John Tague is a New Jersey-raised, LA-based, actor/director. Very recently I enjoyed an in-depth conversation with John about being in movies and TV shows, such as The Blacklist, making a multi-award winning web series The Rolling Soldier, music and so much more. ~ Davina Baynes
JT: Where are you located right now?
DB: I’m down in the South East, in a county called Essex, outside of London, north and east, not far from the Thames.
JT: My wife is from Leicester.
DB: Is she? I didn’t realise that. I went to university in Loughborough which is in Leicestershire.
JT: We were in New York when we met. I met her in my acting school – we weren’t in class together but I would see her around a lot and we hit it off at one of the Christmas parties I think. And we had mutual friends, so we would see each other occasionally when we would hang out.
DB: You were born in Pennsylvania but raised in New Jersey: what was it like growing up in New Jersey?
JT: The town that I grew up in, we were about 45 minutes outside of Manhattan and it was a very, very suburban town, very sleepy kind of quiet town, very well-to-do. It was like the ‘perfect childhood’ where you could leave your bike out in the front yard. We never locked our doors. I lived in an area that was on a wildlife refuge, preservation area, off what was called ‘The Great Swamp’ and the town is Chatham, New Jersey. If you ever watch The Sopranos a lot of the stuff that they shoot in the suburbs is kind of what it looked like where I grew up. Big colonial houses and big yards and lots of room to move around. When people think of New Jersey they think of a very industrial shithole but it’s not! Where I grew up it’s very rural and lots of woods, so we were always playing in them. It was a great place to grow up. A little bit protected from things, but besides that, it was really an ideal place to grow up.
DB: So you ran around as children?
JT: Yeah, we would come home when the street lamps came on. We would ride our bikes for miles and miles and never get bothered by anybody. I have a ten-year-old daughter and, honest to God, I can’t imagine letting her get on her bike and ride anywhere, anymore but back then we could pretty much do what we wanted – it was really fun! And we got into trouble and did things that we shouldn’t have done, you know.
DB: We used to do things like ‘knock down ginger’ which is where you’d run up to someone’s door and ring on the bell and then all belt away quickly.
JT: Yeah! We called that ‘ding dong ditch’. We used to do that and what else did we do? Oh God, we used to go ‘pool hopping’ which was, neighbours that would have pools, at night we’d sneak into their yard and jump into their pool. That was always fun!
DB: Have you got brothers or sisters at all?
JT: I do. I have a younger brother, his name’s Andy and he’s two years younger than I am.
DB: So you’re the big brother! I’m the big sister.
JT: I’m the big brother. Well it’s weird when you’re the older sibling because growing up I imagine it would be nice to have an older sibling to pass down information and you’ve got, maybe, a history with teachers and people in school. I was always envious of kids who had older brothers or sisters because of the way that coaches of the sports teams would treat them and the teachers would treat them. I was kind of an afterthought a lot of the time but I think my brother ended up having a better experience with school and stuff like that because everyone knew who I was already. For me, it wasn’t that easy, it was kind of hard. I was a horrible, horrible student. I hated school. I absolutely despised it, because I wasn’t being taught in a way that I could understand things, and I think I got shut down pretty early on by certain teachers that make you feel bad. Academics were not my thing, at all!
DB: What about your mum and dad?
JT: Mum and dad are still doing good. They live in and around where I grew up. They live in a different town now, called Gillette. They’re great. My dad, when I was a kid growing up, he worked for a company that did law reference books: they would review lawyers and if you were in one of these reference books you were considered one of the top lawyers in the world. He worked in sales with that and then he became, I think it was, a vice-president of the company at one time and then he retired and my mum still works. She works in a little shop in town that does seasonal rentals and costumes and they do event planning: they rent out tents and tables and that kind of stuff for weddings and events, graduations, parties.
DB: That keeps you on the ball.
JT: She likes to work so it keeps my dad out of her hair! (Both laugh)
DB: Your surname’s Irish isn’t it?
JT: Yeah. I’m Irish on both sides of my family. Where my family mostly comes from is a part of a Pennsylvania that is very Irish and they settled in Philadelphia. I think most of the roots come from Donegal and in some of the southern parts of Ireland. But being Irish… well I mean I’m an American but… we kind of take a certain amount of pride about that.
DB: Music is important to you. How important was it when you were growing up?
