PC: I often like to begin with the reasoning behind a person’s name, or middle name, yours is William, I believe: are you named after someone or was it just a name your parents liked?
AZ: Yes actually it is both my father’s middle name as well as my grandfather’s first name. I think it was one of those family tradition things where the first-born son has to have the middle name from the first name of his father and then the second son, which is me, gets my grandfather’s first name which is also my father’s middle name. So I’m Adam William, my brother is Justin Mark and I have a sister but she was named in an untraditional way.
PC: You were born in Milwaukee: is that where you grew up?
AZ: In Wisconsin, especially back then where I was growing up, it was really different. You had your big cities like Milwaukee and Madison but if you look at Milwaukee now it looks like an industrial blue collared city (it would look like Chicago and Detroit) but the difference out there is: the second you get out of the city limits, it’s just nothing! It becomes straight farmland. You have that weird dichotomy of having the urban city living and urban city life, if you want it, or you can drive literally 6 minutes and get out of it and now you are dealing with farmland; and you are dealing with farmland where the closest neighbours are two or three miles away. You have to cross a whole load of farmland and then it gets even worse once you start getting in between the cities, there’s miles and miles of nothing. There are no mountains – not a single recorded mountain – so it’s just nothing but flat land, just flat boring as far as the eye can see.
I mean it was cool growing up and it’s not so much like that now. If you go back to Oak Creek, the hometown I grew up in, and even most of the suburban areas of Milwaukee it’s all really built up now, but it doesn’t look anything like it did when I was growing up.
PC: How would you spend an ordinary non-school day say when you were aged about seven?
AZ: My father was blind so I didn’t get into a lot of the sports or the athletic stuff. I mean out there everyone was into baseball or football and you look at me now and I’m definitely not the kind of person that has the physical stature: I don’t have a lot of mass on me to be playing football. I didn’t really ever get into the sports just because it’s something that’s usually passed down, especially when you have nobody around to play with. But my brother and I we both got real hard into skating, building the ramps and the rails, doing jumps and stuff like that. We would do hockey – that was at least a bit bigger for us because where we were at in Wisconsin, in the bad years, you are looking at 8 months of solid snowfall, it was cold and icy a lot – hockey was something we got a little bit better at. For some reason I feel like we played more street hockey than ice hockey and now that I’m thinking about it we had 8 months of solid snow and ice – what the hell were we doing?
I was real big into snowboarding for a while, now again we didn’t have any mountains or hills out there so everything we were snowboarding on was like garbage dumps that were covered up with stuff. But there was a real nice mountain in Minnesota, on the Canadian border, that you could actually get to in about a 9-hour drive that ended up becoming the mountain I would go to. Since I ended up moving out here to Cali I haven’t gone snowboarding even though Big Bear is only two hours away.
How about you what was your childhood like?
PC: I grew up in quite a rough area where there were some very undesirable people but also many good people. Played outside all day on homemade skateboards, go-karts, catching bees etc
AZ: We stayed out of central Milwaukee because it wasn’t very safe for us, also being in Wisconsin that’s a huge hunting state too.
PC: Do you go hunting?
AZ: Getting a firearm in California is not an easy thing to do, so it isn’t something I’ve even pursued out here. Surprisingly I feel way safer out here in Los Angeles than I ever did in Milwaukee. That doesn’t really make a lot of sense, I can’t really explain it but it’s one of those things where, if you spend a lot of time in the bad parts of Milwaukee, and then you spend a lot of time in the bad parts of LA, it is the same thing but LA is so much bigger, so there’s the safer areas and they far exceed the size of some the safer areas in Milwaukee – so there’s just more surface area and not as much percentage wise of the city is bad. But yes, growing up, if we wanted to eat meat for the summer we had to hit the hunting season the winter before. If you went out and you got deer in deer season you were pretty lucky and you were eating venison for the next couple of months and if you weren’t, it was spam and peanut butter jelly sandwiches. You did what you had to do to keep going. My dad started training all of us pretty early with firearms and stuff. Probably about 9 or 10 years old was when we started going to the gun range and we’d go out every weekend. Out there you can get your hunter’s safety card once you reach 12 and then we would have hunted every year until I was out of the house. My uncle owned 50-acres of land up in north West Wisconsin, he had a little cabin that would sleep 6 people – it was cool.
I haven’t gone hunting since I actually moved out of there so you are looking at quite a few years now. But I still have fond memories of it and I feel like, at a pinch in an apocalyptic situation, I could probably pick up a firearm and be familiar with it again, I think.
PC: Gun laws here in Scotland are very strict, you must have a good reason to own even an air gun.
AZ: I have family members that are still pretty heavily into it. Actually that same uncle that owns all that land, when I was 16, he made me my own muzzle-loading firearm out of a tree that he chopped down on his land, filed out the iron for the barrel and bored it and everything – he made the entire rifle for me.
PC: That’s pretty special.
AZ: It was really cool. He chopped this tree down and sanded it and bored it out, and the damn thing was one of the most accurate firearms I ever had. It was a .32 calibre (so more or less like a squirrel rifle). Damn that thing was accurate.
PC: Do you still have it?
AZ: Yes anything I have like that is still sitting at my parents’ ever since I moved out.
PC: I read your father told you there was always going to be a need for tradesmen. I don’t know about America but plumbers, electricians etc. are in short supply here now so they are the guys on the big money.
AZ: He pushed me into being an electrician because we grew up in that area, in that blue-collar world. My brother ended up going to college and making a bunch of money from stuff that he never even learnt. At the time my parents were like, if you want to make sure you have a job with work forever, just get a job in the trades. So I became an electrician and did that for 10 years. It was kind of towards the end of that, that I started to go through some pretty bad health problems: I had some scares, things weren’t looking like they were going very well. But I got a good diagnosis and I had some surgery and removed the problems; I was given the okay – at least, ‘For now you’re good. We will come back and check things out for a couple of years’. It was after that when I kind of decided to move out here to Los Angeles (and I’d only been acting for a year to a year-and-a-half before I moved out here and it was mostly underground theatre stuff). Even then I basically started that because I was starting to get sick and I wanted to experience as many new things as I could, in case things didn’t go in a positive direction. After I had the surgery and got the okay it was like, ‘I want to keep doing this now that I’m alive and now that I know I’m going to be around at least for a little while longer. Let’s go out and give this a real, honest shot.’
So then I packed everything up and moved out here. But the electrician thing I did for almost 10 years (seems like a lifetime ago). I’ve been locked into acting for 6 years now.
PC: Were your parents and co-workers supportive of your decision or were they like: ‘Oh my God! You are off your head to be giving up good money and security!’ Or did they just know that was your calling, or your dream?
AZ: It wasn’t the easiest conversation to have just because, like any parent would, they want the best for their children – they want to know they are going to be safe and secure and taken care of for the rest of their lives – so obviously picking everything up to move out here to pursue acting isn’t exactly the most statistically sound decision, as far as job security goes.
The initial move I think was real difficult for them to understand, because they hadn’t had that kind of drive where they wanted something so bad they were willing to give up everything. So the first year, and that first conversation, was real rough but after I’d succeeded in booking a couple of things here and there, and they started seeing my face pop up on TV, that helped a little bit. And now I think at this point, if I never booked anything ever again, I think they are both happy with the decision just because they see me being happier in the last 6 years than I ever was at any point in my life, looking back at doing what I was doing.
PC: And did you ever worry that you’d made the wrong decision or were you totally all in?
