Before the Scene is where we all start. In a small town with our families. In front of a mirror with our friends. The days spent sleeping on a couch. The nights working at a bar. Living with the unknown and surrounded by uncertainty. It’s about the times that define us. It’s about the darkness just before the limelight.
What made you want to become an actor?
I just always had this feeling that this is what I was supposed to do. I had so many ideas about the things I wanted to be, and usually it stemmed from movies. I would watch something and be like, “Oh, I want to do that!” I watched Apollo 13 and thought, “I want to be an aerospace engineer.” I had no idea what that meant. And I did musicals and plays throughout high school. I was going to go to college to be an artist, a painter, but I decided nothing made me happier than being on stage. There was this innate feeling. And I did it.
What was your biggest fear?
Failure. Failure is my biggest fear.
What was your lowest point?
It was two years into living in L.A. Right before I started working, I had fallen in love. My ex-boyfriend actually stole money from me. He opened up a credit card in my name and everybody I met had been completely fraudulent and broke my heart. Friends. Everybody. I was working just to make ends meet and living paycheck to paycheck. And I thought, “God, if I have to keep doing this for the next ten to fifteen years, I don’t know what I will do.” Thankfully, not too soon after that, I got lucky and I got my first pilot. I did a re-make of Lost in Space and I got to work with John Woo, who is an amazing film director, and it was everything I dreamed it would be. Nothing about it was fantasy. It is such hard work to be an actor. Nothing about it is glamorous at all, but it was so much better [than what I had been through] and I had the best time.
What kept you from walking away?
When I first moved to Los Angeles, I said to myself that if I was still waiting tables at age fifty pursuing this, that I would do that, because this is the only thing that I ever wanted to do. And I really lived by that. There were so many times that I wanted to move back to Ohio, but I thought, “What is it that I am going to be able to do?” I have no college degree. I have nothing else I love more. I am going to be doing a job the rest of my life that I hate if I do that, so I have to stick it out and keep going after it.
What did you have to walk away from?
I didn’t have to walk away from anything. This is all I ever wanted. I was such a career-driven child. I know that sounds weird, but when my friends were dreaming of weddings and children, I was like “I’m going to be doing this, this and this.” I was a career girl. When I left Ohio, it was hard to leave my family. It was hard to leave my childhood. But that was it. And I still have them, so it wasn’t really giving up anything.
Who has been your closest ally?
My dad. He has never, ever stopped believing in me. Ever since I was a kid, he was like, “You’re going to be a star.” And even if I wasn’t, I was his. Both my parents have been incredibly supportive but I was daddy’s little girl, for sure. My dad used to drive me to Detroit, Michigan, on the weekends so that I could model just to have some kind of leg in another world so I wouldn’t be stuck in Ohio. When I finally moved to Los Angeles, he drove out with me. I didn’t know anybody. I just did it. I was like “I’m moving. It’s happening.” I didn’t have any money. So my dad drove out with me and stayed with me for a month to help me get settled and that was probably the hardest day when he left. I was really on my own.
What were you doing the morning before the audition that changed your life?
I don’t remember what I was doing the morning before, but I can tell you what I was doing that day of the audition. I went to that audition and I was frustrated because I was supposed to go to this WB party with my managers. I was very excited about it (as cheesy as it sounds) and I was just waiting and waiting and waiting and I’m thinking, “Okay, come on.” It was one of my one hundred pilot auditions and I was just kind of like, “Okay, whatever.” And [that attitude] actually saved me because what they were looking for was someone with a chip on their shoulder. That’s exactly how I played it because I was in a hurry to get out of there. That actually is probably what helped me get the part [in Lost in Space]. It changed my life because I started working, which is all I ever wanted.
The one that changed my career path was Friday Night Lights. I remember I auditioned for it that morning, I was already testing for another pilot, I read it and I thought to myself, “There isn’t much to the pilot,” because [creator] Pete Berg wanted us to do a lot of improvisation. I was like, “It’s based on football, it’s based on a movie. The two things that never work.”
So I went in for the audition, my parents were in town, and I had another audition on the complete opposite side of town, and that day they were actually testing people for Friday Night Lights. I got a phone call from my agency saying, “Pete Berg wants to meet you right now. He loved your tape, he wants to meet you, they are testing people today, so he needs to see you.” And I thought, “Oh, we’re never going to make it, I don’t know. I don’t even know if I want to do it.” And my mom was like, “Let’s go.” And my dad was like, “I can totally get us there in time.” I’m glad my parents pushed me towards it, and I had one of the best auditions of my life. It was one of those times when I went in with him for a half hour and it was like an acting class. I walked out going, “Even if I don’t get this job, I had an acting class with Peter Berg that was amazing.” And thankfully I got the part!
What were the words that kept you going?
“I can do this.” Actually, it’s probably more like, “I have to do this.”
What words do you have to inspire others?
If you believe in something, if you are passionate about something, you need to follow your dreams. If you’re going to be unhappy and miserable settling, that’s not something you should do for yourself. It’s better to try and never get there than never try at all.
Your next film is G.I. Joe: Retaliation, wherein you play the iconic, feminine action hero Lady Jaye. What can you tell us about her?
Lady Jaye is somewhat of a badass. In this film, she’s pretty much the token female and she’s amidst all of these buff, strong-headed guys and so she has to kind of hold her own. She has a bit of a chip on her shoulder. She’s the intelligence of the group. She’s the weapon specialist. She’s incredibly smart but she really does hold her own among these guys, and due to a devastating moment that happens in the film, all of the characters are forced into really working together. All of those chips fall off and that’s where you see vulnerability in all of the characters.
G.I. Joe was shot in New Orleans a little over a year ago. What are your memories of the city?
It was awesome. I had no idea what to expect, and the thing that really stood out to me was the people. The people here are phenomenal. I would be walking out of my apartment and there would be people on the stoop, barbequing and saying, “Hey! How are ya?” So kind. Almost like a Midwest mentality, which is where I grew up. That kind of gets lost in certain big cities, but not here.
We really didn’t have a lot of time to really explore the city. It was in small increments when we would have time, so there were a couple of bars we frequented with the crew. We would go to Rusty Nail to hang out. The restaurants though were my favorite. Lilette is by far one of my favorite restaurants on the planet. The first thing I did when I found out we were coming back here was make sure I had a reservation there. Delmonico was amazing. We loved Emeril’s. We all lived really close, so we were there all the time. It was just non-stop for us. The nice thing about us working away from Los Angeles, away from our comfort zone, is that you are forced to make new friends and become friends outside of the big screen. If you are in your little comfort zone [in Los Angeles], you go back home after work, and you think, “I’m going to see my dog” or “I’m going to have a drink with my best friend.” We got really close, really fast. And it translates. Those relationships on-screen are real.
A partner in Scene Magazine and the president of Louisiana Entertainment Publishers, AJ has starred for the last eight years as Adam Ross on the hit TV show CSI:NY, now on Friday nights at 8pm on CBS. Originally from Dublin and raised in Vancouver, he has spent the past twelve years in Los Angeles acting, writing and directing. He is currently in pre-production in Louisiana on North of Hell, in which he will star and produce. Find out more on Twitter @AJohnBuckley and at www.ajbuckley.net.