JT: Music was really the only thing that I had any interest in and the only thing that I felt like belonged to me and I could connected to and express myself with. I did sports and that was fun but music to me was magic and it still is! I find a great joy in it. I get very lost in music. I started off as a bass player and I was in the local, neighbourhood bands, you know. We would be in the garage or the basement of one of my friends’ houses just making tons of noise but in my opinion, it was the most fun you could ever possibly have. And I still think that it’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on! (Both laugh)
And I wanted to pursue music as a career when I was growing up and then, when we finally got MTV, that changed my life completely! I was a teenager right at the beginning of Golden Age of MTV. You know we had Duran Duran and all the great music videos, the Cars, Michael Jackson videos. A whole new world opened up for us because a lot of those bands we didn’t have, we weren’t exposed to, until we had MTV because we were basically listening to classic rock n roll on the radio out here. I wanted to be in a rock ‘n’ roll band, or some kind of band, after I got exposed to MTV, for sure.
DB: Especially those Duran Duran videos because they were always so glamorous as well!
JT: They went to exotic locations and the music was so interesting because it was a nice combination of punk and disco. I have a very soft spot for it.
DB: Apart from bass, did you pick up any other instruments as well?
JT: Not until later on. I mean, I strummed the guitar a little bit (the 6-string) but I was crap. As I got older and most recently, my old band Narcotourist, we started playing around with electronic music so we were doing a lot of sequencing and a little piano.
DB: How did you get into acting?
JT: I was in college and I wanted to be a musician and I wanted to study Music Engineering because I thought that would be a good thing to have in my pocket: to learn how to record and engineer and that kind of thing. The programme that they had at school (at least that I thought they had a programme) when I got there, didn’t exist anymore and I ended up running the audio for the theatre department [High Point University]. The guy who was in charge of it was like my guidance counsellor at school. He had found out that I had some experience with live sound so he asked me if I would do it. I did it. When I saw the quality of work that was being done on stage I was like, ‘Oh this is really cool!’ I had always loved movies and always wanted to do it but you just think, ‘Oh I could never do that!’ Until you try it! The guy who brought me in to run the sound was also the head of the theatre department, so I ended up enrolling in his classes and he was an outstanding acting coach. His name is Ron Law – he’s in Charlotte, North Carolina now. But he’s the one who introduced me really to what it means to be an actor and the kind of work that you have to do in order to be a good actor. I still think of the things he taught me, over the years, and still try to apply them as best I can.
DB: What was your first ever experience of acting?
JT: The first play I ever did was Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, in college. That was my first time on stage, doing a real play, with real production behind it. I had a smaller part but it was so exciting that once I got off the stage I was like, ‘I want to do this again, as quickly as possible!’ From there, every play that came our way I made sure I auditioned for it. I started getting bigger and bigger parts until I had the leads in most of the plays.
As far as film goes, the first film I ever did, was called Living and Dining and that was with Maureen Stapleton. She had a small part in it, but it was really very exciting to be in a film with a legend and I had the lead role in that film. Unfortunately that film never got released, which is sad because it was the last thing she ever did before she died. But it was a great experience and from there I was able to start building a little bit of an independent film career in New York, which at the time was tough to do because was not a whole lot going on in New York.
DB: Things have changed!
JT: Oh yeah! With the way technology is now anybody can make content and anybody can create a show. And I wish I’d had that kind of technology when I first started because, back then, you were just literally opening up the newspaper and looking for auditions. It was very, very hard.
DB: Did you do any stage plays while you were in New York as well?
JT: I did some off-Broadway stuff, mostly affiliated with the acting school that I was in, in New York – I studied with Terry Schreiber at the T Schreiber Studio. Terry’s a legend! The training I got there was fantastic! I started with Gloria Maddox (who is no longer with us) and she was an incredible coach and then I ended up studying with Terry. I did one play there and I did a couple of other things here and there around town but I actually ended up doing some stuff in New Jersey when I wasn’t booking anything in New York. I’d go to New Jersey and I’d audition for whatever regional or community theatre was going on there and I would just do it because I figured it was good training. I had some good experiences and some of those plays. I look back and think, those plays were as good as anything that I was seeing in New York at the time.
DB: When and why did you decide to move to LA?
JT: I had just done Living and Dining and I did another film called The Ticking Man which is kind of a thriller – I hope to God nobody ever sees it! (I had the lead role in that). I was booking a lot of commercials and I was doing voiceover work and I was doing really well at the time. I thought, ‘I’ve been in New York for ten years now, I’d like to try my luck in LA.’ So I decided to pack up, I brought my wife Claire out here with me (we weren’t married at the time but she came out with me) and thought we’d try our luck out here. We got out here and things were a lot more difficult than I thought they were going to be: the unions went on strike, which shut the industry down, the production ran away for a while. I had booked a couple of things – a couple of commercials here and there and then I did an episode of the show 24 in the first season. It was hard to find work at that time and I was at a weird age range there too: I was no longer in my twenties, I was in my thirties, and you get stuck in that ‘limbo’. Then I decided to take a break and so I stopped.