AZ: It’s so weird. It’s like once I decided I wanted to do it, I knew I wanted to do it, it was just a matter of planning and making it happen. Initially when I was working as an electrician I dumped every penny I had into my retirement plan. Not because I didn’t like that job – it’s not that I hated it, I just knew that it wasn’t for me, but I also at the time didn’t really know what other options I would have or anything – I thought that, even if I didn’t enjoy the job, at least I could retire early and wouldn’t have to do it forever. That was 2008 and the market crashed and I had mostly invested in pretty volatile stocks because I was trying to make as much money, as I could as fast as I can – so the market crashed and I lost everything! I basically lost eight years’ worth of wages that I’d saved… just disappeared into the ether.
It was that, in combination with the health issues, that I was just like, ‘Okay, I got to get out.’ I still wanted to do things smartly: I didn’t want to set myself up to fail so bad, in such that even if you are successful in the industry you might still fail, there’s a good chance of that. So I spent the next two years after that trying to re-do things and saving up any money that I could [again]. I gave myself a two-year window to just get as prepared as I possibly could and then move out here.
PC: What do you consider as your first proper acting job?
AZ: I did community theatre stuff in Milwaukee. The very first actual acting thing I had was in a play called On The Razzle: it was based on the same play Hello Dolly was originally based on; it was a British Farce and I had like 5 or 6 little roles in it that were one line here, one line there, so I’d say a line and change costume. The director was actually really good for taking a person like me, I mean: when I showed up for the audition I didn’t know what one was; didn’t know what a monologue is; didn’t know what a headshot is; I knew nothing about anything and the director was really good about walking me through all of it.
My first on TV speaking role would have been in either Criminal Minds or The Comeback, I think they both happened around the same time. On The Comeback I was working on more or less [as] a feature background – I think probably the last background thing I’ve ever done. Background is one of those things they encourage you to do it for like the first year – just so you get an idea of how things work on a set, and you learn the terminology and know what you are supposed to do and what you are not supposed to do – but once you get an agent or manager and you work on getting speaking roles, the first thing they tell you is to stop doing is background work. Directors and casting are never going to see you as anything other than ‘background’ if that is all you are doing.
Even though working on The Comeback as background was much nicer than most. It was a show on HBO that starred Lisa Kudrow, where she was playing a washed up actress who was trying to reignite her career, so she was kind of playing like a very extended version of herself, trying to revisit the Friends‘ era. In the show the character hires a TV crew that kind of run around and follow her like it’s a reality show as she tries to restart her career.
I was cast as Cricket, the guy who operated the sound light? that would follow her around, so for 6 episodes you kind of see me in and out, back and forth, or you will see my face and that was it. I’d been on set for six or seven weeks and I got to know Lisa really, really well and I got to talk to Michael Patrick King (the Creative Director). I think on the second last day of shooting, as we were doing the last episode and the last scene, the director comes up and he’s like, ‘You have been killing it for the last six weeks. I’m going to pass you a little line,’ and they gave me a line and that stepped my pay up drastically for that episode. That was my first speaking thing that I’d had filmed and then, within two or three days, I had booked Criminal Minds, then I think they both aired within the same week – so one of those two was the first one.
PC: I don’t know if it was just really nice of him to have given you that line or if it is the norm, but it was really exciting for you.
AZ: Yes it worked out really well and after that I never did any background stuff again and I started doing a lot more speaking roles after that point. Those two together at the same time really shot everything forward.
PC: Then you were on Baskets and then Bones…
AZ: Bones was good, it was really cool for me because growing up I had been a big fan of Buffy so getting to work with David Boreanaz on Bones, after I had watched him forever, was pretty cool.
PC: I was watching some clips of Roadies, that looks like something I need to watch: how did you get that role? What was Cameron Crowe like? Did you get to hang out with him?
AZ: That was such a weird one because I had obviously known Lynyrd Skynyrd’s music (being in the US you hear it all the time) but I had never taken the time to really look at the guys and stuff. I mean, everyone knows the story about Ronnie (Van Zant) and everything but I got the casting call for Roadies, ‘They are redoing the aeroplane crash and they want you to go in for Allen Collins, one of the guitars.’ I was like, ‘Okay, let’s look this guy up so I can see what he looked like and see how he held himself and carried himself,’ so I could try to match some of his mannerisms. I was looking for videos and it was like the first picture that I found of this guy I was blown away at how freaking similar we looked! I mean I was the fucking, freaking image (excuse me), spitting image of me! It was just insane! My hair wasn’t quite as long as his, though I’d already grown it out pretty good but it almost freaked me out that I looked so much like him. I’m like, ‘Okay, well there’s going to be a million other dudes that look just like him too,’ so I found as many interviews as I could, and as much lost footage as I could, and started putting the character together – and I think I had some pretty stiff competition. After I’d booked it we actually got the chance to work directly with Cameron Crowe, he was very involved in that episode. He told me there were a couple of other guys he was really considering that had done a really good job too, but he said I had that perfect combination of Allen’s demeanour, in combination with looking so much like him.
PC: He would have been especially hard to impress having worked for Rolling Stone Magazine: it wasn’t like he was just a director shooting a movie or whatever, he was really involved in music – he himself had interviewed the likes of Led Zeppelin.
AZ: It was a really cool experience especially with Cameron. That whole episode of Roadies was just like Almost Famous: it was more or less a real event that had happened to Cameron; the fight that happened in the bar in Japan he was out there; all the stuff that happened in the hotel rooms – he remembered and had experienced it first hand.
Oh my God! I still remember the first day that we started shooting. The first scene that we shot was where you see all of us coming into the hotel, it was that hero shot where we are just coming off the van all slow and we are walking through the main doors of the hotel – and we got the first light shot down and we were expecting to go back and reset for the second take and everything, and Cameron was nowhere to be found. They stopped it and said, ‘We got to go find Cameron. He’s off in the back.’ And we find him and he’s just got this beautiful, starry look in his eyes, with just like one single tear coming down. He said, ‘You guys don’t even understand. This is like verbatim, of the exact memory I have of those guys coming through those doors.’ He said that everything was just so perfect, he was living his memories out. The costume department went as far as to recreate all of the original clothing the band was wearing that day: we were wearing the same pants, the same hats, the same shoes. We were standing in the same order. It was just like pulling memories out of Cameron’s head and throwing them onto the screen then watching him watch it. It was a beautiful experience. These are guys, who Cameron was more or less friends with during that time. I mean he was real close with them. All of these stories were as much his stories as theirs and to be able to show him, and even give him a glimpse of some of these people that he knew that all died in this plane crash, that was worth everything. They could have not aired a single part of the whole episode and I still would have been so happy: to be able to do that for someone like him was just such an awesome thing; helping him relive his memories.
PC: It’s like when someone close to you dies and you say, ‘I wish I could see them just one more time.’
What did you learn from his style of directing?
AZ: I think what is cool too is that, besides Cameron, they also had Sam Jones (a big photographer for Rolling Stone) he was like the other director so the whole episode (even though it was a TV film thing) it was all created and all shot by music guys. Unfortunately the show didn’t get picked up for a second season but everything was building up to that episode then everything that happened afterwards was the consequences of it.
So being a part of that was really awesome and just working with those two music guys… They saw things in a different way. It’s one thing to have shot that with somebody who sees it as a TV show, but with these guys it created a different feel for the episode that seemed more visceral and more real, just because it was so much more about the music than the shots. It turned out really wonderful I think.
