As far as we’re concerned, you’re a gifted person when you can not only play multiple musical instruments, including the ukulele, but also write, perform, and act. For Steffan Argus, the proof is right there in the title of his latest project, “The Gifted,” where he’s playing Jack, the boyfriend of new mutant Lauren Strucker (portrayed by Natalie Alyn Lind). Sure, the gifts referenced in the show are abilities that make those who posses them the target of a frightened human population, but the name couldn’t be better suited for the Chicago native.
Along with “The Gifted,” which is set to debut tonight on FOX, Argus also released his debut EP, “Lost at Sea,” earlier this year. When not writing music and acting in high profile projects, including the popular Web series “The Commute” for AwesomenessTV, he is also modeling, and somehow doing it all with a laid back cool that defies his 18 years.
We recently sat down with Argus to discuss the gift that “The Gifted” has become, why his acting works in tandem with his music, and how releasing his creativity into the universe helps him find his balance.
TrunkSpace: We’d have to imagine that as an actor there’s probably not a more exciting brand to be aligned with right now than Marvel?
Argus: Of course. I love the concepts. That’s something that I’ve always been drawn to, and I love superheroes, especially X-Men in particular. Me and my little sister would always see the movies the day they came out in theaters. All of those X-Men movies were directed by Bryan Singer who ended up directing this show. It was out of this world. It was an incredible opportunity to be able to not only meet him, but be directed by him. It was so much fun.
TrunkSpace: And what a gift, no pun intended, to just sit back and absorb his process.
Argus: Absolutely. This is one of the first projects I’ve done that involved fantasy and action. That was a dynamic that I’ve never experienced before. It was something that never needed to be directed for any of the other projects that I’ve done, so it was really interesting to see how that was done and everything that goes into it. It’s such a big process and it’s something that you don’t really register when you see it on screen. There’s so much that goes into it that you don’t even know.
TrunkSpace: And that must really change your performance process because it’s more segmented, correct?
Argus: Yeah, but luckily, that whole crew and cast was so welcoming and super talented. It wasn’t hard to cut that up just because the emotion was always there.
TrunkSpace: Even if you’re someone who lives in the present, is it hard not to look at a project like “The Gifted” as a career game-changer?
Argus: I have never been on cable television before. I’ve done a lot of new media projects and so this is incredibly exciting because I remember when I was little just watching TV and watching movies. That’s what made me want to get into acting and play these characters. Now, actually being able to see posters for a show when I’m in driving down the street, it’s unfamiliar and exciting. And yeah, it is a game changer for me, and that’s not just necessarily in talking about a career sense, which of course it is, but also just as far as real life experience goes. I feel like I’ve learned a lot and I feel very lucky to be able to have been given this opportunity.
It has definitely helped me understand I’m on the right path of playing these characters in these awesome pretend universes.
TrunkSpace: Speaking of pretend universes, this is one that the fandom takes very seriously. Have you put any thought into that – the fact that you’re now a part of this universe that comes with a built-in group of fans?
Argus: I was one of those fans. (Laughter) I was and am a huge X-Men fan and I have been since I was little. Like I said, I would always go and see the movies with my little sister. When I told her that I was going to be a part of “The Gifted” she was freaking out. She watches all of the Marvel shows – all the Netflix ones like “The Defenders” and “Luke Cage” and all that awesome stuff. When I told her I was going to be a part of this she was just flipping out, so excited, and my character doesn’t have any super powers or anything! (Laughter) Just the fact that I’m able to exist in this Marvel universe is a huge gift and also responsibility. I’ve got to make sure I respect its power and its legacy.
TrunkSpace: Never ever say never ever get powers in a superhero world!
Argus: Yeah, exactly! It could happen at any moment! (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: So for those who are yet to be familiar with the story of “The Gifted,” can you tell us where your character falls into things?
Argus: His name is Jack and he is the boyfriend of Lauren Strucker, who is the daughter in this family. The children are mutants and their father works for Sentinel Services whose job is to put mutants in jail. When everything goes down and they find out that their children are mutants, they run away and that just causes relationship dynamics, an unfortunate relationship dynamic, between me and Lauren in the show.
