Justin Chatwin

Before the Scene with Justin Chatwin

by AJ Buckley on August 17, 2011

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 the unknown and surrounded by uncertainty. It’s about the times that define us. It’s about the just darkness before the limelight.

Justin Chatwin is a Canadian actor who has starred in Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, The Invisible and Dragonball  Evolution. He now stars on Showtime’s critically acclaimed drama Shameless

What made you become an actor?

Money. I’d say, to be completely honest, it was money. I was raised on the American dream and I received validation from my parents for always being an entrepreneur. So it was definitely the promise of beautiful maidens and buried treasure that’s kept me going all these years! But now it’s a different thing. I think that happiness is what drives me, and the journey: the ups and downs of this rollercoaster of a business. But to be frank, it was the promise of buried treasure and fair maidens that got me into it. And also being encouraged as a young kid that money will bring you happiness, which is a false myth that we’ve all been led to believe in these days.

What was your biggest fear?

My biggest fear was the fear of failure, and the fear of success. I think that fear of failure is ultimately what drove me and then when I started to have mild success, it was fear of success. What will happen if I get what I want? Which I think is something that a lot of people struggle with.

What was your lowest point?

Waking up out of a blackout in my underwear in a hotel room with six people that I didn’t know (laughs). My lowest point was the disillusionment that my previous dream wasn’t what I thought it was gonna be. My lowest point was realizing that I had bought into a false myth that my career and my pursuit of what I was doing was going to bring me happiness. And that becoming an actor and having a success and having some sort of fame was going to make me complete. When, at a certain point in my life, I had money, I had become a star of a Steven Spielberg movie and I was dating a supermodel and I was more miserable than I was back in my hometown growing up. That was my low point: realizing that I was feeling like I had been duped. Like I bought into a lie. And realizing that maybe my perception of why I was doing this was for the wrong reason.

What was it that kept you from walking away?

From the business or the art? ‘Cause those are two distinct things for me. I walk away from certain aspects of the business every day. But I know that the business and the art both have to work together to actually create these things we make called stories and storytelling is a pivotal part of our culture. I don’t think that many good stories are made a year, I think that our world is lacking in prominent storytellers. So, to answer your question, I think that what kept me from walking away was faith in storytelling and faith in my own creativity and my own path and my own adventure. Re-rooting in that. And I guess the part of my journey that I’ve been talking about getting so lost and caught up in the whole scene, is all part of the great adventure called life.

What did you walk away from?

I walked away from living a simple, moderate life back in Canada. Because I wanted something more. I wanted an adventure. I heard the call to adventure and I answered to it. I listened to it because what I was learning in school wasn’t working for me and I was bored by school and I was much more interested in my own program of reading, thinking and experiencing than the university was likely to provide for me.

Who was your closest ally?

Along the way I’ve met so many people that have become teachers to me. So, I think that the ally has always been the same ally: he just always has a different person’s face on him. I have everyone from you to Shaun Sipos. Had Shaun not come down here and gotten that TV show, I wouldn’t have come down. I wanted to be an indie film actor in Canada. If it wasn’t for him being my only friend in Vancouver, I wouldn’t have come down to the states. But over the years, I’ve had so many allies that have come in and out of my life for certain reasons. I’ve learned certain lessons from all of them and I’m indebted to them for teaching me everything that I know — good and bad — to this day.

What were you doing before the morning of the audition that changed your life?

I was drinking whiskey and coffee and shooting ducks in Saskatchewan with my father. I mean what can I say? I grew up with a kind of barbaric lifestyle. I had come home to Canada because I only had $500 left in my bank account and I was coming back to just regroup with my family. I had just met with Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise who saw me in an independent film called The Chumscrubber and I had asked them if I could audition for the part. So, I had done all that I had done and I knew that it was my last “cast into the pond” so I came home to fish and go hunting with my father. When I got the call from my agent, I was hammered, running around with a shotgun. She just said, “Um…”and had a long pause. And I was like, “Oh okay, that’s all you need to say.” That was for War of the Worlds, which was an incredible experience for me. It changed my life. A lot of young people think that if you get this job, it’ll make you happy but that’s not the truth. We spend so much time in Los Angeles trying to get work and trying to get that job and once we get that job then we’ll be okay. But it’s actually the opposite: once we get that job, it opens up a whole new web of possibilities and obstacles to overcome on the next chapter of the journey. It was definitely that movie that changed the league that I was playing in and opened up a lot more opportunities and complications at the same time. There’s more!