PC: It would be great to hang out with them, they would have some amazing stories to tell I bet.
AZ: Yeah, I only wish I’d had enough time to actually learn “Freebird” on the guitar.
PC: That song when it come on… when the guitar comes in you are hooked even though you know it’s going to last like 11 minutes or so.
AZ: It would have been a long song to learn and I’m definitely not that musically inclined. I briefly played bass in my teenage years.
PC: You look like a musician though. That was one of the questions I was going to ask you later on, if you played an instrument.
AZ: I get people asking me that a lot. They say, ‘Are you a musician?’ And I say, ‘No I’m an actor!’
My brother played guitar, he was real good at it, so I bought a bass to try to get into jamming with him and stuff, but eventually I just let it collect dust. Then I sold it to buy a cat.
PC: As you do! What about your tattoo? I was going to ask you about that. I’ve not got any tattoos but I know a lot of people who have gotten one and then they can’t seem to stop and they want more and more.
AZ: Getting tattoos is actually strangely addictive. You have seen my full sleeve, so obviously I have that on; I do also have an Irish cross over my chest; I’ve got a Valkyrie from Norse mythology on my right calf; I’ve got a Misfits fiend skull on my left wrist – I’ve been a real real big Misfits fan for a long, long, long time.
PC: How does that work when you are in a role where the make up department have to cover your sleeve? Is that okay do they have to deal with that all the time?
AZ: Well the full sleeve was something that I designed in conjunction with a friend of mine from high school – after we graduated he had become a tattoo artist. He and I sat down, designed the whole thing, got it laid out and captured over the course of a few years and I did a little bit myself. When it was done, just randomly (and I wasn’t even acting at that time but it’s something I thank myself for everyday now) I wanted to make sure nobody else got the same tattoo. Obviously he was going to take pictures of it as evidence of his work but I didn’t want anyone else to get my tattoo so I had him sign over all the rights to the tattoo to me. He was like, ‘Yeah man whatever. I wouldn’t do it to anyone else.’ So he signed it all over to me and all of a sudden I get to LA and I start booking bigger talking roles and people are saying, ‘We need you to track down the tattoo artist so he can sign off on this.’ And I’m like, ‘Guys he doesn’t tattoo anymore. He’s a leatherworker now and has his own company doing custom leatherwork. This guy kind of lives in the woods, getting hold off him is not going to be an easy thing.’ Every production was like, ‘We can’t put you on camera with that tattoo showing until we get that guy to sign off on it.’ Then once I show them the original contract from way back in the day, they just get me to sign it of, then we are good to go. It has saved me so much of a headache in the future.
PC: But what about the actual covering up of it, if you are wearing short sleeves, is it difficult?
AZ: They covered it up for Roadies, obviously, they covered it up on Mindhunter. It’s actually way easier than you would think. I was told by a make up artist it’s better being a full sleeve than a partial one because, when they go to cover it up, they can cover the whole thing evenly. Honestly, with good make up technician, I’ve seen my entire arm covered up from start to finish in under 15 minutes. They spray it with like a salmon-coloured base which gives you a nice dark pink then they build up to your natural skin colour after that.
PC: I just wondered because on The Blacklist (a show I’m a big fan of) the lead, James Spader, has a large tattoo himself which very occasionally we have been able to see through his shirt.
AZ: When I was working on Mindhunter they probably only covered 3-4 inches past the elbow just because for most of that interview scene I had the sleeves rolled up to the elbow and that was it. There were a couple of spots where I leant too far forward and you could see a little bit of the tattoo and I was freaking out about it and Fincher was like, ‘We will delete it in post. Don’t worry about it.’ I think it’s gotten to the point now where the technology is good enough that like a 12-year-old with a mouse click can sort it out. Maybe I’m oversimplifying it and there’s a bunch of FX guys saying, ‘What the hell!’ Maybe I shouldn’t be speaking about something I have no idea about. (Laughs)
PC: It says on your resume that, amongst others, you do a British Cockney accent: are you a natural?
AZ: I cannot do a Cockney accent – I can do like a comedic one – but accents have never been a forte of mine. I could give you a number of different southern dialects. (Adam then demonstrates the many different dialects).
PC: You sound pretty good at accents to me! What about foreign languages?
AZ: I took German for a couple of years in high school. I’m at the point where I can understand it and I can read it, but if you ask me to speak it back to you I’m probably just going to be shouting a bunch of profanities that I don’t know what I’m saying or something. I’m going to say something wrong and it turns ‘jet plane’ into ‘penis’ then someone gets upset.
PC: How did you get your role on Mindhunter? It often seems to me Fincher has already made his mind up by the time they get you in for an audition: like there couldn’t have been a better fit as Cameron Britton playing Ed Kemper. Do you feel that is the case with you?
AZ: Can I just take a second to congratulate Cameron on his Emmy nomination.
PC: So well, deserved!
AZ: For Mindhunter the casting office was Laray Mayfield. Luckily for me I had been in the office a number of times for Laray already and she had cast me on a few things that ended up not even making it to production, I’d been hired by her a couple of times but everything we shot never made it to air. It’s one of my favourite casting offices because they don’t care what you have done, they don’t care who you are, all they’re interested in is that raw talent and they recognise it in everybody. They see what you are doing right, they see what you are doing wrong and they have been in the industry long enough that they can see it, but they also know potential when they see it. They are willing to see actors that haven’t necessarily… I mean it’s a David Fincher show should they be bringing in actors that don’t necessarily have these huge, huge resumes? Probably not. They could have gone with all A-listers if they had wanted to. They could have and it would have been great and it would have been fine but, especially in a show like Mindhunter where you are dealing with real people and real killers, I think the fact that they went out of their way to find people who were good, and people who worked, but people who weren’t necessarily super-recognisable to the masses, was a really really good choice on their part. Like I said that office has always done such a great job of just finding the best fit out of an obscene amount of people. I really have to thank casting on this one: they are amazing.
So I had already developed a slight relationship with Laray prior to this and she told us everything like: it was shooting in Pittsburgh, they are not bringing anyone in for initial auditions or anything, they just wanted to see self tapes. So we got to do self tapes. And it’s so funny because I know a number of actors that hate doing self tapes, because they feel like they can’t read the room and they want to be able to give the casting directors what they want and they don’t feel like they can do that in tape. I’m the opposite way about it: I get too distracted when I’m in the room; too worried about what I think the casting directors might want and I don’t focus on what I want to show them. So when I did my self tape I was happy about it. My manager has a whole little studio set up in his office so anytime I get self tapes to do I just go over there and do it at his place, which means: I’m reading with somebody I’m comfortable with; I’m in a familiar setting; I’m not distracted by all the outside crap; I lay down what I want to lay down on the tape.
So we did it, and I think we only shot it once or twice, he picked the best one and sent it off and probably a couple of weeks went by, at which point I’d already written it out in my head, ‘Okay, I didn’t get anything. I didn’t book it. Move on.’ Especially with TV you usually hear within a couple of days so I just wrote it off. And all of a sudden we got a call and it was, ‘Okay, Laray is flying down from New York. They want to see you in the room; check to see if you can take these direction notes’ and whatever.