TrunkSpace: We could sense your hesitation about sharing too much. It’s so hard to say anything about these types of shows without giving away spoilers. (Laughter)
Argus: Yeah. Just watch the episode and you’ll see. (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: You’re also a musician as well and have an EP, “Lost At Sea,” out now. Do you view your acting career and your songwriting as two entirely separate entities?
Argus: No. I don’t think that they’re entirely separate. They kind of work in favor of each other simultaneously. And anytime something good happens acting-wise, that usually helps music-wise. It allows me to be able to do more of what I want to accomplish and they all kind of work in tandem.
And as far as music goes, I’ve spent a lot of time perfecting and fine tuning exactly what I want to be releasing. I’ve been focusing on acting in the background, fine-tuning all this music. Just this past year I started putting that music out and focusing on that as a career path. Having them both going on at once is so much fun and they help each other out. When I’m a part of projects like this, it helps me promote the music, which is great. It’s great to have an audience for this passion of mine.
TrunkSpace: What’s great about music is that it can mean different things to different people. It transcends so much of the noise that surrounds us on a daily basis.
Argus: Absolutely. I was just saying this yesterday – music is it’s own language and that’s the language I feel like I’m most fluent in. That’s how I best connect with people on a deeper level.
TrunkSpace: So in terms of your writing process, do you work from experience or do you write from a storyteller’s perspective?
Argus: Well, it’s kind of a pretty healthy marriage between the two. I find inspiration in almost everything. Like for example, I’ve written songs based on a T-shirt that I bought at a thrift shop or just a random wooden sign that I found. Those songs are usually pretty abstract storytelling kinds of things. They’re rooted in real life experiences, like emotions and situations that have happened to me, but I like to attach these ideas to the abstract concepts and tell the story through these fantasy stories instead of directly from a real-life experience. That’s what I like to write for the most part, but then there’s also the exception. Sometimes I like to write specifically about situations that are happening to me or people that are affecting me in a certain way. And for the most part I do usually still attach them to wild metaphors. It’s all rooted in reality, but told through the lens of fantasy.
TrunkSpace: In addition to the music and the acting, you’re also modeling. How do you strike a balance between everything that you’re doing, especially at such an early stage in your career?
Argus: It may sound a little lofty, but I really focus on my spirituality and finding my inner peace and when I focus on that, and just focus on spreading love and releasing my creativity into the universe, everything else just sort of falls into place. And so I don’t find myself worrying about it or figuring out how to balance it. It just sort of does and it all seems to work out in the best way possible.
Listen to Argus’ EP “Lost At Sea” here.
Featured image by: Logan Cole
Yes, it’s officially fall, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still visit the shores… “Chesapeake Shores” that is! The Hallmark Channel original series returned in August with season 2, and with it, even more critical acclaim.
We recently sat down with O’Brien family member Andrew Francis to discuss the draw of the series, running lines with costar Treat Williams, and why he tosses up brohoofs all over the world.
TrunkSpace: “Chesapeake Shores” is based on Sherryl Woods’ book series. In your interaction with viewers, has the show been attracting fans of both the source material and those who knew nothing about the novels beforehand?
Francis: Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to read the books just quite yet! I know, I know. But between scripts and Diane Ladd (who plays Nell O’Brien, of course) who hands me a new book to read every couple of weeks or so, I’ve been pretty swamped! By the way, thank you Diane!
But I have noticed on Twitter that there are many fans of the book series as well as many newcomers to “Chesapeake Shores.” It’s interesting hearing opinions from both sides. These opinions can really shed some interesting insight on the episodes. And all of the feedback has been quite positive, so that’s always an added bonus! Sometimes Sherryl would be on set with us too and it was always a pleasure having her there!
TrunkSpace: As far as your character Connor is concerned, did you spend time with Sherryl’s books or did you want there to be separation between the television world and the literary world that already existed?
