s affable nature, a part of that, for us, feels like perhaps it’s a bit of a coping mechanism for him in this new world. Maybe it’s how he gets through all of the darkness, by being the light.
Andrews: Yeah. I definitely feel that. I feel like Jerry’s whole goal is to move forward. And I had this… there’s this joke about me and the chest plate. I like Jerry not having a backstory. I like that idea, because Jerry is a very forward person. He thinks about the future. He thinks about what’s to come. But when I wear that chest pad, it’s so tight and so small that I always wonder, “Huh, I wonder if this was always my chest pad?” I’ve had that thought recently, or since Season 8 I’ve had that thought, I should say. I just always thought, maybe if there was a backstory, I wondered if there was a kid involved or something that he had, and he tried to set the example for his kid. But that’s just a thought. Maybe there’s nothing to do with it, and they just don’t make my size. (Laughter)

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TrunkSpace: Another item that became synonymous with your character was the ax. In the episode “Some Guy,” you lose that item, which got us to wondering, from a performance standpoint, did you approach Jerry differently after that? As if, by losing the ax, it altered the way he carried himself?
Andrews: I played it like this… when Jerry loses the ax, and he’s like, “Shit balls,” I definitely had more of a, “It’s just an ax” mentality about it. The reason I was upset is that, “Oh, I kind of needed this weapon right now to go through all of these things. This stick might not handle it.” I think a very big thing about the Kingdom is that they’re all spirit. Even right now, everyone has run from the Kingdom, but they’re still the Kingdom. They don’t need the Kingdom to be the Kingdom. I don’t need my ax to be complete. It’s just an extension of what we can do. So that’s how I played it.

TrunkSpace: In that same “Some Guy” episode, there was this really great, powerful moment for your character that we felt you played perfectly. At some point, and we’re paraphrasing here, but you call Ezekiel, “Your Majesty” and he says, “You don’t need to call me that.” And you respond with, very seriously, “Yes, I do.” That was such a great moment for Jerry and the season as a whole because we suddenly saw the character’s vulnerable side.
Andrews: Yeah. Jerry’s very much clinging on to everything that he had at that moment. Like if there was one more thing that happens, I’m gonna freaking lose it. “Yes, I do have to call you that, like more than ever right now.” Yeah, that was… I love that line.

TrunkSpace: It’s an exciting time for you because not only are you dealing with all out war in “The Walking Dead,” but you also have a film due out this week called “Den of Thieves” and it was recently announced that you’ll be starring in “Shazam!,” which is due out next year. People are always talking about “overnight successes,” but nobody’s an overnight success. Most people are always working towards a goal.
Andrews: First off it’s fun, but it’s one of those things where I’m like, “Huh, is this my life now? Is this what’s happening, or is this just a moment?” So I try not to get my head into that space too much because then I’m afraid I’ll try to give myself an expectation. But I do set goals for myself every year film-wise, working in the industry-wise. It’s always silly things. Last year my New Year’s resolution was to be in a movie. And then like four days later I was cast in “Den of Thieves,” and I was like, “Oh, sweet.”

TrunkSpace: (Laughter) It’s good to get those resolutions out of the way very early.
Andrews: (Laughter) Yeah. I was wanting to clear it.

TrunkSpace: And not only did “Den of Thieves” help you achieve that resolution, but it must have been a great experience because that cast is stacked.
Andrews: It was such a great experience. I love movies because we can really take our time to just focus on doing like two or three pages a day. When we’re shooting the show, we’re shooting maybe eight and nine pages a day and going through it quickly. We all put our best in, but we have to keep to a schedule, so it’s like we don’t get to take that extra time that a film gets to.

TrunkSpace: When we started our chat we talked about what a game changer “The Walking Dead” was, but fast forward about a year from now and “Shazam!” could change things for you again in a single opening day weekend.
Andrews: The biggest thing I’m excited about is, I’m a DC guy over Marvel. I was raised on Superman, reading his comics for like over a decade. I knew about Shazam, but I didn’t know the details about everything. I always read when he crossed over into Superman’s world or things like “Kingdom Come,” but the idea of Shazam I thought was always incredible. Just his honesty, just his pureness to be given the ability to shape the world, in a sense, is exciting. Getting to play this character is gonna be a lot of fun.