I started looking at music again and formed a band with a friend of mine. It was mostly a rock ‘n’ roll band – they were called The Droves – very similar to Oasis or The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club sound and then we started getting more into bands like Radiohead, so we wanted to do the Radiohead thing; and that [band] kind of fell apart. Then we started my electronic band, Narcotourist, and we spent two years working on a record and started doing some shows and then it just kind of just fell apart. It happens. It’s very hard to keep a band together: people’s lives just change and they take over and they want to do different things; they realise how hard it can be.
By this time I was a little bit older, I was married, I had a daughter and I thought, ‘Well, I’ll jump back into acting again,’ and slowly started getting back into acting. I jumped into a class out here: I studied with Alice Carter and started pursuing my career again. Things started to take off a little bit and then I decided that I need an extra push and I created The Rolling Soldier. That was probably the smartest thing I ever did, because I’ve gotten lots of work and lots of exposure because of that.
Like I said, if we had the technology to do that thing when I was in New York, I would have done it a lot sooner. If I’d known this is one way that you get in without really killing yourself just pounding the pavement all the time, just creating content… because back then it was too expensive! I was doing student films for NYU and I would talk to the film makers and they would tell me that, for their 10-minute thesis film they would spend $20,000 and I’m like, ‘That’s just mental!’ Because they were shooting on film. I made my show The Rolling Soldier with $10,000: I did seven episodes; I basically made a feature film for $10,000 and I’d never made a film before in my life.
DB: We’ll pop back to Rolling Soldier, if we may. You have been on quite a lot of TV shows: how have you generally landed roles in TV?
JT: A lot of auditions. The Rolling Soldier actually gave me a little bit of a ‘bump’, being seen in a certain way. I’d always thought I was better in really intense type of roles and that’s kind of like where I feel best as an actor – I like playing intense characters.
When I did the episode of The Blacklist, the director of that episode, Steven Adelson, he’d seen the pilot of the The Rolling Soldier and I knew him through our friend Vanessa, called me up and said, ‘Put yourself on tape for these roles.’ He sent me over five different roles and I had to put myself on tape for. I had to do it in two days. So I had to learn five different roles in two days, put them all on tape and send it off to New York, to him, and then he passed it on to Jon Bokencamp who’s the creator/producer. Then they called me in for the job and I had to get on a plane the next day, fly out to New York. So that’s one way I would get gigs.
The other way is just networking and meeting people through film festivals. The Rolling Soldier was great for me because I was able to take it all over the world and meet some really cool filmmakers and hopefully we’re going to collaborate on something. There’s one project in particular that’s come through (hopefully is going to come through) that we’re supposed to do, I guess this year or the beginning of next year – it’s a sci-fi thing. I’ve never done anything sci-fi and I’ve been dying to do something sci-fi!
DB: It’s one of my favourite genres.
JT: And what’s funny is my wife, and my daughter in particular, they’re obsessed with Doctor Who right now so we’re almost caught up on all the Doctor Who. I keep watching that going, ‘God! I wish I could do a show like that! That would be a lot of fun!’
DB: Just popping back to The Blacklist: what was it actually like, working on the show?
JT: It was hard! I was there for two weeks, we only shot on two days and it was very hot – we were shooting in a barn on Long Island. You know, when you do a show like a network show it can be a lot more stressful than say an independent film, because independent films are a bit looser, you have more freedom with some of the dialogue, you can maybe improvise a little bit, but with network shows everything is to the letter – you can not deviate at all from anything that’s written, it’s got to be exactly how it’s written! There was an action scene where we were all getting shot and we had the squibs and all that, that was a little bit tricky. You just realise that there’s a ton of money being thrown at this thing and when you’re on a show like that, there are hundreds of people on set and you are like, ‘What are all these people doing?’ (Both laugh) When you do an independent film you’ve got maybe ten people on the crew but with this there were about a hundred people on the crew, on the set, and the pressure that happens is… It’s like a diamond that goes right to you when the camera rolls, everyone is focussing on you, and then you’ve got to deliver it! So I always find those shows challenging – I love doing them, don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot of fun, but I tend to like the independent stuff a little bit more because it’s a little bit more freeing, but the other stuff pays much better! (Laughs) It was a great experience. Steven Adelson did an amazing job directing that episode.
I didn’t really get to work much with James Spader because he wasn’t in a scene with us but, later on he sees us after we’ve been ‘killed’ and he was so… I had a little bit of experience with him. He was very busy. I didn’t get to talk to him because not only is he the star of the show but he’s also the executive producer, so he had his hands full. He’s a pro and he knows what he wants and that was what was interesting: seeing him talking about how he thought the scenes should look – the input that he actually had in that episode. We kind of stood back and let him do his thing.