Francis: Sherryl and I were able to speak briefly about the character at the read-through before we started season 1, but most of the conversations were between our showrunner, writers, producers, and the director for those episodes. Not to mention, as the cast started to gel, we really started to bounce ideas off each other. There is such talent in our cast, I used the opportunity to learn as much as I could. I think these conversations were very impactful for finding a strong motivation for Connor, Trace, and the whole O’Brien clan.
TrunkSpace: Where is Connor’s personal journey taking him in season 2 and what part will he play in the overall storyline?
Francis: Connor has come a long way in season 2, much like he did in season 1. At the end of season 1 he was waiting to see if he passed the bar, he had a very large hand in helping Abby with her custody battle with Wes, and was feeling pretty good about the path he had chosen. Season 2 brought on a lot of questions for Connor. He questioned whether he had picked the right choice of job, his living situation, and most of all, I think his overall maturity level in general. Along those lines, I actually decided to have Connor not drink in season 2. Whenever his family is drinking wine, you will notice that Connor is always having water. Just a minor choice I decided to make, to hopefully add another subtle layer of growth to his character. Not to mention, I myself don’t drink and love sparkly water! So it was a win/win across the board really.
TrunkSpace: You have been in the industry since you were a kid. You have worked on more series, both in front of the camera and as a voice actor, than we have fingers and toes to count with. How has your “Chesapeake Shores” experience differed from all of those other projects you have spent time with?
Francis: I have been honored to work with some great actors and voice actors over the years. But the cast on “Chesapeake Shores” is definitely the most talented ensemble I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Every actor takes their character to heart, and really tries to find the ‘real’ inside of themselves, bringing that reality to life inside the role they are playing. Through our own journeys and the act of bouncing ideas around with all involved, I think we have really found our own ways of layering these very complex characters that Sherryl has created. I definitely love being behind a microphone, it’s a happy place for me, but now “Chesapeake Shores” gives me the same feeling. Being around such a talented cast and crew really helps with the growth of our characters. And this happens to be a great fit with Hallmark, a network that promotes strong bonds between people on a daily basis. It’s a very strong collaboration. One that I’m very proud to be a part of.
TrunkSpace: The series focuses on a family and the dynamic of that family, which is something that is relatable to most people. Was there anything about the O’Brien’s that you were able to tap into and relate with given your own upbringing/family?
Francis: I think that everyone can find a piece of “Chesapeake Shores” that relates to them. And I’m no different. We have all encountered some form of struggles growing up, whether it be a strained relationship with a family member, or multiple family members, all the way to trying to find love or the right career path to follow. Our show brings a unique multi-generational storyline that speaks to people of all ages. I really think that’s what separates our show from many others. You start to feel like you are a part of this family, and you care about the choices each of the characters make and how they are going to affect not only themselves, but the whole family dynamic.
TrunkSpace: In it you play a law student, which got us to thinking. Had entertainment not been your path in life, where do you think you would have ended up career-wise? Did you have other interests?
Francis: Funny you ask that, growing up I always wanted to be an entrepreneur – something that I could focus on when the industry got slow, or for whatever the reason. And during that time, I didn’t really know how, or what, but I always knew the right opportunity would eventually (hopefully) present itself. I started with a few different businesses. I rented out water crafts, invested in a restaurant, then moved into producing. All were well and good, but just recently, I really feel I have found my calling. My girlfriend and I have been hard at work building our new business, ZENDEN. It’s a meditation, sound healing and yoga studio situated in a two level space with an unobstructed view of the North Shore Mountains and water. We focus primarily on meditation, sound healing, and a lot of workshops, but also offer many other ways of finding relaxation in this very busy world.
TrunkSpace: You’re working alongside some incredible actors within the series, many of whom have had long, storied careers. What have you taken from them, either from personal advice or through osmosis, that you’ll carry with you throughout your career?
Francis: Oh, the amount of knowledge I have acquired working on “Chesapeake Shores” from the other actors has changed my acting for the better. Not only for the better, but it’s changed my whole outlook on how to perform. Working with actors who are at such a high caliber, you have no other choice but to step up and play in their arena. Not only have I had amazing personal talks with each and every member of the cast, but I have learned so much in between takes. It’s such gift being told stories about film sets 40 years ago, stories about actors, much like the ones in our show, who we still know and love today. I would be selling the higher ups (as I like to call them) short if I didn’t mention them as well. Working alongside such an experienced behind-the-scenes producing crew, writing team, and network – us, as actors, are given a great amount of help finding the ways our characters would react in any given circumstance.