So Laray brought me in, she just sat me down and told me, ‘Don’t worry about why I’m here. Don’t worry about what I want to see, just do what you did before.’ I just did it and she gave me a couple of directorial notes on changing a couple of things. I did it again and I guess it was fine because they called me 3-4 weeks later and told me I had basically like a preliminary booking, but I hadn’t signed any of the paperwork. They actually flew me out to Pennsylvania 4-5 weeks prior to my shoot dates to do a complete script read through and a kind of rehearsal session with David (Fincher) Holt (McCallany) and Jonathan (Groff) – which was another huge moment! Fight Club guy! Literally, David Fincher, is in my top three directors of all time I want to work with. So I was already kind of freaking out and I didn’t even know Holt was in it at the time. I get there and I see Holt right away and it’s straight away it was like the whole Fight Club thing. My manager is friends with Holt from way back in the day so that actually made things a lot easier for me too (it took some of the nervousness out of it a little bit). We went in and we did the read throughs and we started to take the script apart: just finding what worked, what didn’t work. We’d all done our own independent research as far as the true story and what had really happened and we wanted to make sure that the scripts reflected as much as the truth as we could. I know there had been an issue, early on I guess, with one of the writers taking a lot of liberties and they had to restructure everything – so they wanted to make sure they weren’t telling false stories.
A few things got changed and a new writer they brought in was amazing and she got everything set up to where it needed to be. We did a rehearsal for like 8 or 9 hours and afterwards Jonathan just came up to me and said, ‘Oh my God man, you were so good! The whole time you were doing it, it really felt like you’d killed the little girl.’ It was just getting those accolades from Jonathan – it felt so good – and then after that I signed the contract within a couple of days and they brought me out and started shooting.
I was back and forth shooting three different times: I would go out for a week, come back, and go out for another week – because I was also shooting a web series for Warner brothers at the same time down here in LA, that actually ended up going to Sundance, called High and Mighty. Roadies was mixed in there somewhere too, so I was a really really busy month for me.
PC: How much research did you do on Gene Devier and how do you feel about him? How much did you prepare for the ‘rock being shown’ scene and how much did it impact on you?
AZ: There has to be somebody who has a video of me looking like a crazy person but the last week before I went out to start shooting – I’d done my research on Gene and the whole situation and what had happened with him and the little girl: he crushed this poor girl’s skull with a rock – I went out and found myself a 50lb rock and I bought a bunch of cantaloupes and watermelon. I went to a little local park a few miles away from my apartment; I set up a bunch of these fruits and just started smashing them with this rock.
AZ: I did that for days. It was a disturbing thing – especially everytime I had to imagine it was this little girl’s 12-year-old head. It was disturbing but it was something I needed to have in my psyche. There’s a big change in my scene, once they reveal that rock: as soon as they show the rock everything is internalised, everything syncs. I needed, or at least I wanted for the character, to know what that really felt like. I didn’t sleep really well at all that whole time we were shooting – I was sleeping 2 or 3 hours a night – just because every time I closed my eyes I pictured this poor girl. But in the end I think it was worth it: when you see the footage and the change that happens and the feeling that happens, as soon as the rock gets revealed. It’s the weird thing we do to ourselves as actors, trying to get that one ‘real’ moment for two and a half seconds. That really ‘real’ looking 3-second moment on camera took me two weeks of smashing melons and stuff with a rock, you know.
PC: I think you played Gene very well. It’s a bit like what Jonathan said, you had me convinced that Gene was just that ordinary guy type who lives next door until Holden starts chipping away at him, and then when the rock comes out he falls apart. It just looked effortless for you to be playing him which, of course, is the skill of an actor.
AZ: It was a very interview experience and I think especially with Gene. You look at the other characters that they depict in that show, and most of them are these serial killers, guys who are just completely of their rocker. And I think one of the things that made Gene so scary was just the fact that he was ordinary, just a normal person, but close to the line. Kemper, he was way out there – but he was intelligent enough to know that – with Richard Speck and some of the other guys you knew they were out there. They had emotional problems which just came pouring out of them. With Gene it was the reality of it that made it scary – just a normal guy going about doing his stuff, who just has a few wires crossed inside of his brain, and 99% of the time he knows it’s wrong, he can tell himself it’s wrong, he can keep himself from doing anything and live a normal, everyday life. Then just to have that right situation of this little girl that he thought was flirting with him, it just crossed the wires wrong and all of a sudden he snaps – and he didn’t want to do it. When we were researching the original case, after he raped her in the car he took her to the woods and tied her to a tree, because he didn’t want to kill her (that was never his intention) because, for him, the whole thing was a rape fantasy. It wasn’t until after they were done that he realised like, ‘Oh shit! This girl didn’t want this. It wasn’t the fantasy in my head that I thought it was. Now I’m in trouble. What am I going to do?’ So he tied her to the tree, with the initial intent of leaving her there and hoping through starvation and dehydration and after some time of being left alone, someone would find her, but she wouldn’t remember anything of what happened and he would be in the clear. That’s obviously not the way it happened because after he tied her up he started to drive away, then he realised, ‘Oh shit! If somebody finds her, soon enough she will be able to rat me out.’ So he went back and he killed her, but even in some of his original transcripts of his original interviews he talked about how difficult it was. It wasn’t like he grabbed the rock and hit her once and that was it, it takes a lot to kill somebody. I think for Gene, once he made the decision to do it and he got half way through it, I think he kind of realised what was going on and the kind of person he was becoming.
It’s a real weird situation if you go into the history of it: most of the charges include his original confession, which we depict in Mindhunter, all of that ended up getting thrown out in court years later. What they found was by lining all the evidence up on that back wall like they did and revealing the clothing items, and the rock and stuff the way they did, the federal courts decided the whole confession was coercion because not a lot of the evidence was signed out properly and the FBI didn’t do things by the book like they were supposed to in order to get that confession from him.
Something they don’t really show you in Mindhunter is – they show you them picking him up and bringing him in because he’s under suspicion, that officer over in the next town had called them and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got this guy that’s trimming trees I think this might be the guy,’ whatever – in reality Gene was actually already in jail in the next town on suspicion of assaulting another girl from that town, about two or three weeks prior to him killing the other poor little girl. They had just finally got enough evidence to where they thought it was him, but this time around it was so weird: they were questioning him after the first one about the second one but he ended up not even getting charged for the assault on the first girl; but after his confession for the girl he killed got thrown out he ended up confessing to the assault on the second one, and then again to the first. He was given the death penalty, it was put on a stay. I think he ended up getting the electric chair in like 1992 or ‘97, something like that. It was a very long drawn-out process for him and when they asked if he had any last words or anything he just said, ‘No. I deserved it.’
PC: So he did regret it!
AZ: He knew what he was doing was wrong. I think because there was something wrong in his head, he didn’t have the capacity to stop himself and he understood he shouldn’t be thinking that way. He was very willing just to end his own life at that point as I think he knew there was no going back: he was never going to be the person he thought he wanted to be, or the person he could be.
PC: How come he got the electric chair and the likes of Kemper didn’t? Is it just dependent on the state?
AZ: Yeah that’s exactly what it is. Georgia had the death penalty and California did not. Kemper is still alive.
PC: Getting back to David Fincher. I was reading the other day someone saying the reason he shoots a scene 70 times is because he suffers from OCD but that isn’t the case at all is it. He wants to get the best possible scene, it’s not because he has perfectionist issues.