DB: He’s very meticulous, isn’t he.
JT: Oh yeah, yeah. He’s a very smart guy! His body of work is massive and he’s always great – in anything that guy does he’s always amazing! It would have been nice to have gotten to know him a little bit better on set and I wish we had had a scene together but unfortunately it didn’t work out that way.
DB: Recently you played the role of the uncle, Mick, in the movie Catfish Blues, which I managed to see. It was great!
JT: That was a cute little film. That was directed by Mike Worth, who’s a friend of mine – he’s an interesting guy – he makes a lot of really great little independent films. (His new film that he’s in post-production on it right now is Apple Seed. It’s with Rance Howard – Ron Howard’s father who recently passed – and it’s the last film that he was in). Mike makes some really nice films and he asked me to be a part of it. The lead, the young man in the film, plays my son in The Rolling Soldier.
DB: You know, I thought it was the same lad!
JT: So that was fun, getting to work with all those guys. It went out and won a couple of awards and it’s got distribution – it’s up on iTunes. It’s a nice family film. It’s the first time I’ve been able to do a family-friendly film where I’m not shooting people or you know blowing things up! (Both laugh) Or being stressed out!
DB: So the general experience of working on that, totally different from The Blacklist.
JT: Oh totally! I think, when we shot that film, we had nearly five people on the crew that day. It was very, very barebones and quick and we got to play as well – we got to improvise a lot of that dialogue. It was a nice experience to work with Mike and that’s the second film I’ve done with Mike, the other film is called Enchanting The Mortals and that’s (I think) is in post and it should be done hopefully soon.
DB: It looked like you were having fun. You know, sometimes you can tell when people on screen are acting having fun and really having fun.
JT: I never get to play characters like that, so for me that was a blast! It was nice to explore that kind of thing.
DB: I thought it was really sweet, really good but it made my eyes leak a little bit in places!
JT: Oh good! I can’t wait to tell Mike that. The woman who plays the older woman in the film, that’s Mike’s grandmother.
DB: Is it? I looked at the out-takes and they made me laugh so much!
JT: They shot a lot of that up in Northern California where she lives but the stuff that we shot, my scenes, was all shot in LA.
DB: I thought it was a really great sort of ‘coming of age’ film but not sickly sweet.
JT: Yeah, right. He had a nice balance of the right things in that film. He got that film done pretty quickly and he got it out there pretty fast. I don’t think they’d had a lot of expectations behind it but it’s done pretty well and it’s nice to be part of something like that.
DB: It went to Big Island Film Festival on Hawaii didn’t it?
JT: Yeah, I think they won.
DB: You’ve done a lot of shorts.
JT: Short films are a great way to meet new filmmakers and a great way to keep sharp. I’ll only do a short film if I’m really interested in the film – if I think it’s a good story and an interesting character that I can play. A lot of time with short films there’s no pay, it’s deferred, but they’re Union shorts and if it’s a Union gig you know you’re going to be treated well and it’s going to be done right, at least. I find a lot of value doing them and they’re fun and it’s a great way to meet people, a great way to connect and, hopefully, do bigger and better things with those people later on – which has been nice because that’s happened to me.
The Rolling Soldier, when you really break it down, is seven short films and I think, with the short attention span that people have nowadays, a short film is great. You can put a nice short film up on YouTube or up on Facebook or now even on Instagram. People are doing 1-minute short films. It is a cool little art form that I think is gaining traction and you know the Oscars have got short film categories!
DB: Also, I think it’s like short stories compared with a full novel, in that: you haven’t got time to waste, you can’t dawdle and you’ve got to be really succinct about how you convey the story.
JT: It’s hard to write a short story and it’s hard to make a short film. The same challenges are there as with doing a full-length feature, it’s just a more condensed version and you’ve really got to have an interesting story that has a beginning, a middle and an end, that can fit within a 10-minute timeframe – that’s hard to do!
Web series are, I think, the new art form and there’s something very cool and very punk rock about the web series because it’s kind of the Wild West and there’s really no rules and people are doing some incredibly creative things. When I did The Rolling Soldier and I went out on the road with it to the festivals… first of all I was shocked that I was able to be nominated – it was an incredible honour and amazing – but there were web series that were from other countries that were fully funded by their government, or universities were fully funding them. There’s money being spent on these things and there are some incredible filmmakers working in that field now. I was just honoured to be around them.
DB: Let’s talk about the short film, Mona.
JT: I think the idea behind Mona was that they were using it as a pitch film for a larger project and the people I made that film with are very good friends. Roxanna Kaye, is the girl who plays opposite me in Mona and she’s fantastic! She’s one of my favourite people, and actors. Her partner Adam Finley is the director of that short and he is a great director! What they’re doing now is they’re taking that around trying to (I think they are) get funding to possibly shoot a feature version of it. That was a fun part to play!