TrunkSpace: Is there a difference between finding the voice of a character you’re voicing in an animated piece and discovering the point of view of a character you’re playing in a live action piece? Is that journey different?
Francis: It is actually. Finding a character in a cartoon is a lot more surface level when you are first given the picture and description. On camera, you ‘are’ the description – your whole being is the character. It’s just deciding what pieces of yourself you decide to show the audience, in hopes of furthering the growth of not only the character, but the whole storyline in general.
It’s a very interesting question. I think both have their very unique traits, hurdles, and discoveries, but ask for a different approach to achieve the very best results.
TrunkSpace: In theater, acting is big. In film and TV, you’re supposed to take a more subtle approach. What is the approach when it comes to voice acting?
Francis: I feel the approach to voice acting is a combination of acting for film and television, and as well as acting for theater. There is a lot more projection involved in voice acting than there is on television, but projection is a large part of theater. On the flip side, in voice acting you are very over-the-top in many of the situations, where as in theater, sometimes the quiet moments can be the most impactful.
Treat (Williams) would ask me from time to time to run lines with him in preparation for one of his upcoming plays, and it was always a treat (pun intended) to be in the presence of such a talented actor, watching him rehearse 10, 20, 30, pages at a time, myself just sitting wide-eyed at the experience. I will definitely treasure those moments for not only my career, but my entire life.
TrunkSpace: You’ve worked on some really big, universal brands over the years. Is there an added layer of performance dissection (on your own part) when you’re voicing a character who has been around for decades?
Francis: When you’re voicing a character who’s been around for decades you want to respect where the character has been, but I think the emphasis should be on where the character goes from the time he is put in your trusted hands. This goes for not only voice acting, but also playing Connor on “Chesapeake Shores.” Sherryl gave me the rundown about Connor, but through talks with the writing team, other actors, and everyone involved, these are the times where the Connor you see on television is really brought to life. For voice acting, I would research some of the people who have played the big-name characters that I was given the opportunity to play, but definitely put my focus on adding my unique touch to the opportunity I had been given. This would, in turn, grow the character’s overall dynamic, while also expanding his range.
TrunkSpace: You’ve voiced Iceman and Hawkeye. That has to give you permanent cred in the fanboy community, right?
Francis: (Laughter) Well, I hope so – that would be nice! Over the years, I’ve had the honor of working on some very big franchises, all the way from awesome Marvel projects such as “X-Men,” to equally awesome Hasbro projects such as “My Little Pony.” You would be very surprised at the fan base that “My Little Pony” has. I travel the world from time to time, meeting the fans and attending conventions, as the show has picked up quite the following. For all you Brony’s out there – brohoof!
TrunkSpace: With the new season of “Chesapeake Shores” nearing its end, what do you hope fans will walk away with when the season finishes up?
Francis: I hope the fans walk away from “Chesapeake Shores” with a renewed insight into the reality of what families, ‘real’ families, are like. Also, a better insight into the relationships between the people in such families, and the outside world. Especially considering the strenuous times we currently live in, I think it’s important for people to tune in to a show that not only fills their heart with beautiful moments, but also shows the struggles that are affecting families all across the globe. “Chesapeake Shores” demonstrates the hardships, but also the ways that not only a family, but a whole community, can come together and make positive change using compromise and respect.
“Chesapeake Shores” airs Sundays on Hallmark Channel.
Welcome to the second installment of our LYCAN WEEK ongoing feature!
Opening Friday in select theaters, “Lycan” tells the story of six college kids who revisit an old Georgia legend, the strange and puzzling story of Emily Burt, the Talbot County werewolf. Based upon true historical events, the film stars and is produced by Dania Ramirez (“X-Men: The Last Stand,” “Quarantine”) who teamed up with best friend Crystal Hunt to turn a lifelong dream into a cinematic reality.