AZ: I hate when people use the word ‘perfectionist’ when they are talking about David and the amount of takes he does because I was told about that – I don’t want to say ‘warned’ but I was ‘told’. Before going out I was told be prepared for long days Fincher likes to do a lot of takes. After having done it – those 70 takes fly by, it does not feel like you are doing 70. Fincher himself addressed this in an interview – he really hit it right on the head – it’s not that he’s a perfectionist (that’s not the issue at all) it has more to do with your pre-production staff. The guys will build sets for months, the art guys, you have all these people spending the better portion of a year just to make sure a scene looks the way it’s supposed to or to just make sure the drinking fountain in the back works even if nobody is using it. All these people put all this time and effort into this production and how dare you rush through shooting! It’s almost like a slap in the face to all these people. It’s like, ‘Okay, you spent 6 months building this scene and we’re going to come in and just shoot three takes in 12 minutes, now we are going to walk away and ask you to tear the damn thing down.’ No. No. No. I think it’s as much trying to find the best performance as it is taking the time to finding the best performance. You owe it those people not to rush through anything. When I heard that I thought, ‘Oh my God! That makes so much sense.’
PC: It’s like when you spend hours making dinner and someone wolfs it down in like 5 minutes.
AZ: Yeah exactly, exactly. I 100 per cent agree that you find stuff on take 70 that you did not even think about. As someone who’s never experienced that kind of dedication to the shoot, you get to take twenty or thirty and you’re like, ‘Okay. I rehearsed this for months. We rehearsed this together for a week. We’ve gone through this thirty times, there’s nothing else for me here to find. I’ve giving you everything that there is.’ Also from take 30-45 they are all the same, they are kind of all blah, because at that point you’re either over-thinking or under-thinking your character and you really feel like there is nothing else to give. And then, right around that point, there’s a weird moment that happens where you just stop thinking about it at all: you’re no longer under- or over-thinking it, you are just doing it because you are just going through the motions. And you’re like, ‘Okay, let’s just do this because I have to,’ and then this beautiful, beautiful thing happens where, all of a sudden, as soon as you stop thinking about it, all of this shit comes out of you that you never even knew was there! I think that’s what he’s going for. He does it enough times to where you are so used to it that you are not thinking about it, and that’s where the best stuff comes from. If you film a scene where you come home from work, you throw your keys on the table, you take your jacket off and you put it on the hook, you take your shoes off and you walk into the kitchen and you do whatever it is you do. If you were to film that scene, every single one of those moves is going to seem so cold and so calculated because it’s written in the script and you know what you are supposed to do and it’s fine, and most of the audience are not going to notice how calculated it looks – but a good audience will – and that’s what separates great shows from okay shows, and amazing shows from really decent shows, amazing directors from half-decent ones – it’s that kind of thing that half won’t notice but the ones that do are going to call you out.
PC: That’s a great explanation actually.
AZ: It’s one thing to say you shoot a scene 70 times and it looks more ‘natural’ but what does that mean? That exactly what ‘natural’ means. You are putting your keys on the hook because you’ve done it a million times, it’s like getting all of your emotion to that point where you forgot that you did it, like when you leave the house and get half-way down the road and have to turn back because you don’t remember if you have locked the door. It’s that exact thing. Fincher wants your emotions and everything on camera to be stone natural – that you are not even 100 percent sure that you did it.
That’s what I think makes all of his stuff so, so good. I’ve heard so many people talk about the 70 takes thing and how it’s unnecessary, but after doing it I’m almost wishing everyone would do it: because everything looks so much better, and so natural and yeah, you might not see it, but those that do, it makes that difference.
PC: What elements do you think made Mindhunter the success it has been? Obviously that was a factor but there have been so many criminal killer-type shows.
AZ: I think that’s due to a number of factors: number 1 you do have that ‘true crime’ thing which is really, really huge right now. Americans have always been fascinated with violence and killings – that’s just kind of how we are – and if you combine that with somebody like Fincher, who has the vision that he has and can tell the stories that he can tell. A combination of the setting being in the ‘70s and the early ‘80s at that time when life was simpler: a serial killer wasn’t a ‘thing’ yet, there was a false facade over America that everything was safe and that everything was happy (I hate to use the term ‘when America was great again’ because of the horrible things that are happening now) but it was kind of that mindset that in old America everything was safe and quiet and predictable, where you knew everything that was going to happen to you everyday. Then you take a show like Mindhunter that’s starts to depict how things really were and it wasn’t this beautiful fantasy that everybody thought it was! And then you throw that in with amazing, amazing writing and Fincher’s use of colour and lighting. The colour palette on the whole show is absolutely incredible. I mean the photographer, Erik Messerschmidt, his shooting style is incredible! I think you just have that combination of the right writers, the right director with the right cinematographer, and the right casting department that got the right actors. Just that perfect combination of everything coming together all at once to put out something really spectacular.
PC: I fell in love a little with Holt McCallany and Jonathan Groff after I interviewed them. I think they are quite different, yet quite similar in other ways. How did you find them? Not so much as actors but as people: Holt with his big hearty laugh and passion and his genuine interest in others and Jonathan, who I was surprised to find to be quite serious, but keen and professional.
AZ: Like I said earlier, Holt was friends with my manager so being able to go up to him and be like, ‘Hey! I know Matt Berry. You know him.’ We were able to hit it off right off the bat. And Holt is just such a true guy. He just wants to know everything about you right away. He’s not that actor who runs around saying, ‘I did this and I did this, and you should be happy in my presence.’
PC: He is the opposite of that!
AZ: Just a true dude and you’re there and he’s there. He was talking about his favourite comedians – that was one of the things I did not expect from Holt or anybody in the holding area – he had his big book of jokes with him, in between scenes he would just open up, randomly, this page of jokes and start telling them and some of them were good and some of them were bad. He was always making sure everyone was smiling and laughing. He would tell us he was flying out to this city to see this comedian, ‘I will be back for filming then next week I’m going out to this city to see this comedian.’ He was all about that.
Jonathan’s got that stupid smile that’s just so freaking contagious. He just walks around like a Disney character all the time.
PC: That’s what I expected him to be like in our interview.
AZ: That’s him. That’s his personality. I mean: he’s got that shining light that exudes out of him at all times. There is something so infectious about Jonathan you could be in the worst mood having the worst day you ever had and he would just walk by with a smile and all of a sudden everything is right in the world again.
There was one moment, I think it was on our last day of shooting, filming that interview scene – which was a 14 minute interview scene we shot over the course of five days, when we were shooting from inside of the hallway into the interrogation room – there was no audio being recorded in the room with us or anything but Fincher had said, ‘We need two minutes of footage from out here so just start this conversation two minutes before it starts on the script.’ He said, ‘You guys know the characters. You know what’s going on. Go ahead, feel free to improv. You have a minute of improv just to get us from this moment to this moment,’ and we were like ‘okay’. We did one or two takes and it was okay and then Jonathan said, ‘I don’t know where to start with this. Why don’t you start this one? Start the conversation on this page.’ I said, ‘Okay’ and I started talking. And it was just something in the way the Georgia accent with some of the words I was using got Jonathan to just burst out laughing so from that moment on, I swear to God, we had 17 or 18 takes in a row where one of us couldn’t keep a straight face! We always just got to that same moment where a certain word was about to be uttered or I would stop and try to make it a different word and he would try to cut me off so I didn’t hit that word – it just drove him nuts for some reason and we just couldn’t get past that moment. It was like an hour to an hour-and-a-half of just wasting everybody’s time. We were all worrying about it and I don’t even remember what Fincher said about it but he had a smile on his face.
PC: He said: ‘You are bloody fools the lot of you!’ (Laughs)
AZ: Something like, ‘If you can’t get through this one you are all fired!’ It was a great time. The whole rest of that day had a really nice air to it and I heard from some of the other actors that Jonathan had a few moments like that.