TrunkSpace: And I think a lot of the comic-loving population feels the same way you do. We knew of Shazam as a character, but we didn’t know every single detail about him, which may actually lead to the film being one of DC’s biggest cinematic successes… much like “Guardians of the Galaxy” was for Marvel.
Andrews: Oh for sure. I don’t know if you remember, but back when “Batman Begins” came out, everyone was like, “Michael Keaton is Batman! Michael Keaton is Batman! There was no other Batman!” I love Michael Keaton, don’t get me wrong. I loved it. But I was like, “I could see a new Batman.” And then Christian Bale happened. And then it was so funny because when Ben Affleck was announced, I then was reading, “Christian Bale is the only real Batman!” (Laughter) It’s just funny how that works.

With Shazam, there isn’t gonna be, “This is the only true Shazam!”

TrunkSpace: Maybe in 20 years from now people will be like, “This is not Victor Vasquez! Cooper Andrews is the only Victor Vasquez!” And it will come full circle!
Andrews: (Laughter) Yes!

I had an awesome full circle moment on that last episode of “The Walking Dead” that we did. So two or three years ago, Season 5, I was doing second unit boom operating. And so that means we do a section of a scene from this episode, then a section of a scene from another episode, throughout the season, because they’re just trying to cover everything. And there’s this scene where Andy Lincoln is behind the wheel of this car. I’m on the radio with my mixer, and I’m like, “All right, I’m just gonna get perspective from the camera side. I don’t think anything’s happening here.” And then Andy just starts yelling in the car. He’s like, “Ahhhhhhhhhhh!” I was like. “Whoa. Okay. I’m gonna move the microphone inside the car, and we’re gonna see what happens.” I put the mic in and then I hear, “And action.” And it goes quiet. And then nothing. And then I hear, “And cut.” And I was like, “I don’t know what just happened, but we got whatever that was.”

And it was him just yelling at himself to get into that moment, because it’s hard when you do these pickup shots. You have to get your head in there quick, and you can’t do like two pages of dialogue to build up an emotion, so he just yells it out. And with this last episode that aired, when you see me in the car at the beginning, I did that same exact thing like 50 yards away from when he originally did it – the same exact shot. It was the camera outside the car looking in, and it was just on my face and me having to go intense. And I was thinking, “Man, what do I… Oh, yeah!” And I just did it. And I was like, “This happened, full circle, 50 yards away.”

Den of Thieves” arrives in theaters this Friday.

The Walking Dead” returns February 25 on AMC.

Shazam!” is is due in theaters April 5, 2019.

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Wingman Wednesday

Reid Miller

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Photo By: Jacob Jonas

Growing up isn’t easy, especially once you hit adolescence. It’s a subject that has been explored in countless film and television projects throughout the years, many of which have inspired new generations of content creators to take their own stab at their awkward childhood. The most recent foray into this genre is Go90’s “Play By Play”, a coming of age comedy that follows an ESPN sportscaster as he gives a play-by-play of his early years. The thing that sets the show apart from other cinematic trips down memory lane is the performance by the talented young actor at the center of it all, Reid Miller.

We recently sat down with Miller to discuss his closeness to the character Pete, how he felt about being the lead in the series, and why he wants to play a superhero.

TrunkSpace: Did you feel any pressure going into “Play By Play” knowing that you were going to be the lead and carrying the project?
Miller: Definitely, it was more of a happy nervous because I was just incredibly excited to have the opportunity to be in such a great project, let alone headline it. But I do think there was a large level of nervousness because I did know that I would be carrying the show, but luckily I was working with some amazing people and they really helped me do that.

TrunkSpace: We know comedy can be really hard, just to find those perfect beats and the right timing. Did that side of the performance come easy to you?
Miller: Yeah, I think it definitely gave me some comfort because I love comedy, especially smart comedy. I definitely feel like all of my previous comedy gigs were preparing me for this.

TrunkSpace: What’s great about “Play By Play” is that the comedy is so grounded in reality and it feels like something that anybody can relate to, whether they’re going through it now or went through it in their adolescence.
Miller: Absolutely, and that’s what really drew me to the project to begin with. I read it, and I’m only 17, but even though it’s set in the 90s, I feel that Pete isn’t even like a character that I play and that I just play myself, you know? That also really helped guide my performance because I’ve been through everything he’s been through.