DB: You play the character Ferdinand in Mona.
JT: Yeah, I enjoyed that character a lot. We shot that in an area called Idlewild, which is kind of a mountain town, a little bit north of here, and we did the rest of the shoot in North Hollywood. There’s a Bonnie and Clyde kind of a Pulp Fiction feel to it – that’s what they were really going for – that’s a good analogy, I think and that’s what would make that film really work if they were to do it to a feature, you know, keeping that kind of relationship going.
DB: The short Death May Hide Me, which I have watched, is a spooky little ghost story, or reincarnation and history repeating itself.
JT: That’s like a ‘past lives’ story. That was part of a group of filmmakers that I became part of called, Congress Films, and we made a bunch of short films together – unfortunately it’s no longer. It’s hard to get things done when you’re trying to decide by committee all the time and we did it as a group for two years and I think we made six or seven films in two years and it was a great experience – we made some really cool stuff. Definitely Death May Hide Me which was directed by Paul Meredith: he’s a great filmmaker that I think people are going to start to hear about soon. That was another fun part to play: I love doing period things and again, another intense guy.
DB: Some great shots in it!
JT: Well, yeah. The director of photography who shot Death May Hide Me was also the director of photography who did Mona and also just finished working on the movie Straight Outta Compton and the new movie Venom with Tom Hardy. He’s a MōVi operator, which is kind of like a steadycam-type of camera, where they’re able to get into really interesting angles and do lots of hand-held stuff with it. He’s got an amazing ‘eye’, his name’s Chris Herr. He’s really very, very talented, a gifted, filmmaker.
DB: Also Worst Of Two, which we said we would chat about. I thought that was really interesting!
JT: Did you enjoy it?
DB: I really liked it. It was just my sort of thing!
JT: That was super-challenging because it was all done in a made-up language. It was one of the first times where I’d done a film where I actually rehearsed the scenes weeks before we started shooting. We had to learn this language – every word in that film had an English meaning so first of all we had to know what the English meaning was and then we had to learn the words – and then get on our feet and start moving around and doing it. A very hard shoot: we shot that all in one day and it was a very physical, very long day. I think the filmmaker wanted it to be almost like a play. His name’s Mragendra Singh, he’s an amazing filmmaker! Clayton Hoff is the guy who was opposite me in the film. That was a lot of fun to do, I’m very proud of that film! I wish that it had a bigger audience but it’s a challenging film because when you’re watching it, you try and work out what this film is all about.
DB: It’s really disorienting and the first thing that really threw me was that, initially, I didn’t realise you weren’t speaking English because the body language is all there.
JT: The director was very against putting subtitles and I think he did the right thing. Films should be challenging! You can’t be spoon-fed everything, it’s insulting to the audience, sometimes. It’s a dark, dark film.
DB: It’s a bit like a silent movie because you can’t understand the language so there’s a lot of body language, facial expression, tone of voice, gesture and so you can follow what the story is.
JT: Yeah. That was why I think we had to rehearse it so much because we had to get that across.
DB: The ultimate irony at the end of the story (no spoilers) is also the complete reverse of normal Russian roulette.
JT: Right. That’s what I thought was really interesting about the story. I’d never seen that before. I thought that was pretty cool because everyone’s seen the Russian roulette scene from Deer Hunter but I’d never seen it the way Mragendra went about telling it.
DB: Your web series, The Rolling Soldier, won several awards didn’t it?
JT: Yeah. Sometimes I still cannot get over the fact that it was even ever seen by anybody, let alone win an award. Just a little backstory on it: I made The Rolling Soldier because I felt that I needed some new material for my reel, so I decided to shoot a pilot of something that I thought I would be seen in that people would go, ‘Okay, so he can do that.’ So I created a story about this washed-up, burned-out CIA assassin and I couldn’t get over the fact that people liked the pilot so much and said, ‘You need to make more of these!’ I ended up doing seven more episodes and got some really great people involved.
We ended up going to the New York City Web Fest and we won Best Drama there – which was fantastic because I got to go back to New York and you win in New York and it’s like Holy Crap! Amazing! Then I was in Dublin, Ireland, for the Dublin Web Fest: we won Best Editing, which was very funny because I had never edited anything in my life! (Laughs)
We went to Vancouver to the Web Fest of Vancouver and that web festival is amazing! It’s kind of like the Academy Awards of web fests The quality of the work that they have in that festival, plus the way they treat the filmmakers – they make everybody feel so special and it’s just done so well. The staff were amazing and the theatre where we screened everything in was incredible, the awards ceremony was incredible! We ended up winning Best Thriller there. Then we went to Austin and we won Best Thriller as well. Then there were other festivals that we went to where we didn’t get nominated or didn’t win, Die Seriale in Giessen Germany, Rome, Seoul Korea. To win awards on my first try as a filmmaker… pretty encouraging to keep doing it so I’m actually now in the process of creating something different and new, that I’m hoping I can get funded and maybe shoot.