PC: How did you watch your episode for the first time? Was that with your parents or on set or at a cast screening?
AZ: It was actually just me and my girl. My parents are still back in Wisconsin. They haven’t been out here for a few years and I haven’t been back since 2013, (I haven’t actually seen my parents and family too many times since I moved out here). I’m in the last episode but we didn’t want to rush to watch that, so then it was making that dedication of watching the first nine episodes beforehand until we got to it. We were both working at the time – I was shooting something else – so I think it took us two weeks after it had aired before we got to my episode. Everyone else was telling me how amazing it was, and how good everything looked, and I hadn’t even seen it yet. But I’m 100 percent glad I did the build-up because it leads up to so much from episode nine and if I’d jumped forward and just watched the 10th episode it wouldn’t have told the full story.
PC: Of course I have watched the whole season but when I knew I was interviewing you I rewatched episode 10 and I was like, ‘Hang on. Was the lie detector scene actually in episode 9?’ and if course it wasn’t, it was just the build up.
AZ: I think for me by the time I’d gotten to my episode there was all the Kemper stuff – I mean Cameron you just could not take your eyes off, his performance was so freaking incredible – that I was more concerned how they were going to wrap up the stuff with Kemper than I was about my own scenes! That’s a testament to how compelling and interesting the show is.
PC: You mentioned that Fincher is in your list of top three directors: who are the other two?
AZ: The other two are Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard.
PC: Good choices!
AZ: Spielberg is the obvious choice for everybody because he’s been around for so long and then Ron Howard just because everything that guy puts out is amazing – and it’s in no particular order, I don’t want to rank one higher than the other.
PC: I read that you are one if those people who can learn their lines very quickly. What your process for that: do you learn them in silence, with music playing, with someone to bounce off?
AZ: Actually it’s a combination of things for sure. I can probably attribute maybe 85-90% of the skills required to the technique my manager taught me. I started taking acting classes – just for anyone reading this who doesn’t know, my manager, Matthew Berry, used to be a casting director. He’s done some big movies so he knows the industry, he’s been in it a long time and he also teaches classes for actors in addition to managing students and casting films. So there was a technique I picked up from his class very, very early on. Kind of hard to explain in an audio interview but it has to do with how you just look at the page and you pick up as much as you can, then you lift your head and you wait a few seconds and try to repeat out what you remember, and then after you get to the point of where you forget, you wait another second, then you look back down and you pick up more, as much of it as you can. You go through the whole paragraph that way. Then, after you have made it all the way through, you do the same thing again, now this time through you remember more of the words, it just keeps going. It just has to do with what’s staying in your brain. It’s just like anything else, like riding a bike or driving a car, the whole thing seems awkward, your foot is doing one thing and your hand the other. It’s like that with scripts: you are thinking about the character and what he’s doing and saying, while you’re also trying to figure out how to memorise it and trying to get the intention behind this character. There are all these things going on at the same time and having to remember the words is one of the hardest. I think a lot of people just focus on getting the words down then building the character later on and I think that’s why stuff comes off as not truthful, because they are trying to tie it together but you are always going to see those gaps. They are looking at stuff as different pieces. For me it’s gotten to a point now where my brain is so good at memorising stuff like that. I have an audition this afternoon I am going to which is five pages and I got it last night at around 9 p.m. and I looked at the script twice and basically had it verbatim, off book. I think once you train your brain to think like that it all happens really, really easily.
PC: When I first started piano lessons I thought, ‘I’m never going to be able to play and read the music,’ and when my teacher said, ‘We are going to be learning to play with two hands, ‘ it seemed alien but eventually it clicked and all worked together.
AZ: It’s exactly like that: you do something enough times and your brain develops that mathematical formula.
PC: Would you like to explore the more technical side or a different side of TV/film, like producing, writing or directing or are you quite happy to remain an actor only?
AZ: I think for me it’s going to be all in front of a camera. I think I’m naturally kind of witty and funny in everyday regular situations but when I try to put that on paper there’s something missing. I’m definitely not a writer; I’ve tried it in the past. Like anything else, I’m sure with the right training I could do it fine.
PC: But it’s not a passion of yours?
AZ: Writing was just something I never really took to. Producing I’ve done a little bit in the past: I got stuff done when it needed to be done and on time but damn, did I hate it. That kind of work would be fine for me, just because of my background as an electrician, because I was running multimillion dollar jobs at a very young age. It’s the same with the more technical stuff like editing and cutting and stuff like that, I don’t really have enough interest to take the time learn those things.
PC: I was looking at some High and Mighty clips, that show looked a lot of fun, tell me about that.
AZ: Oh my God! High and Mighty was probably the most fun I’ve had on set so far. I’m not even sure how much I’m allowed to talk about it… it was a show that I did for Warner Brothers. Their new digital initiative called Stage 13: the digital thing is obviously ramping up and becoming a much bigger thing in the industry right now, especially with the target demographics and being in the millennial age right now, people are much more apt to watch stuff on their phones and their iPads than they are to sit at home. The attention span of the average person now is drastically reduced than it used to be. People so not want to go home and have to pull up their video service, find the show that they missed and sit down for a half hour and not talk to anybody and watch commercials, people don’t want to do that anymore. They want to watch something for 10 or 15 minutes while they’re on the bus going to their next thing, or while they are in the park walking their dog for 10 minutes or whatever. The digital TV thing has really started to take off a lot over here and Warner Brothers wanted to get ahead of that so they created Stage 13. I don’t know if anyone reading this knows but all the studios down here number their stages and none of them have a stage 13 because of the bad luck associated with the number 13. So they figured by creating a digital stage 13, and as the stage itself does not have a physical presence, then it’s okay and with 13 having the kind of connotation that it does it’s also kind of their ‘unapologetic network’, that’s what they call it. With Stage 13, the digital stuff means you can get away with a lot more of the stuff you are not allowed to show on network TV – the stuff that may be a little too risqué or the subject matter may be something cable doesn’t want to deal with – you can do that on a digital network: it’s all just ‘on demand’ from the people; it’s just what the people want to see. It doesn’t matter about advertisers, doesn’t matter about the branding of the channel or anything, it’s just ‘this is what people want so we are giving them an avenue to be able to see that.’
Our show was originally called Scumbag Superhero and then through Legal we actually found out that the word ‘superhero’ – when used in TV and film – the rights are owned by Marvel, so you can’t use the words ‘superhero’ as one single word and that kind of a connotation in the title for a show! So they changed the title to High and Mighty: it’s basically like a combination of Half Baked and Requiem for a Dream. It’s so weird. It has the funny ‘stoner comedy’ moments and the ‘buddy flick’ moments of Half Baked: where it’s just about these friends and they are getting high and they just want to their day thing. But it also has the more deep-seated meaning and the bigger stuff you get with Requiem for a Dream which was more about drug addiction: the bad things that happen from addiction and the horrible things these people are willing to do in order to keep up with their addiction.