We recently sat down with Ramirez to discuss how the film was a family affair, the cultural importance of local ghost stories, and why the 1980s did such a great job capturing an authentic and suspenseful tone in the horror projects of the time period.
TrunkSpace: Our chat is very timely because it was just announced that you’ll be playing Cinderella in “Once Upon a Time.” Is there anything with this version of the character that will be different than what we have seen of her in the past?
Ramirez: I think every time you see a different actor take on a role, you’re going to see a different take on it. As actors, we bring our own flair to things. The world that we’re setting up for this particular Cinderella will be a different kind of world. The great thing is that it’s still a love story and so essentially the aspect of the Cinderella story will still be there, but there will be different circumstances in which everything sort of happens to her. It’s kind of how the love story goes. That’s the one thing I really do love about the creators of the show, Adam Horowitz and Eddie Kitsis, is that if you watch the show at all, you know that they are very committed to making female characters very bad ass and not damsel in distress types of characters. I think that in itself makes the Cinderella character different.
I also come from a different background with a different set of situations that I’m going to go through in the real world that are going to take my journey in a different direction. I’m also a mother, and I’m really dealing with different kinds of struggles in my life. But essentially, it’s a Cinderella story so we all want a happy ending.
TrunkSpace: Between “Once Upon a Time” and “Lycan” also due to be released, it seems to be a bit more of a happy beginning for you in terms of a new chapter in your life and career?
Ramirez: It’s been such an incredible journey in my life. For me, the journey with “Lycan” does feel kind of like a Cinderella story because I started my journey in the Dominican Republic in a very, very humble background just dreaming of something better. Coming to the States as an immigrant, figuring out the language, and then finally getting into the world of entertainment has been a journey within itself. I remember just at a very young age being in my acting class. That’s where Crystal Hunt and I met, who is one of the “Lycan” executive producers. We made a pact back then. We said, “Hey, one day we’re going to make it. We’re going to produce our own films.”
And we’re making it a family affair. My husband, Bev Land, wrote and directed it. His brother, Donnie Land, is one of the producers. Crystal’s mom really came in and helped us out a lot. It does feel like a fairy tale to be done with the film and then right before the film premieres, be able to get this role in “Once Upon a Time.” The journey feels like we’re writing our own happy ending. That’s kind of cool.
TrunkSpace: And from a work standpoint, it must have a special feeling attached to it when you’re so emotionally invested in a project?
Ramirez: I think every time I work on something it feels really special, but this particular project was our baby. I was pregnant when my husband was writing it. It’s interesting because I had just given birth about four months prior to starting pre-production for the film and then we started shooting about a month later. The hard work that it takes to really get something off the ground, and that persistence and work ethic to make an independent film work, it’s just really about not giving up. Every time something comes up, it’s being able to just tackle it and say, “Hey, we’re going to get this done! That’s talking from the pre-production aspect of it to actually shooting it, which by the way, we shot it in 13 days.
Ramirez: I know. It’s insane.
TrunkSpace: Having just given birth a few months prior to production, how did you find the time and energy to both star in and produce the film?
Ramirez: My motto is that I’ll rest when I’m dead. For right now, if I have an opportunity to make something happen, I will. I’m just a hard worker and I’ve always had that work ethic in my life. Again, I come from a different kind of background. The way I see it is, I have nowhere to go but up. I just dedicate my life to doing something that I love. Being able to touch the masses with a story and have people relate to it, it’s a gift. I see it that way. Whenever I wanted to just take a nap in the middle of the day, I just thought, “No, we have something that we have to do!” We just kept trucking.
TrunkSpace: And you shot in Georgia, right?
Ramirez: My husband’s mom was amazing and let us use her entire land. She has acres of land in Columbus, GA near Talbot County, which is where the Emily Burt legend started. That’s how we ended up finding out about the legend of Emily Burt.
TrunkSpace: Did shooting an indie film in such a secluded location force you to think outside of the box from a production standpoint?