TrunkSpace: And you mentioned it’s set in the 90s, but the experiences Pete goes through are timeless.
Miller: Absolutely, I totally agree with that.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned that you felt like, in a lot of ways, you’re just sort of playing yourself, but does that mean that you knew who Pete was right away?
Miller: The moment I started reading the pilot, I kinda knew right off the bat who he was. Not only because he was written so well, but just because as I said, I relate to him. He’s the small guy. He kinda gets messed with because of his height and everyone looks down on him because of it. They don’t believe he can be a successful athlete, but he doesn’t really care. He has such a vision of who he wants to be and that allows him to really push forward and not let that affect him and I’m the same way. Being as small and as young looking as I am, I think it has hindered me in certain departments. I was bullied when I was younger, so just kind of that in and of itself, I totally bonded with him and I knew who he was.

TrunkSpace: With that said, did “Play By Play” allow you to go places with the character that you hadn’t before with other characters?
Miller: Absolutely, I totally feel that. In the pilot for instance, when he’s dealing with his struggles with the fact that the girl he likes is with someone else, I’ve been through that. But there was something about portraying that that almost opened up these other smaller doorways in me that I never knew were there that made me have to take a second and think about my own life. Pete really helped me grow.

TrunkSpace: That must be hard in front of an entire crew because you’re basically dissecting your own struggles at the same time as dealing with them as Pete?
Miller: Yeah, because it’s like, Pete’s only just a little younger than me and I feel like I’m going through all of these things as he is and yeah, you’re right, I think it was definitely tough at first having to kind of become vulnerable with the fact that I’m dealing with everything I had already dealt with all over again except now in front of a crew and with people that maybe I didn’t know quite as well. I believe that doing that actually helped me bond with my castmates even better and now we’re great friends because of it.

TrunkSpace: It seems like one of the most difficult things is for adult writers (or writers’ rooms filled with adults) to write kids in a realistic way. It seems like they are not always successful capturing the voice of kids, but with “Play By Play” they seem to have really done that.
Miller: I know, it really blew my mind when I read it because I totally agree with you. There are just sometimes, like some scripts that I’ve gotten, where they don’t really know how to write like kids. It’s almost as if they don’t understand how they act these days or how they acted… as if they forgot what it means to be a kid. But Kevin Jakubowski is such a great writer and he managed to really capture not only what it means to be a kid, but the struggles and how it feels to be a kid.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned that you were bullied growing up, has somebody else come to you and said, “Wow, what you’re portraying here… I get it and I relate to it.”
Miller: I have. Like when I went to the premiere for instance. The moment the pilot ended, I had tons of people… adults, younger adults, teens… coming to me and saying that this show, yes it’s incredibly relatable and I totally feel like this is what I went through, but it touched them in a way that no other show like that had in a very long time. For me that was a big moment because as an actor and just being in this industry in general, you only want to make content that people can relate to and connect with and the fact that I, and along with everyone else on the show, managed to do that definitely is incredibly rewarding.

TrunkSpace: Knowing that the project is near and dear to you and that the performance is something that you’re very proud of, in this day and age where there’s so many different platforms, is the biggest struggle just getting people to know where they can see “Play By Play?”
Miller: Absolutely. It’s a definite struggle I think because, as you said, there are so many new platforms and it can get confusing. YouTube now has YouTube Red where they’re doing their own scripted content. I just recently saw something about another upcoming digital platform.

Go90 has so much potential and I think that the shows are getting so much better. I hope that that “Play By Play” will help put it more on the map than it may be right now.

Photo By: Jacob Jonas

TrunkSpace: We saw something interesting that you wrote on your Twitter page, which was, “You can’t wait for things to happen, you go after what you want.” What is it that you want with your career and are you going after it?
Miller: Yeah, I think for me, I do have a very clear picture of who I want to be and what I want to be doing in this career and in this industry. For instance, one of my biggest dreams is to play a superhero.

TrunkSpace: Well, you’re living in a good time period for that. (Laughter)
Miller: I know. (Laughter) I think companies are more open to younger actors playing these roles. Like Shazam! They’re making a Shazam movie. I want to do it. I’ve been shopping myself around for Shazam for two years now. If you go on my Instagram you’ll see where people have made fan castings of Shazam with me and it’s so cool to see that. I definitely think that “Play By Play” will help me in that regard in the sense that my character is so wholesome and he is quite innocent but we see how he evolves as a character.

TrunkSpace: He is sort of Peter Parker before the super powers.
Miller: He really is Peter Parker before powers! He’s innocent. He just wants to get the girl and have that kind of fairytale-ish ending. I definitely think that this project and my other projects that I’m working on will help me, hopefully, towards playing the other roles that I want to play such as a superhero.

New episodes of “Play By Play” premiere Tuesdays at Go90.

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