In one scene you have these guys that are partying up and doing drugs, having a good time and everything is fine, then in the next scene you’re watching the main character dealing with the fallout of how his mom hasn’t wanted to talk to him in months because he’s an alcoholic, and his lifelong girlfriend is ready to leave him because he just can’t stop drinking. On top of that it’s also a ‘superhero’ story which is real big right now too. The basic premise is that the lead character gets off of his probation that he was in for drugs and alcohol, gets his bracelet removed and he wants to make his life better for himself and his girlfriend, Angie. She is through college and working, her life is going real well and the main character Chelo, his life isn’t going how he wanted it but he wants to do right for Angie so he tries all these jobs. One of the jobs is as a pharmaceutical tester: where he is taking drugs to see what the side effects are. During the course of this trial period there’s kind of a mad scientist type character played by James Eckhouse from 90210 who comes in and hijacks the programme and he starts switching out the drugs that Chelo would normally be taking. It turns out they are tied to his hormones’ release and adrenaline glands so they find that Chelo gets superpower, depending on what he is taking. When he gets drunk he has super strength and impenetrable skin but he’s still drunk; if he smokes weed well now he can fly but he still can’t really control it and he’s still high; if he takes an amphetamine then he gets super-speed and everything else is moving in slow motion and he can outrun everybody but he’s still coked up. So it’s this beautiful duality of him being put in these situations where people are in trouble and all he has to do is get fucked-up really quick and help them and take care of the situation, but then he has to go home all messed up and explain to his unsuspecting wife why he’s still doing drugs.
PC: That sounds good, offers up something new and different to the usual superhero stories.
AZ: Yes. It bounces back and forth between what if you had super powers, what you be willing to do and that you can have the superpowers but now you need to deal with this.
PC: How can we see it?
AZ: It’s eight 15-minute episodes. We aired the first three episode at Sundance this year and it is still in negotiations for one of the larger networks and we are hoping for a late summer date view.
Everyone involved was just super, super passionate about the project and I think the casting companies are the unsung heroes of the TV and film world because everyone talks about how good a director is and how good the actors were, but I feel like the casting directors never get the credit that they are due. Casting did the perfect job of not only finding the people that would fit the part, but finding the perfect people who would be able to interact with each other to show that true friendship they were looking for on screen.
Another thing Stage 13 are trying to do is push forward with diversity so High and Mighty, for instance, was written by a Hispanic writer, they got a Hispanic director, the majority of the cast are Hispanic. They are really, really pushing diversity with voices and stories you haven’t typically heard in Hollywood just because of the ethnicity machine that’s been running so long. New stories never told before, from people who have never had the chance to do that stuff before.
My character is call Pimpin Ass Pat. He is that white guy that grew up in Boyle Heights that thinks he is a Mexican: it’s not trying to create a racial profile it’s literally depicted in that character and that character is real! We filmed the majority of the show in Boyle Heights, where it’s meant to take place, and you saw that everywhere – people from different cultures and different colours and lifestyles all living in the same area, all living as part of the same culture. High and Mighty is not trying to make fun of the white who thinks he’s a Mexican: this show is showing that there are white people growing up in Mexico who fit right in within the environment in which they live, no matter who are they are and regardless of what they look like. I think that’s a really good thing. We are all human.
PC: I hope it does really well. Let’s take this opportunity to talk about cats. I know you are as keen as I am on them and I know you recently got a new one after your beloved other one died.
AZ: Yeah we did get a new cat. I’ve always been a ‘cat person’. We lost our first one: he died three years ago; he died from a kidney infection. We lost our last one in September and that was really hard for me: he died of old age and he was like my first animal that I ever got for myself growing up. I’m very allergic to dogs so cats have always been the only option. I got him when I was about 18-20 years old so losing him was rough and the one that died three years previously, he came from a breed that typically lives much much longer. So the house has been pretty quiet for almost a year and my girl and I finally decided it was time again so we got another little kitty last week, from a place that is about a six-hour drive from here, one way. He’s an F2 Savannah: it’s a hybrid breed where they breed domestic cats with African servals – so he looks like a little leopard with black spots and will be very, very big when he’s full grown. We had a Savannah in the past but he was 3rd generation so was more domestic but this guy is 2nd generation, a little bit more lively – he’s turned out to be a little feistier. We needed another animal and, as I told you. neither of us wants children. He gives us something to focus on in the house so it’s good. We are excited! He’s been a good little boy. We haven’t gotten any sleep these last few weeks. He’s trying to jump on me right now, getting jealous because I’m on the phone.
PC: I never liked cats but then my son got two kittens and now I’m like the ‘cat lady’: I post pictures of them all the time, go see them loads; I love them they have so much character.
AZ: When people say I’m not a cat person I think that’s because you’ve never owned one. They are so affectionate and there’s something about how you have to win their affection. They are so much fun to watch. Half the time you don’t even know what is going on in their little head and I don’t think they even know.
PC: Do you have a favourite or most used word?
AZ: Not really. I don’t know… What was Holt’s answer to this question?
PC: If you don’t have one off the top of your head you probably don’t have one. Holt’s most used was ‘thanks’, he said he uses it 50 times a day.
AZ: I don’t know, I really don’t know. I’m going to have to leave this one a mystery I guess.
PC: You are the first.
PC: How would you describe your perfect day?
AZ: If I have the day off to do nothing, at this point, it would be all focused with playing with the kitty. These are such general questions but the answers are so freaking hard! In Los Angeles there’s a lot of hiking opportunities: there’s mountains everywhere. I like just spending time with my girl. We have been together almost 10 years now and she’s the total love of my life. We love each other now like it’s the first day we met and I think just every spare moment I have, as long as I’m with her, it doesn’t matter what we’re doing.
PC That’s so sweet and it’s going to get you brownie points as well!
AZ: I will tell her, if she reads any of this, to read this part. Anytime I have any free time where I really don’t have to focus on anything it’s just me and her and now the kitty. We just really enjoy being around each other that much, at least on my end, unless she has done a really good job of lying to me.
PC: I’m sure she would say the same.
AZ: Anything I’m doing as long as it’s with her, it doesn’t matter. Neither one of us really drinks, not into the pub crowd really at all, which is kind of surprising because we are both from Wisconsin. We met there and moved here together. In Wisconsin it’s such a huge drinking state that even have a term ‘Drinking Wisconsinbly’ making sure you drink enough to get a DUI – it’s like out there it’s a right of passage that you’re driving while under the influence. It’s like, ‘What do you mean you are 24 and you don’t have a DUI? You are not drinking enough,’ As we are not really into that, I guess that reduces the amount of events we would normally go to. I can’t remember the last time I was intoxicated to a hungover state; I have one or two drinks a week. I have a second job where I host karaoke near my apartment twice a week, and with my normal pay I also get 4 free drinks but it’s rare that I even make it through the second one – I will be working a 6 hour shift and struggling to get through that second beer. Drinking was just never a ‘thing’ for me.
PC: What could you not live without, I think I know the answer to this question already…obviously it’s going to be your girl!
AZ: Yes it would be her, or the cat.
PC: Best not let her read that bit.
AZ: You got to have the cat! I think at this point it would be her. Without her I really couldn’t function from day to day. We have gotten so far beyond codependent that I think our relationship has become… I’d like to say it’s ‘symbiotic’: everything she does for me is because I don’t either do it for myself well enough, or don’t do it efficiently enough or whatever, and I think that goes vice versa as well. Every provide for her is stuff she needs providing by someone else. We’ve really got a good relationship going on.
Her, the cat and acting that’s all that really matters – not in that particular order!
PC: Is she in the acting business as well or does she do something completely different?
AZ: Actually being in front of the camera is not something she would be interested in.