Ramirez: I remember at one point we didn’t have enough money to rent lights. Somebody said, “One of our guys knows how to build lights. If we just buy the parts and ship them in from China, we can build our own lights.” That’s what we did.
All these little challenges kept coming up. We just trucked on and made it happen. It’s really beautiful to be able to do that. That’s also what I want in my life, to inspire and show people that, “Hey, you can do it! Just say that you’re going to do it and don’t stop!”
TrunkSpace: You mentioned how your husband grew up around the area where the legend of Emily Burt first took shape. Did you have any local legends or ghost stories in the area where you grew up in the Dominican Republic?
Ramirez: In the Dominican Republic, especially where I grew up, we didn’t have much electricity, so we didn’t have TV. I didn’t even grow up watching television. I think I started watching television around the age of 5. So yeah, there are always legends when you’re growing up in a remote area like that, because that’s what people talk about. “So and so died and she was there and the spirit went inside her.” I grew up listening to ghost stories like that my whole life.
I’ve always been fascinated by the horror genre. The one great thing about “Lycan” that I really responded to was the fact that it was based on something that people knew about. You can research it online. The way I see it, “Lycan” is more of a Hitchcockian suspense thriller. It’s something that you can look up and inquire about. It feels a little more scary if you know that it is something that actually happened to real people.
TrunkSpace: They always say that something needs to be grounded in reality to connect with an audience and what better way to ground it in reality than with actual reality!
Ramirez: That’s what I mean. My husband, as a writer and as a director, is interested in those kinds of stories more than anything. He has an incredible mind. He was able to take this legend and then write a story around it. We kind of made it a little more interesting because we really wanted to put a face to the disease of lycanthropy. That’s what makes it a little more interesting than just the legend, the fact that lycanthropy is a disease that to this day is misdiagnosed as schizophrenia and is something that still occurs.
TrunkSpace: And that’s when people believe they are wolves?
Ramirez: Yeah, it’s when people believe they’re turning into wolves and believe that the hair is growing out of their faces and that they’re transforming. We wanted to really bring light to that disease as well as talk about this legend.
TrunkSpace: And in addition to all of that, it’s also a period film.
Ramirez: Yeah, our film takes place in the 1980s, which I love because I grew up watching those kinds of movies. The temperament of the film also has that old school feel to it as a suspense story, so that’s really cool. I do think that the 80s had a sensibility to the take on a horror film that I really enjoyed. It felt pure and youthful, but really interesting. I grew up and I was a teenager in the 80s, so for me it was really good to kind of go back and reminisce on all of that and watch all of the movies and see their take on all that stuff.
TrunkSpace: Even the poster has that great throwback feel to it.
Ramirez: Yeah, the 80s sensibility is great because, I believe, films have taken such a science fiction turn. As far as feeling that eerie suspense, I’ve always liked the tone of the way the 80s films were made, especially the idea of a bunch of young kids in the middle of the woods. There’s something really authentic about that. We wanted to really tap into that and bring that back. Even the look of it and the feel of it has that vibe and makes it a little different than other films that are coming out today.
That’s why I really loved tapping into the disease as well, because it’s more of a human psychosis film than it is a jumpy horror film. That’s what makes it not only authentic, but I feel, way more scary than just watching a movie where you’re fascinated by the effects.
TrunkSpace: As you look back over your first producing experience, is there anything that you would have done differently, either to make your own life easier as the producer or for the production as a whole to run more smoothly?
Ramirez: It was really challenging to do it independently and to do it for no money. As a producer and as a creative entity, if you ever finish a project and feel like you’re completely satisfied and that there’s nothing that you wouldn’t change, then you have stopped your mind creatively. There are always things that you’re going to end up, after the project, saying, “Oh man, I wish I did…” Not everything is going to be 100 percent exactly what you thought it was going to be.
The great part about this project is that there are things that I didn’t expect that came out even better than I thought and that’s a testament to the people that were a part of it. Not just in front of the camera either, but the people who really fought and worked in the trenches with us making sure that even after we shot the film that the look of it was great and that the color was perfect.
“Lycan” arrives in theaters this Friday!