DB: An idea that’s emerging. On that one (The Rolling Soldier) you did so much of it yourself didn’t you.
JT: I did everything. The only thing that I didn’t do was hold the camera or the boom stand but I had a lot of help, don’t get me wrong but: I wrote it; directed it; I starred in it; I did the colour correction on it (the colour grading), the editing, the music, all the sound effects; I did some of the catering. (Both laugh). I had a really great team I worked with and my director of photography, Sergio Crego, he also helped me produce it – I couldn’t have done it without him. He did such an amazing job! The look of it is so great, that’s really a credit to him.
DB: I really enjoyed it. It’s the first web series I’ve ever seen! It was like an unknown world to me!
JT: Oh really? There are so many good ones! Thank you so much for watching it.
DB: And the most Irish name in the world for your hero, Connor Flynn! (Both laugh)
DB: You are also in the web series CON$equences.
JT: My friend, Tony Tambi, is the creator of that (I know Tony because we were in acting class together). He was creating this show and he wanted to know a little bit more about web series and I filled him in and then he asked me if I’d be in the show. I said, ‘Absolutely!’ It’s a really unique show because it’s all African: all the filmmakers, all the actors (except for me) have an African background. It tells the other side of that Nigerian prince scam story and I thought that was really, really cool and interesting. I don’t know if you’ve been following the politics that have been going on in this country right now? Right now we have this thing called DACA which is happening with undocumented immigrants and one of the main actors, Bambadjan Bamba is an ‘undocumented’ and he has been a big ‘face’ on CNN right now – they have been interviewing him like crazy about it. It’s timely with the series coming out because it’s about the African experience in America which is… honestly I didn’t know what they go through, and this was a neat way to learn. I felt the story was cool and I enjoyed shooting it and I hope it does well. I’m proud of him. Making a show is not easy and I thought he did a great job on that.
DB: One of the things I liked on that is how the 4th wall gets broken from time to time.
JT: That was something that I thought was pretty cool too. It was very clever and the whole cast and crew were really good.
DB: Do you normally watch yourself on screen?
JT: I didn’t use to but when I did The Rolling Soldier I had no other choice, because I was the one editing the film. I learned something really valuable about watching a performance and getting over that whole cringey-like, ‘Jeez.’ In a lot of ways it’s like how an athlete watches tape of themselves, to get better, and for me it really, really helped. I started seeing things that I was doing and I was like, ‘Okay, I’ve got it. I’ve got to fix that when I’m shooting something else.’ At first I had a really hard time watching myself but now I can actually enjoy it because I’ll see something that got captured, that I was hoping would get captured. It gave me a nice new set of tools to use as an actor. When you boil it all down – as cliché as it sounds – it is a craft and there are certain things that have to be done in order for things to look right on screen. It’s a skill and it’s something that can be learned and definitely watching yourself on tape is one way to get better.
DB: So for anyone considering acting as a career, what advice, if any, would you offer them?
JT: Don’t do it! (Laughs) Here’s the thing… you have to absolutely not want to do anything else because of the amount of work that goes into it, the amount of disappointment and rejection, the toll it takes on you – not only personally but also the people around you. Sometimes it’s feast or famine: you might do really well and then go for a long stretch with nothing and you sit and wonder, ‘Well is that my last gig? Will I ever work again?’
As far as what I would say to someone wanting to be an actor: you have to really want to do it! You have to do it for the right reasons. You have to want to be a storyteller and want to be somebody that feels like they have something to share with the world. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the world, you know, making films is cool but do theatre. Theatre’s the best! A live audience is incredible! Being a professional actor you have to study, you have to know your stuff and study the classics too because that’s important. I think it is very valuable to go back and also do material from Tennessee Williams, do material from Arthur Miller, Eugene O’Neill, know that stuff, because it’s so rooted, deep, deep stuff. I think it will make you a better actor. For me, personally… have a balance, have something that balances out the acting – like I have, in the last three years, done transcendental meditation, it’s something that I have done to kind of keep me steady, so I’m not losing my mind (because you do, you can go crazy, worrying about when your next gig is). If you’re going to do it… you also now have the technology to do it on your own. You don’t have ‘gate keepers’ like you used to. Sure, the casting director is a gate keeper to a big show but you don’t need them; you can just do your own thing if you really want to – you’ve just got to find the money and put the time in.