PC: We must start calling her by name…
AZ: Her name is Amanda. She grew up in Wisconsin. She was a dancer for a while – tap and ballet I think were her main fortes, she also did a little bit of jazz and lyrical as well and she did some European dance tours when she was younger – but in her early twenties she suffered a debilitating injury which meant she couldn’t dance any more professionally. She did some teaching in Wisconsin but when you move to LA it’s a totally different world to being a dance teacher in a Milwaukee. In Milwaukee she could show her resume and get a job teaching anywhere but here it’s like, ‘You can teach ballet but we also need you to teach hip hop, ballroom etc.’ She could do it but she doesn’t want to take classes in ballroom (for example) so she can teach ballroom. Now she works as an assistant manager at a pet store which also gives us a discount on stuff for the kitty!
I can’t really thank her enough. She picked up her whole life and kind of gave up everything she had going on, to move down here with me so I could pursue my dreams. I definitely don’t deserve her.
PC: Can you sing?
AZ: Yeah…. I mean… What’s your definition of sing? I did like chorus and stuff in high school. I didn’t really hit puberty until late – I was a late bloomer. My driver’s licence I got at 16, I was only 4ft 11 but I’m a solid almost 6ft now. I was able to sing far different notes and tunes in my early high school days than I was[able to] in my later high school days. After my voice changed it really ruined it for me. I started singing in a couple of punk bands and played bass in a couple, and I was in a metal band for a couple of months, and hosting a karaoke once a week, if you call that singing! I keep my voice trained.
PC: What’s your song of choice?
AZ: I generally try to do more rock, more punk kind of stuff – I have a natural rasp in my voice – when I’m singing for that it’s going to be a lot of Flogging Molly, a lot of Rancid a lot of Dropkick Murphy, Pantera, Slipknot, anything I can get raspier, a little sludgier, anything like that. I will try and pull out a soft Dean Martin every once in a while – got to keep the classics going.
PC: Can you remember the first record you bought (or download for your generation)?
AZ: I obviously must be a little older than you think I am because I still have very clear memories of the internet being created. The first album I ever bought, it was on cassette because I had a Walkman. I was probably about 6 years old and I had taken all my little grass clipping and snow shovelling money and I went out and bought the cassette tape for Michael Jackson’s Black and White album. That was the first one I remember buying with my own working money because back in the ‘80s it was, ‘Oh, you are six years old. You are old enough to go push a lawn mower. You can go cut this guy’s grass. ‘ Out in Wisconsin, that’s how it was. I can still remember sitting in the middle seat of our blue Ford Bronco and listening to the tape for the first time – the memory for me is extremely vivid.
PC: Do you have a song that relates to a special moment in your life?
AZ: I think that’s every song. One of the great things about music is that it takes you back. I can hear music now that I was listening to in my early ‘20s and get very, very vivid memories. That’s one of my favourite things about music: that it evokes a memory almost every time you hear something.
But Amanda and I have our own songs – a lot of the Misfits’ stuff brings back a lot of old memories for me. I had two friends in high school who were much bigger music buffs than I was at the time (a guy named Jason and another named Ross) both of them were pretty heavy Misfits fans at the time, so they got me into them pretty hard at that time – even to the point I was trying to find old vintage T-shirts. I have a couple of Misfits shirts from ‘77-’78: they are the original pressings of the jersey and stuff that are pretty cool. There are a couple of Pantera songs: there is still a really big heavy metal following in Milwaukee. It’s always been a big, underground music city and if you just look at Summerfest – it’s something that’s held in Milwaukee at the State Fair grounds by the lake, every year, and it’s the largest music festival in the world – it’s 12-14 days, 20-30 bands a day; there’s like 6 stages with a band playing at every hour, of every minute, of every day.
PC: That would be heaven for me.
AZ: Yeah it’s amazing if you ever get a chance to come out here…
PC: I’m coming! I’m coming!
AZ: Somedays they have a thing where you donate food canisters, so you can see the biggest bands all for the price of a can of corn, as long as you get there early enough and get a good spot. I didn’t really realise how big of a music festival it was. It wasn’t until I moved to California, and I was talking about Summerfest at home, that people would tell me it’s the biggest music festival in the world!
As I’m getting older I’m finding new and different music I like. I’ve got into a lot more classical music I think than I ever used to. Amanda has always been big into classical and jazz and stuff (she always had a much broader range of musical tastes than I have) so she’s been slowly working into your stuff. You tune into my Pandora station now and it’s the most random collection! It will set off with a Pantera song, then it will go to a Cat Empire song (which is almost like a jazzy New Orleans bluesy kind of band) and then Lindsay Stirling (one of my favourite instrumentalists) I like Taylor Davis too – both of them are amazing instrumentalists. Every song I listen to is going to bring me back a memory, good or bad.
PC: What kind of music did your parents play when you were growing up?
AZ: My dad was more into ‘80s rock. He liked Van Halen, Dire Straits, Guns & Roses. My mom was a little bit more country I suppose: Bonnie Raitt, Melissa Etheridge – a little more folky. I think most of my musical tastes probably come from my dad’s influence. Early on he was the dude who would have his right leg jacked up and he’d be playing an air guitar, while he’s jumping around the living room. My brother was a few years older than me. He liked The Dave Matthews band – anything that he could sit on a guitar and play a song for like 10 minutes without having to change – so I picked up a lot of that. I like folkier stuff too. There’s a couple of really good bands from Oregon and was Washington in that same style I like.
PC: What’s your guilty music pleasure?
AZ: If I had a guilty pleasure it would be Justin Timberlake. He’s one of those performers that, whatever he is doing, you feel good watching him. You watch him to his Saturday Night Live stuff and he kills it; you listen to his voice and he’s got an amazing range and then he’s a dancer on top of that. He’s amazing on everything he does! So yeah he’s a huge guilty pleasure. And then Taylor Swift is another one of those ones where you turn on the radio and you think, ‘I haven’t heard this song. What is this?’ and it’s like the new one from Taylor Swift and I think, ‘I can’t listen to that one again.’ Even Justin Bieber has some catchy songs. All those ones you don’t want to admit you like on the radio.
PC: It was the same when “Blurred Lines” was out: I really liked that song but people were like, ‘err no!’
AZ: You almost get disappointed at yourself but then it’s like: why? You’re only disappointed because it has connotations: that it’s music for a certain type of demographic and that you don’t fit into that and you feel weird for liking it.
We are individual humans, you should be allowed to like what you like. It’s that human condition we have where we feel we all want to please people, even if we don’t know who the hell we are.
PC: There are so many of today’s TV shows that have amazing soundtracks: are there any you particularly like? I’ve just finished watching all 7 seasons of Sons of Anarchy, some of the music on that show was brilliant. Any moment movie soundtracks you listen to?
AZ: The first movie soundtrack I remember going out to buy as a physical album would have been The Matrix. When that came out EDM wasn’t really a thing yet: everything was just called ‘techno’, there wasn’t ‘dance’ there wasn’t ‘house’ or ‘trance’. There weren’t all these sub-divisions of electronic music: everything was just techno and the internet was kind of in its infancy (even my parents didn’t get the internet hooked up until well after I moved out of the house). You were still going to Sam Goody’s and the record stores to buy albums and stuff, especially when you live out in the Midwestern states you don’t have much access to a lot of that stuff, so as soon as The Matrix came out and had all this electronic music I had to go get it.
PC: It still stands up now if you put it on though.
You can find out more about Adam’s current projects on his IMDb
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This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Any opinions or views expressed within the interview are the subject’s own and publication does not imply endorsement of any such opinions or views by Absolute Music Chat or its personnel.