DB: On one of the Facebook groups I am on they were talking about films made purely on iPhones. It’s crazy the technology that’s available.
JT: The quality of some of the work is incredible! A really trained eye can look at it and say, ‘Well, that was shot on a phone or a really junk camera,’ but, you know, with how fast things move today, people don’t really care, I think. You’ve got to have sound: you can have a completely awful looking image but if the sound is good you’re fine. It can’t be the other way round: if you’ve got a beautiful image and the sound’s crap you might as well just throw it away. I feel like sound is slightly more important than the image because of music and because of dialogue and because that can set a tone completely on its own. You take the picture away, and if the music’s good and the sound’s good, you are still getting the story; just like the old radio shows where people would sit around the radio listening to War of the Worlds or something like that. In my case, being in bands and having history recording music, I made sure when I made The Rolling Soldier that sound and music was a very prominent part, and I wanted to put a special emphasis on that because I think it can make or break a film.
DB: Do you still write music, apart from if you’re doing something like a web series?
JT: You know, it’s funny, I’ve been doing a couple of things lately – nothing serious. It’s difficult finding people to play with and forming a band, and I don’t necessarily know if I want to go back into that kind of relationship, but I like to do it for fun on my own. But it can be lonely on your own because you write this thing, you’re like, ‘Wow, this is really great!’ You’re looking around going, ‘Nobody’s ever going to hear this!’ I’ve got a couple of things I’m working on right now and if I get them together I’ll put them up but mostly it’s just for me.
DB: Have you got any special musical idols that you think influenced, or influence, your music?
JT: Oh yeah! As a bass player: John Taylor from Duran Duran, Sting from The Police, Chris Squire from Yes, Geddy Lee from Rush. As far as getting outside of bass players, I’ve always loved Pink Floyd. One of the bands that I enjoy a lot now is called Air, from France, they’re a fantastic band! I love the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Kinks. Then, when you get a little bit more into modern music, I enjoy Massive Attack and I like a lot of the electronic bands like Underworld and Chemical Brothers. I love the ‘70s ‘80s bands, you know, Blondie, Talking Heads. U2 is one of my all-time favourite bands. R.E.M. is one of my all-time favourite bands.
DB: I was really lucky: I got to see them at the Royal Albert Hall, just before they retired.
JT: I saw R.E.M. in a club in New York, a part of Maddison Square Garden that’s not there anymore, that was called The Felt Forum (I think I was a junior or sophomore junior in high school) and it was fantastic! One of the best shows I have ever seen! R.E.M. were a great band and a huge, huge influence for me. I like a lot of bands like them. I like Velvet Underground, The Doors. And I’ve been getting back into vinyl again, so I brought all my records back from my mum’s house last time I was there, and I’ve been collecting a lot of vinyl recently. I’m enjoying listening to music and it’s a huge part of me so I’m always sticking my finger in it.
DB: What was the first single, or album, you ever bought?
JT: The first album I bought, with my own money, was the Rolling Stones Hot Rocks. First single that I ever bought… that’s a hard one… I feel like the first 45 record I bought, it might have been Queen… “Another One Bites The Dust”, maybe… First CD I ever bought was The Unforgettable Fire by U2 – I played that thing out, I remember that! It’s funny, I thought at first iTunes and MP3 players and all that, ‘Oh this stuff’s great! Spotify! This is amazing!’ I’ve found that, it makes life more confusing. There’s something great about just holding a record in your hand, the jacket in your hand and the physical application of putting it on a turntable, and reading the liner notes and looking at the album art work – I really didn’t realise how much I missed that until I started picking up vinyl again.
DB: Album artwork is the thing that I miss most.
JT: Albums in general too, because now everything is so single-driven that people aren’t concentrating on creating a ‘good album.’ Some people are, I guess, but it’s such a ‘pop’ single-driven world that I miss the album. I miss the whole body of work. I just saw U2 do the whole Joshua Tree again, over the summer, and I saw that tour – the original tour – I guess it was 30 years ago and, seeing it again, just made me realise, ‘God! What a gorgeous album that was, from start to finish!’ Hearing it live again, you just sit there and are just like, ‘My God! Just incredible!’ I miss that. I don’t want to be one of these guys that says, ‘Ah they’re aren’t band like that anymore!’ I’m sure there are, I just haven’t found them.
DB: Is there a song, or songs, that take you back to a special time in your life?
JT: Is there are certain song? Let me think… I’m trying to think what would take me back to listening to music in the car with my mom and dad when I was little… I remember listening to the Paul Simon song “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover”. I remember that song being played in the car a lot when I was a kid. I remember Don Maclean “American Pie” and “Cats In The Cradle”. When I was a teenager, I started getting into Pink Floyd a lot, and “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” is a song that I associate with a certain time period. There are certain songs, like when I hear certain R.E.M. songs, I think of high school and I know the Achtung Baby album, that was a pretty powerful album because there was so much going on in the world at the time: you had the fall of the Berlin Wall, Clinton became President and the first Iraq War.
DB: Is there a song that, when you listen to it, you have to blast out really loudly at full volume?
JT: Oh! You know, the one artist that I can’t believe I haven’t talked about is David Bowie! I’m a huge David Bowie fan! I’ll play “Moonage Daydream” off Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars at full blast any time that song comes on! I love that song! Anytime the Ramones are on the radio I’ll turn that up.
It’s funny because my daughter is in this thing out here called School of Rock where you take guitar lessons. They take lessons – private lessons – and then they get put in a group together and the group that she’s in, they’re doing AC/DC songs. So any time AC/DC comes on, I always turn that up! It’s because it’s just flat out good rock ‘n’ roll and it’s funny that my kid is doing AC/DC songs!
DB: Is there a movie soundtrack, or theme, that you particularly love?
JT: That’s a hard one. It’s funny because I was listening to a lot of soundtracks when I was putting together Rolling Soldier. The one soundtrack that I really got into while I was doing that was Thomas Newman’s for Skyfall. A theme… you know, I’m a huge Star Wars fan and Princess Leia’s theme has always been a huge… I just love that piece of music. I think it’s a great piece, very swoony.
DB: Does what you choose to listen to vary according to your mood?
JT: Oh yeah, for sure! When I’m in the car (because in LA you’re in the car a lot, you are mostly on the highway) I like more aggressive, rock ‘n’ roll music and I’ll throw some electronica into there too. I tend to find, when I’m at home, I tend to put on more chilled out, down-tempo stuff, that’s when I like to break out the Massive Attack and the Air, that kind of thing.
DB: Do you go to watch live music very often?
JT: I used to see bands all the time and I used to work (like one of my part-time gigs) for Carson Daly and his show at the NBC studios. He had live guests all the time so I would see everybody. I’ve literally seen everybody because of that show. One night we would have 50 Cent and the next night it would be Morrissey and you’re like 5 feet away from them. I also used to work the MTV Music Awards. Before I had my kid I was always going out and seeing concerts but now I feel like it’s such a hassle, and if I don’t have good seats I just can’t be bothered.
DB: What’s the best concert you’ve ever been to?
JT: Well the two that come to mind right away are Roger Waters, when he did The Wall and I’d have to say The Joshua Tree tour, that just happened. The Joshua Tree tour was a very emotional thing for me because there’s so much going on in this country right now, and it really kind of harkened back to where I was when I was a teenager and how I felt about the world back then too. I realised that not a lot has changed and those songs are just as relevant now as they were back then. But as far as just being completely ‘mind blown’ The Wall tour.
DB: Is there any artist or band that you’ve not seen that you would love to see live?
JT: You know, I never got to see Nirvana and I think that would have been interesting.
DB: Do you dance?
JT: No! (Laughs) No! There have been occasions where I have been accused of dancing or it’s been ‘sort of like’ dancing.
DB: Do you have any guilty music pleasures?
JT: When I’ve been to gym I like to listen to Hair Bands because it’s good music to work out to. There’s some disco that I actually really enjoy, like Nile Rodger’s Le Chic (I love that band) and I think people would be surprised that I like that! (Laughs)
DB: What does music mean to you?
JT: It’s everything to me. I feel like, without it there’s nothing. I don’t know if I’d say that I’m a big religious guy, but it’s the closest that I’ve come to having some kind of a spiritual experience, with music.
DB: What’s your favourite word?
JT: My favourite word? Oh God! Probably my daughter’s name, Nova.
DB: How would you describe your perfect day?
JT: Wake up, cup of coffee, twenty minutes of transcendental meditation, put the vinyl records on and lounge around until cocktail hour! (Both laugh)
DB: That sounds perfect! So what would your perfect cocktail be then? Not that it has to be a cocktail.
JT: I like a good glass of whiskey but lately I enjoy dark and stormies: rum and ginger beer and lime juice.
DB: That sounds very nice, as does the whiskey.
JT: Dark rum, it’s got to be dark rum. I have a bottle of Blanton’s bourbon but I haven’t opened it yet, still working on some Irish whiskey that I’ve got to get through before I open that.
DB: What could you not possibly live without?
JT: Music. I don’t think I could live without it.
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.
[Update: since this interview John can be seen on your screens in Lucifer S3:E26 ‘Once Upon A Time’ and was very active in the #SaveLucifer campaign. Most recently he can be seen in the role of Ed Brady in As Light as a Feather on Hulu. He is also a cast member of the movie Room 19 which is now in post-production].
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.